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He’s fought COVID-19 for months. Can he ever really beat it?

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Larry Brown had been on a ventilator for 37 days. Nurses periodically turned the 45-year-old former Indiana State football player onto his stomach to help him breathe. Brown’s lungs were filling with fluid, and doctors didn’t expect him to last.

As visitors weren’t allowed in the intensive care unit, a nurse placed a phone next to his ear.

“Thank you for fighting so hard, Larry,” his sister-in-law, Ellie Brown, told him. She was careful not to say goodbye. That might scare him.

Like millions of COVID-19 cases, Brown’s had started with minor symptoms. When he fell ill in mid-March, people in the U.S. were becoming familiar with the novel coronavirus. Businesses were starting to shutter — but only until the country could flatten the curve, nearly everyone thought. And most cases weren’t severe, officials said.

Yet Brown spiraled quickly. His family feared they’d lose him but wouldn’t call it quits. “People weren’t ready to go there,” Ellie Brown said.


Turns out, neither was Larry.

After that phone call, Brown slowly improved. He’d remain on the ventilator for nearly two more weeks, for a total of about 50 days. But coming out of the medically induced coma was only the beginning of Brown’s recovery.

There’s no end in sight to a rehabilitation that already has lasted months. His hands — which helped make him Indiana State’s eighth all-time receiving leader — can’t even open a Pepsi can. He didn’t die of the virus, but life may never be the same.

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Brown doesn’t know exactly when he first felt symptoms. Around March 15, he started struggling to focus at work. He didn’t have a cough like many coronavirus patients, but he did lose his appetite. The 5-foot-9-inch, 240-pound man knew that was a sign.

He was hearing more about the virus. Schools and sports leagues began shutting down. Indiana would soon order residents to stay home unless they had to go to work, the doctor or an essential business.

Brown called his doctor, who told him to quarantine. He hunkered down, and his mom dropped off meals.

Brown’s symptoms worsened. Nightmares arrived. He struggled to draw deep breaths.

On March 25, an exhausted Brown called his mom for help. Marilyn Brown dialed 911, and an ambulance took her son to the hospital.

Brown’s spirits rose over the prospect of help. As he rested in his room watching TV, he thought he’d stay a few days.

Soon, though, he was moved to another room — he wasn’t sure why.

It’s the last thing he really remembers.

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Doctors moved Brown to the ICU and started him on the ventilator while grappling with how to treat him. They put him in a medically induced coma, and attached him to an ECMO machine, which did the job of his lungs by transferring oxygen into his blood.

As April ended, Brown’s condition grew worse. A dangerous MRSA infection set in. Despite the no-visitors rule, staff feared Brown had little time and let