Jessica DuPreez and her nearly three-year-old fiancé Micheal Freedy wanted to give it a year before rolling up their sleeves for a COVID-19 vaccine. But time wasn’t on their side.
DuPreez and Freedy dated for over seven years and met while working at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. DuPreez loved how Freedy could “always just light up a room when he walked in”.
“His presence has always been so positive and larger than life,” DuPreez told USA TODAY. “It was just great to be with him.”
DuPreez and Freedy thought they were careful while waiting to get their shots. DuPreez never considered herself an anti-Vaxxer.
She said the novelty of the COVID-19 vaccine and the speed at which it was made made her and Freedy pause.
“I believe in vaccines; I believe in this with all my heart, ”said DuPreez. “We just wanted to wait a year to see how everyone reacted.”
While DuPreez and Freedy postpone the vaccination, the couple pursues their travel plans.
About three weeks ago, DuPreez and Freedy and their five children left their home in Las Vegas, Nevada for a two-day trip to San Diego, California: a small getaway from the desert heat. DuPreez said it was a great time, especially for her children.
“None of our kids had ever been to the ocean, so they loved that and got to ride the rides at Belmont Park,” said DuPreez.
Freedy returned home with a “brutal” sunburn, purple color with water bubbles, and a range of symptoms: loss of appetite, restlessness, fever, dizziness and nausea. He stayed home from work for the next two days: he couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep and was “hot to touch”. But DuPreez said there was little concern because they attributed these symptoms to Freedy’s sunburn as they thought he was suffering from sun poisoning.
DuPreez said Freedy went to the emergency room three days after she returned from San Diego because his symptoms persisted. She said that not much was being made of Freedy’s condition at the time; the doctor who saw him was telling him to drink some Gatorade. Freedy went to work that evening.
However, DuPreez said Freedy continued to feel unwell and called in sick over the next two days. Freedy visited another emergency room earlier the following week, where a different conclusion was drawn about his condition – Freedy tested positive for COVID-19.
“He panics and says he doesn’t want to die and doesn’t want to leave his babies without a father,” DuPreez said.
DuPreez said Freedy’s young age – he had just turned 39 a few days before his COVID-19 diagnosis – and her relatively good health at the time gave her some reassurance that she tried to channel into encouragement. “I promise we’ll get through this,” she told Freedy.
Freedy returned home on the advice of doctors to stay hydrated, rest, and self-isolating on Pedialyte.
But his condition was rapidly deteriorating. He woke DuPreez around 3 a.m., according to DuPreez’s report of Freedy’s illness on GoFundMe, and told her he couldn’t breathe or stand up straight.
DuPreez took Freedy to the emergency room for his third visit in 96 hours. His blood oxygen levels were low and the hospital staff were “surprised that he could walk and speak at all”. Scans from Freedy found pneumonia in both lungs, DuPreez said.
It was a rapid decline that DuPreez never saw coming.
“[I didn’t] When I dropped him off in the emergency room because he couldn’t breathe, I realized that the last time I would hold his hand while he was awake, “DuPreez said. “That I couldn’t hug him again, that I could never sleep next to him again.”
Although DuPreez couldn’t see Freedy after that point, other than taking him to the hospital with clothes and other items, she said she was still hopeful even when a fear set in.
DuPreez said Freedy was moved to another hospital and then to a stopover to better meet his care needs. During one of their textual conversations, Freedy expressed regret.
“I should have got the damn vaccine,” Freedy wrote, according to a report from FOX5.
After five days in the intermediate care unit and a week after his COVID-19 diagnosis, DuPreez said Freedy had been taken to the intensive care unit. She said he was fully intubated and sedated within about two hours of his arrival.
DuPreez said she was instructed by a nurse that night to “contact the next of kin and take all of his belongings home”.
DuPreez got up early when her fiancé died. She said that she wanted to go to work that day and that she had to leave her children with her sister on the other side of town. But she wanted to visit Freedy in the hospital first.
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“I want to make sure he knows I’m here,” said DuPreez.
When she got to the hospital, she thought there was good news. Freedy was in a new bed and some of his numbers had improved.
But soon his blood oxygen levels dropped. DuPreez said a nurse had assured her that this was normal.
Then Freedy’s numbers “hit the ground” and he no longer had a recognizable pulse.
A “swarm of doctors and nurses” rushed in. DuPreez was promptly moved to the back of the room when the doctors performed chest compressions on him.
After 30 minutes of compression, DuPreez said one of the doctors came to her and told her to stop – “we’ve done all we can.”
Brant Graves, one of Freedy’s best friends, usually works late and sleeps during the day. That day he woke up from “a million text messages and missed calls”, everyone shared a sad tone: “Oh, this is so sad” and “Oh, I’m so sorry”.
Graves first said he couldn’t believe the news of Freedy’s death.
“It was just very hard to tell that one of my best friends has just gone and I’ll never see him again,” said Graves.
Graves is “fully versed” in dealing with the harrowing realities of COVID-19. He is a registered sleep technologist and spent three months “side by side with frontline nurses who dealt with COVID patients and see them die left and right and see the whole tragedy”.
He said he was unaware that Freedy was unvaccinated and that they only talked about COVID-19 in the context of working with pandemic restrictions, such as wearing face masks.
“It’s just a shame he didn’t get it [the vaccine]“Said Graves.
DuPreez said she and her oldest child were vaccinated on the same day that Freedy tested positive for COVID-19.
Looking back on her own experience, DuPreez said that anti-vaccination campaigners should overcome their skepticism and get vaccinated.
“Even if you got a sore shoulder or got a little sick, I would take a bit of resentment that he isn’t here at this point,” DuPreez said.
“I would just beg anyone to get it [the vaccine] if they can, ”said Graves. “If you’ve thought of getting it – get it.”