Life for Felecia Rhodes, will never be the same after the death of her son, DeVonte Sargent. The Pine Bluff native, who had his eyes set on the future, died as a result of complications from the novel coronavirus on April 2nd. He was 25.

Life for Felecia Rhodes, will never be the same after the death of her son, DeVonte Sargent. The Pine Bluff native, who had his eyes set on the future, died as a result of complications from the novel coronavirus on April 2nd. He was 25.

“Nothing excites me,” Rhodes said. “Nothing makes me happy. I feel like when he died, a part of me died.”

According to Rhodes, her son knew something appeared wrong when he began experiencing flu-like symptoms prompting him to seek medical attention.

“He said, ‘momma, I’ve never felt like this before,” she said. “‘I feel like I’m sitting under water. When I go outside, I can’t breathe.’”

Sargent insisted that he needed to see a doctor, which led him to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.

“He was real sick,” Rhodes said adding that he drove himself to UAMS from Conway. “He couldn’t breathe when he went. They still sent him home and told him to wait until he got his test results and quarantine.”

Rhodes hoped after his initial hospital visit that Sargent would be on the road to recovery. But, as it turned out, he got sicker. She revealed he waited nearly a week before returning to UAMS on a Thursday to seek further help after still feeling terribly ill.

“He was admitted to the ICU and was in the hospital bed with a very little oxygen tube,” she said recounting a video call she had with her son. “That night he was placed on a ventilator and incubated with a trach [tube] in his neck for meds and a feeding tube.”

Later on that night, Rhodes found out that Sargent had progressively gotten worse.

“His IV came out of his arm and he told me he was going to call me right back,” she said. “I got a call back 45 minutes later telling me that they were about to do an emergency procedure and that he had lost more oxygen and they were about to incubate him and put him in a coma.”

Sargent remained in the hospital for seven days before dying while still in a coma. It was at 5:44 a.m. Rhodes got a call informing her of his death.

“He was put on a ventilator Thursday and he passed the next Thursday by himself,” Rhodes said. “I never got to talk to him or see him alive again.”

Throughout the course of his stay at UAMS, similar to other hospitals, Rhodes was not allowed to see her son due to its efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“… He was scared,” she said. “He told me he didn't want to die alone in the hospital and I am heartbroken that's exactly how he died.”

The man behind the smile

Being a single parent, Rhodes, raised four boys with DeVonte being the oldest. She described him as her best friend who cared dearly about his family.

“I had a very sweet, family oriented son,” she said. “He took pride in everything he did.

He loved life and was afraid of dying of the virus.”

Sargent graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. The Dollarway High School alum was just shy of three courses before completing his master’s degree in Global Entrepreneurship in Business Administration at Strayer University. When not involved in the books, he took to the stage to belt out some of his favorite songs during karaoke. Sargent even recorded music as an aspiring rapper called “PlatinumChild.”

“I think a lot of people met DeVonte during his nights where he went to the bar and sang karaoke,” said Dezalon Cowser. “He’d get up on that stage and he’d turn into a totally different person where he’d just be up there killing it and singing his heart out. He was very diverse.”

Cowser met Sargent when the two were students at Dollarway Middle School. It was Sargent’s larger than life personality that attracted the two to each forging a tight bond.

“Whenever we’d be out somewhere, it was nothing but laughter and playfulness,” Cowser said. “We could be in a room full of complete strangers and he’d stand up and be willing to entertain everybody no matter who was in the room. He was a ice-breaker in my eyes and it didn’t matter if he knew you or not, he’d walk up and talk to you.”

When out and about, Sargent could be seen with Cowser, Jamal Burton or Jonathan Liddell--- childhood friends from middle school.

“He was a gentle giant,” said Liddell. He always had a smile on his face, loved to joke and sing almost as much as he loved his favorite basketball player, Carmelo Anthony.”

For the past 14 years, the group of friends has shared treasured secrets, hysterical laughs and countless stories.

“Most people don't know this, but he was a deep thinker as well,” Liddell said. “He had an authentic relationship with God. He believed social media was just for jokes, so he never truly posted his genuine thoughts or views online. But, those who knew him understood that behind all of the jokes and smiles was a man that had a true understanding of what really mattered in the grand scheme of things.”

More than just a number

The latest figures from the CDC show more than 44, 000 people in the United States have died due to COVID-19 with at least 800,000 testing positive for the virus. According to John Hopkins University, globally 2.5 million have been affected with the virus and at least 177, 000 have died worldwide.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data on the early breakdown of novel coronavirus cases in the U.S. Studies showed that of cases where the person’s race was identified, 30 percent were black or African American. However, nationwide statistics by the CDC indicated that blacks or African Americans only account for about 13 percent of the population. It was noted that the data was limited to positive cases not hospitalizations, ICU admissions or deaths.

“The COVID-19 virus does not discriminate, but the African-American community is particularly hard hit,” said American Psychiatric Association president Bruce Schwartz in a statement. “We call upon local, state and federal health authorities to be mindful of this disparity and ensure that proper treatment and care is provided in minority communities and that the physicians and health care professionals based in those communities get the support they need. These communities are facing great mental stress right now and that will likely continue in the months ahead.”

The Arkansas Department of Health reports that as of now, 628 blacks have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Additionally, evidence from the department shows that 34.9 percent of African Americans have died as a result of the virus while the percentage is 62.8 for whites and 2.3 percent for unknown. Black people make up 15.7 percent of Arkansas’ population. Health officials say obesity, diabetes and asthma cause African Americans to be more vulnerable to the disease. Of the positive cases in state, the top three comorbidities include diabetes, heart disease and chronic pulmonary disease.

Unlike others who have succumbed to the coronavirus, Sargent didn’t suffer from any underlying health conditions. In fact, his mother claims he was healthy. It was also the reason, they believed he would overcome his sickness.

“He told me, ‘momma, I don’t want to be another number’,” said Rhodes. “At one point, that’s all they talked about on the news.”

Across the state, 42 people have died and 2,276 have tested positive for the virus while at least 863 have recovered from it.

Remembering DeVonte

With limitations on gatherings, due to the virus, Sargent was laid to rest April 11 during a graveside service hosted by Paradise Funeral Home rather than the traditional church and wake programs.

“I feel like he was cheated out of life and death,” said Rhodes.

Cowser like many of Sargent’s friends missed out on the chance to bid their final goodbyes to a man they deeply loved and cherished due to meeting restrictions set forth by state and local officials.

“I feel like not being able to give him a proper send-off is what hurts the most,” said Cowser. “You do want to take the safety precautions with the virus. But, at the same time, you want to be there and celebrate the life of your friend with his fellow friends.”

A GoFundMe account was set up in memory of Sargent raising nearly $4,500.00 surpassing its goal in two days with at least 180 donations.

“It meant a lot to me that he was loved so much,” said Rhodes of the donations.

The last time she visited his apartment was to drop off soup, lemons and other essential items. Now, Rhodes is left to return to Conway and pack up his belongings.

“I had to get someone to go get his vehicle from the hospital and now we’re trying to get his apartment sanitized so we can go inside his apartment and get his stuff,” she said.

With her son gone, Rhodes holds 25 years worth of memories near and dear to her heart. But, the loss of her son, manifests in a pain she admits will not ever go away.

“It hurts me to the core,” she said weeping. “It hurts me to think about it. It hurts me to talk about it knowing how my baby suffered for seven days and died on the eighth day.”