US Veteran Dies Of A Non-COVID Treatable Condition Because ICU Beds Are Full Of COVID-19 Patients

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Daniel Wilkinson US Veteran

U.S. Army veteran Daniel Wilkinson died in hospital over a week ago after struggling to access emergency care quickly.

With Covid outbreaks on the increasing again because of the Delta variant, hospitals are filling up again, causing people like Wilkinson to miss the care that they would need in order to survive.

"He served two deployments in Afghanistan, came home with a Purple Heart, and it was a gallstone that took him out," said his mother Michelle Puget.

US Veteran Daniel Wilkinson struggled to access emergency care before his death.

When he started feeling ill on Saturday Aug 14, Puget, who lives three doors down, rushed Wilkinson over to Bellville Medical Center in Texas, right outside of Houston.

Wilkinson was diagnosed with gallstone pancreatitis, a treatable condition that required instant care. 

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The bile created by his gall bladder hardened and created a gallstone, similar to kidney stones, and blocked his pancreatic duct, causing pain, inflammation, and if not treated quickly or naturally fixes itself, could cause organ shutdown resulting in death.

Dr. Hasan Kakli, the doctor in charge of treating Wilkinson, recalls the moment when he knew Wilkinson wasn’t going to be able to get the care he needed in Bellville Medical Center.

"I do labs on him, I get labs, and the labs come back, and I'm at the computer, and I have one of those 'Oh, crap' moments. 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. His bloodwork even showed that his kidneys were shutting down."

Kakli said that his patient was dying right in front of him, and time was running dangerously low.

Wilkinson couldn't get into an ICU due to high numbers of Covid patients.

Typically, when something like this happens, medical centers will call other hospitals to see if there are any open ICU beds in their medical wings. Kakli recalled making multiple phone calls to other facilities, only to get a lot of, "sorry … sorry … sorry," in reply.

These places had all the right personnel, but none of the space required. Every hospital nearby was filled with Covid patients.

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"Then I'm at my computer and, I'm just like, scratching my head, and I get this thought in my head: I'm like, 'What if I put this on Facebook or something, maybe somebody can help out?'

"One doctor messaged me: 'Hey, I'm in Missouri. Last time I checked, we have ICU beds. We can do this, call this number.' The next guy messages me, he's a GI specialist, he goes, 'I'm in Austin. I can do his procedure, get him over.' I said, 'Okay great, let's go.' He texts me back five minutes later: 'I'm sorry. I can't get administrative approval to accept him, we're full.'"

For seven hours, Wilkinson waited in an ER bed, with no word on whether or not they could find a place for him, or if he would make it.

"I had that thought in my head: 'I need to get his mother here right now,'" Kakli said. "I said, 'If he doesn't get this procedure done, he is going to die.'"

"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?" Kakil recalled.

"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.'"

Wilkinson opted to talk to his mother about it before deciding anything.

After hours of waiting, a bed finally opened up at the V.A. hospital in Houston, and they flew Wilkinson by helicopter to get him into the ICU.

Kakli recalled Wilkinson saying, "Oh, man, I promised myself after Afghanistan I would never be in a helicopter again! … Oh, well, I guess."
Only, it was too late to perform the procedure. 

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"They weren't able to do the procedure on him because it had been too long," his mother said.

"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."

At the age of 46, Daniel Wilkinson passed away roughly 24 hours after he walked into the Bellville Medical Center emergency room.

Covid has prevented people from accessing care for other illnesses.

Kakli said that if it hadn’t been for Covid, the procedure for Wilkinson would have taken 30 minutes, and he'd have been back out the door — happy and healthy.

"We are playing musical chairs, with 100 people and 10 chairs," he said. "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."

Country-wide nurse shortages are also a result of the Covid crisis, and leaves the medical state of the country hanging on a scary thread.

“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,” said Kakli.

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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice and politics.