I Lost My 31-Year-Old Sister To Covid-19

Annamarie Leone

AnnaMarie Leone was warm and special, and had a big heart. Her sister shares her story.

Today, our Wake-Up Call newsletter is telling the story of AnnaMarie Leone, a devoted sister, daughter, cousin, who died after fighting the coronavirus for 13 days in the Brooklyn ICU.

AnnaMarie Leone, 31, had a smile that could brighten up anyone’s day. “She was the life of the party,” her sister Kathleen Leone told us. “She was so selfless. She always looked after everyone else.” And although she had Down Syndrome, “she didn’t like to be treated like she had special needs,” Kathleen said.

Growing up in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, AnnaMarie had a close relationship with her three sisters, parents, a big group of cousins — and with the community. For four years, she was a fixture at the old-school, Brooklyn Italian restaurant Gargiulo’s — where she whipped up roasted red peppers and other creations in the kitchen.

On days Gargiulo’s was closed, Leone helped her father at her family’s funeral home. She collected prayer cards — and would write down the names of those lost in a journal — so that they wouldn’t be forgotten. Most of all, AnnaMarie was a natural performer. She loved to sing and dance, and called herself “Selena” — because she aspired to be like her.

AnnaMarie’s experience with Covid-19 began like so many others — she exhibited the usual symptoms: cough, fever, body aches. “My mom had a hip replacement on Valentine’s day, and she had a visiting physical therapist,” Kathleen told us. “We believe that they brought it in, because my sister didn’t leave the house. She was already on lockdown because my mom couldn’t leave.”

Her mom, aunt, and a visiting cousin, all contracted the virus and developed symptoms in mid-March — but AnnaMarie got the “most severe symptoms.” All four of the family members ended up in the hospital. AnnaMarie checked into NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital on March 23rd, when it became hard for her to get out of bed. She tested positive for Covid-19 in the Emergency Room.

Eventually, her family members made it out of the hospital, but AnnaMarie spent 13 days in the ICU — fighting for her life on a ventilator. “The nurses called her Selena,” Kathleen told us. “They never once called her Annie or AnnaMarie, so I’m sure she loved that.” She added: “Her doctor told us, ‘We tried every single treatment that we could try.’”

AnnaMarie passed away on April 6th, 2020, at the age of 31. “She knew she was a queen,” Kathleen told us.

In her obituary, Kathleen wrote: “This is the saddest I’ve ever felt in my life…This is paralyzing.” She added: “I’m gonna say something everyone says when someone dies, my sister was very special…I say this because there is not anyone who has ever met her who wasn’t won over by her warmth and her smile. Even if she sassed you or pranked you or teased you, she did it with such good spirit and love that it warmed you.”

Our hearts are with Kathleen and the rest of AnnaMarie’s loved ones at this time.

Reporting by staff writer Amanda Svachula

This originally appeared on Medium.com