BRANDON, Fla. (WFLA) — The coronavirus has claimed the life of a 37-year-old in Brandon, Florida, one of the youngest Tampa Bay area victims to date.
PJ McClelland, who was non-binary and preferred the “they” pronoun, chronicled their battle in a detailed public journal on Facebook right up until their death.
Those who knew and loved PJ said they desperately wanted to share their truth to teach people about the virus and advocate for other patients.
“Please stay home,” explained longtime friend Tim Ross. “That’s all PJ wanted.”
Other than a very recent sleep apnea diagnosis, McClelland’s mother said they had no other underlying health issues. That’s primarily why their death has been so hard to process.
However, in their writings McClelland did acknowledge they were a frequent smoker but had been working to cut back. Doctors warn smokers may be more susceptible to COVID-19.
McClelland 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 trip 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 them up at night, to how doctors denied them hydroxychloroquine because they didn’t believe they were ill enough.
McClelland wrote that they were briefly admitted to Brandon Regional Hospital, only to be sent home to recover.
In one post, they 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 for their liveliness, wit, and 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 their last update on Thursday, April 9. With gut-wrenching irony, they called themselves “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 their followers love and adding “I’ll update later, assuming I don’t collapse from sheer exhaustion.”
That update never came.
McClelland died in their Brandon home two days later, friends and family say.
McClelland’s family is planning a celebration of life, but it’s not yet clear when or how it will take place due to social distancing restrictions.
McClelland’s journal referenced being Brandon Regional Hospital’s first confirmed COVID-19 patient, but sister station WFLA has not been able to confirm that independently with the hospital.
While Florida Department of Health coronavirus death data references McClelland as a 35-year-old woman in Hillsborough County, family and friends say that number was misreported and McClelland was in fact 37.