Teen Football Player ‘struggling To Breathe’ As COVID Hospitalizes Him, Missouri Mom Says

By Kaitlyn Alanis

Elijah Johnson is “struggling to breathe” as he fights COVID in the ICU at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Elijah Johnson is “struggling to breathe” as he fights COVID in the ICU at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Screengrab, Cynthia Johnson on Facebook

Less than a month after Elijah “E.J.” Johnson scored two touchdowns in his first high school game of the season, his mom says he’s fighting to breathe within the walls of a pediatric hospital.

“He went from scoring two touchdowns in a football game to laid up in a hospital bed. I’m hurt by this,” Misosuri mom Cynthia Johnson told KSDK. “It’s just unimaginable.”

E.J., an 18-year-old senior, is an admired football player at Fort Zumwalt East High School in the St. Louis metropolitan area, KSDK reported. MaxPreps has him listed as a 5’ 7” 200-pound running back and middle linebacker.

E.J. tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 1, four days after that season opener, and on Sept. 12 he was flown to St. Louis Children’s Hospital, according to KMOV.

This came after a “rough night, (with) chest pain and trouble breathing,” his mom wrote on Facebook.

He is not vaccinated, his mother said.

At the children’s hospital, E.J is receiving “more intensive care and progressive treatment,” she wrote in another post.

“His battle is not over and as his mother all I can do is pray and hold his hand,” Johnson wrote.

His fight is taking place in the ICU while hooked up to a BiPAP ventilator that helps you breathe, KMOV reported.

“Without it, he cannot sustain his own air,” Johnson said, according to the St. Louis based TV station. “(He’s) very lethargic. His fever has been all over the place Also, with him being laid up for days, he’s also acquired blood clots in both legs. He has pneumonia on top of the COVID. So, it’s hard.”

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A day after E.J. was admitted to the ICU, Johnson shared on Facebook that E.J. is weak and “struggling to breathe.”

“The pneumonia is affecting his lower lobes and the back of his lungs making it difficult to breathe,” she wrote. “Requiring him to lay on his sides and stomach. The mask is causing him to be very agitated. Fever comes and goes. He can’t eat, taking small sips of water occasionally.

“This is not a joke folks wake up please God forbid this could be your loved one in the ICU,” Johnson continued.

As the teen wrestles with the virus, KSDK reported, his mother is pleading for others take the COVID pandemic seriously.

“I choose to be transparent about my son’s journey (because) the youth are being exposed and transmitting the virus more and more,” she said on Facebook. “Not to say the adults are not. His school doesn’t have a mask mandate it’s optional. PLEASE wake up and do the right thing by getting vaccinated, social distancing and wear a (mask)!!!!”

In a Sept. 9 letter to parents, Fort Zumwalt School District Superintendent Bernard J. DuBray confirmed his schools are operating under a “masks-optional policy” and that the policy will be revisited at the next board meeting.

“Our school Registered Nurses and administrators are spending part of their days contact tracing and notifying families of exposure to the virus,” DuBray said. “This is because the county health department is not properly staffed and is unable to provide this service to us. At this time, most of our schools show a minimal positivity rate, as evidenced in our daily reporting.”

Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services has reported 81,554 COVID cases and 19 COVID-related deaths in the 18-24 age group as of Tuesday.

Over 211,000 Missourians in the same age group are fully vaccinated against COVID, and over 255,000 are partially vaccinated against the virus.

COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from COVID-19, especially severe illness and death,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say. “COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of people spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.”


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