35-Year-Old Army Veteran Dies from COVID Complications After Placed on Treatment Waitlist

A 35-year-old veteran died from COVID-19 on Friday after being placed on a waitlist for life-saving treatment.

Brian Yazzie's doctors diagnosed him with COVID pneumonia after he became hospitalized with the virus, local television news station KSAZ-TV reported. They placed Yazzie, who served three tours with the U.S. Army, on a ventilator. His sister, Victoria Arviso said his lungs were "severely damaged."

Doctors tried to secure an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine for his treatment after deciding he needed more help than the ventilator. But due to a high number of cases and demand for the machines, Yazzie was placed on a waitlist.

ECMO machines essentially serves as an external lung for those who have fallen seriously ill with the virus. They pump blood outside of their body, removing carbon dioxide and pumping oxygen-rich blood back into their body, according to the Mayo Clinic. This treatment allows the heart and lungs to rest and heal. The machines are used in "critical care situations."

Several hospitals in the Phoenix area use the machines, but none of the machines were available, so there was a waiting list, according to KSAZ.

Doctors originally set Thursday as the last day Yazzie — who was unvaccinated — to qualify for the treatment, according to the news station, But they extended that deadline that morning, in apparent good news for his family.

"It's no longer going to be seven days. They're moving it to 10 days because he's been fighting," Arviso told the news station. "He's young and he's strong. We just need to get him finally on an ECMO machine so his lungs can rest."

But on Friday, his health took a turn for the worse. His oxygen levels decreased, and his heart went into shock. He died in the hospital, the news station reported.

While searching for treatments, his family considered moving him to a hospital in another state, where they hoped they would be able to find an ECMO machine. But doctors said it would be too dangerous to move him, according to KSAZ.

A Phoenix-based flight team also offered to transfer him to a hospital in Texas, where a machine was available.

Veteran Dies Waitlisted ECMO Machine
A 35-year-old veteran died from COVID-19 complications after being placed on a waitlist for an ECMO machine. Above, a nurse is seen working with an ECMO machine in Sweden in April 2020. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images

"I would say that this is a very rare occurrence. definitely would qualify for a Christmas miracle for sure," Brennan Mattingly, a Brooke Army Medical Center medic told the news station.

His death comes as the Omicron variant fuels an increase in cases across the United States. Arizona reported a seven-day average of 3,058 new cases per day on Friday — a small decline from earlier in December. Two weeks earlier on December 10, that number was 3,358 cases per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Still, the number of deaths in Arizona increased throughout December. The state's seven-day average of deaths was 99 Friday, the highest since February, according to the Johns Hopkins data.