BASTROP, Texas - A Bastrop man was hospitalized for more than two weeks before losing his battle with COVID-19.
55-year-old James Michael Wilkinson, known to his family and friends as “Chip,” passed away at Ascension Seton Main on April 17.
Wilkinson left a lasting impression on all those who knew him and even some who didn’t. His family tells stories of Chip secretly paying for meals when he saw a member of the military at a restaurant and helping to cover prescriptions for strangers who couldn't afford their own.
“Chip was always looking for, ‘How can I make this community better and how can I make those that I’m around better, even if they don’t know me?’” said Jason Bray, a family friend and vice president of nonprofit Feed the Need Missions.
“He would want everyone to just be generous and giving, and love large and every day matters,” said Cynthia Kostecka, Chip’s sister.
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After returning from a trip to Lake Tahoe in March, the father of four learned just how uncertain tomorrow really is. Chip started felling sick March 21.
“We thought he just had bronchitis,” said Cherie Wilkinson, Chip’s wife.
One week later he tested positive for COVID-19.
“He had had a really high fever. I mean, it was 104.5,” Kostecka said. Kostecka said her older brother never lost his sense of humor even while fighting the virus but, because he suffered from asthma, she worried he was at a higher risk for complications. She was right.
“His oxygen took a dive and he started hallucinating a bit, and we realized his oxygen is low and that’s when they would see him at the hospital,” said Kostecka.
Cherie dropped him off at Ascension Seton Main on March 31 with only one thought on her mind. “That he was going to come home. He was going to get better and come home,” Cherie said.
One week and several ups and downs later, Chip was sedated and put on a respirator.
"A total roller coaster ride. You think he’s getting better and you see hope and promise, and then the next report things tanked a bit,” said Kostecka.
After ten days on a respirator, Chip’s family learned they would never get to experience one of his famous hugs again. "The nurses and the doctors, they really were wonderful. And we could tell it was just as hard on them as it was on us,” Kostecka said.
“They took the iPad inside so that we could all say our goodbyes and be a part of them taking him off the machines,” said Cherie.
As the number of deaths from COVID-19 continues to rise, Chip’s family is painfully aware of the heartache behind every single digit. “It matters, you know. All of those, they're people. They're lives. They're loved ones,” said Kostecka.
On Monday, Providence Bastrop Funeral Home held a drive-thru viewing for the community Chip loved so much, including those at Feed the Need Missions. “He wrote the very first check for the ministry that is now reaching over 6,000 people a month all across Texas,” Bray said.
His family said that’s how his spirit lives on, through the lessons and love he shared “There was no doubt that he knew how much he was loved and we knew how much we were all loved by him. He loved his family well,” said Kostecka.
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