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Norwich mom: COVID-19 saved my son’s life

Norwich — Unlike most people, Norwich resident Nicole Wilson is grateful for COVID-19.

The disease, she said, not only saved her son’s life but likely that of her other four children.

On Oct. 14, Wilson’s 17-year-old son, Michael, tested positive for the coronavirus. A few days later, he collapsed in the shower, complaining of chest pain. 

Michael, a senior at Norwich Free Academy, had experienced chest pain earlier that month, but his school nurse dismissed it as heartburn. Worried about his pain in addition to the virus, Wilson decided to take her son to the emergency room just to be sure. 

After a few agonizing hours in the emergency room at Backus Hospital, Michael was about to be discharged with another diagnosis of heartburn, when one doctor suggested that since the teen was positive for COVID-19, they run some more tests.

Doctors did blood work and a CT scan and found that it wasn’t heartburn after all — Michael had a rare genetic condition called Marfan syndrome, an aortic dissection — a split in the body’s biggest artery — and an 8-centimeter aneurysm. He was rushed to Hartford Hospital by ambulance for open heart surgery.

Michael underwent an abdominal aortic aneurysm repair during which doctors had to temporarily stop his heart. They told his mother he was lucky to be alive. 

“The surgeon came out of the operating room and said, ‘If we hadn’t caught this, he would have been dead within 48 hours,’” Wilson said. 

“When they said that, I almost fell on the floor,” she said.

While Michael went home to his family a few days later, the lifesaving diagnoses didn’t stop there. 

Doctors have told Wilson that it’s likely that her four other children — Matthew, 20, Nikolas, 12, Brady, 14, and Maryssa, 8 — all have some form of Marfan syndrome.

According to the Marfan Foundation, the syndrome is a life-threatening genetic condition that affects one in every 5,000 people. The condition affects the body’s connective tissue, which helps to hold the body’s cells, organs and tissues together, and commonly affects the aorta, the large blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body.

Some people with Marfan syndrome have features of the condition at birth, while others develop issues such as aortic enlargement, in adulthood. People with Marfan syndrome commonly have long, thin body types — Michael is 6 feet 5 inches tall.

“All my kids have some sort of Marfan syndrome, and I’d never even heard that word before,” she said.

In addition to the genetic condition, Wilson said her husband, Dustin Wilson, has a history of heart conditions in his family. If they hadn’t run extra tests at Backus, Michael could have been yet another person in his family to succumb to a heart-related death.

“The nurse told me that normally they wouldn’t have done that blood test, it’s because he had COVID,” said Wilson, who said Michael was asymptomatic while fighting the disease.

Since his diagnosis, he hasn’t been going to school in person because he’s afraid to contract the novel coronavirus again. He’s been dealing with dizziness, loss of vision and regular checkups for his heart. 

“I just don’t want to go out and risk getting COVID again because of what happened,” he said. “I never want to do it again.” 

He said he isn’t grateful he contracted COVID-19, but is grateful he’s alive. 

His mother also hasn’t gone back to work, because she’s worried about bringing the virus home, and is taking care of her son full time as he recovers.

The family has been struggling financially and has created a GoFundMe page, at, to raise money for a service dog for Michael. Wilson said the dog would help with Michael's condition and alert someone if Michael passes out, is holding his chest or signaling chest pain.

"I can't be with him for 24 hours a day, especially when I have appointments and medical tests for my other children," Wilson said. 

Michael has been approved for a wish from the Make-a-Wish Foundation and is in the process of choosing a pandemic-safe wish. 

Overall, Wilson said she is grateful that her son caught COVID-19, because if he hadn’t, he wouldn't have been with her anymore. 

“I see people complaining that they can’t have dinner with their family because of COVID, but they can have dinner next year. If it wasn’t for COVID, I might not have had any more dinners with my family,” she said. “Sometimes good comes out of the bad.”


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