20-year-old Tyler Gilreath had no preexisting conditions, but after contracting COVID-19 he developed a staph infection that led to irreversible brain damage

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Tyler Gilreath
Credit: Tamra Demello/Facebook

A North Carolina college student who resisted getting vaccinated died of complications from COVID-19 at age 20.

Tyler Gilreath, a student at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington, thought that his age would protect him against the virus if he were to get sick and was concerned about side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine, his mom, Tamra Demello, said.

"He rationalized that a healthy 20 year old that gets it 'won't get that sick,' " Demello wrote on Facebook. "I cajoled, encouraged, threatened, and nagged for him to get vaccinated. He was too busy and/or concerned about the 'possible long term heart issues' but finally agreed to get it at soon as he moved at school. He didn't get the chance."

Two days after Gilreath moved into college, he contracted COVID-19, Demello told WECT News. Despite having no preexisting conditions, he quickly got severely ill, and developed a sinus and staph infection that lasted for three weeks before moving into his brain.

Gilreath developed a brain abscess that ruptured while he was in his dorm last week. He was briefly conscious after going to the hospital, but the blood flow to his brain soon stopped, and on Friday a CAT scan showed that he had irreversible brain damage.

On Tuesday morning, he was taken off life support and died.

"This is just such a devastating shock. It'll just leave such a hole in our heart forever that can never be filled," Demello told the outlet, crying. "If these kids could just realize not only what this could do to them, but how devastating it is to everybody around them. I'm just begging them to please go get their shots."

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Gilreath had been a healthy, active person who loved to wake board, water ski and downhill ski, and was studying computer science at UNC-W.

Demello urged parents to "use whatever guilt tactic" possible to make sure that their kids get vaccinated.

"I would say just get this message out and if it can even save one person who is on the fence, or if a parent can use it to say, 'look how shattered this whole family is.' This probably won't happen to you but if there's any remote possibility that it could — it's a shot," she said.

Demello said that Gilreath's father, stepmother and three siblings are all distraught by his loss. She gets some comfort from the fact that Gilreath had signed up to be an organ donor when he got his driver's license, and his heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys were saved to give to people in need.

"He will live on in my heart and through those recipients," she wrote on Facebook. "I know he is with God, but the hole in my life he leaves will never go away.  I love you, Son. Rest in peace."

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