Dr. McKenna has returned to both his medical practice onsite management of the Orleans Parish Coroner’s office after working from home for two months

The symptoms for Dr. Dwight McKenna, Orleans Parish Coroner, presented in early March when he began experiencing feelings of fatigue and exhaustion. Signs were subtle at first. When the suspicious symptoms lingered, however, and after what seemed to be days upon days of excruciating discomfort, he took it upon himself to close his medical office and quarantine at home. His hope was to heal and get back to the important work of front-line duty running the coroner’s office and treating his numerous patients in the medically underserved Gentilly neighborhood where he has practiced for 40 years.

But that was not to be. In contracting COVID-19, Dr. McKenna, who is also co-founder and executive publisher of The New Orleans Tribune, was seriously sidelined. Ever fearful of infecting others, he was cut off from his family, left to fight the virus on his own. He was admitted to the hospital, not once but twice, in the span of a week.

He later isolated himself at his home where the illness took its toll on his body. Not only was he short of breath after taking just a few steps, he was literally exhausted; he had little to no appetite and oftentimes was fearful of the unknown. Dr. McKenna was plagued with body aches, shortness of breath, hiccups, fever and chills.

He says that looking back he now realizes his sense of time was twisted, not exact. He shut himself off from everyone for three days. His family and friends were sorely concerned, reaching out at every opportunity. He tells that those days in isolation dragged by agonizingly slowly. McKenna says, he just wanted the virus to pass so he could get better and stronger.

For some of those days, he was lost in sleep, illness and a strong urge to fight. So, fight he did. McKenna says that once he emerged from the fog, his strong desire to live took over.

“I didn’t want to succumb without a fight,” he says.

He remembers how he felt when he got word that the pandemic was raging across the country and around the world. He had a job to do; as a doctor his focus was being available to and helping the sick people at his Gentilly clinic, and his duty of running the coroner’s office was critical. He had the responsibility, with the help of the state, to receive the decedents who have died from COVID-19 and housing them in the makeshift morgue.

In his mind, he just had to get better, he had to survive this.

While his energy was zapped, he began the work of getting up and moving…a few steps here, a full meal there; he weaned himself off of the oxygen tank.

“I truly consider myself lucky. I had the luxury of retaining the services of a 24-hour private duty nurse,” says McKenna.

Even today with the second COVID-19 nasal swab being returned negative, the effects of the virus which struck him over eight weeks ago linger, and the recovery is slow but steady.

Dr. McKenna has returned to both his medical practice and onsite management of the Orleans Parish Coroner’s office and after working from home for two months.

The lesson for McKenna: Never, ever give up. He’s living proof.

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