“I should have gotten the damn vaccine.”
That is one of the last things 39-year-old Michael Freedy told his fiancee, Jessica DuPreez, before he died from Covid-19 in an American hospital on Thursday.
The couple had five children, the youngest of them just 17 months old. They’d been together for seven years.
Mr Freedy spent the final days of his life in intensive care, unable to breathe without the help of machines. In a country where covid vaccines are free and readily available, he’d decided to wait before getting vaccinated.
“We wanted to wait just one year from the release to see what effects people had, but there was never any intention to not get it,” Ms DuPreez told her local TV station, Fox5 Las Vegas. She said she would always regret that decision.
“He was only 39. Our babies now don’t have a dad. You can’t say, ‘I am young and it won’t affect me,’ because it will,” Ms DuPreez said.
“I expected to get 30 more years with him.”
Ms DuPreez and her eldest child have now been vaccinated.
Mr Freedy initially believed he had sun poisoning, having recently taken a holiday to San Diego, California.
On a GoFundMe page set up before he died to help the family finances – at the time of writing it had raised $US22,000 – Ms DuPreez described her fiance’s deteriorating health in brutal detail.
“I came into our relationship with three kids and we have since had two more, bringing it up to five amazing babies,” Ms DuPreez said.
“Our life works. We have a true partnership, in everything we do. From making decisions to paying bills, from parenting to cleaning. We’ve always done it together and equally.
“We went to San Diego on July 12 and 13. It was to get the kids out of the heat advisory warning that Vegas had, but also because we actually had two days off in a row together. We went to the beach, and to Belmont Park, and let the kids ride the rides.”
They also went to the zoo before returning to Las Vegas.
The whole family got sunburnt, but Mr Freedy “got it the worst”, his skin turning so red that it “was almost purple”.
“Mike called in (sick) the next day, he was just too burnt and couldn’t really move. Then he called in again,” she recounted.
“We were putting lotions on him and aloe and we was drinking lots of Gatorade. He was getting chills, he couldn’t eat, couldn’t get comfortable, couldn’t sleep. All symptoms of sun poisoning.
“He goes to the ER and tries to get some help. The doctor pretty much dismissed him. So Mike went to work that night. The next day he wasn’t better, so he called in.”
Days later he was still showing “no signs of getting better”.
“Finally he goes to a different ER on Monday, and they test him for covid. He’s positive,” said Ms DuPreez.
“They send him home, more or less with a pat on the head, and tell him to hydrate, isolate and it’ll be fine.
“Mike is absolutely miserable. He is beside himself with how much everything hurts and how scared he is. He winds up waking me up at around 3am to tell me he can’t breathe and is dizzy, and when he tries to stand he starts to fall over.”
She also described this scene to Fox5.
“He wakes me up, panicking. He’s like, ‘I can’t breathe.’ He’s like, ‘Something’s wrong, I can’t breathe. I tried to stand up and I fell over. We’ve got to go.’”
So she rushed him to yet another emergency room. This one admitted him immediately, but told her she couldn’t stay with him.
“His blood oxygen is at 72. They tell him they are surprised he was even able to walk and talk. They do scans and find he has pneumonia in both of his lungs. He’s placed on the highest level of oxygen their hospital can do,” she said.
“By the end of the day, they said he needed more than they could give and needed to move to a different campus. He’s still not able to sleep or rest at all. He’s barely texting me back.
“Now they have him on two machines giving him oxygen and alternating with a full mask.”
The situation continued to deteriorate. He was placed on a BPAP machine.
“It’s now Sunday, and he’s been there since Monday night,” Ms DuPreez said.
“Him and I were texting Sunday, he said he was tired around 8:30 and was going to try to get some sleep while his body seemed to be telling him he could.
“I texted him when I woke. He didn’t answer. I texted him again when I got to work. No answer. I’m worried now.”
She called the hospital. A nurse told her Mr Freedy was stable, but was going to be evaluated by a doctor, who would likely recommend intubation and sedation.
Shortly afterwards he texted her back, saying they were taking him to the ICU.
“I love you with everything I am,” Mr Freedy wrote to her.
Then he phoned her.
“They are taking him then. Not tonight, right now,” she recalled.
“I cried and told him to please fight. He said he was. He told me he loves me, and I told him I love him so much, and to please please please fight and come home to me.
“That’s the last time I’ve been able to hear his voice or communicate with him.
“I went to the ICU that night to see him, after getting one of the worst phone call updates ever. The nurse told me to contact next of kin and to take all of his belongings home with me.”
She returned to the ICU the next morning. His numbers had improved somewhat, but the nurse on duty stressed that improvement was “artificial”.
“The machines are doing everything for him right now,” the nurse explained.
Ms DuPreez was there when he died.
“The machines are going crazy, his pulse was gone. Like, five people rushed in,” she told Fox5.
She watched them do chest compressions for more than half an hour. The doctor asked her to get Mr Freedy’s mother, his next of kin, on the phone.
“So I get her on the phone and they tell her there’s nothing they can do. It’s done.”
“Hug your loved ones,” Ms DuPreez told the readers of her GoFundMe page.
“Because it turned so fast. And I would give practically anything to hear Mike say my name and hug me and be able to tell him I love him more than ever.”
“The love of my life, my rock, my everything. The father to my babies is no longer with us. I don’t know what to do.”
Health officials in the United States are currently struggling to convince hesitant Americans to get vaccinated.
The country’s vaccine rollout, which started fast, has slowed steadily in recent months, dropping from an average of three million shots administered a day to about 500,000.
Roughly a third of Americans remain entirely unvaccinated, and the more infectious Delta variant is spreading fast.
“It is really a pandemic among the unvaccinated,” Dr Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House’s covid task force, said on Monday.
“Which is the reason why we’re out there practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated.”