The Death That Speaks to College Football’s Worst Virus Fear

When Allen called her son on Aug. 31, Stephens was uncharacteristically asleep at 10 a.m. She started reading a list of Covid-19 symptoms to him: headache, sore throat, loss of taste and others. “It was no, no, no, no,” Allen said. “And when I got to the bottom of the list, I said ‘diarrhea’ and he said, ‘Mom, when I got up this morning, I did have diarrhea.’”

Allen picked Stephens up, and he was hospitalized later that day after he tested positive for the coronavirus. A chest X-ray revealed he had pneumonia.

Stephens let some friends know he was in the hospital, sending a Snapchat photo of a hospital bootie that covered only three toes on his enormous feet. Doctors moved him into intensive care for several days to increase his oxygen. He was moved out of intensive care and told friends he hoped to be released soon. But he was sent back the next day after he said he had become lightheaded while taking a shower.

“And mind you, this whole time he’s talking, he’s laughing, we’re bantering back and forth like we normally do,” Allen said.

But the next morning, Allen received a call from a physician assistant: an ultrasound had revealed a blood clot in one of Stephens’s lungs.

Allen called her brother to tell him what was happening, and went upstairs to get dressed and head to the hospital. As she did, a nurse called again with an urgent message: Come now, he’s gotten worse.

“I drove like a bat out of hell,” Allen said, pausing to hold back tears.

“When I got there, they pulled me in the office for the doctor to talk to me, and I just remember screaming, ‘Where’s my child?’ And then when the chaplain came around the corner and told me he was gone, I just remember screaming. The rest is just a blur, honestly, after that.”

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