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ONE YEAR LATER: Nebraska's first confirmed COVID patient vaccinated

Emma & Ralph Hutchinson tested positive March 2020
Posted at 7:07 PM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 17:44:43-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Emma Hutchinson and her father Ralph Hutchinson were the first two Nebraska residents to test positive for COVID-19 in the state. Now, almost exactly one year to the day, they both received their vaccinations.

Emma and Ralph traveled to England in February of 2020; back when whispers of some kind of contagious disease were only whispers.

"It was my dad's 100th birthday that we celebrated," Ralph said.

A few days after they got back, Emma played in a Special Olympics basketball game in Fremont. At the game she got hit in the head with a basketball and was admitted to Methodist Women's Hospital several times for migraines.

On March 6, during her third trip to the hospital, her oxygen levels were extremely low which prompted Methodist physicians to test her for COVID-19.

"We contacted Douglas County Health Department. At the time, because the U.K. was not listed on the countries of interest, they were a little apprehensive to test her because she didn't meet the current criteria," said Methodist Hospital Infection Preventionist Amanda Wyant.

The health department agreed to test Emma and it was confirmed; Emma was the first positive case in the state.

Her father Ralph got the news over the phone.

"They called me and put the phone to her ear because she couldn't speak. She was still intubated," he said. "The nurse said she heard my voice and a tear rolled down her cheek."

Later, Emma was transported to Nebraska Medicine where she spent over a month fighting for her life, including going into a coma.

"This is when we were still operating like we would've with an Ebola patient," said Nebraska Medicine's Medical Director of the ICU Dr. Brian Boer.

Boer cared for Emma even though proper care for a COVID-19 patient wasn't clear.

"The biggest unknown was really just how contagious COVID was, how transmissible it truly was. We took every precaution as if it were extremely contagious and transmissible," Boer said.

It was tough for Boer and for all medical professionals. It was tough for the entire state to wrap their heads around what this first confirmed case meant.

"That was kind of like, yes we were prepared, but I don't think we were prepared for the extent," said Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour.

Shortly after Emma's diagnosis in March, Ralph took a COVID test even though he had no symptoms. He tested positive, becoming the second confirmed case in the state.

Now, one year and over 200,000 cases in the state later, a new hope is prevailing. Almost one year to the day that the Hutchinson family tested positive for the virus both Emma and Ralph are now vaccinated. Ralph received his COVID-19 vaccine at Christ Community Church on Thursday while Emma received hers in her group home in Wymore, Nebraska.

"I can give hope to other people because I'm a survivor and a fighter," Emma said.

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