Jessica DuPreez and her nearly three-year-old fiancé, Michael Freedy, wanted to give it a year before rolling up their sleeves for a COVID-19 vaccine. But time was not on their side.
DuPreez and Freedy were together for over seven years, meeting as colleagues at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. DuPreez loved how Freedy could “always just light up a room when he walked in.”
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“His presence was always so positive and so life-size,” DuPreez told USA TODAY. “He was just great to be around.”
DuPreez and Freedy thought they were being careful waiting for their injections. DuPreez has never considered himself an anti-vaxxer.
She said the novelty of the COVID-19 vaccine and the speed at which it was produced gave her and Freedy a break.
“I do believe in vaccines; I firmly believe in this,” said DuPreez. “We just wanted to wait a year to see what everyone’s reaction was.”
While DuPreez and Freedy did not get vaccinated, the couple continued their travel plans.
About three weeks ago, DuPreez and Freedy, along with their five children, left their home in Las Vegas, Nevada for a two-day trip to San Diego, California: a little getaway from the desert heat. DuPreez said it was a great time, especially for their kids.
“None of our kids had ever been in the ocean, so they loved that and got to ride the rides in Belmont Park,” DuPreez said.
Freedy returned home with a “cruel” sunburn, purplish red in color with water blisters, and a number 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 the touch.” But DuPreez said there was little concern because they attributed these symptoms to Freedy’s sunburn, believing he had a case of sun poisoning.
DuPreez said Freedy went to the emergency room three days after they returned from San Diego because his symptoms persisted. She said not much was made of Freedy’s condition at the time; the doctor who saw him just told him to drink some Gatorade. Freedy went to work that evening.
However, DuPreez said Freedy continued to feel unwell and called in sick for the next two days. Freedy visited another ED early next 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 he doesn’t want to leave his babies without a father,” DuPreez said.
DuPreez said Freedy’s young age — he was just 39 a few days before his COVID-19 diagnosis — and relatively good health at the time offered her some reassurance, which she tried to channel into encouragement. “I promise we’ll get through this,” she told Freedy.
Freedy returned home, advised by doctors to stay hydrated with Pedialyte, rest and self-isolate.
But his condition quickly deteriorated. He woke DuPreez around 3 a.m. the next morning, 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 level was low and hospital staff were “amazed that he could even walk and talk.” Scans from Freedy found pneumonia in both his lungs, DuPreez said.
It was a rapid drop that DuPreez never saw coming.
“[I didn’t] I realized when I dropped him off in the emergency room because he couldn’t breathe, that this would be the last time I held his hand while he was awake,” DuPreez said. “That I wouldn’t be able to hug him anymore, that I would never be able to sleep next to him again.”
Although DuPreez couldn’t see Freedy after this point, other than taking him clothes and other items to the hospital, she said she was still hopeful, even as fear started to set in.
DuPreez said Freedy was transferred to another hospital and then to an intermediate care unit to better meet his health care needs. During one of their text conversations, Freedy expressed his regret.
“I should have gotten that 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 was taken to the ICU. She said he was fully intubated and sedated within about two hours of his arrival.
DuPreez said she was told by a nurse that night to “contact the next of kin and take all his belongings home.”
DuPreez got up early the day her fiancé died. She said she planned to go to work that day and drop her kids off at her sister’s 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,” DuPreez said.
When she arrived at 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 count plummeted. DuPreez said a nurse reassured her that this was normal.
Then Freedy’s numbers got “saggy” and he no longer had a detectable pulse.
A “swarm of doctors and nurses” stormed in. DuPreez was promptly moved to the back of the room while the doctors performed chest compressions on him.
After 30 minutes of compressions, DuPreez said one of the doctors came up to her and told her to stop — “we did everything we could.”
Brant Graves, one of Freedy’s best friends, normally works late and sleeps during the day. That day he woke up “to a million texts and missed calls,” all with a tone of sadness: “Oh, that’s so sad” and “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
Graves first said he couldn’t believe the news of Freedy’s passing.
“It was just really hard to realize that one of my best friends is gone and I’ll never see him again,” Graves said.
Graves is “completely at home” in dealing with the harrowing realities of COVID-19. He is a registered sleep technologist and spent three months “every day side by side with nurses on the front lines dealing with COVID patients and watching them die left and right and seeing all the tragedies.”
He said he did not know that Freedy was not vaccinated and that the only time they spoke about COVID-19 was 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]Graves said.
DuPreez said she and her oldest child were vaccinated the same day Freedy tested positive for COVID-19.
Reflecting on her own experience, DuPreez said people who are hesitant to vaccinate should face their skepticism and get vaccinated.
“Even if you get a sore shoulder or get a little sick, I’d think it’s a little sick that he’s not here right now,” DuPreez said.
“I would beg everyone to get it [the vaccine] if they can,” Graves said. “If they’ve thought about getting it — get it.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Unvaccinated Las Vegas man died regretting not getting a vaccine: Fiancé