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'Blessing In Disguise': College Student's COVID Diagnosis Saves Her Life

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - For one Mankato State student, getting COVID-19 was actually the best thing that could have happened to her health.

The school year started out as normal as it could be amidst a pandemic.

Then, in late September, they became part of the pandemic, testing positive for COVID. Everyone but Makenna Studer recovered quickly.

"I kept getting worse and worse and I had pretty much every symptom you could have. I was fainting and throwing up everything I was trying to eat," she said.

The nursing student suddenly found herself as the subject of study.

Doctors rushed to figure out why her fever hit 105 and her young body got sicker and sicker. Dr. Colt Williams practices hematology and oncology at the Mayo Clinic. He explained, "bloodwork at that time demonstrated that something truly was going on can see that white blood cells can be elevated during times of infection and stress. Makenna's were off the charts. They were extraordinarily elevated."

Studer didn't just have COVID - she also had acute leukemia.

"It was like - I had just been hit by a truck. I wasn't expecting that at all. It didn't even feel real for like a long time," said Studer.

After two weeks in the COVID unit, she went to Mayo for inpatient chemo. She had an aggressive and spontaneous blood cancer that fascinated the experts.

Dr. Williams explained, "She has some mutations in her leukemia that we see in only 1% of the 1% of patients so we are talking only a handful of patients diagnosed in our country annually with the type of genetic alterations that we see in Makenna's disease."

Pretty much everything that went wrong, did. While in the hospital, Studer got a series of blood infections and then randomly got appendicitis.

"Makenna has terrible luck," said Dr. Williams.

But she had wonderful support, despite a strict no-visitor policy. Friends and family stood outside the hospital with words of encouragement and signs of love.

"If you surround yourself with the right people it's hard not to feel grateful," said Studer.

Pamela Swenson is Studer's Mom.

"She's making it look very easy to go through something Like this and it's not. She's a fighter," said Swenson.

And despite the bad luck, good came from the worst virus the world's has ever known, because with her aggressive cancer, every day counts.

Dr. Williams believed the COVID diagnosis could have saved Studer's life, "You can argue that with some twist of fate, the COVID-19 diagnosis was a blessing in disguise because it brought her into the healthcare system where she was able to be diagnosed very, very early in her disease course."

Studer says she is actually thankful she got COVID.

It appears doctors have a good grasp on her cancer as she is soon to head back to Mayo for another week of chemo so she's appreciating what she has.

"You just have to keep that perspective and mentality that every day is a blessing," said Studer.

And she's not dwelling on the fact she's lost her hair.

"Honestly it hasn't been that bad. It's winter anyway and people are wearing hats," said Studer.

Even though her case likely will make medical history, that's not what her doctor says is most remarkable.

"Through all of this she was completely calm and faced all of this with nothing but grace and dignity- and that to me is what blows my mind," said Dr. Williams.

Dr. Williams says he also believes Studer is going to make a standout nurse, with her new hard-earned perspective. He also hopes her story inspires people to go to and consider being a bone marrow donor to help patients like Studer.

Her family wanted to share he story in hopes it could help someone somewhere get the diagnosis they need.

If you'd like to follow her journey, as she goes back into Mayo for in-patient treatment, her CaringBridge page is here.

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