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Lung transplant recipient beats COVID-19, sends a message to others

Posted at 6:40 PM, Sep 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-02 18:44:01-04

SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Nick Hunter isn't one to take his next step or breath for granted. Life hasn't come easily for the 24-year-old recent college graduate from Springfield Township.

At a young age, he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. As a teenager, he became a lung transplant recipient. Most recently, Hunter was on a ventilator during a battle with COVID-19.

Hunter was diagnosed with CF as a baby, but serious complications didn't surface until several years later.

"Primarily, it affects your lungs. Your body doesn't produce mucus correctly," Hunter said. "From when I was about six or seven, I was hospitalized every so often about two weeks for intensive IV therapy."

The condition got progressively worse. In 2016, at the age of 19, Hunter got a lung transplant at the Cleveland Clinic.

"The next four and a half years go by, I'm feeling fantastic. I have never felt as healthy," he said. "My lung function went from 20% to 85%."

Last March, around the time that Governor Mike DeWine issued the stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hunter developed a cough, a headache, a stuffy nose, and another odd symptom.

"I started having kind of unexplained pain in my hip."

Hunter went to Cleveland Clinic Akron General where X-rays were taken. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and the coronavirus. Hunter believes he contracted the virus from other family members who unknowingly had it.

Within two days of his hospital admission, Hunter's condition worsened. He was placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit for a week.

He recalls being confused when he came to and a nurse spoke to him.

"You have COVID. You're in the ICU. We just took you off a ventilator," the nurse told Hunter, who believes the virus could have taken his life.

"It could have. I don't know how close it got, but it certainly could have," he said. "I got lucky quite frankly."

Hunter remained in Akron General a few days after he was removed from the ventilator and slowly continued his road to recovery.

In May, he graduated from Kent State University with a journalism degree. He continues to be grateful for his survival but stressed he still has concerns over the virus spreading.

"It's a deadly virus and it has been very disheartening for me to see the way people dismiss it," Hunter said.

Kent State recently announced 12 new coronavirus cases and that gatherings of more than 10 people on campus must be held virtually.

Hunter said he continues to worry about the possibility of contagion at colleges during the pandemic.

"This isn't the flu. I've had the flu."

Hunter stressed his main message to the public is to take precautions-- such as social distancing and wearing masks-- and for everyone, especially younger people, to take the virus seriously.

"You are not immune. No one is fully immune, as far as we know, to the coronavirus."