“A double whammy:” Canisius athlete shares her COVID-19 experience

Canisius student-athlete shares her experience with COVID-19 and everything that stood in the way of getting back to normal life

Canisius student-athlete Lilly McDonnell shares her challenging battle through COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world and impacted thousands of lives, one of those being student-athlete Lilly McDonnell. McDonnell is a sophomore studying communications and is a member of the Canisius swimming and diving team. 

When coming into her second year of college McDonnell expected every restriction possible due to COVID-19 and she was ready to abide by whatever Canisius College was willing to do to keep her and her roommates safe. She was simply excited to be back, and to have in person classes unlike many other colleges.

After about three weeks of being on campus McDonnell and her roommates stopped by another room on campus. Little did she know, she was standing in a room with someone positive with the coronavirus but asymptomatic. McDonnell was soon after notified that this person’s roommate had experienced symptoms days after she had been there. As a precaution, McDonnell decided it would be best to get tested. A couple days after McDonnell got tested, she logged into her portal to see her results. They were negative. 

“I saw the results and went back to my normal life. I live in a dorm room with three of my best friends and we’re inseparable, so we were excited that I could be out of quarantine, but then I got a call from the Erie Department of Health saying I was positive,” McDonnell said. 

After interacting with her friends, and being told she received a false negative, McDonnell went into a panic. Not knowing what to do, she called Student Health, Mark Piatkowski and her swim coach. The only one to answer was her coach, and he told her to relax and keep trying to reach the college. It wasn’t until about four hours after she received the news that Student Health returned her call and gave her instructions on what to do next. She now had to make the decision of where to quarantine — Delevan D or her own house. McDonnell is from Hamburg, NY so according to Canisius she is required to go home. Her biggest concern was exposing her parents. McDonnell created a plan with her parents and stuck to it the whole time she was expected to quarantine.

“I went home and immediately went into my room. I spent a lot of my time watching Netflix, and luckily my bathroom is attached to my room so I didn’t have to go into the main area and worry about exposing my family. To keep up my mental health my parents would call me for breakfast, lunch and dinner so I had interaction with others,” McDonnell said. 

McDonnell only suffered from mild symptoms. It began with a fever that never exceeded 100 degrees, headache, congestion and pressure in her sinus. Overall, she said her symptoms only lasted a couple days and after that she felt fine. The struggle for her has been getting back into the pool. Canisius athletes who test positive must complete the return to play program once coming back to their sport. This program consists of being monitored for three days of biking, three days of running and, in McDonnell’s case, supervised swimming. 

McDonnell completed the three days of biking easily — it was the first day of running where she found a problem. Many recovered COVID-19 patients suffer from a high heart rate. In many cases this isn’t that big of an issue, but McDonnell has Factor V. Factor V is a mutation in your clotting factors that can cause abnormal blood clots within your body found mostly in one’s legs and lungs. Once McDonnell began her first running session she found it extremely difficult to run 60 yards and her heart rate skyrocketed. The athletic trainer working with her found this unusual in comparison to other recovering athletes, and with her Factor V disorder the trainer worried about her risk of having a pulmonary embolism. McDonnell was sent to the emergency room quickly afterwards in case their fears were true. 

“I’m already Factor V, which is a blood clotting disorder, so I’m already prone to pulmonary embolisms. My dad actually had one a couple years ago — he’s okay now, but it’s scary. They are finding that embolisms are very common in COVID patients so now I have a double whammy. Two things could have caused an embolism for me,” McDonnell said.

In the emergency room McDonnell had a full heart workup just so they could confirm nothing was wrong. Luckily, everything came back normal. She was told to see a pulmonologist incase issues arise. She has now once again returned to the return to play program she had started before. It has been about three weeks since returning to the program and McDonnell has not been faced with any new challenges. She was able to get into the pool for the first time last Friday and described it feeling as if she were a “spaghetti noodle,” in the pool. 

As cases continue to rise in number in the United States, McDonnell wants students to know that they should not panic. She also wants them to know they are not alone in this, so many other people are getting this virus so find someone and talk to them. 

“Remain calm because as the days go on more and more people are getting it too, which means more and more people can relate to you. You aren’t some one and a million case who has a crazy disease. I had another friend who got it, and we were able to talk about going through the same thing,” McDonnell said. “Don’t think about how you got it either. You’ll waste your time worrying about that, when you should worry about getting better.” 

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