‘Sweet, gentle soul’ holes up in his room with flu-like symptoms — dies on the way to the hospital

Xavier Gaines worked as a security guard and dreamed of designing computer games before he was felled by COVID-19.

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Xavier Gaines, left, at the graduation of his younger brother Za’Von in 2018.

Xavier Gaines, left, at the graduation of his younger brother Za’Von in 2018.


Xavier P. Gaines made his living as an armed security guard but loved working on computers and playing video games, dreaming he might one day have a chance to design his own games. 

Gaines lived at home with his mom, kept to himself and stayed out of trouble. In fact, he’d never been in any trouble.

Gaines was only 26 when he landed on this week’s Cook County medical examiner’s list of COVID-19 victims.

He died Dec. 2, his heart giving out as he struggled to breathe just moments after walking down the steps of his West Pullman home — before he could get to the hospital.

“He died in front of my house, in the ambulance,” his mother, Nicky Reynolds, told me between tears.

Gaines was a big man. Maybe 6 foot tall, 365 to 375 pounds, his family said. 

The medical examiner’s office listed “morbid obesity” as a contributing factor in his death.

Some families would prefer I gloss over that part, knowing that people can be judgmental. But the deadly coronavirus is particularly dangerous to those who are overweight, and I’ve come across it often enough at this point to know it’s a factor that should be emphasized, not hidden.

Gaines’ family was matter-of-fact about disclosing his weight issues, in part because he had none of the health problems that often go with it. 

He didn’t have diabetes. He didn’t have high blood pressure. He rarely even caught colds.

Gaines hadn’t been sick more than six or seven times in his entire life, said his big sister, Janiece Vaughn. When he did get sick, it was always this same time of year with cold symptoms, and Gaines had developed his own routine for getting well.

A “homebody” who rarely left the house in normal times, by his sister’s description, Gaines became practically a recluse when he got sick.

He would gather what he needed, take to his room and not come out for days, which is what he did this time.

Vaughn said her brother shut himself up with a supply of lemons, honey, cough syrup, antibiotics and soups.

In years past, that did the trick, and Gaines assured his family it would work again. He had tested negative for COVID-19 about a month previously and wasn’t in any hurry to see a doctor.

For one thing, said his sister, he didn’t have health insurance. He’d been out of work for a couple of months and was drawing unemployment.

Maybe it was more than that. Some people just have an aversion to doctors and hospitals.

His family was concerned his flu-like symptoms this time were an indication of something more serious, and they told him so.

“He would say, ‘I’m good,’” Vaughn said.

Xavier Gaines at his own high school graduation in 2013 with his mother, Nicky Reynolds.

Xavier Gaines at his own high school graduation in 2013 with his mother, Nicky Reynolds.


His mother asked him on Thanksgiving if he wanted her to take him to the emergency room. He declined.

She asked him again the next day, and he tried to make a joke of it, telling her that studies show the day after Thanksgiving is the biggest day for traffic accidents.

On the morning he died she heard him cry out in pain, and this time she told him she was calling an ambulance. He didn’t object.

Gaines was a 2013 graduate of Wendell Phillips Academy High School. 

He played some football there when he was a freshman and sophomore, but he was really more of a computer guy, having been involved in an After School Matters program that taught students how to repair computers.

“He was really smart. Anything technical, he was really good at that,” Vaughn said.

Gaines took classes at Daley College for a couple of years but didn’t complete a degree.

Before he got sick, Gaines was planning to enroll in a program to get his commercial driver’s license and become a truck driver, his family said.

“He was just a sweet, gentle soul,” said his mother. “He was all about peace and love.”

Gaines had no children.

“He looked on my children as his children,” said Vaughn, who has three daughters.

Gaines is survived by his mother, his father Clarence Gaines, his sister and younger brother Za’Von.

Leak & Sons Funeral Home is handling the arrangements, which are expected to be private.

Like many poor families dealing with an unexpected death due to COVID, Gaines’ family has set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for the funeral costs.

Gaines might have never gotten around to pursuing his dreams, but his family will always wish he got the chance.

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