A 13-year-old boy from Michigan has died weeks after experiencing a headache and cold symptoms, which eventually progressed into an infection of his brain.
Marquel Brumley was taken to an urgent care center in February after showing signs of a cold, but doctors told his family the symptoms would clear on their own, his family tells PEOPLE. But Marquel’s health worsened as time went on, and he soon experienced piercing migraines that sent him to the emergency room multiple times. Still, doctors sent him home with only over-the-counter pain medication to soothe his headaches.
A week ago, Marquel’s migraines intensified to the point his face was so swollen he lost muscle movement in the left side of his face. The eighth grader’s mother rushed him to the emergency room, where doctors finally examined Marquel’s brain with an MRI scan. They discovered he had a sinus infection that traveled through his bone and into his brain’s blood vessels, creating blood clots that can lead to strokes.
“It was surreal,” Marquel’s aunt, Nicole Alexander, 39, tells PEOPLE. “He was in a lot of pain, he was crying that his head hurt, and he was still talking to us. He would ask his mom if they were done with the tests because he just wanted to go home.”
Marquel was immediately placed into surgery, and while doctors were able to control the infection, the blood clots placed pressure on Marquel’s brain and cut off oxygen.
“They were treating the infection and the blood clots, but we just didn’t have enough time for everything to work before the pressure was too much,” Alexander says.
Days later on March 11, Marquel died from complications of the infection.
Sinus infections can clear up on their own, according to Cleveland Clinic. But on rare occasions, it can spread to a patient’s eyes or brain, and it is important to keep doctors informed of symptoms. If the infection moves to the eyes, patients can experience swelling in their face and difficulties with their vision, which can lead to blindness. If the infection spreads to the brain—usually through the rear center of the patient’s head, the clinic says—it can cause meningitis or a brain abscess. Encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, is also linked to viral infections.
“He was a football player, played the trumpet in the band, you couldn’t find flaws with the kid,” Alexander says of her nephew. “He was really helpful. He loved helping people and always had a smile on his face. His daily goal was to make everybody smile.”
She adds that she has since received messages from other families whose loved ones have passed from a similar infection, and she hopes others take precaution when they experience symptoms.
“If we can raise awareness so other people don’t go through this, it’s worth it. You don’t expect to lose somebody you care about and love so much from something as simple as a sinus infection,” she says. “You just don’t.”
Marquel’s family is accepting donations on their GoFundMe to help with the medical expenses. Amid their pain and sadness, the family has found comfort in the fact that Marquel saved seven lives through organ donation.
“It’s bittersweet, the human part of us is selfish and would rather have him here,” Alexander says. “At the same time, if we can prevent another family from feeling what we’re feeling, it’s a wonderful thing.”