U.S. Army Veteran Dies of Treatable Illness After Being Unable to Get ICU Bed Due to Pandemic Shortages
U.S. Army veteran Daniel Wilkinson needed an ICU bed to save his life.
Last Saturday, Wilkinson's mother, Michelle Puget, rushed him to a hospital in Bellville, Texas, after he started feeling sick. His symptoms weren't related to COVID-19. In fact, his illness was very treatable.
Dr. Hasan Kakli, an emergency physician at Belville Medical Center, diagnosed the veteran with gallstone pancreatitis.
"If that stone doesn't spontaneously come out and doesn't resolve itself, that fluid just builds up, backs up into the liver, backs up into the pancreas, and starts to shut down those organs," Kakli told CBS News. "His bloodwork even showed that his kidneys were shutting down."
The medical center wasn't equipped to treat Wilkinson. The veteran who served two tours needed to be transferred to another hospital to have the procedure to remove the stone.
Unfortunately, due to a rise in severe COVID-19 patients in ICU beds across the entire Southern U.S., there wasn't a spot available for Wilkinson, the news outlet reported. Kakli spent the next seven hours trying to find a medical center across the South that could treat Wilkinson, but to no avail.
"I had that thought in my head: 'I need to get his mother here right now. I said, 'If he doesn't get this procedure done, he is going to die,' " Kakli said. "I also had to have the discussion with him. ''Dan,' I said, 'if your heart stops in front of me right here, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to do everything we can to resuscitate you and try and get your heart back? If that were to happen, Dan, if I were to get you back, we're still in that position we're in right now.' "
Finally, a hospital bed opened up in Houston. Wilkinson was airlifted to the nearby hospital, but it was too late to save his life.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.
"They weren't able to do the procedure on him because it had been too long," Puget told CBS News. "[They] told me that they had seen air pockets in his intestines, which means that they were already starting to die off. They told me that I had to make a decision, and I knew how Danny felt; he didn't want to be that way. And, so, we were all in agreement that we had to let him go."
Wilkinson died on Aug. 20 at 46 years old from an illness that Kakli told CBS News should have been treated within 30 minutes.
"I've never lost a patient from this diagnosis, ever," Kakli said. "I'm scared that the next patient that I see is someone that I can't get to where they need to get to go. We are playing musical chairs, with 100 people and 10 chairs. When the music stops, what happens? People from all over the world come to Houston to get medical care and, right now, Houston can't take care of patients from the next town over. That's the reality."
His heartbroken mother shared the news of her son's death on Wilkson's Facebook Page.
"My wonderful son Daniel Wilkinson took his last breath today a 1:37pm," Puget wrote. "Danny went peacefully with no pain. If he was able to recover he would be a vegetable and he did not want that. After all he went through in Afghanistan a little gall stone took him out. He loved each and every one of you."
A Facebook Fundraiser has been set up to help the family with funeral costs.
As of Friday, Harris County, Texas, reported an estimated 54,000 active cases of COVID-19. About 2.2 million people out of the county's population of 4.7 million are fully vaccinated.
Currently, over 36% of ICU beds in Harris County are being filled by COVID-19 patients, according to county health data.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.