Father of 12 Died of COVID Complications After Family Tried Desperately to Find ECMO Machine

"The hardest thing I've ever done in my life was to come home and tell my babies that their daddy wasn't coming home," said Reed Hickson's wife Gina

Reed Hickson
Photo: GoFundMe

A father of 12 from Texas died of COVID-19 complications after a month-long health battle.

When Reed Hickson, 49, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in August, many of his other family members had experienced only "mild" symptoms of the virus, his wife of 29 years, Gina Hickson, told KBTX.

While his relatives recovered, Hickson's symptoms continued to worsen over the next three weeks, and he was eventually admitted into a local ICU. From there, his health remained stable until things took a turn in the days that followed.

As his outlook worsened, Hickson's loved ones tried to secure an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which supports patients with failing hearts and lungs by pumping oxygen throughout the body. The expensive machines are considered the "highest level of life support," even more than a ventilator, as reported by NPR.

"Still need a bed with ECMO capabilities. Just need one yes!" Gina wrote on Facebook on Sept. 19, noting she'd had to "face the harsh reality" that this was her husband's "only chance to stay alive."

"If you have connections please use them we are running out of time and options. Can be farther away," she added.

"Thank you and keep praying!!! We are not giving up hope!!!" she continued, noting that most medical facilities were already full. According to WRCB, the pandemic has caused a shortage of ECMO machines, which has been exacerbated by a shortage of health officials who are qualified to use them.

On Sept. 20, one day after Gina's message, her husband died. It is unclear whether he was vaccinated against the virus.

"When you see it up close, a patient you're caring for but even more so a family member, a friend, it changes your life," Hickson's friend, Dr. Andy Wilson, told KBTX.

"The hardest thing I've ever done in my life was to come home and tell my babies that their daddy wasn't coming home," Gina added.

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He leaves behind his wife and their 12 children — Cayla, Mason, Leiah, Connor, Reece, Lily, Morgan, Lance, Chase, Hensley, Casen, and Ryker. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help the family pay hospital bills.

"The Hickson family and our entire community... lost a kind, loving, strong, and dedicated husband, father, brother, son, community leader, and dear friend to so many on 9/20/2021 after an extended fight against COVID 19," a campaign organizer wrote on the donation page, which has raised nearly $60,000 as of Thursday afternoon.

"We are all so incredibly heartbroken, and the void this family is experiencing is beyond description," the post continued.

On social media, people that knew Hickson remembered him for his "big smile" and warm spirit."

"My little brother Reed was called home last night, leaving behind a legacy of true love and greatness, his family of 12 beautiful children and his magnificent soul mate," Hickson's brother, Samuel Hickson, said on Facebook.

As of Thursday morning, 55 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 64 percent have has at least one dose, according to the New York Times.

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.

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