Nearly two weeks after Lesley Hillery was severely burned when he fell into a vat of near-boiling water, doctors at Tampa General Hospital called him the "miracle boy" because it seemed he had beaten the odds.
But late Friday, Hillery's condition took a turn for the worse when he developed a low grade fever, his mother Barbara Carlton said. Early Saturday, Hillery, 28, died at the hospital's burn unit.
"He was doing better and he had no infection," Carlton said. "We were all shocked."
Hillery, a native of the Plant City neighborhood of Cork, was performing maintenance on the McKay Bay Trash Incinerator at 34th and Clark streets on Oct. 21 when he fell into the 200-degree water.
He was rushed to Tampa General with second degree burns over 80 percent of his body, his mother said. In the coming weeks, he never lost consciousness, she said. He listened to country music and visited with family. Though he developed a temporary blindness, he improved enough to be taken off the respirator.
Hillery's estranged wife, Clarice, 26, and the couple's three children, Christine, 9; Kayla, 7; and Austin, 4, visited Hillery several times. In addition, his mother and two sisters Cheryll Devera and Tammy Bryant kept vigil at his bedside.
Family and friends were hopeful the Plant City High School graduate would survive, his mother said. Hillery, whose nickname was "Bubba" was anxious to return to his hobbies of building race cars, hunting and fishing.
His former co-workers at Pop's Painting in Lakeland, where Hillery worked for seven years as a sandblaster, were pulling for him too.
"He was pretty outgoing and really likable," his mother said. "He had millions of friends."
On Thursday, Hillery developed a low-grade fever, his mother said. By late Friday, it had risen to an alarming 104-degrees and he wasn't breathing well. It appears Hillery may have had a heart attack early Saturday, his mother said. He died just before 6 a.m.