MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota wife is questioning her husband’s medical care after he became the first active duty Air Force member to die of COVID-19.
Technical Sergeant Michael Morris was 36 when he died in January, alone in his home on base in Aviano, Italy.
Months later, questions remain.
WCCO looked into what happened that’s left his family waiting for answers.
Amanda Morris admits to taking one day at a time.
It’s the only real option she has raising a 13-, 11- and 5-year-old at home after losing her husband.
Michael Morris had no underlying conditions.
He called for help from his house on an Italian Air Force base when he couldn’t breathe from COVID-19.
Only to die, his wife says, hours before that help ever came.
“I feel like him serving 15 years and this happens to him, I feel like he’s forgotten about,” Amanda Morris said.
Michael Morris grew up in Cass Lake as a member of the Leech Lake Ojibwa tribe.
He signed up to serve his country in the Air Force.
“That was everything to him. Besides me and the kids he was all about the mission, loved saving lives, the helicopters,” Amanda Morris said.
His tours of duty twice took him to Afghanistan and three times to Iraq, as his family settled on an air base in Italy.
COVID restrictions last year kept the family on base and at home for long periods of time.
As distance learning dragged on, Amanda flew back to Minnesota with the kids for some help finishing out the school year.
“He was due to be back this May which obviously never happened,” she said.
Before the vaccine was available to him, Tech Sergeant Morris tested positive for COVID on Jan. 4.
He reassured his wife his symptoms weren’t serious at the start.
But, as days went by he got worse.
“It only took two days and he expressed concern and was like, ‘I can’t breathe.’ He wasn’t going to call anybody unless it was serious” Amanda Morris said.
The day before he died, she says her husband asked his doctor to go to the hospital just a few miles from base.
But, she says due to overcrowding he was advised to stay home.
“If he’s not able to take a full breath how would they not take him serious,” she said.
On the evening of Jan. 12, Michael called for an ambulance. Then, his command to again explain his condition.
“He’s on the phone with work and he passes away from cardiac arrest while he’s on the phone with work,” she said his supervisor would eventually tell her.
All while his family, in the dark, celebrated his daughter’s 5th birthday, some 7,000 miles away in Minnesota.
Morris died alone.
“It’s been hard,” his wife said.
Amanda says her husband’s supervisor told her someone from the base went to his house after he made that call. They tried CPR to save him, but it was too late.
She was told it would still be hours before an ambulance ever came.
WCCO has been asking Aviano Air Base what exactly happened in this case. Why Michael Morris was never seen by a doctor, why he never went to the hospital and why did it take so long for an ambulance to arrive? For weeks our questions have gone unanswered. His wife made a formal request for information in April and has yet to hear back.
“It’s pretty devastating for us to keep waiting for these answers,” she said.
Amanda believes medical staff should have kept better track of her husband.
The only explanation she’s received so far came months after Morris died.
An autopsy she shared with WCCO says “COVID-19 infected Morris’s lungs and heart simultaneously, but the heart infection (myocarditis) is what directly caused his sudden death.”
“Obviously, he needed medical attention and he didn’t receive it,” she said. “To serve for 15 years and for this to happen to him like I said just don’t understand it.”
Morris’ death has yet to be declared an in-line of duty death.
Amanda says that process could take up to two years.
More than 50 service members have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
The Pentagon says none were fully vaccinated.