37-year-old Florida COVID-19 victim chronicled disease on Facebook up until death

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BRANDON, Fla. (WFLA) — The coronavirus has claimed the life of a 37-year-old in Brandon, one of the youngest Tampa Bay area victims to date.

Other than a very recent sleep apnea diagnosis, McClelland’s mother said PJ had no other underlying health issues. That’s primarily why PJ’s death has been so hard to process.

However, in writings, McClelland did acknowledge being a frequent smoker but had been working to cut back. Doctors warn smokers may be more susceptible to COVID-19.

PJ began journaling every step of the way on Facebook after a late March COVID-19 diagnosis. The first post walks readers through the long, early morning traveling to Raymond James Stadium to be swabbed at the county’s drive-through testing site.

The raw, detailed posts go into depth about everything from the coughing fits that kept PJ up at night, to how doctors denied hydroxychloroquine because they didn’t believe PJ was ill enough.

PJ wrote about briefly being admitted to Brandon Regional Hospital, only to be sent home to recover.

In one post, PJ wrote how the illness felt like “a migraine, bronchitis, and the flu all at once.”

“As a close friend for many years, it was difficult to read,” Ross said. “But I feel it was important.”

Every post was public, in hopes of enlightening those who question how serious the virus is. McClelland soon gained hundreds of followers nationwide, complete strangers who were compelled by the story and rooting for McClelland’s recovery.

McClelland is remembered as being lively, witty, and having a fierce compassion for others.

“Everybody who met PJ became a friend, and it’s been evident in the outpouring of support since their passing,” Ross explained.

McClelland penned the last update on Thursday, April 9. With gut-wrenching irony, PJ felt “lucky,” citing patients who were healthy in the morning but died in the night.

“I know I’ve said this, but it bears repeating: I’m one of the lucky ones,” McClelland wrote, wishing followers love and adding “I’ll update later, assuming I don’t collapse from sheer exhaustion.”

That update never came.

McClelland died at home two days later, friends and family say.

Family is planning a celebration of life, but doesn’t know when it will be due to social distancing restrictions.

McClelland’s journal referenced being Brandon Regional Hospital’s first confirmed COVID-19 patient, but 8 On Your Side has not been able to confirm that independently with the hospital.

While the Florida Department of Health coronavirus death data references McClelland as a 35 years old, family and friends say that number was misreported and McClelland was in fact 37. McClelland was non-binary and preferred the “they” pronoun.

McLelland desperately wanted to share the truth to teach people about the virus and advocate for other patients.

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