Harvey restoration worker near death, family pleads for treatment
KINGWOOD, Texas (FOX 26) - Nearly 120 days since Harvey hammered the Houston area, the hurricane is still claiming victims.
"He's been healthy his whole life until he got here and started working on these homes and now he is critically ill," said Courtney Bitner of her father Brent.
Days after the storm, 52-year-old Brent left his Austin home to join the restoration effort.
"He left his family, he left his friends, he left the city he's been in for 20 plus years to come down here and help the flood victims, help restore their homes and to help people get on their feet again," said Deborah Barry, Brent's sister.
Working for wages when people could pay and for free when they couldn't, Brent aided dozens of families before a sudden and fierce illness landed him in Kingwood Medical Center. What appeared to be a viral infection rapidly developed into pneumonia and then Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
"He, in a matter of 12-to-24 hours, rapidly deteriorated," said Courtney. His lungs clogged with fluid and caregivers were forced to place Brent on a ventilator. In a week's time, he had traveled from vigorous health to the very brink of death.
Doctors say his best hope for survival lies in a treatment known as Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation, also known as ECMO, a machine which pumps out blood and infuses it with oxygen until the lungs can heal.
"It is minute by minute, day by day here and they are doing all they can here to just keep him alive," pleaded Courtney. "He's got to have this treatment."
Unavailable at Kingwood Medical Center, three Houston-area hospitals equipped with ECMO have thus far refused to treat Brent, all claiming that they have no room.
Brent's family believes he's being rejected because he has no health insurance, a charge that the hospitals flatly deny.
"If the money is the issue, we can make payments, we can figure this out," added Courtney. "He has got to have this. He is going to die. It's incredible to know that someone as amazing as him and as selfless as he is could be in a position where nobody will help him."
"The community he came to support and help is turning him away," said Barry.