The mother of an unvaccinated Ontario trucker who died of COVID-19 is urging other drivers protesting vaccine mandates across Canada to get their shots to protect their families, colleagues and the public.
Margaret Makins said her 70-year-old son Dave Mitchell, who was from Ayr in the Township of North Dumfries, had no major health issues before contracting COVID-19. He died in October after battling the virus for weeks.
Quick witted, popular and “generous to a fault,” Mitchell “lived by his own rules,” according to his mother. She believes his rebellious spirit is part of what made him say no to getting vaccinated.
Makins wants those participating in the convoy protests to know that pandemic mandates exist to protect families from severe illness and death — to prevent the kind of giant chasm that was left by the loss of her son.
“Dying of COVID is not a pleasant experience. It’s absolutely horrible,” said Makins, who didn’t want her age published. “If my story would convince just one of them to get vaccinated, I would feel that David’s dying has some value.
“No one can force them to vaccinate and I can appreciate that, but for the sake of your families, your partners, your employers, every single person you meet, it is better for you to be vaccinated so you can help them continue to live.”
She told him ‘how much he was loved’
Makins said she sat with her son as he lay dying in the intensive-care unit at Cambridge Memorial Hospital for three weeks, hooked up to a ventilator. As his mother held his hand and spoke to him, she could hear the rhythmic hum of the machines keeping him alive in the background.
I talked to him about his family, about him, about how much he was loved.– Margaret Makins, mother of trucker with COVID-19 who died
“I talked to him about his family, about him, about how much he was loved. He was my first born.”
Makins was a mother of three, but Mitchell was her only surviving child; his brother and sister died of cancer. And Makins knew, from what the doctors were telling her, she would soon have to say goodbye to him too.
“When it got closer to the end, I told him I knew he wasn’t going to make it, but hoped that when he got to heaven and met his brother and sister there, that I hoped they would have a good time.”
Pulling plug ‘the most difficult decision’
Makins said it was “the most difficult decision” to pull the plug and end her son’s life, but she felt that because her son could no longer breathe without the aid of machines, there was little choice.
“We knew he was never going to have any quality of life. In fact, he was probably already gone and only being kept alive with machines.”
Mitchell died Oct. 15, survived by his three children, and his father and mother.
When contacted by CBC, Cambridge Memorial Hospital spokesperson Stephan Beckoff was unable to confirm any details surrounding his illness or death, citing patient privacy.
Makins said she hopes by sharing the painful story of her son’s death that she can convince people participating in the convoy protests to see the bigger picture and that vaccine mandates aren’t just about them.
“Maybe some good will come of the whole thing,” she said. “How do we get through to these unvaccinated truckers? How do we make them understand?
“Believe in the science,” added Makins. “The science is telling us that vaccinations help. Your families are important. Please look after them.”
His parents and his children weren’t the only family Dave Mitchell left behind. He also had dozens of friends at the Riverbend Grillhouse in Ayr, where he was a regular, known to patrons and staff alike by his nickname Mitch.
‘He wasn’t vaccinated. He didn’t believe in it’
“We held a memorial, a celebration of life here,” said Grillhouse owner Randy Hynes, who held a wake for Mitchell shortly after he died. “There must have been 100 people. He was well respected. He was quite the truck driver from the stories I’ve heard. He was kind of a legend in the town of Ayr.
“It’s too bad he went the way he did,” Hynes said. “The fact he died of COVID just broke my heart.”
Known for his generosity and his talent for building custom motorcycles, Mitchell would often come into the restaurant at the end of the dinner rush and buy whatever was left over.
“He’d say, ‘I’ll buy it all.’ We thought in the beginning he was taking it for himself, as his lunch as a truck driver, but no. He had friends in Drumbo, and Plattsville and places like that, and he’d go and deliver food to his buddies.”
In terms of the trucker protests in Canada that began two weeks ago, Hynes said he believes they’ve gone on long enough, but hopes they’ll have a lasting effect on lifting coronavirus health restrictions for small businesses like his restaurant.
“I have my own opinions about the lockdowns and the vaccines, and I’m not sure what she’s trying to accomplish,” he said of the message Mitchell’s mother wants to send to those participating in the protests.
“[Mitchell] wasn’t vaccinated. He didn’t believe in it. I heard him say that himself actually.”
CBC News made a request for comment from the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) on Friday, but the organization did not immediately respond.
It issued a statement Saturday, the second weekend of convoy protests that included cities other than Ottawa, saying it “does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways and bridges.”
“It appears that most protestors have no connection to the trucking industry and have separate grievances beyond the cross-border vaccine requirements,” the OTA statement said.
“As these protests unfold, OTA asks the public to be aware that many of the people you see and hear in media reports do not have a connection to the trucking industry and do not represent the view of the Ontario Trucking Association or its members.”