Family Thought Unvaxxed 13-Year-Old Kensey Dishman Beat COVID–Then She Died


Thirteen-year-old Kensey Dishman arrived back at Wayne County Middle School in rural Kentucky on Tuesday morning after a bout with COVID and the required quarantine.

Her mother, Kim Gibson, had driven her there, as they had an appointment to see a counselor. Kensey had still been occasionally experiencing difficulty breathing, but that was deemed common after COVID and her oxygen levels had been good.

Kensey seemed fine as Kim dropped her off at the front, where she joined the crowd of classmates returning from a holiday weekend. The students were no longer required to wear masks, as the Wayne County School Board had voted unanimously the previous Thursday to permanently lift a mandate that had been keyed to the number of cases. The message was one that similar relaxations have been spreading across the country: the danger of the pandemic is receding.

Kim parked and had just gone into the school office when her cellphone rang. The school was calling to inform her that Kensey had passed out in a bathroom.

“Well, I’m here, I’m here,” Kim replied.

Kim rushed to the restroom, where the school nurse had already responded.

“Her mom had got to her and she was slumped against the wall,” Kensey’s stepfather, Brett Gibson, later told The Daily Beast. “She was responsive at that time. It seemed like she just kinda fell and braced herself against the wall.”

Kensey then had a seizure, but came out of it. She reported having intense pain in her side.

“She was asking her mom for help,” Brett later said.

When EMTs arrived, Kensey had begun to lose consciousness.

They said, ‘There’s nothing else we could do. They couldn’t get her heart rate up. They couldn’t get her pulse. She had no brain activity.

Brett Gibson

“They couldn’t get her intubated,” Brett later said. “Her airway was filling with blood, which is one reason why they seem to think she might have had a blood clot.”

Kim remained with Kensey in the ambulance and at the hospital.

“She got to hold her,” Brett told The Daily Beast. “She was with her the whole time.”

Brett arrived as the doctors and nurses fought to save Kensey’s life. Their best efforts were not enough.

“They said, ‘There’s nothing else we could do,” Brett recalled. “They couldn’t get her heart rate up. They couldn’t get her pulse. She had no brain activity.”

Brett is a reporter/photographer at the local newspaper his family owns. But The Clinton County News is a weekly and he reported Kensey’s death with a Facebook post. The Lexington Herald-Ledger quoted his account in a story that noted the school had declined to comment.

Wayne County Coroner Gordon Hicks told The Daily Beast that the state medical examiner would have to do more testing in Louisville before he could give an official cause of death. Brett said that he and Kim had been given every impression by the medical professionals that the death was COVID-related. And that raised the question of whether Kensey had been vaccinated.

“She was not,” Brett told The Daily Beast. “We wanted her to get vaccinated and we had been [vaccinated], but when you have a split household, you have to have both parties. And we didn’t have that.”

She did not want to take it. She was scared of it. I wasn’t going to force her to.

Alan Dishman

Kim and Kensey’s father, Alan Dishman, had divorced more than a decade ago. Alan told The Daily Beast that several members of his family had suffered “some health issues” as a result of the vaccine and he had decided not to get it.

“Her mother and stepfather had the vaccine,” Alan said. “I have chosen not to.”

He said he had let 13-year-old Kensey make her own decisions.

“She did not want to take it,” Alan said. “She was scared of it. I wasn’t going to force her to. I asked her if she wanted to and she said, ‘No,’ and that’s just the way she was. She was very pro-choice about everything.”

He added, “There’s gonna be people that’s going to say bad things no matter what you do. But, you know, I want it to be very clear that some may make us out to be evil or the bad guys, but she believed it was everybody’s personal choice. “

That might have been fine if we were not in a pandemic that had killed nearly 1 million other Americans and if the vaccine had not been universally accepted by all credible medical experts as safe and effective. Add to that the fact that Kensey had been ashtmatic and therefore particularly vulnerable.

Alan said he figured Kensey had caught COVID at school in early February.

“I believe she got it at school and she brought it home and of course, naturally I got sick and then my wife and then the other kids,” he said.

They had suffered typical symptoms.

“The sore throat and everything like that,” he said. “It all kinda went away, but she was still having issues with the breathing. She had asthma and it didn’t help.”

He and Kensey’s mother had both taken her to the doctor.

“We have several medications here, you know, and nothing seemed to help,” he said.

However they differed when it came to the vaccine, Alan and Kim both recall feeling she would be ready to resume classes when the week-long quarantine ended.

“She loved going to school,” Alan said.

First came the holiday weekend. They divided it up and Kensey spent Sunday with Alan. He sounded like the most loving of fathers as he later spoke of an idyllic day with her at the farm where he lives with her step mother, Michaela Dishman, and their four daughters.

“It was so beautiful outside here; 65, sunshine,” he said. “It was just a perfect day here.”

Kensey hung out with her siblings and a collection of animals, which goes beyond the usual cows and chickens and rabbits.

“She’s got a hermit crab here,” Alan reported. “She called it ‘My Grandcrab.’ She set this hermit crab in front of the TV and she said, ‘I’m gonna give it a front row seat.’”

At the end of the day, everybody went out to a Japanese restaurant that was one of her favorites.

“She loved Japanese cuisine,” Alan said. “She had a big plate of rice.”

They then went to a multiplex movie theater. Kensey and her oldest sister asked if just the two of them could see “Death on the Nile.”

“They wanted to watch a movie together by themselves,” Alan said. “That made them feel like big girls.”

Kensey then spent Monday with Kim and Brett. The couple had caught COVID in October of 2020, before vaccine was even a choice. Kim had quickly recovered, but Brett had had a harder time, having suffered a fungal lung infection years before. He also developed cardiac complications and had to undergo major surgery.

They needed no persuading to get the shot when it was available.

“We got vaccines as soon as we were allowed to and we got our boosters,” Brett said.

Some 60 percent of Clinton County, where Brett lives, and of adjoining Wayne County, where Alan has a farm, have remained unvaccinated.

“People I think are afraid of it,” Brett said. “And there’s a lot of people in this area, they kind of think that [if] the government says that you need to do it, then we ain’t gonna do it.”

His family newspaper has been seeking to encourage vaccination by publishing a photo each week of a business where everyone has gotten the jab.

“It’s been hard to find businesses that are fully vaccinated,” Brett said. “A lot of times the ones that I’ve found that are fully vaccinated are like the barber shop where there’s only one person that works.”

Brett only wishes that Kensey had been vaccinated when he took a family photo of her after a big storm on Jan. 17.

“She really wanted to do a photoshoot in snow,” Brett recalled.

He did not have his camera, but he made do with his cell phone. She posed against the pristine white background, a teen who was at once outgoing and shy, a social butterfly and a homebody.

On Friday, her school said it still had no statement, other than a word to describe an all encompassing feeling.

“Sadness,” a spokesman said.

The coroner said that there was still no official cause of death, but the body had been released Friday morning. The photo of her on the snow remains a measure of all that was lost.

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