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(Tribune News Service) — A U.S. Army veteran awaiting a potentially life-saving medical treatment died of COVID-19 on Christmas Eve in Arizona, his family reported.

Brian Yazzie, 35, who was unvaccinated, was on a ventilator and had been cleared for a machine to oxygenate his blood externally, KSAZ reported.

Doctors tried to secure an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine, but Phoenix-area hospitals had none available amid a fresh wave of COVID-19 cases as the omicron variant spreads across the nation, KPNX reported.

Yazzie’s oxygen levels dropped Friday, Dec. 24, and he died when his heart went into shock, Victoria Arviso, his sister, told the station. His family had been trying to arrange to have him flown to Texas for treatment, but he was too ill.

“They said it was too dangerous,” Arviso told KSAZ. “It was too dangerous for him to be transported that far, and they weren’t sure for that long transport if he would hold up with his oxygen.”

More than 279 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide with more than 5.3 million deaths as of Dec. 26, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has had more than 52 million confirmed cases with more than 816,000 deaths.

The omicron variant was first reported by researchers in South Africa on Nov. 24 after several doctors noticed symptoms among their patients that differed slightly from those caused by the delta variant, the dominant version of the germ spreading globally, McClatchy News reported.

Federal health officials confirmed the first omicron case in the U.S. on Dec. 1, in a fully vaccinated California resident who recently returned from South Africa, McClatchy News reported.

The variant is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., comprising an estimated 73% of cases as of Dec. 22; the delta variant makes up about 27% of infections.

Experts are still researching numerous questions about the omicron variant, including whether it causes more severe disease than other versions of the coronavirus.

©2021 McClatchy Washington Bureau.

Visit mcclatchydc.com.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Working ECMO machine.
Working ECMO machine. (NIH.gov)

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