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Saving Daniel: Idaho family doing what it takes to protect their son

Daniel's Family
Posted at 5:03 PM, Nov 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-01 19:45:58-04

BOISE, Idaho — For the last nineteen months, the backyard is about as far as anyone in the Wilson family has ventured. They remain locked down, isolated, desperate to save Daniel.

"His team [of doctors] let us know on no uncertain terms that he would die if he got COVID,” explains his mother, Lori.

Daniel Wilson

Daniel has down syndrome, suffers from daily seizures, and is in renal failure. The five-year-old’s compromised immune system puts him at high risk for any sickness, but when the Wilsons first heard about COVID-19, it gave them a reason to panic.

A respiratory virus nearly took Daniel’s life in 2018.

Daniel Wilson
Daniel on life support for 4 weeks with an upper respiratory infection in 2018.

"It is far less serious than COVID. Most people if they get the human metapneumovirus it’s sniffles it’s a cough. It’s very, very… It’s mild it doesn’t keep you away from work or school and most people wouldn’t even know they have it. But for Daniel, it put him on life support for weeks," says Lori and her husband Craig.

When the first coronavirus cases showed up in the Treasure Valley, this family of five knew they would be housebound. What they didn’t realize was how long they would be trapped.

"Emotionally it’s been really hard. You know, trying to sort through your feelings especially towards all the people who are out there just willy nilly, don't seem to care," says Daniel's father Craig.

And big sister Ella agrees, "I know that it hasn’t been normal, but for me, it’s been overly not normal because we can’t go into stores, we can’t technically go anywhere, besides like walks and stuff."

Eleven-year-old Ella attends virtual school yet again this year. Craig and Lori must both work exclusively from home. And two-year-old Isaac is a true quarantine baby. Each family member sacrificing to save Daniel.

The Wilsons believed the vaccine would give them back some freedom by limiting the community spread of COVID-19 and making the outside world a bit safer. But by summer when the Delta variant surged and vaccination rates dropped off, their hope dwindled.

"It’s really hard to know your community doesn’t care,” says Lori.

Ella cares deeply for her little brother. She admittedly also cares about seeing her friends in person again. So when the fifth-grader found out about the children’s vaccine trial in Boise, she asked to sign up.

Ella and her brother
Daniel with Ella a couple of months ago after she got her first COVID-19 shot as part of the children’s vaccine trial here in Boise.

"I don’t really like being poked with needles. I never have. But I knew this was for a good cause," says Ella. "I was just thinking of my brother and doing it for him and all the other kids who don’t have what normal people have."

The Wilson’s agreed to the study understanding a children's vaccine is vital to save Daniel. They don't know yet if she received the vaccine or a placebo.

"They watched her symptoms incredibly carefully. She had to fill out anything that was off or different no matter how insignificant," explained Lori.

Ella had a bit of a temperature and sore arm with the first shot, but no side effects with the second round. "It’s honestly not that bad," Ella says.

As fall rolled in, Craig and Lori watched news reports as Idaho hospital beds filled with mostly unvaccinated COVID cases and forced the state into a historic Crisis Standards of Care. To them, it seemed like no one cared about saving Daniel.

Daniel's emergency care equipment
A photo of their closet with life-saving equipment doctors gave the family when Idaho hospitals went into Crisis Standards of Care. He has enough oxygen to get him to Seattle.

"Our son’s life is dependent on what the community chooses to do," says Lori. With rationed healthcare, Daniel may not receive any kind of medical treatment he needs. Their doctor’s only answer was to give the Wilson’s an oxygen tank, enough life-saving support for Daniel to travel to specialists in Seattle if there’s no room at local hospitals.

The Wilson’s feel forgotten and even worse pushed out by their own community. With the state's low vaccination rate and the likelihood of more COVID variants, doctors told the family Daniel will not be safe in Idaho. So the long-time family is packing up and moving away.

Doctors say Daniel’s best chance is to live somewhere where at least eighty percent of people are vaccinated. That spot exists, but it’s on the other side of the country in Vermont.

"People there are attacking the virus as a community-wide effort as opposed to every man, woman, and child for themselves,” says Craig. "This doesn't have to be political," he says reminding everyone that Vermont has a Republican Governor. According to the CDC, fifty-four percent of eligible Idahoans are fully vaccinated, in Vermont that number jumps to the magic eighty percent. So the Wilsons, who have only driven through Vermont, in the dark, three years ago are leaving their home in the Gem State for a new and healthier life in the Green Mountain State.

Before COVID-19, the Wilson’s never imagined leaving everything they know and love, but they’re out of options to save Daniel. This move is just one more life lesson not lost on a devoted, unselfish big sister.

"It’s taught me you should put others first but more than that. You need to not only put them first but stand up for them," says Ella.

Editor's Note: The family knows their opinions are not popular in Idaho, so at their request, Idaho News 6 changed their last name. Idaho News 6 also followed all CDC health guidelines to keep the family safe while we told their story.