College student dies of COVID-19 complications affecting his brain

Chad Dorrill, a 19-year-old student at Appalachian State University, died due to neurological complications of the coronavirus.

Sheri Everts, the university’s chancellor, confirmed the news on Tuesday in a statement, writing, “It is with the deepest sadness that I share with you that one of our students, Chad Dorrill, has died.”

Everts shared that Chad lived off-campus in Boone, North Carolina, and all his classes were online. In early September, Chad began feeling unwell, so his mother encouraged him to come home, quarantine and get tested for the coronavirus.

After testing positive for COVID-19, Everts said Dorrill followed isolation procedures and was cleared by his doctor to return to Boone.

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The New York Times reported that Chad was in tremendous shape, tall and slender, played basketball and ran long distances.

But it was after his return to Boone that he began having serious neurological problems and was hospitalized.

Chad’s uncle told the Times, “When Chad tried to get out of bed, his legs were not working, and my brother had to carry him to the car and take him to the emergency room. The doctor said it was a one in 1 million case -- that they had never seen something progress the way it did.”

While COVID-19 most notably affects the lungs, scientists are now finding that neurological disorders are being more frequently reported.

“It is becoming increasingly evident that coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is not limited to the respiratory system, and that other organs can be affected. In particular, virus-related neurological manifestations are being reported more and more frequently in the scientific literature,” Alessandro Pezzini, a professor of neurology, wrote.

“Although the most common and important presentation is with respiratory disease, reports of neurological features are increasing,” a study titled "Neurological associations of COVID-19" said.

A study led by researchers at University College London described more than 40 patients with COVID-19 who experienced a multitude of different brain effects. Some people in the study did not have severe respiratory symptoms, and the neurological problem was the COVID-19 patient’s first and primary symptom.

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The University of North Carolina System President Peter Hans issued a statement about Chad’s death. “Chad’s family asked that this moment stand as a stark reminder of how Covid-19 is deadly serious for all of us, even for otherwise healthy young adults,” Hans said.

Everts echoed the statement, citing the family’s wish for the university to share a call to action to the entire campus recognizing the importance of following COVID-19 guidelines. “Despite generally being at lower risk for severe illness, college-age adults can become seriously ill from COVID-19.”

Everts cited the rise in COVID-19 cases in students and wrote that “all must remain vigilant” with safety behaviors in the community.