Sept. 7, 2021 -- TikTok creator and artist Alexandra Blankenbiller posted her last video on Aug. 15 from her hospital bed. Voice raspy, breathing with the help of a machine, she pleaded with her followers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I don’t have a lot of energy for talking, so I’m going to try to make this quick,” said Blankenbiller, who lived in the Jacksonville, FL, area. “I did not get vaccinated. I’m not anti-vax; I was just trying to do my research. I was scared.”
“I do think it was a mistake,” she continued. “I shouldn’t have waited. If you are even 70% sure you want the vaccine, go get it. Don’t wait. Go get it. Because hopefully if you get it, then you won’t end up in the hospital like me.”
Nine days later, she died. She was 31.
Like many Americans, Blankenbiller had been hesitant to get the vaccine. She had read conflicting information about the available COVID-19 shots, and she and her family didn’t want to get immunized until everyone was on board.
“It's no secret this is something that should be taken seriously,” says her sister, Cristina Blankenbiller. “But there's so much misinformation out there.”
When they all agreed to get their shots, Blankenbiller, along with her mother and two sisters, made their appointments. But they fell ill before their scheduled time slots.
Blankenbiller got the worst of it. Her blood oxygen level continued to plummet until she went to Orange County Medical Center, where doctors, nurses, and her 15,000 TikTok followers were her only company. Her family wasn’t allowed to visit until they received a call that nothing more that could be done for her.
“Her final video really showed a lot of who she was,” says her other sister, Rachel Blankenbiller “She was selfless -- the type of person who used her final days to help others.”
Her last four videos were taken in the hospital. In a chilling video from Aug. 13, there were screams coming from another room. Blankenbiller looked scared.
Unfortunately, her case is not unique. According to CDC data, Florida is seeing its deadliest surge of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Only 54% of the state population was fully vaccinated as of Sept. 3.
Friends and family remember Blankenbiller for her kindness; she was the type of person who would stop a stranger at the grocery store to pay a compliment, Rachel says.
“She found beauty in everything and everyone,” she says. “She loved people without judgment. Regardless of whether you wanted her love or not, you'd get it.”
Royce Freeman, 41, met Blankenbiller at a local filmmaker meetup in 2016. Blankenbiller began visiting him on film sets when he worked and would offer help without asking for credit. When she died, she and Freeman were working on a screenplay together. She apologized that her illness would interfere with her work and had planned to write from her hospital bed until the infection became too severe.
“The day before she went to the hospital, she was sending me pages,” Freeman says. “She didn’t feel good, but she was pushing through.”
Blankenbiller is also mourned by the Jax Treblemakers, a local a cappella group, which considered her a member of their family. She auditioned for them in 2016, and stood out for her positivity and humor right away, says Alec Hadden, the group’s executive and artistic director.
“She cared deeply about helping others, and I think it was that compassion for others that drove her to try and educate people through her final few videos,” Hadden says. “She did not want anyone, even a stranger watching her videos on TikTok, to go through the pain and heartache that she and others on the COVID ward were going through. And if she could help even one person, she would.”