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Former COVID-19 vaccine skeptic changes outlook after virus kills his dad, nearly kills him

Newberg resident Brandon Stallsworth, 31, spent 10 days in the hospital with COVID-19. His father Ted Stallsworth, 52, died on Aug. 19.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A Newberg man who was once skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine now carries a different outlook after spending 10 days in the hospital with the virus.

Brandon Stallsworth, 31, grew up in Warrenton near Astoria. Earlier in the pandemic, he was someone who'd say that you don't need a COVID shot. 

“I did a physical in April. And I came back really healthy. Other than being overweight, I was a very healthy person, so I thought okay 'I don’t have any underlying health issues what do I need to worry about?” he said.

His father Ted Stallsworth, a Warrenton reserve police officer, was also unvaccinated.

Credit: Sallsworth family

Brandon said he's not against vaccines, but he did not trust the government in the rollout of the COVID vaccines and worried how they might affect him over the long term.

“I was just kinda holding off, waiting, wanting to see what was going on. And like I said, I didn’t know anyone that had been sick. So why get the vaccine?” he said.

In late July, Brandon, his wife Debbie and their 20-month-old son Mason drove to California to visit her family.

On the way back, Brandon started to feel sick. 

Two days later while working outside at his plumbing job, it got even worse. He began to shiver in 90-degree heat.

“It felt like my face was trying to melt off my skull. That’s the best way I can describe it. It literally felt like my head was trying to melt,” he said.

He went to urgent care and learned he had COVID.

The first thing that ran through his mind was not fear for himself or his family.

“It was embarrassment! I’m not gonna lie. It was the first thing that hit — oh god, I gotta face the music now. I gotta face the music with all these people. I told them and now I’m sick. I’m that person! I felt like it was almost karma.”

After telling many friends not to bother with the vaccine, the virus was spreading inside his body.

"When I got home and it was progressively getting worse. I mean it was like minute by minute. It was getting worse very quickly,” he remembered.

Credit: Providence Hospitals

Two nights later, he could not stop coughing and his heart was racing. Debbie drove him to the nearby Providence hospital in Newberg.

“They did a chest X-ray and the X-rays came back normal,” Brandon said.

The hospital gave him a monitoring system to use at home. It allowed nurses to check his health every four hours. By Saturday morning, they’d seen enough. They called his house. The numbers were bad and he needed to come in immediately.

Brandon’s wife Debbie, who got vaccinated even though Brandon refused, felt a mix of emotions as she dropped him off at the hospital door, then watched with little Mason to make sure Brandon got inside okay.

Credit: Pat Dooris KGWTV

“You’re scared, you’re worried, you’re’ nervous exhausted too because you’re not getting any sleep then you’ve got the anger too. Because you think to yourself, why did you not get vaccinated? Why did you not do this? Here you are so sick and in the hospital!” she said.

And it was not just Brandon fighting COVID.

Five days earlier his father, Ted, was also hospitalized with COVID and got very sick very fast.

Credit: Stallsworth family

At the Newberg hospital, Brandon quickly got a second chest X-ray. This time it was bad.

While the first one had mostly black over his lungs, which is good, the new X-ray showed lots of white. 

Credit: Providence Hospitals

He said the doctor told him the white was COVID in his lungs.

There were many things he did not know about COVID. He was learning fast.

“The COVID is like a plaster. It affects your lungs worse because you can’t cough it up. It’s like concrete in your lungs. And your lungs, from what I understood, can’t expand very well and can’t absorb the oxygen like they’re supposed to. So that’s why my oxygen levels were dropping — I couldn’t get the oxygen to my body that I needed,” said Brandon.

As he got worse, the Newberg hospital transferred him to Providence St. Vincent in Portland in case he would need a ventilator.

The reality of it all shocked him.

Credit: Brandon Stallsworth

“I think that was the first time that I really got worried," he said. "I’ll be honest, even being on the oxygen and stuff I still was positive about it. You know like, okay, couple days I’m gonna be alright. No big deal. Then that hit. I was like, oh dang. This is real. Like, oh okay. What's gonna happen next, you know?”

In the end, Brandon avoided the ventilator, just barely he said, and finally was strong enough to go home in early August.

His father was not as fortunate.

Ted Stallsworth, 52, died on Aug. 19.

“It’s crazy. One day you’re sitting there talking to somebody and the next day, you can’t see them anymore,” said Brandon, slowly shaking his head and blinking back tears.

Credit: Stallsworth family

Even with all that, Brandon won't insist anyone get the vaccine. But he now thinks they should, and he's waiting for his body to heal enough for him to get it too.

“I wouldn’t push it on anybody. But I would definitely encourage them to have a second thought about it. To really maybe look into it," he said.

He's seen how bad things can get and how the shot will protect you.

One of his sisters, who is vaccinated, also got sick.

“She was sick for a day or two. She bounced back no problem. And I’m like, okay why not do it? Why not save yourself from the pain? I wouldn’t want this on my worst enemy. It’s so terrible to go through what I went through. And what my father — and that’s the thing, it's not just me and my father. It’s the rest of the family. What everyone went through. It’s terrible!” 

Have a comment or story idea for reporter Pat Dooris? Email him at pdooris@kgw.com