But his mom said Monday that the young University of North Carolina Wilmington student was brain dead from complications of the virus, soon to be taken off life support.
Gilreath, from Cary, contracted COVID-19 last month, WECT was the first to report.
His mother, Tamra Demello, is still trying to process it.
"This is just such a devastating shock," she said. "It'll just leave such a hole in our heart forever that can never be filled."
The junior at UNCW was healthy and had no underlying medical conditions.
Demello said she tried over the summer to convince Gilreath to get vaccinated, but he was "stubborn as hell."
She said he finally agreed to do it when he got to school.
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"This was about two weeks before he moved and he was having a good time, wrapping things up and seeing friends," Demello said.
Within a few days of arriving in Wilmington for the start of school, Tyler got sick.
Tyler, who was studying computer science, never even made it to campus.
They thought he was getting better but when Tyler started acting erratically last week, his roommates rushed him to the hospital.
Tyler regained consciousness long enough to see his family but by Friday, he was brain dead.
Tyler's mom takes some solace knowing her son's life wasn't lost in vain -- his organs and tissue will help up to 80 other people.
"So at least people can live on through him," she said. "But it's just devastating, the hole that they leave in your life."
Now she has a message for those who are hesitant: "You just don't know how it's going to affect you personally. Even though you're strong and healthy. We just don't know. And what's the big deal? It's a shot, you get it, you might be sick for a day. That's it! Please, just do this!"