Brandon Haynes suffered from health issues for more than half his life, and over his 46 years had spent many a day in the hospital.
There was something different with his stay in June, though.
“I thought it was going to be a routine (visit) to Baton Rouge General. He was going to go and stay a few days,” his mother Betty Antoine said. “But when I got into the emergency room, the doctor walked in and told him, ‘You tested positive for COVID.’
“I almost fainted.”
Described as a “genius” by several in attendance during his memorial service at Erwinville Community Center on Sunday, Haynes’ impact on his community was almost tangible, with many friends and family recalling his love for music and his “unapologetically honest” advice. Now, Antoine wants to use his life and death to make a further impact — by encouraging others to seek a COVID-19 vaccine he never pursued for himself.
“The morning he died, I asked the doctor, ‘Is he dead?’ He wouldn’t tell me,” his mother said. “I said, ‘you know me. You know how I am. Is he dead?’ He said ‘Yes, Miss Antoine.’
“I go there and there’s my son, dead, and it came to me: My son died from COVID today. I had asked him to take the vaccine and he would not. The best way I can honor him is to request that his friends and his family members take the vaccine.”
Antoine said her son never received the shot because he was worried about what he believed was a lack of data in regard to its safety.
He also shared his mistrust for the vaccine with several friends and family.
“Brandon was the guru. If Brandon said it, they did it,” Antoine added. “When he said not to take (the vaccine) because there was not enough research done, they didn’t take it.”
Annette Martijan, supervisor of community clinics with Ochsner Health System, helped run a makeshift vaccination clinic that Antoine arranged to take place during Haynes’ memorial service.
She said Brandon’s concern that the vaccine isn’t well-researched is common among younger age groups, adding that she and her team were happy for the chance to also answer questions and provide guidance to those who are not sure about whether or not they want to receive the shot.
“I had two gentlemen come today and ask me questions,” Martijan said. “One of the big things I always say is ‘educate and vaccinate.’
“A lot of times when you’re looking at these small towns, there is an opportunity for us to actually come out and give some education and answer some questions.
“Sometimes even speaking with the pharmacists (on site) about the medications, I think it gives them some empowerment to where they know what they’re getting into.”
About 100 people attended Haynes' memorial service, and three people received vaccinations. Two went to Haynes’ longtime friend, Marlon Coates, Sr., and Coates’ fiancee, Jackie Mayhew.
Coates explained that he and Mayhew were initially against taking the vaccine, especially when they learned Haynes had suspicions.
“Brandon researched things like that. Brandon was a genius,” Mayhew said. “You kind of tend to listen to the people who you know are super smart.”
Coates added: “We had long conversations about it. He was totally against it.”
Losing the person Coates described as his brother changed everything, however.
“Once we lost him, I had to get it,” Coates said.
Since his death, Haynes’ mother said at least 10 of his friends and family members have approached her to let her know they’ve decided to get their vaccinations.
Knowing others may be spared from suffering the same loss has been a small silver lining.
“I’m not upset with him for not taking the vaccine, but I’m hurt because he died from COVID,” Antoine said. “But if other people are going to take the vaccine, my God, that’s great.”