App State student dies of COVID-19 complications

Mickey Hutchings and Jackie Park

Chad Dorrill was a sophomore at App State before he died of COVID-19 complications. He was 19 years old. (Courtesy of Kade Compton)

An App State student died from COVID-19 complications Monday night.

Sophomore Chad Dorrill was taken off of life support around 8 p.m. after battling the virus for about two weeks.

Dorrill’s mother, Susan, said her son was “incredibly tired” for two weeks in a now-private Facebook post by the Piedmont Pacers, a travel basketball team Dorrill played for in Davidson County.

Little did we know it was secretly attacking his body in a way they have never seen before,” she said. “The doctors said that Chad is the rarest 1-10,000,000 case but if it can happen to a super healthy 19-year-old boy who doesn’t smoke, vape, or do drugs, it can happen to anyone.”

Dorrill lived off campus and all of his classes were held online, according to a campus-wide email from Chancellor Sheri Everts sent Tuesday afternoon. 

When Dorrill began feeling unwell earlier this month, his mother encouraged him to return home to Davidson County, get tested for COVID-19 and quarantine.

Once he was cleared to come back to Boone by his doctor, Dorrill began experiencing “additional complications” related to this virus, Everts wrote.

After the 19-year-old’s death was announced on social media Monday night, friends, family and others began sharing messages of grief and support for the Dorrill family.

Kade Compton’s younger brother played basketball with Dorrill when they were in high school, and she and him were friends for about three years. They both attended Ledford High School. She says Dorill was “a light.”

“I’m a big drama queen, and so I’d cry all the time and he’d just drop anything and be like, ‘What is it?” said Compton, a junior. “It’d be the dumbest stuff and he’d just stop in his tracks and be like, ‘I’m going to help you.’”

Compton said Dorrill would send her Snapchat videos of him dancing and talking, and made his own memes.

“He was just incredibly funny,” she said.

Compton says he told her two weeks ago that he had contracted COVID-19. She said as soon as he found out, he went home. 

Compton said he experienced pretty common symptoms of the virus.  But, he started to have trouble breathing and his family brought him to the hospital, where he was taken into the intensive care unit. Dorrill was there for four to five days, she said, until his brain started to swell. Compton said doctors couldn’t stop the swelling, and had to take him off the ventilator.

Chad Dorrill in 2019. Dorrill’s friend Kade Compton described him as “a light.” (Courtesy of Kade Compton)

She says she kept thinking he would “pull through” because he was young, healthy and didn’t have any preexisting conditions. 

Compton says it’s “crazy” that people in Boone aren’t taking the pandemic seriously and that people are upset they have to wear masks.

“Just because it doesn’t affect you as bad as it affects other people doesn’t mean you can’t spread it, doesn’t mean you can’t harm people in the way that Chad was harmed because that’s how he got sick. It wasn’t him,” Compton said.

Compton says she thinks Dorrill either got sick from his job at Jimmy John’s or from his roommates, because he wasn’t partying.

“You can just spread it. You might not get that sick, but your friend could,” Compton said.

In an email Tuesday afternoon, Everts officially shared the news of Dorrill’s death with students, faculty and staff. 

“The hearts of the entire Appalachian community are with Chad’s family and loved ones during this profoundly difficult and painful time,” Everts wrote. “Tributes shared by friends and loved ones show the positive impact Chad had on the communities he loved and called home, which included App State and Boone.” 

The chancellor emphasized the importance of being “vigilant” in following COVID-19 safety protocols by limiting social gatherings, remaining at least six feet away from individuals in public spaces, and wearing facial coverings when around other people. 

“We can flatten the curve, but to do so, we must persevere,” Everts wrote. “From the smallest acts to the most important personal relationships, we must actively work each day to reduce the spread of this highly communicable disease.”

Chad Dorrill reads a book on Howard’s Knob Patio in 2019. Dorrill was a sophomore exercise science major from Davidson County. (Courtesy of Kade Compton)

Students, faculty and staff have assistance for coping with grief through the university. 

UNC System President Peter Hans released a statement Tuesday evening on Dorrill’s death.

“Any loss of life is a tragedy, but the grief cuts especially deep as we mourn a young man who had so much life ahead,” Hans said. “I ache for the profound sadness that Chad Dorrill’s family is enduring right now. My heart goes out to the entire Appalachian State community.”

Though COVID-19 is a big, challenging issue, that doesn’t diminish the pain that Dorrill’s family and friends are feeling.

“Chad’s family asked that this moment stand as a stark reminder of how Covid-19 is deadly serious for all of us, even for otherwise healthy young adults,” he said. “We have a heightened duty to one another in these extraordinarily trying times, and we all need to remain vigilant. I join his family and Chancellor Everts in urging everyone to follow public health guidance by wearing a mask, washing hands, maintaining physical distance, and limiting gatherings.”

App State is offering free walk-up testing every Saturday in September and October at the Rivers Street Parking Deck from noon to 5 p.m. with an AppCard.

This story has been updated with additional information from the UNC System.