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'He fought, he really fought': Indiana teen's legacy continues after COVID-19 battle

Isaiah Mays
Posted at 8:19 PM, Jul 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-23 20:30:22-04

Thousands of Hoosiers have died since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020 and we know — they're more than just numbers. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 and want to share their story reach out to us at FacesOfCovid@wrtv.com.

EVANSVILLE — Six months ago, an Evansville family lost a son, brother and best friends in Isaiah Mays.

The 19-year-old died of COVID-19 complications after spending more than 40 days at Riley Hospital for Children.

“He was like Batman, I was his Robin…that was my best friend, ya know?” Isaiah’s little brother, Israel said.

Isaiah and his brother. 
PHOTO CREDIT: MACHELLE MAYS

Isaiah was a fighter from the start. He was born with a heart complication, which later led to a stroke and multiple open-heart surgeries.

“Anything he had to do, anything he had to face, he was up for it. He was not looking for a shortcut — ever,” Machelle Mays, his mother, said.

It was in December, Isaiah got sick. Machelle believes he caught the virus from someone at McDonald's, where he worked.

She originally took him to a hospital close to home in Evansville but was soon transferred to Riley. At one point, he was on a ventilator.

“He fought, he really fought,” Machelle said.

Isaiah was determined to finish the last two credits needed to graduate high school, even if that meant from a hospital bed.

“He would tell me how much he wanted to do this for his mom and for himself,” Lindsay DeWilde said. She was his teacher at Riley.

The central Indiana mom said she did not know Isaiah for long, but they grew a bond quickly. She said she remembers his politeness, always asking how her day was going, despite his own struggle fighting coronavirus.

“After I worked with him for an hour one day and I went out to one of the nurses who knew him well also, I asked him, I said, ‘Ok, how do I teach my children to act just like him?” DeWilde said. “If I raise my kids to be just like Isaiah, I know I’ve done something right.”

The two met once a day, five days a week to finish an adult life skills class. DeWilde said Isaiah shared with her his dreams to buy a Cadillac, move to California with his brother and go to college.

“He was very motivated. There were days I would come in and I could tell he didn’t feel good, and he would just say 'Sit down, we’re doing school,'” DeWilde said.

Isaiah gave everything he had, to everything he did. During his recovery at Riley, he almost was discharged.

But things quickly changed, and the teen got sicker. Even on the day he passed, DeWilde said he was working on school three hours before he took his final breath.

“I love him so much and I miss him every single day,” Isaiah’s sister, Ebonie, said.

Isaiah died without ever knowing he did it-- he graduated. In the later spring, his Evansville high school presented the family with his diploma.

Isaiah Mays' diploma. 
PHOTO CREDIT: Machelle Mays

“I was like baby you did it. You did it. You were not right here with us, but you already know, I’m just celebrating,” Machelle said.

The mom of three displays her son’s diploma proudly next to a painting her niece gifted her of Isaiah in a cap and gown. Machelle said she plans on sending a copy of Isaiah’s diploma to DeWilde.

“I will never forget him. And I told his mom all the time he has changed my life, she has changed my life,” DeWilde said.

Keep the faith. It’s a mindset his family wants us all to borrow from. No matter how difficult things may get, remember 19-year-old Isaiah Luke Mays and his determination to achieve his dreams.

“Everybody on the face of the earth has challenges every day. It’s how you’re going to do it. How’re you going to face that challenge? That’s what makes the difference,” Machelle said.