For four days in November, Ricky Lam documented his experience with COVID-19 on social media. He went to the emergency department on Nov. 20 because he was having difficulty breathing. He had chills and a fever. His X-rays showed signs of COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, there’s nothing they can apparently do for me if I don’t need oxygen so I’m getting sent home,” he wrote on Instagram Nov. 21. He punctuated the post with a sad-face emoji.
He woke the next day with chills, extreme fatigue and diarrhea. He vomited. His COVID-19 test came back positive. “Brushing my teeth required me to rest afterwards,” Mr. Lam wrote Nov. 23. “Even chewing a little requires me to take a break in between.” Stairs were daunting.
“Breathing has become very difficult. Every few breaths I go into a coughing fit. Last night was strong enough to make me vomit. It’s so brutal, it doesn’t allow me the chance to recover,” he continued, again punctuating the update with a sad face.
The next day, his father found him dead in their Edmonton home. Mr. Lam was 40 and, as far as his cousins know, did not have any underlying conditions that may have complicated the infection. His death makes him an outlier – only 124 people under 50 have died of COVID-19 in Canada, less than 1 per cent of the country’s 12,750 fatalities as of Dec. 9 – but families like his are warning others of the potentially deadly consequences of the disease for younger people.
Mr. Lam took COVID-19 seriously, according to his family. He wore masks and followed the health protocols. His cousins believe his final eight Instagram posts – the ones detailing his COVID-19 symptoms – were his way of alerting others to the risks associated with infection.
“He spent basically his dying days doing what he liked to do, which was help people,” said Lisa Friesenhan, one of his cousins. “Changing one mind of one person to think about the potential severity of this virus, I think that would mean so much to Ricky.”
In Alberta, 653 people have died of COVID-19 as of Dec. 8, and only 12 of those have been under 50. The province’s youngest COVID-19 victim was 27; the oldest, 106. In Winnipeg, COVID-19 killed an Indigenous boy – identified only as being “under 10″ – with other health problems at the end of November. Nationwide, the disease has killed three people under 20 as of Dec. 9, according to federal statistics, as well as 14 people between 20 and 29, another 28 individuals between 30 and 39 and 79 people between 40 and 49.
Young people who contract COVID-19 often have mild symptoms, if any at all, according to Tara Kiran, a family doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. But the stealth of the disease in young people can be problematic as the illness spreads widely. If, for example, 1,000 young people contract COVID-19 and 1 per cent suffer complications, that’s 10 severe cases, she noted.
“We are going to be seeing more complications,” Dr. Kiran said, noting that they are not limited to those with prior health conditions.
“There’s also the luck factor,” she said. “Some people just come down with a more severe condition and more severe complications over the course of COVID, and we don’t really know why.”
Jevin Potvin was 32 when COVID-19 complications took his life in May. He had previously lost the use of his legs because of a blood infection – the result of drug use with needles – and had other underlying conditions, according to his father, Dan Potvin.
Jevin contracted COVID-19 while staying at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, where he had been for four or five months. He was clean during that stretch, putting on weight, and was set to be released, his father said. But he developed a fever and, days after testing positive for the virus, medical staff found him unresponsive. An MRI showed a brain hemorrhage. He was put on life support. His mother was with him when he died. His father was not – he did not want to see his son in that state.
“I hope people take it seriously and be cautious until this is over, until we get a vaccine and things get back to normal,” Mr. Potvin said.
He remembers his son as someone who liked to skateboard, worked hard in construction and was recovering from addictions.
In Edmonton, Ricky Lam’s family remember him as someone who would spontaneously sing at weddings and whip out Asian fans while dancing.
“He would get absolutely everybody going on the dance floor,” Ms. Friesenhan said. “He wanted people to feel included.”
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