The Wolverine

June-July 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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JUNE/JULY 2020 THE WOLVERINE 53 BY JOHN BORTON F ormer Michigan and NFL tight end Mark Campbell visited the White House twice over the past quarter century, for very different reasons. He joined Michigan's 1997 national champions there because they col‑ lectively survived a grueling climb to 12‑0 and grabbed the top spot in the final Associated Press poll. Campbell made it back to the White House a few weeks ago be‑ cause he survived, period. Campbell — co‑owner of two medi‑ cally related businesses, following a 10‑year NFL career — made head‑ lines he'd have rather skipped. Struck down by the coronavirus in March, he battled his way back and eventually joined a group of survivors for a con‑ versation with the current president. "Everybody was showing so much gratitude that we were there," Camp‑ bell marveled. "In my mind, I'm thinking, look, I was just one of the people that got COVID‑19. I don't know what you're thanking me for." He also received some personal attention from President Donald Trump, getting invited to the Oval Office following a brief, televised gathering with others survivors. "The first thing the president said to me was, 'Mark, are you interested in politics?'" Campbell recalled. "To me, that meant at least I was confi‑ dent. I didn't make a fool of myself. I felt very, very comfortable. "It was dramatically different than the first time, going there after win‑ ning the national championship. You're one of many people there, hop‑ ing to get the president's attention, but certainly everybody is on cloud nine. We've got our best clothes on." Then‑head coach Lloyd Carr deliv‑ ered a simple message to the White House‑bound Wolverines back then — don't do anything stupid. Campbell recalled the plea with a laugh, and put it into practice one again. He also made wise decisions after taking his family to the Otsego Re‑ sort near Gaylord, Mich., for a ski trip in mid‑March. Then again, the virus demanded attention, even from an active, 6‑6, 278‑pound veteran of the NFL wars. Campbell began feeling warm on the trip, for reasons other than some hot ski runs. "I actually joked, saying, 'Oh, I must have coronavirus,'" he recalled. "I remember reading something that said if you think you have it, try to take a really deep breath and hold it for 10 seconds. If you can do that, no problem. You're probably fine. "I did that, and within about three seconds I started coughing. I'm thinking, ah, that's not a good sign. But I didn't have the achy flu body. I wasn't fatigued. I didn't have a cough, or anything else. That was just the start of it for me." A trip to Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Mich., produced little, other than in‑ structions to go home and self‑quaran‑ tine. He did so, taking up residence in the family basement, where his health declined rapidly, especially from day three to day five locked away. Asked what symptoms let him know this was serious, he responded: "I couldn't breathe. That's a pretty big one." "The COVID‑19 starts attacking your lungs," he continued. "Essen‑ tially, it's like getting the worst flu you ever had and fighting pneumo‑ nia at the same time. That's really how I would describe it. That's really what's happening to your lungs. "Then you also have this flu. I had a temperature for 16 straight days. At day five, things got a lot worse because I started coughing. By day seven, I was waking up in the middle of the night with shortness of breath. I'd have to sit up to catch my breath." He began sleeping in a recliner, try‑ ing to tough it out. "It was kind of a football mental‑ ity — push through, grind it out," he said. "But by day 12, I was really laboring to breathe." In a two‑hour span Campbell re‑ calls vividly, everything got worse. He texted his wife, Michell, and told her to come to the basement and not bring the kids. He recalled: "She came down in a mask, and I said, 'Look, I think I've got to go to the hospital. I'm really struggling.'" He'd also texted two friends in the medical field, who told him to get to the hospital now. He wasn't turning in any strong 40‑yard dash time on the way to his vehicle. "It took me a while just to get in the car," he said. "I'm walking at a snail's pace. Any time I took a normal‑sized step, I was coughing. When I started coughing, I couldn't breathe. That's why the cough is dangerous. When your lungs are starting to shut down, you just can't catch your breath. When you're coughing, it's even worse." He sat in the back while Michell drove. He saw the look on her face, struggled to pull oxygen into his lungs, and it struck him like he'd never been struck on the football field. "That 20 minutes, I will never for‑ get," Campbell said. "That's the time it hit me, that I felt threatened. I felt threatened for my life at that time." He wound up on the fifth floor at Ascension Providence Hospital in Rochester, Mich., getting brief human contact by angels disguised as nurses. "They were all so kind," Campbell said. "At this point, I wasn't eating at all. One was almost like a mother. I remember one time, she said, 'No, get up here. You're going to eat five bites of this before I leave.' It was really cool. The nurses there were phenomenal, man." Campbell was part of Michigan's 1997 national championship squad and went on to forge a 10-year NFL career. PHOTO COURTESY MARK CAMPBELL   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Mark Campbell Makes A Crucial Recovery

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