Exceptional Patient Experience—Austin Chappell


In December 2012, University of Utah student Austin Chappell started feeling sick. Shortly thereafter he noticed a bump near his collarbone, which became extremely painful. An X-ray at a local clinic found nothing unusual, and Chappell was sent away with medication to help him sleep.

Three days later the pain was so intense Chappell hadn’t slept for almost 36 hours and was running a fever of 105 degrees. He told his brother to take him to University of Utah Hospital.

“I knew something was seriously wrong,” Chappell said. “I thought ‘if anyone is going to figure it out, it’ll be at University of Utah Health.’”

Emergency staff stuffed ice packs around Chappell’s body in an effort to reduce his fever while a diagnosis was reached. Doctors concluded that his lung was severely infected, most likely a result of pneumonia. They tried inserting a tube into the lung to drain the fluid, but the tube size and consistency of the infected fluid made the attempt ineffective.

Around 10:30pm, the doctors paged cardiothoracic surgeon Shamus Carr for a consultation just before he went home for the night. He had to double check Chappell’s chart before going into the room, and what he found was alarming.

“I turned to his brother and said ‘he’s got to go to the operating room now,’” Carr said. “I was worried that by the morning, he might not be here. I felt it was life-threatening at that point.”

Chappell was prepped for surgery and wheeled in around at 1am to drain the lung. Carr had to break three ribs to extract nearly three liters of liquid from Chappell’s lung. His fever broke almost immediately.

“He probably got pneumonia and the fluid around the lungs was extremely infected,” Carr noted. “One of the worst cases I’ve seen throughout my career, especially considering he was a healthy college-aged kid.”

After a seven-day hospital stay, Chappell was sent home with multiple tubes protruding from the infected lung that needed to be drained seven to eight times each day. The tubes stayed in for nine weeks and required weekly clinic visits where they were removed and his wound cleaned.

“I wish I could remember all the nurse’s names, because I really had such great care from everybody,” Chappell said.

Chappell went on to graduate from the University of Utah, get a full time job, and now is considering graduate school.

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