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‘They really are heroes’: First COVID-19 patient at U. Hospital praises care he received

Utah Department of Health reports 570 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday and five new deaths

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Utah National Guardsman Keith Taylor takes an identification sticker from Steve Hampshire at a COVID-19 testing site at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The first COVID-19 patient treated at University of Utah Hospital said he wasn’t scared to die, but he was hoping to pull through after his lungs quit working.

Neal Murphy, 75, believes he contracted COVID-19 on a Feb. 27, 2020, flight from California to Salt Lake City to visit his son, who is a doctor at University Hospital. He said was “too tired” to go to dinner that night and by morning, his temperature had reached 104.5 degrees.

“I said to my wife, ‘This is not a cold.’ A day later, they said, this is COVID,” Murphy recalled in a U. video production created to commemorate the anniversary of Murphy’s survival of COVID-19.

“It was the worst possible scenario,” he said, adding that he was immediately isolated at the hospital. Murphy was given supplemental oxygen and was ultimately intubated and put on a ventilator for five days. At one point, he was given a 3% chance of survival.

“I’ve beat odds like that, that’s no problem,” he said. Murphy said he posted a picture of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on his hospital bed railing. “If he can survive five years of torture, I can go through this.”

Murphy’s son, Dr. Ryan Murphy, said that in his dad’s situation, “there’s nothing he could do ... either he was going to survive or he’s not.”

“He’s all about the fight, the struggle — never give up, never surrender. That’s his ethos,” the younger Murphy said.

In all, the elder Murphy, a professor of dentistry in Cleveland, was hospitalized in Utah for 13 days.

“I wasn’t scared. I’m 75 years old. I’ve been around the block a few times,” he said. “There’s a point where you have to say, ‘I can do no more.’”

Murphy said he felt “reassured” by the U. staff.

“Miracles are helped along by the dedicated people in health care, that cannot be denied,” he said. “They really are heroes. I would be a dead man without them.”

The Utah Department of Health reported 570 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, as well as five new deaths.

The number of new cases has been gradually declining since after the first of the year. The rolling seven-day average of people with confirmed cases is now 9.5% with the average percentage of tests sitting at 4.6%.

The state administered nearly 26,100 doses of COVID-19 vaccine since Friday’s report, bringing the total number of people who have been fully vaccinated to 304,168 in Utah. A total of 843,032 doses of vaccine have been administered in the state, according to the health department.

Utah has tested 2.24 million people for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including 7,052 since Friday’s report was issued midday.

There are 194 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, 29 fewer than was reported a week ago.

The deaths reported on Saturday include a Salt Lake County woman older than 85 who was not hospitalized at the time of her death; a Salt Lake County woman between the ages of 45 and 64 who was hospitalized; a Weber County man between 45 and 64 who was hospitalized; a Salt Lake County woman between 25 and 44 who was hospitalized; and, a Uintah County woman between 45 and 64 who was hospitalized.

The total number of lives lost to COVID-19 in Utah is at 1,975 since the pandemic hit here a year ago.