Dan Leonard and Diana Ruvolo at home in Calverton. The couple and her 52-year-old disabled son all became infected by the coronavirus this spring. Ruvolo's son died and Leonard is still fighting to regain his health, while she never became symptomatic.
Photo: Denise Civiletti

Dan Leonard knows he’s lucky to be alive.

He checked almost all the boxes: Age. Gender. Preexisting conditions.

After his significant other’s disabled son, who shared their Calverton home, was hospitalized with COVID-19 in early April, the strapping U.S. Army veteran knew what might come next.

Leonard and Diana Ruvolo couldn’t avoid “close contact” with her son, who had just been released from a nursing home in Sayville, where he’d been undergoing rehab following a hospital stay.

Lee Alessi, 52, had two serious strokes three years earlier that left him nonverbal and with impaired mobility. He’d been admitted to Stony Brook University Hospital for seizures and discharged to Luxor Nursing and Rehabilitation in Sayville. He came home March 29.

“Two weeks later, he was in bad shape,” Leonard recalled. “He couldn’t breathe and became very lethargic.” Lee was taken by ambulance to Peconic Bay Medical Center.

Leonard and Ruvolo had taken care of Lee since he came home from the nursing home — dressing him, getting him in and out of bed.

“We were in close contact with him every day,” Leonard recalls. “That’s how we both caught it.”

The virus hit Leonard like a freight train. Soon after he began having symptoms, he got much worse.

“I have COPD and Type 2 diabetes. I had a heart valve replacement in 1995,” said Leonard, 73. When he realized he’d caught the virus from Lee, he knew his life was at risk.

Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps transported Leonard to Peconic Bay Medical Center April 14. He would be hospitalized there for 50 days. Four days after Leonard was admitted, Lee died.

Ruvolo remained asymptomatic throughout, though she tested positive for the disease after Leonard was admitted to the hospital. She would never see her son again and waited at home to learn whether her domestic partner of 17 years would recover.

It was a close call for Leonard, who was on oxygen 24/7 while in the hospital. Fortunately, he never had to be placed on a ventilator.

“I had trouble breathing,” Leonard said. “I was so weak I couldn’t even stand up. I lost about 30 pounds.”

He eventually progressed in his recovery enough to be discharged from the hospital and he considers himself one of the lucky ones. After he was discharged June 2, he learned his nurses were actually surprised he’d survived.

“I won the fight but I was really beat up,” Leonard said in an interview yesterday. “I’m still beat up.”

He wants to speak out, he said, to warn people not to blow this virus off. People aren’t taking it seriously enough — especially people who think it’s just like the flu, he said.

It’s not, Leonard said.

There are so many long-lasting repercussions of this disease — things people aren’t hearing about and don’t know about, he said.

Medical researchers estimate about 10% of COVID-19 patients become what is known as “long-haul” — people who have recovered from the coronavirus, tested negative, but still have symptoms that can last for weeks or months. These can include ongoing fatigue, body aches, joint pain, shortness of breath, headaches and “brain fog,” according to scientists at UC Davis Health.

Nine percent of survivors who are hospitalized are readmitted within two months, according to the CDC. The odds of complications after recovery increase with age.

Leonard is now being evaluated for Parkinson’s Disease, which doctors think may have been caused by COVID.

“I’ve had swallowing problems,” he said. “My right hand and arm
shake and shutter. I didn’t have this before,” said Leonard, a welder by trade who once worked for Grumman. “I get so frustrated with stuff I can’t do, I start to cry,” he said.

“They’re learning so much stuff that COVID is doing to people —It’s really scary,” Leonard said. It’s not an illness limited to the respiratory system. “It attacks the muscles, including the heart,” he said.

For example, COVID survivors are exhibiting symptoms of dysautonomia, according to the CDC. Dysautonomia is an illness that affects the autonomic system, which controls a host of bodily functions, from heart rate, to body temperature, blood pressure, swallowing and breathing.

“There’s just so much we don’t know about the long-term effects of this disease,” Leonard said.

Leonard said he hopes people take the pandemic more seriously.

“Listen to what they tell you with the masks,” Leonard said. “Stay out of crowds. You don’t want to give this to somebody and kill somebody,” he said. “Because that’s what you’re doing.”

Leonard paused, drawing a breath.

“You don’t want to be responsible for somebody’s death.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.