Denis Ruano on graduation day in June. Courtesy photo: Ruano family

The Riverhead community is mourning the sudden death Saturday of a 2022 Riverhead High School graduate who had an apparent cardiac arrest following a seizure, according to his family.

Eighteen-year old Denis Ruano came home around midnight after visiting his girlfriend, looking “completely normal,” his father Melvin Enrique Ruano said.

“He told his mother that he had arrived and, then she told him, ‘go to sleep because tomorrow you have to work,’” Ruano explained.

Around 1:30 in the morning, Denis’s grandmother was the first to realize that something was not right with the young man after she heard him struggling and strongly complaining, Ruano said. She decided to wake up the rest of the family and that’s when they discovered that he was having a seizure, he said.

“I called the emergency room, they came, and quickly started to provide first aid and resuscitation, but everything went so fast, I think he almost died here at home,” the distraught father said.

After several attempts to save his life, the young man was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center for further treatment.

“The doctor came and said that he was very sorry, but that his heart had stopped working, that they were treating him, but if nothing happened, they were going to have to disconnect him from all the machines,” Ruano said. “After 10 minutes they came back and told us that there was nothing to do. We went to see when they began to disconnect him and at that moment we realized that our son had died.”

His father said that the family is in shock and eagerly awaiting the results of an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Ruano said that even though he doesn’t have a clear understanding of what happened to his son yet, he had never shown heart health issues before.

Denis, who immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 12 years old, had studied nursing while in high school and at the time of his death, was working at a rehabilitation center for the elderly. Now the family plans to send his body to the municipality of Morales, in Izabal, Guatemala, where he will be buried. The family has started a GoFundMe fundraising campaign to cover funeral expenses and the repatriation of the body.

“Denis was known to everyone as the friend they could call on when anyone needed help. What made Denis more special was that he always did it with a smile and he could always find a way to make you laugh when you needed it,” stated the GoFundMe campaign created by the family.

“He wanted to continue studying medicine, since he was a nursing assistant, he wanted to be a nurse practitioner. He had told us that he was going to work very hard, to continue saving for his studies,” his father said.

The family is inviting everyone who knew Denis to join them for a service at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church in Riverhead on Monday at 6 p.m..

Denis is survived by his parents and two brothers, ages 8 and 4.

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Juliana Holguin is a journalist and editor of Tu Prensa Local. Her work has been recognized with six journalism awards, including the Simón Bolívar National Award from Colombia. Send her an email: [email protected]