Timothy Hendrix said he was the “biggest nonbeliever” in the hysteria around COVID-19.
That is, until the virus took the life of his non-biological son, 24-year-old Davon Hill.
Davon died from COVID-19 at Santa Rosa Medical Center on Thursday. Reports of the Milton man’s death had been made by local stations without naming Hill.
After reading online comments, Timothy shared a public post on his Facebook page to tell Davon’s story and to tell other nonbelievers that COVID-19 is very much a real threat.
“How could this happen?!” he wrote. “(It’s) not possible for this virus to come to my lil [sic] town to my lil [sic] house and take our boy…not possible.”
“It happened and I was such a nonbeliever…I was so ignorant…”
Late-night visit to the ER
It was about June 16 when Davon first started to complain about a sore throat and congestion, said Timothy. On June 22 his breathing was bothering him so he went to the ER, but was sent home and told to buy a pulse oximeter (a small device that measures oxygen levels in blood). When breathing issues persisted again, he went back to the ER. Timothy's wife, Donna, asked administrators why Davon wasn't admitted the first time.
“My wife threw a fit,” said Timothy. “She asked why they would send him home in the first place. They didn’t even test him (for COVID).”
According to the CDC, non-Hispanic Black people are hospitalized for COVID-19 at approximately five times that of non-Hispanic white people. The death rate is also higher. The CDC sites racism, stigma and systemic inequalities as underlying causes for the gap.
Davon was only in the hospital for a day before he was transferred to ICU. He was stable for a few days on the ventilator and was even able to FaceTime with family.
“We did all the talking and just told Davon to answer with a thumbs up or thumbs down,” said Timothy. “He asked for grapes and apple juice and we brought them to the nurses on the fourth floor to give to him.”
Davon received a plasma transfusion. On July 1, doctors told Timothy they were optimistic and that Davon could see results from the transfusion in “two to 14 days.”
“That was a great day for us,” he said. “We thought we were going to come out of this.”
But then at 1:40 the next morning, they got a call that Davon was crashing.
“The virus is a blood-clotting virus,” said Timothy. “His oxygen plummeted and his heart rate skyrocketed and that was it. I don’t understand how he could go from getting better to worse … I guess we’ll never know.”
‘We just fell in love’
The story of Davon and his godparents is unique. Davon and his family moved to Pensacola after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Timothy. Donna met Davon when he was her teacher’s assistant at OJ Semmes Elementary School. He was in fifth grade, and formed a close bond with Donna. She and Timothy became sort-of godparents to Davon and his fraternal twin brother, Darius.
“We just fell in love,” said Timothy. “He just had this infectious smile. He was adorable and always polite.”
The boys stayed with the Hendrix family every other weekend. Timothy and Donna even got power of attorney of Davon to help take care of his needs. In high school, Darius started to drift apart, but Davon became even closer to the Hendrix family. And after graduating high school, he moved into their house in Milton.
‘He was a good boy’
As a Florida State trooper, Timothy directed traffic at the Alabama state line when travel restrictions from Louisiana were in place. Even then, he said he didn’t feel the virus was a threat in the Panhandle, let alone Milton. Now, he has a different perspective.
“Up until Davon, I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone with COVID,” said Timothy. “But it’s real and it doesn’t matter how old you are.”
Timothy said he doesn’t normally share such personal things on his Facebook. He said he cried the entire time as he wrote about Davon and the pain of the loss.
Davon liked doing hair and sewing. He sewed pajamas for his “cousins” for a Christmas photo. And even though he called Timothy and Donna “dad” and “mom,” he stayed in touch with his biological mom and brother. People called him "Vonnie," Timothy called him "D." Aug. 27 would’ve been his 25tth birthday. Davon was loved by the community, as evidenced by the comments Timothy has seen. His coworkers at Whataburger have even offered to help with funeral costs.
“He was a good boy,” said Timothy. “We are so thankful to have him.”
After being a “non-believer,” Timothy said the loss of Davon has also changed his views on masks despite public debate.
Masks have been scientifically proven to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, and are even required in some essential businesses such as grocery stores and fast food chains.
While nearby cities of Gulf Breeze and Pensacola have mask ordinances, the city of Milton rescinded an emergency declaration from Mayor Heather Lindsay and even rejected a resolution to encourage masks. Timothy said he wears a mask because of what we don’t know about the virus.
“Why not?” he said. “At least we’re trying.”
According to the Florida Department of Health, there are 993 total cases in Santa Rosa County and 10 reported deaths. Milton teen Halene O’Connell is fighting for her life at Studer Family Children's Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola.
But there’s only one number that matters to Timothy.
“One person,” he said choking back tears. “That’s one too many.”