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'I’m just blessed’: Former Maryland OL Ellis McKennie III thankful after father’s recovery from coronavirus

Maryland senior guard Ellis McKennie became the voice of the team, particularly in the wake of the death of teammate Jordan McNair.
Maryland senior guard Ellis McKennie became the voice of the team, particularly in the wake of the death of teammate Jordan McNair. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Ellis McKennie III has not given much thought to the NFL draft, and for good reason.

McKennie, who last fall completed his fifth year of eligibility as a starting offensive lineman for the Maryland football team, has been preoccupied by the health of his father Ellis McKennie Jr., who was afflicted by the coronavirus. After 15 days in a medically induced coma, the elder McKennie was discharged Monday from the hospital — a huge relief for the younger McKennie, who grew up in Randallstown and graduated from McDonogh.

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“Everything took a backseat,” McKennie, 22, said Wednesday afternoon. “My professors have been extremely understanding as I finish up my master’s [in public policy] right now, but it’s kind of hard to focus on something else while this was going on with my father. I spent a lot of my days at the hospital, trying to sit there, and even when I came back, it was hard to switch my mind into work mode or something else just knowing what he was going through or what my mom was going through.”

Ellis McKennie Jr., 51, began to feel nauseated and tired and started coughing sometime in March, according to Jodi McKennie, his wife of 22 years. Not one to normally complain, McKennie was confined to bed in their home in McSherrystown, Pennsylvania, for two days, and after talking to his brother, he asked his wife to take him to the emergency room at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in nearby Hanover on March 18.

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Jodi McKennie, 52, said that her husband was diagnosed with pneumonia that day, and she visited him the next morning. But later that afternoon, her husband informed her that he could no longer have any visitors.

On March 21, Ellis McKennie Jr. tested positive for COVID-19. Jodi McKennie and their 14-year-old daughter, Ava, self-quarantined themselves in the house, and Ellis McKennie III stayed with his aunt.

“That was an extremely scary time,” the younger McKennie said. “It was more difficult for me because I couldn’t be with my mom and my sister, who were quarantined at home. Being separated from them made it a lot worse. And I couldn’t go visit my dad because the hospitals had been shut down by the virus. That made it all difficult to deal with. The best we [he and 29-year-old brother Stayce] could do was sit in the hospital parking lot. There was a feeling of helplessness that I tried to overcome during that time.”

On March 23, the elder McKennie was moved to the intensive care unit and placed into a medically induced coma that night. His breathing deteriorated to the point in which, on March 27, a ventilator was controlling 100% of his breathing.

Jodi McKennie said that she relayed the information to Candice Christie, the mother of Terps senior offensive lineman Sean Christie and a nurse in New York.

“She goes, ‘Honey, I love you, but I want you to know that this does not look good. From a friend’s point, I want you to be positive and to pray, but from a nurse’s perspective, this doesn’t look like he’s going to make it out of this,’” Jodi McKennie said Wednesday.

“There was probably five days of him being on a ventilator where I was just waiting for that phone call from the hospital telling me that he didn’t make it through the night,” she continued, adding that her request to wear protective gear for one final chance to say goodbye to her husband was denied. “Everybody who reached out to me to pray, I just kept saying, ‘He’s going to die alone.’ That’s the part that broke my heart.”

But on April 6 at 2 p.m., a nurse called Jodi McKennie, informing her that someone wanted to talk to her. It was her husband, who spoke a few words before handing the phone back to the nurse.

A week later, Ellis McKennie Jr. was discharged from the hospital and went home, beating the family-targeted date of April 19, his birthday.

His recovery continues to astound his son.

“It came so fast,” he said. “We had gone from fearing that we were going to lose him to having him out of the hospital in a week. I can only point to prayers and the help and support we got from so many people that showed how much they cared about him and our family.”

Jodi McKennie said that she hopes people grasp the full weight of the dangers of the coronavirus.

“We’re both healthy. So we weren’t scared,” she said. “It wasn’t something that we were worrying about. But it can get to everybody, and I thank God that he was healthy so that he could get through it. I do believe there is hope, but I also believe that we need to take it seriously. It’s dangerous.”

Although Ellis McKennie Jr. lost 23 pounds and has yet to regain his sense of taste, he is able to climb up and down the stairs under his own power and talk to his family, according to Jodi McKennie.

Ellis McKennie III, who started at every position along the offensive line except left guard last fall and became the first Terp to achieve that feat in the same season since 1997, has since returned to College Park to concentrate on his preparation for the NFL draft. He said he has talked to a handful of teams, who have expressed interest in his versatility.

Whether he gets drafted or not, McKennie – who roots for the Philadelphia Eagles and admires Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden – said that he will enjoy the proceedings knowing that his father is healthy.

“I’m really happy that hopefully, we’re on the backside of all of that now and can kind of get the focus back to my future and what’s going on,” he said. “I’m just blessed to have my father back to experience all of that with me.”

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