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A COVID victim’s daughter is trying to pick up the pieces after her father dies in a Maui hospital

The last thing Stu Brandel yelled to his daughter online through his oxygen mask was “I want to live.”

The next day, the longtime Maui resident was placed on a ventilator while in a medical coma.

Tami Brandel never spoke to her father again.

He eventually succumbed to COVID-19 — after contracting the virus in August during Hawaii’s largest coronavirus hospital outbreak, at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

“I honestly never thought you’d die in the hospital that gave you COVID. Heartbreaking is not enough to describe how I feel. I also feel mad and sad and cheated,” she wrote on Facebook in a Nov. 24 tribute to her father, who died six days after his 77th birthday on Nov. 22, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. “You are the strongest man I’ve ever known and I thought for sure you would beat this horrible virus. I’m in shock. You were not ready to leave the life you loved so much.”

Brandel, owner of Discount Vacuum &Sewing Center, a 30-year-old Kahului business, was admitted into the hospital Aug. 25 after passing out at a Kaiser Permanente clinic due to low blood pressure. He tested negative for COVID-19 upon admission and again three days later. Right before he was about to get released from the hospital, he tested positive Sept. 1 and “got full-blown COVID” 13 days later, eventually developing pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, a life-threatening lung condition in which fluid leaks into the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

“After six months into COVID, I really feel the hospital should have protected a 76-year-old man from contracting (the disease),” Tami Brandel said.

She went on the search for novel treatments being administered to coronavirus patients on the mainland and advocated for doctors at the neighbor island hospital to try the lung medication Aviptadil to help in her father’s recovery. After numerous calls she was able to convince a physician to join a COVID-19 trial of the drug.

“Maui Memorial had … never done a trial before, and finally, after six weeks of advocating and calling and getting told no, I got a doctor on board who applied for the trial,” she said. “Unfortunately, with all the red tape, we got the trial medicine a few days too late, and my father had just got staph pneumonia in the ICU. A couple of weeks later, I pushed for another dose of the trial medicine, but by then my poor dad had gone through too much. He fought for 12 weeks, but his body couldn’t take all the secondary infections.”

Hospital operator Maui Health said it could not share details of Stu Brandel’s care due to patient privacy regulations, but said he was “cared for by a team of highly experienced, compassionate physicians, nurses and other care providers who were in constant communication with Ms. Brandel during the course of his care.”

“It is unfortunate that Ms. Brandel continues to misrepresent the integrity of his health care team and the care that he received,” the hospital said. “We are saddened by the loss of Mr. Brandel and share our sincere condolences to his family and friends.”

Now Tami Brandel is left picking up the pieces and trying to cope with the loss of a man she thought was invincible.

“I did everything in my power to try to save my father,” she said, also crediting ICU doctors, nurses and staff for helping in her efforts.

She is seeking to liquidate and close her father’s business, considered essential to many on Maui, unless she can find a buyer to continue his legacy. Stu Brandel, originally from California, lived on Maui for 45 years and was a two-time small-business owner, previously operating Scuba Schools of Maui.

Hawaii health officials reported 81 new infections statewide, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 18,608 cases. The state’s coronavirus death toll remains 262 with no new fatalities reported.

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