‘Nightmare’: 9-year-old Texas boy dies suddenly of Covid-19 complications

FORT WORTH, Texas — A 9-year-old boy died of complications of Covid-19 this past week at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, his family told ABC affiliate WFAA.

J.J. Boatman was identified by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner. He had just turned 9 earlier this month, according to information found on a GoFundMe that was set up for his family.

“I can’t imagine living without that boy here,” the boy’s father Jason Boatman said. “He was just the life of this house.” 

Boatman said that J.J. was active and alert, playing hide and seek with his family and happily watching TV the night before he was hospitalized. 

The next morning, Boatman said he heard J.J. wheezing a bit, but said his son’s health took a sudden nosedive after he left for work. 

“My supervisor came and got me and said I needed to go to the ER because of J.J.,” Boatman said. “My wife told me that he was purple, blue, and screaming that he couldn’t breathe. He was yelling for help.” 

Boatman said that J.J. was rushed to an area hospital in Vernon, where he was told that doctors vigorously performed CPR on J.J. to keep him alive. 

The decision to fly him to Cook Children’s was quickly made and Boatman and his wife made the drive as soon as their son was in the air. 

“That drive was a nightmare,” Boatman said. “It was the longest drive of my life.” 

Once Boatman and his wife arrived in Fort Worth, they said that doctors within Cook Children’s told them that J.J.’s lungs were filled with fluid and that his brain was swollen due to lack of oxygen. 

It was also likely that J.J. was brain-dead, Boatman told WFAA after speaking with doctors.

Again, Boatman couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His son had no symptoms the day before and the family is unaware of any underlying medical conditions.

A day later, J.J. had died.

“The nurse came in and told me that his heart was failing, and that’s what happened,” Boatman said. “The hardest part was coming home, unlocking the door, and seeing all of his stuff in the living room.” 

J.J.’s death was the second of a child reported in recent days in Tarrant County.

The other boy who died was less than 1-year old and the youngest victim county officials have reported since the pandemic began.

Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said the boy’s death was a “rarity” and also heartbreaking.

Across the state, 13 children ages 9 or younger have died of the coronavirus during the pandemic, according to Texas Department of State Health Services data. An additional 24 individuals between 10 and 19 years had died.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner has not yet released a cause of death for J.J., and his father is anxious to see what an autopsy may reveal. 

An emergency room doctor WFAA-TV spoke with said it’s rare for a young child to be a Covid patient and to suddenly become so sick and die. 

The doctor, speaking strictly on background, feared that an underlying condition not be known to J.J.’s family may have played a role. 

Boatman and his wife said they tested negative for the virus and fear that J.J. may have gotten infected at school. 

The Vernon Independent School District immediately closed Central Elementary School in the wake of J.J.’s death.

The school district’s medical advisor said all staff and students should quarantine until Feb. 1. Classes will resume on that day after the campus has been disinfected, the district said.

“We are heartbroken and our thoughts go out to the student’s family,” Vernon ISD Superintendent Jeff Byrd wrote in the statement. 

The grief hasn’t hit Boatman yet. His son, he said, was such a joy. Exuberant, an excellent student, and eager to learn how to skateboard as well as play tennis. 

He told WFAA-TV that he stopped by a local Target hours after J.J.’s death, the last place he remembered visiting with his son. 

At the time, J.J. wanted a few toys that Boatman wasn’t ready to buy. 

On the trip home after his death, Boatman went and bought them out of regret. 

“It was just a comfort thing for me. I know he’ll never play with them. I know he’ll never know he has them, but I bought everything he touched and wanted in that store,” Boatman said emotionally. 

“There’s just something about being with him in that store. A person like him isn’t supposed to leave us.” 

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