The widow of Michael Hickson, a quadriplegic man and father of five who died at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center after being diagnosed with COVID-19, is seeking justice for her late husband. Melissa Hickson argues that because of her husband’s disability and the color of his skin, he was denied treatment by those who deemed his life unworthy.
“Disabled people are people. Just like anybody else. Black people are people just like anybody else. And everybody deserves the right to live. Everybody deserves the right to be treated when they’re admitted to the hospital,” Melissa said in a video posted to YouTube.
Michael Hickson Was Paralyzed Three Years Ago
The story of Michael Hickson’s case starts about three years ago when Hickson was paralyzed after suffering cardiac arrest. He sustained a brain injury and spinal cord injury and lost the use of his arms and legs. It was during the time following Hickson’s paralysis that Melissa found herself in a legal battle over guardianship for her husband.
In the video, Melissa explains a court took the rights away from her when she refused to place Hickson in a nursing home following his cardiac arrest episode. The decision was based on the concern that Melissa was not allowing him to receive the care he needed. Melissa maintains she wanted her husband to be placed in a care facility that specializes in brain and spinal cord injuries. She says the court conspired against her by filing an application to rescind guardianship with the help of Melissa’s sister-in-law. This is when a nonprofit organization, Family Eldercare, was given guardianship of Hickson.
Hickson was living in a Family Eldercare facility called Brush Country Rehab and Nursing in Austin, Texas when he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on May 15, 2020. On May 25th, Family Eldercare notified Melissa that her husband had tested negative. But on June 2nd, the organization contacted Melissa again to let her know Hickson was being transferred to St. David’s South Austin Medical Center.
On June 2nd, Hickson was admitted with symptoms of low-grade fever, coughing, and trouble breathing. On June 5th, Melissa spoke with the ICU doctor treating Hickson–a conversation which she recorded. At that time, Melissa was told by the doctor that he would discontinue treating Hickson due to his disability, citing the patient’s low quality of life and the unlikely event he would recover from the illness.
The doctor argued there would be no improvement in Hickson’s quality of life if he were to be treated with Remdesivir, which he explained would require “being intubated, with a bunch of lines and tubes in your body, and being on a ventilator for more than two weeks.” He also argued that the chance of Hickson surviving was very slim and highly unlikely and that therefore it would be “inhumane” to put him through such a process. However, Melissa disagreed. While she did not want to see her husband intubated, she pushed the doctor to do what he could to treat him. Ultimately, the doctor explained the decision was left to the healthcare practitioners and the state.
Hickson Was Given Morphine, But Not Food
The decision to discontinue care and move Hickson to a “Do Not Resuscitate” status in hospice care was approved by Hickson’s legal guardian, Family Eldercare. Melissa says after her husband was moved to hospice care, the hospital “withdrew food, fluid, and any type of medical treatment.” She said, “they allowed him to sit in a bed for six days, feeding him morphine and Ativan until he finally passed away on June 11.”
Melissa says she pleaded with doctors and Family Eldercare to reverse their decision, but they refused. When her husband passed away on June 11th at 10:10pm, Melissa says she was not contacted until June 12th at 11:30 am. When Melissa contacted the funeral home where her husband’s body was taken, she was informed that her guardianship over her husband had been handed back to her when her husband passed.
The most devastating part of Melissa’s story is that she was denied the chance to say goodbye to her husband. Despite contacting the hospital repeatedly and asking to speak to her husband via FaceTime, Melissa didn’t get a chance to talk to him. She says each time she contacted the hospital, she was told they would call her back. Eventually they told her to contact Family Eldercare to get permission. Family Eldercare responded to her email asking for permission on June 11th around 8pm stating that her husband’s condition was the same and that she should contact the hospital to speak with her husband. Later that night Hickson passed away.