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A different challenge every day: Mom of COVID-19-positive teen shares story

Samantha Dorm with her son Michael Graff.

Samantha Dorm posted an update on her Facebook page early Thursday morning. Her son, Michael Graff, is infected with COVID-19.

Dorm shared publicly because she wanted to update his family and friends — and also warn others to be responsible.

“PLEASE don’t take chances. ... Your actions impact others who are weak. Others who don’t just develop a mild ‘inconvenience,'” she wrote.

Dorm's story begins with a quarantine.

Michael Graff, 19, was asked to quarantine beginning on Sept. 11 — just three days after he started back at Dallastown Area Senior High School.

But it wasn’t until Sept. 15 that the symptoms started to set in, leading to an X-ray and "rapid-fire" test at the emergency room on Sept. 19, when he was confirmed positive.

Now Dorm is urging families to pay attention and not be blasé about the pandemic.

Her son's school had put so many precautions in place, she said. His classroom is not near the general population at school. He doesn't take the bus. He uses separate bathrooms.

“This isn’t a joke," Dorm said. "It can happen to anybody.”

She recalls watching the nearly 5½-hour school board meeting on Aug. 20, in which Superintendent Joshua Doll recommended starting the school year fully online. Many parents and board members balked, intent on an in-person return.

More:Dallastown Area board rebuffs superintendent's recommendation against in-person classes

York City Police Sgt. Roger Nestor, left, looks on as Michael Graff, 16, of Spring Garden Township, displays his York City Police trading card during the first Coffee with a Cop event at I-ron-ic Coffee Shop and Art Boutique in York City, Saturday, April 14, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“We still have throughout this county — throughout this country — so many people that are fixated on, 'We have to have sports, we have to have events, we have to do things the same as they were six months ago,' and it’s not (the same)," Dorm said.

All she got from the school was a notification that two individuals in the building had been confirmed positive and that Graff could have been exposed on the first day of school.

No information other than state health guidelines were provided about next steps, so Dorm didn't know how she could get tested with preexisting medical problems. The special-ed team and contact tracers checked in, but the administration did not follow up.

Graff has Down syndrome and autism, meaning dealing with a COVID-19 diagnosis came with its own set of special challenges.

“He’s always the fun kid, the good kid,” Dorm said of Graff's typical behavior in school, but with a break in routine he was throwing things, breaking things and trying to hurt himself.

More:Yorkers with Down syndrome get national recognition

He didn’t understand what was happening and has limited communication skills.

Michael Graff, 19, a Dallastown Area student with Down syndrome and autism who tested positive for COVID-19, pictured in one of his good moments during his hospital isolation on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020.

That meant the process to get him tested for the virus was nearly impossible. With an unfamiliar location to get the test, he wouldn't get out of the car, Dorm said. 

A nurse did eventually come out and agree to test him if he could get a doctor’s approval, but after two hours on the phone in the parking lot, he went home untested on Sept. 16. After Graff eventually tested positive on Sept. 19, he and Dorm were both sent home to isolate.

Dorm pointed out one of the often-discussed earmarks of the virus: its up-and-down nature.

On Sept. 20, Graff was back to playing in the house with no fever, but the next day things were worse than ever — prompting a visit to the hospital.

"It took 3 of us to get him out of the house, naked, and into the ambulance. Even sedated, he took on a 250+ lb man," Dorm wrote in a Facebook update Thursday.

He’s now isolated on the COVID-19 floor of York Hospital with Dorm, who has been permitted to stay and be his voice, despite having an autoimmune syndrome and respiratory problems herself.

Dorm does not even know if she is positive and asymptomatic because they will not test anyone at the emergency room who does not have symptoms, she said.

"But I’m here. I’m Mom," she said. "You do what you have to do."

Graff is not on a ventilator, though his asthma puts him more at risk. He is receiving a treatment of blood from recovered patients to add in plasma and antibodies to lessen the severity or duration of the virus.

In the hospital, it’s mostly been a waiting game, as each hour could bring something unpredictable, Dorm said.

"Yesterday Michael was up and dancing," she said when reached late Thursday night, but he couldn't even sit up earlier that day.

"Every day’s a new challenge," Dorm said. "Every day’s something else."