Local News

UNC-Wilmington student dies weeks after testing positive for coronavirus

Posted September 27, 2021 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 28, 2021 2:20 p.m. EDT

— Tyler Gilreath had just moved into his new dorm room at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and was about to start his junior year of college.

Less than a week after moving in, his mother, Tamra Demello, said Gilreath called her saying he tested positive for coronavirus.

Demello said her son wasn't vaccinated and wasn't planning on getting the shot when he was diagnosed with the virus.

"He said, 'Oh, Mom, if I get sick, for young people, it's no big deal. You have it a couple days, and you get over it.' That's not necessarily true," said Demello.

Gilreath started feeling better three weeks later, but still had a severe sinus infection.

He went to the hospital on Sept. 20, but his brain was already swelling from a secondary infection.

"I'm so angry with him. I even told him when he was lying in the hospital, when he gets better, I'm going to kick his butt," said Demello.

Over the weekend, Demello said the family was told there wasn't anything doctors could do and that Gilreath was brain dead. The family took him off life support early Tuesday morning.

Demello said she hopes telling Gilreath's story will prevent other families from going through the same thing.

"If they don't do it for themselves, do it for their family and loved ones. If you do get sick with a vaccine, you won't be sick very long," she said.

Demello said she "cajoled, encouraged, threatened and nagged" for Gilreath to get vaccinated before the start of the school year.

"He was too busy and/or concerned about the possible long-term heart issues, but finally agreed to get it as soon as he moved at school. He didn't get the chance. I am devastated beyond belief," said Demello.

Gilreath's heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys were harvested for donation, his mother said. His lungs also were harvested for research on how COVID-19 affects people's lungs.

Demello said her son was able to donate organs because he had tested negative for coronavirus before his death.

“The only thing that brings any sense of meaning to this needless tragedy is that Tyler signed up to be an organ donor when he got his license,” she said. "I know he's looking down now and saying, 'I guess Mom did know what was best for me.' 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.”

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