US Army vet's mother demands change after son dies of non-COVID illness while waiting for ICU bed

HOUSTON -- An Army veteran died from a treatable illness after his family says he waited seven hours for an ICU bed to become available.

Daniel Wilkinson, also known as Danny, had two deployments in Afghanistan and returned home as a Purple Heart recipient. His mother, Michelle Puget, said they moved to Bellville, Texas about three years ago in order to enjoy a quiet life together.

"He just [has] a big heart, a big personality and a big soul," Puget said. "In 2019, I came down with breast cancer and he took care of me two years through that. He took me to all my chemos, to my surgery. [He] took care of me, kept track of my doctor's appointment, everything. I mean he was just that type of a son."

Puget said last Saturday, Wilkinson became very ill. She took him to an emergency room just three houses down from their home where he was diagnosed with gallstone pancreatitis. Doctors said he needed treatment immediately.

"[The doctor] said, 'We know what we need to do, and how to do it. We just have to get him to a facility to get it done,' and they couldn't do that," Puget said.

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Puget said the staff called hospitals across Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma. Due to the COVID-19 surge dominated by the delta variant and overwhelmed hospitals, there were no ICU beds available for Wilkinson, who was a non-COVID patient.

After seven hours of waiting, the VA Hospital in Houston said they could treat Wilkinson, but by the time he was airlifted, his mother said his condition was too unstable and the doctor couldn't perform the surgery that could've prevented his death.

"It's something that nobody should have to experience and I'm just praying that some good will come from it, because every minute that he was denied an ICU bed, he was dying," she said. "Every minute counted."

Puget said she wants change in Texas hospitals. She said the state's health care system is in need of more nursing staff, tents for overflow patients and additional resources so all patients can get the care and treatment they need.

"The doctor said, 'I'm scared another one is going to come in, and the same type of situation is going to happen,'" she said. "Everybody should be able to get help if they need it. That's my wish. My wish is that his story might save somebody else's life."



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