Michael Murphy, the 24-year-old son of Latisha (Tish) Murphy and (step-father) Keith Barrett triumphantly returned to Rockport Friday, June 12, passing in front of a cheering crowd at the Aransas County courthouse, where his mother is employed.
Michael had been in a three-month battle for his life in an Austin hospital. The healthy young man tested positive for COVID-19 the week after moving to Austin, and what followed was every parent’s nightmare involving just about every complication one can imagine.
“We were in Austin March 14-15 helping him move into his apartment, and when we left he was just fine,” said Tish. “Then, during the week, he started having headaches and fever. He was rushed to the hospital March 19 because it was hard for him to breathe.
“His breathing was so impaired the EMS had to carry him down the stairs on a stretcher.”
Within 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital, Michael was admitted to the ICU.
He was tested for the flu and COVID-19. The flu test was negative. The COVID-19 test came back positive March 21.
“He had COVID-19 pneumonia,” Tish said. “Both lungs were completely whited out (on an x-ray).”
Michael was on life support two days after learning he had COVID-19.
“He rapidly deteriorated, developing a cytokine storm, which means his body’s own immune system was attacking itself,” Tish said.
Michael was given a full round (five days) of hydroxychloroquine, but he continued to get worse.
“They put him in a medically-induced coma after that and tried another experimental drug to try and treat the cytokine storm, and that started causing other complications,” said Tish.
“Then they tried proning (turning him on his stomach to relieve pressure off the back of his lungs).
He almost died.
Another emergency team of doctors was called in, including two cardiovascular thoracic surgeons.
They immediately connected Michael to a heart/lung machine.
“The doctors said he only had a few minutes left to live and didn’t have time to take him to the operating room,” said Michael’s mom, trembling, as she recalled that day. “They turned his ICU room into an operating room.”
Fifteen specialists worked on Michael the entire time he was in the admitting hospital, and later Seton Main Hospital.
The COVID-19 made his blood thick.
“At one time he was on two IV blood thinners,” said Tish. “He had 100 percent damage to both kidneys and was put on dialysis, which ran through the heart/lung machine.”
Michael’s lungs were hard as bricks.
It was at that point he was rushed to Seton Main.
For several weeks he remained attached to the heart/lung and dialysis machines.
“Then he got several other infections, including blood poisoning,” said his mother. “His blood pressure got so low they had him on four medicines just to keep him from coding.”
The prognosis was not good at all.
Michael had Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and COVID Respiratory Failure.
“The doctors had so many issues with side effects from everything they tried,” said Tish. “They battled it daily, for weeks.”
Then the tissue died in Michael’s toes and he experienced foot drop.
Finally, there was a glimmer of hope.
“He started to improve a small amount and they took him off the artificial lung, but he was still on full ventilator,” said Tish.
The positive news was short-lived.
Michael then collapsed into unconsciousness and went into septic shock.
“They didn’t know what was happening, but he was dying again,” said Tish.
“It was late April when they called me and said they didn’t think we would be able to make it to Austin in time.
“We rushed up there.
(Note: Nobody was allowed to enter the hospital during this time due to it being locked down. Tish was not able to see her own son until Mother’s Day weekend.)
“It was the most excruciating and agonizing thing I’ve ever experienced,” she said.
“They put him back on the artificial lung, but his heart started pumping so fast the machines couldn’t keep up.”
The doctors then created a double cannula, and used other emergency tactics never used before.
Michael survived again.
“They needed to take a CAT scan of his brain, lungs, and abdomen to find the reason behind the septic shock, but they couldn’t lift his body because he was too unstable,” said Tish. “They finally made the decision they had no choice but to move him. It took a dozen people.”
They discovered an abscess had ruptured in the lower lobe of his right lung, blowing a hole in it.
“All that tissue was dead,” said Tish. “Then his lungs collapsed and they put tubes down him to drain all the fluids.
