Texas veteran dies of treatable gallstone pancreatitis while waiting for hospital bed

A US Army veteran died of a treatable illness while waiting in a hospital bed as doctors struggled to find a facility that would accept him.

Daniel Wilkinson, 46, of Belville, Texas — 60 miles west of Houston — started feeling sick last week and decided to visit the emergency room near his home. CBS this morning.

He was diagnosed with gallstone pancreatitis, which occurs when gallstones block the opening from the pancreas to the first part of the small intestine.

The condition is painful but treatable as long as doctors can perform surgery to remove the small stones.

However, no hospital would admit Wilkinson for the surgery because their intensive care units (ICUs) were packed with patients and there was no room for him.

By the time a hospital bed opened, it was too late and Wilkinson’s organs were shutting down. He died within 24 hours of seeking medical attention.

US Army veteran Daniel Wilkinson, 46, of Belville, Texas, visited the ER last week and was diagnosed with gallstone pancreatitis. Pictured: Wilkinson during his time in the military

Doctors in Belville didn't have the equipment to treat Wilkinson, but no hospital would admit to having to perform the surgery because their beds were full due to a wave of Covid patients.  In the photo: Wilkinson in hospital last week

Doctors in Belville didn’t have the equipment to treat Wilkinson, but no hospital would admit to having to perform the surgery because their beds were full due to a wave of Covid patients. In the photo: Wilkinson in hospital last week

“He loved his country,” his mother, Michelle Puget, told CBS This Morning.

“He served two broadcasts in Afghanistan, came home with a Purple Heart and it was a gallstone that took him out.”

Puget took her son to Bellville Medical Center after complaining that he was in pain and unwell.

After doctors ran tests, he was diagnosed with gallstone pancreatitis

The condition occurs when gallstones block the opening from the pancreas to the first part of the small intestine, according to Cedars Sinai.

Gallstones are believed to remain 35 percent to 40 percent of cases of pancreatitis.

This causes a backup of fluid that is treatable but can be life-threatening if patients do not seek medical care.

dr. Hasan Kakli, an emergency room physician in Belville, said Wilkinson needed emergency surgery to remove the gallstones, but the hospital didn’t have the equipment to treat him.

“If that stone doesn’t come out spontaneously and doesn’t dissolve itself, that fluid just builds up, goes back into the liver, gets back into the pancreas and starts shutting down those organs,” he said.

“His blood work even showed that his kidneys were failing.”

Kakil said he called hospitals across Texas for seven hours to find an ICU bed for Wilkinson, but many were out of space due to the surge in COVID-19 patients.

In Texas, a record 14,255 Covid patients have been hospitalized, an increase of 213 percent from the 4,544 patients hospitalized a month ago.

Kakil recalled being so desperate for help that he posted a status on Facebook asking for help.

By the time a bed opened at the VA hospital in Houston, Wilkinson's condition had deteriorated and his organ stopped working, and he died.

Doctors say under normal circumstances he would have had a quick 30 minute procedure and then what?

By the time a bed opened at the VA hospital in Houston, Wilkinson’s condition (left and right) had deteriorated and his organ stopped working and he died. Doctors say under normal circumstances he would have had a quick 30-minute procedure and then sent home

A record 14,255 patients have been hospitalized in Texas, a 213% increase from 4,544 patients hospitalized a month ago

A record 14,255 patients have been hospitalized in Texas, a 213% increase from 4,544 patients hospitalized a month ago

‘[One] guy texts me, he’s a GI specialist, he says, “I’m in Austin. I can do his procedure, coax him.” He told CBS This Morning.

“I said, ‘Okay, great, let’s go.’ Five minutes later, he texts me back, “I’m sorry. I’m not getting administrative approval to hire him, we’re full.”

A bed finally opened at VA Hospital in Houston and Wilkinson was flown in, but by then his health had deteriorated rapidly.

Puget told CBS This Morning that doctors had discovered air bubbles in his intestines, indicating that the organs were failing.

“They told me I had to make a decision, and I knew how Danny felt,” she said.

‘He didn’t want to be like that. And so we all agreed we should let him go.”

Kakli told CBS This Morning that under normal circumstances Wilkinson would have been taken to a hospital and had a 30-minute procedure.

Instead, he died.

“I’ve never lost a patient to this diagnosis,” he said.

“We know what needs to be done and we know how to treat it, and we’re getting them where they need to be. I’m afraid the next patient I see is someone I can’t get where they need to go.

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