Afghanistan War Veteran Dies Due to COVID-Fueled ICU Bed Shortage, Needed 30-Minute Operation

A veteran of the Afghanistan War died of a treatable illness last week due to a lack of intensive care unit (ICU) beds amid the ongoing surge in COVID-19 infections across the country.

Daniel Wilkinson, a Texas resident who served two deployments in Afghanistan, began feeling ill last Saturday and was taken to the Bellville Medical Center in Bellville, Texas, by his mother Michelle Puget. The 46-year-old veteran was diagnosed with gallstone pancreatitis and told he needed an ICU bed.

But due to the high-number of COVID-19 hospitalizations amid the surge of the Delta variant, doctors struggled to find one available in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Colorado.

"The doctor was trying to find him an ICU bed," Puget told Houston's NBC News affiliate KPRC2. "He said 'we have been refused so far.' He said 'we have called Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Colorado.'"

Dr. Hasan Kakli, the Bellville emergency room physician who diagnosed Wilkinson, told CBS News that the operation the veteran needed would have taken about 30 minutes. But it took about seven hours to finally locate an available ICU bed. By the time the veteran was transported there, his organs had already begun shutting down.

Houston hospital
An Afghanistan War veteran died in Texas of a treatable illness last week due to a lack of ICU beds. In this photo, ER nurses and EMTs tend to patients in hallways at the Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital on August 18, in Houston, Texas. Across Texas, hospitals have been forced to treat hundreds of patients in hallways and corridors as their emergency rooms are being overwhelmed due to the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

"I think the doctors did everything they could once they got him," Puget told KPRC2. "But...it had been [seven] hours. And it's something that needed to be taken care of right away."

Kakli told CBS News that he even posted about the emergency situation on Facebook, hoping that would help him more quickly be able to track down an available ICU bed. While several doctors initially reached out, they ultimately were unable to direct the physician to an available bed.

Finally, a bed opened in Houston and Wilkinson was airlifted to the hospital. However, by the time he arrived it was too late and his organs were shutting down.

"I've never lost a patient from this diagnosis, ever," Kakli told CBS News, asserting that if it weren't for the COVID-19 crisis Wilkinson would have been treated quickly.

"We know what needs to be done and we know how to treat it, and we get them to where they need to go. I'm scared that the next patient that I see is someone that I can't get to where they need to get to go."

As of Friday, the U.S. was seeing an average of more than 155,000 new COVID-19 infections per day over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times' tracker. More than 98,000 people, on average, have been hospitalized with COVID-19 over the past 14 days. The number of new infections has surged by more than 20 percent while hospitalizations have increased by 28 percent. An average of more than 1,200 people are dying per day, a dramatic increase of 95 percent in two weeks.

Texas has reported the second-highest number of new COVID-19 infections of any state in the U.S. in recent weeks. As of Friday, the southwestern state was reporting more than 16,400 new daily infections per day over the past 14 days—a 17 percent increase.

Public health officials and physicians have said that the vast majority of those hospitalized and dying are unvaccinated against COVID-19. While vaccinated individuals have come down with breakthrough infections, these cases are generally relatively mild and do not require hospitalization.

Newsweek reached out to the Bellville Medical Center for further comment, but did not immediately receive a response.