‘Scariest experience of my life’: Okotoks man becomes youngest ICU patient in Alberta from COVID-19

CALGARY — Many people still have the misconception that COVID-19 is only a threat if you’re a senior but an Okotoks man is sharing his story after becoming the youngest person in Alberta to end up in intensive care from the virus.

Matt Greenshields certainly isn’t who you might picture when you think of COVID-19 — he’s a student at the Haskayne School of Business, an athlete and by all accounts, a healthy 19-year-old.

The young man says he started to feel rundown and like he had a cold around March 12.

He lived on campus at the University of Calgary and hadn’t been travelling, so at the time wasn’t worried about contracting the novel coronavirus. Still, he self-isolated at his family home in Okotoks just to be safe.

Around March 20 he said he was feeling better and most of his symptoms had gone away, besides a cough. Then, 12 days after his first initial symptoms, Greenshields’ health took a serious dive.

“It’s like they all came back and just exploded. My tonsils were so big and I wasn’t able to talk properly or swallow,” he said. “Then I started to cough up quite a bit of blood and that was pretty concerning.”

Greenshields was admitted to hospital on March 25 and to his surprise, tested positive for COVID-19 and for Epstein-Barr virus, better known as mono.

‘Had a meltdown’

The combination was dangerous and because of his diagnosis he could no longer have any visitors, including family.

“I kind of had a meltdown,” Greenshields explained. “It was extremely scary, by far the most traumatic and scariest experience of my life.”

Greenshields’ condition worsened to the point he couldn’t eat or swallow and was kept hydrated through IVs.

“I had a really high fever, my oxygen was low, my heart rate was super high and overall I was not doing well,” he said.

He was moved as a precaution to the ICU, where he was shocked to learn from doctors his condition was considered life-threatening and he may need a tracheotomy.

His mother, Connie Greenshields, says it was agonizing waiting for updates at home about her son’s condition. 

“We were terrified. We couldn’t sleep. We couldn’t eat. We couldn’t really function honestly,” she said.

After what Greenshields describes as the worst night of his life, his condition started to improve and he was feeling “very odd.” His fever was gone but some symptoms persisted.

He was eventually discharged on March 31 and given a three-month recovery period.

Shortly after, Greenshields posted about his experience on social media, stressing the virus doesn’t discriminate based on age.

“It was a really scary feeling to not know, for the first time in my life, if I was going to be ok,” he said. “The invincibility factor was definitely a thing for me too. I never considered the fact I’d get the virus.”

Grateful to hospital staff

He’s grateful to the staff in hospital and is urging people to follow public health orders so they don’t have to go through anything like he did.

“Please, everybody do your part and listen to the healthcare system and staff. They are doing an incredible job,” he said.

Greenshields doesn’t know for sure how he contracted COVID-19 because he wasn’t knowingly exposed to anyone infected.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 276 cases in the province are believed to have been spread through community transmission.

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