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20-year-old who believed he was too healthy to need COVID vaccine dies, NC mom says

A 20-year-old college student in eastern North Carolina has died of COVID-19 related issues — after deciding he was too healthy to need the vaccine.

Tyler Gilreath contracted the virus just days after moving to the state’s coast to attend classes at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, according to his mother, Tamra Demello of Raleigh, N.C.

“My incredible son, Tyler Gilreath, lost his battle with a brain infection that ruptured after contracting a sinus infection that moved to his brain. The sinus infection was a result of COVID,” Demello wrote in a Sept. 26 Facebook post.

“He was very sick with COVID for about 3 weeks … but healthy before. No, he was not vaccinated. He rationalized that a healthy 20-year-old that gets it (COVID) ‘won’t get that sick’.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “everyone aged 12 years and older should get a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible.” The vaccine has proven successful at protecting most people from “severe illness and death,” the CDC says.

Demello didn’t agree with her son’s choice and says she tried to convince him to get the vaccine. His change of heart came too late, she says.

“I cajoled, encouraged, threatened, and nagged for him to get vaccinated,” Demello wrote. “He was too busy and/or concerned about the ‘possible long term heart issues.’ but finally agreed to get it at soon as he moved at school. He didn’t get the chance. I am devastated beyond belief.”

Gilreath was starting his junior year, majoring in computer science, WECT reported. “He was in the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech his freshman year, before COVID shut down classes. He decided to come back to North Carolina, and transferred to UNCW,” his mom told the station.

Her son signed an organ donor agreement when he got his driver’s license, and doctors expected “up to 80 people” would be helped by the skin, ligament and organ donations, Demello said.

“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,” she wrote.

UNC Wilmington has adopted a series of protocols during the pandemic, including requiring masks while students are indoors. Positive COVID-19 tests on campus have been trending down and the university credits that to an “upward trend in vaccinations among students.”

As of Sept. 28, North Carolina has had nearly 1.4 million COVID-19 cases and more than 16,000 deaths since the pandemic started in March 2020, the state says.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.

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