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College student brain dead from COVID-19 complications; doctors harvest his organs

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT/Gray News) – A student attending the University of North Carolina Wilmington is brain dead due to complications he suffered after contracting COVID-19 in mid-August.

WECT reports his family took him off life support early Tuesday morning after doctors were able to harvest his organs.

Tyler Gilreath, 20, caught the virus two days after moving from Cary, N.C., to Wilmington, N.C., to attend college this fall.

His mother, Tamara Demello, said Gilreath got COVID-19 from his new roommates.

“He was very, very sick for three weeks. He got over COVID, but it left him with a horrendous sinus infection that somehow penetrated his brain,” she explained.

Demello said her son never went to school on campus this fall. He had to take all of his courses online while battling the virus.

“I cajoled, encouraged, threatened and nagged for him to get vaccinated,” Demello said. “I did everything I could possibly think. … Sometimes I felt like the harder I pushed the more — he basically said to me, ‘Mom, leave me alone. I can take care of myself.’”

Demello said she was with her son all summer, encouraging him to get vaccinated. As a 60th birthday present to his mother, Gilreath had agreed to get vaccinated after he got to Wilmington to start his junior year.

By then, it was too late.

An abscess on Gilreath’s brain ruptured last week, and his roommates rushed him to the hospital. A CAT scan revealed there was no blood flow to his brain, and the damage was irreversible.

“This is just such a devastating shock. It’ll just leave such a hole in our heart forever that can never be filled,” Demello said through tears. “If these kids could just realize not only what this could do to them but how devastating it is to everybody around them. I’m just begging them to please go get their shots.”

Demello said her son was healthy and vibrant before he got sick, with no pre-existing health conditions. He was also an organ donor.

She said doctors were able to save Gilreath’s heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys to be shared with recipients in need.

“He will live on in my heart and through those recipients. I know he is with God, but the hole in my life he leaves will never go away. I love you, Son. Rest in peace,” Demello wrote in a Facebook post marking her son’s death.

Gilreath was studying computer science, loved to wakeboard, water ski and snow ski. He was in the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech his freshman year before the pandemic shut down classes.

Gilreath had decided to return to North Carolina and transferred to University of North Carolina Wilmington.

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