“Then, because this blood was so thick, it started to clot and they had to medicate him (clot busting drugs used with stroke victims) so that the fluids could drain properly.”
Another miracle occurred at that time. Michael didn’t have a brain bleed after having been administered the clot busting drugs.
For the next six weeks the infection was allowed to exit his body.
Michael was the first patient in Austin to receive convalescent plasma, and only after the CDC approved it. He was the study case.
“It (blood) had to be a perfect match,” said Tish. “The plasma provides the antibodies from a recovered COVID-19 patient, and they have to be recovered a minimum of 28 days.
“We were very lucky because Michael has a rare blood type they were able to match.”
During his months in the hospital, Michael received 15 blood transfusions.
After receiving the plasma, Michael got a pneumothorax in his left lung, and it collapsed, which required a chest tube in that lung, as well.
Then bacterial pneumonia settled in that same lung.
“For seven weeks he was intubated, and the longest one is supposed to be intubated is two weeks,” said Tish. “They had to keep him intubated because he was still positive for COVID-19.
“They were finally able to do a tracheostomy after he received eight consecutive negative COVID-19 tests.”
He still had his feeding tubes and the doctors were afraid he would no longer be able to speak (after being intubated seven weeks).
“When the surgeon cut his throat open to do the tracheostomy he found Michael’s voice box intact,” said Tish.
With the tracheostomy, doctors began with a larger tube, working down to smaller tubes as the days wore on.
All the while, Michael was still on a heart/lung machine.
“He was finally able to wean off the heart/lung machine a second time, which usually doesn’t happen,” said Tish.
It was the end of May, close to 2-1/2 months after Michael was rushed to the hospital.
“The next step was weaning him off the ventilator,” said his mom. “He was finally just needing oxygen administered through the tracheostomy, and finally got off the oxygen and started breathing on his own.”
Michael’s tracheostomy was removed May 31.
He was transferred to a rehab hospital June 1 and began intense speech, swallow, occupational, and physical therapy, until discharged and returning to Rockport June 12.
On Monday, June 15 Tish drove her son back to Austin for an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon.
“We found out Michael will have to have partial amputations on both feet,” said Tish. “He will lose most of his toes. He’s facing some hard physical therapy throughout the summer.”
Michael is profusely weak, but his kidneys are operating at 60 percent capacity, and doctors believe his kidneys will recover even more.
He is still on medication for a rapid heart rate, and continues to take blood thinners.
Michael had moved to Austin to start a new job.
He had only briefly stepped foot in his new workplace before falling ill. His new employer is holding the position for him until he can go back to work.
“The doctors have no idea how he picked up the virus,” said Tish. “Nobody he has had contact with has it, or has had it. He’s thinking he might have picked it up from a gas pump, but we’ll never know.”
Tish, at the DSHS’s recommendation, quarantined herself for seven days after Michael tested positive. She had already been symptom free for a week since last being with him.
“It’s kind of baffling to try and understand where he got it,” she said.
Tish broke down when asked about the support Michael and the family received.
“I don’t have the words to describe all the prayers that were never ending,” she said. “They gave him another chance to live.
“I dreaded looking at my phone and seeing a call from the ‘end of life’ team at the hospital, but I knew God had surrounded Michael with the very best care he could have had.
“The doctors always said, ‘Michael, you are a miracle 10 times over.’
“God had His hand in this.”
Tish said the prayer chains just grew and grew as the days turned into weeks, and weeks into months.
“The selfless acts of others will be etched in my heart forever,” she said. “That welcome home was so cherished.
“Through Michael’s experience, I hope everyone takes the time to educate themselves about COVID-19 and protect themselves.”
(Editor’s note: Michael’s bachelors degree is in Molecular and Cellular Biology and studied Virology and Immunology so he was previously aware of the Coronavirus long before he became ill. He is working on his Masters in Computer Science for Artificial Intelligence and has plans to continue afterwards for a PhD in Robotics.)