Daniel Lewis expected his stay to be temporary at Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation, the nursing home inside the Freedom Square of Seminole retirement community.
Lewis, 66, checked in to the elder-care center for a two-week rehab program ordered by his doctors at St. Anthony’s Hospital. A lifelong smoker, Lewis developed severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and had spent the past month being treated for his symptoms and resulting infection.
His family believed Lewis had finally turned a corner in rehab. But during his two weeks inside the nursing home, his health began to deteriorate.
Lewis was tested for COVID-19, the contagious respiratory disease that was spreading through the nursing home and elder-care facilities across the country. The grandfather of two would die from the virus on April 17.
“He will be missed forever,” son Jonathan Lewis said. “He was and always will be a pillar of strength for his family.”
A native of Binnewater, N.Y., about 90 miles north of Manhattan, Lewis was the fourth of six children. Two brothers died in childhood.
“As the last remaining brother with three sisters, he always felt like the center of their attention,” his son said.
Lewis spent his early career driving ambulances in the nearby town of Kingston, racing to rescue those in need. He was born with a desire to make friends with everyone he encountered, his son said. “No one was safe from becoming Dan’s new friend.”
After their move to Florida, Ethel, his wife of 42 years, spent more than three decades as a nurse at St. Anthony’s Hospital. They lived nearby, where they raised their son and daughter, Melissa Delano. She and her husband were inseparable, their children said, even throughout Ethel’s five year battle with breast cancer that ended when she passed away in 2017.
In her final days, Ethel’s sister-in-law Mary Planthaber said, the love between husband and wife was stronger than ever.
“I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to do for her, and her only request was please make sure Danny is okay,” Planthaber said. “As sick as she was, she was worried about Dan.”
After his wife’s death, Lewis maintained a garden on the grounds of St. Anthony’s dedicated to her. On April 14, as his health continued to worsen inside Freedom Square, Lewis was rushed back to the hospital where he’d worked to keep her memory alive.
The next day, Lewis was transferred to Suncoast Hospice Care Center. He died there two days later.
On the day of Lewis’ death, Freedom Square ordered an emergency evacuation of nearly 100 residents in the Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation building.
As of Thursday, a total of seven residents have now died after contracting COVID-19 at the nursing home facility.
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Despite the uncertainty, the fear, and his lifelong itch to “come to the rescue” of those in need, Daniel Lewis’ family say he never let the virus steal his identity as the family’s story teller and advice giver.
Lewis continued to call his sisters and children several times a week, offering support and words of wisdom, “through all the events they faced in life, whether they were easy, difficult or unexpected," Jonathan Lewis said.
“He only wanted good things to happen for everyone and not just for one person. He wanted to see the world and everyone in it in harmony," his son said. "Because of that it was impossible not to love him.”
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