Ill. FF-medic suffers fatal stroke after seemingly recovering from COVID-19
River Grove Firefighter-Paramedic Robert Reisinger, 57, died on Wednesday, the same day he was scheduled to return to work
Duty Death: Robert David Reisinger - [River Grove, Illinois]
End of Service: 04/29/2020
Update May 5, 2020: The U.S. Fire Administration has designated Reisinger's death as a line-of-duty death, attributable to COVID-19 contracted after treating a patient confirmed to have the virus.
RIVER GROVE, Ill. — A River Grove firefighter and paramedic who had tested positive for COVID-19 but appeared to be on the mend died early Wednesday from a stroke, officials said.
Robert “David” Reisinger, 57, who had been with the department for nearly 18 years and was the longtime EMS system coordinator at Stroger Hospital in Chicago, became ill several weeks ago along with a co-worker who had been on the same ambulance, fire Chief Sean Flynn said.
Reisinger had gotten better and was scheduled to return to work Wednesday, Flynn said, but suffered a stroke Monday. The Cook County medical examiner’s office does not list COVID-19 as a factor in Reisinger’s death, but researchers have found links between the virus and some types of strokes. His husband, Kuanwu Lin, does not consider the two events to be coincidental.
“It’s still unpredictable what this virus will do to a human body,” said Lin, a psychologist who is also recovering from COVID-19. “We are still learning about it. ... If this was related to COVID-19, then it makes this virus even more powerful, and therefore we cannot be too cautious.”
Reisinger grew up in Louisville, Kentucky , and was drawn to the medical field from his teens. His friend John Hultgren said Reisinger was part of a Boy Scout Explorers group that introduced high schoolers to emergency medical services, and rode along on city ambulances to assist on calls.
“He was always in demand because he was someone they could count on,” Hultgren said. “He could keep his cool at a difficult scene, and he was helpful. As he learned more and more, he became even more helpful.”
Reisinger went on to get a nursing license and work at a Louisville hospital while volunteering as an EMT in a nearby town, Hultgren said. He later moved to Chicago and worked at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and then Stroger Hospital, becoming its EMS system coordinator before retiring in 2018.
Lin said he met Reisinger in 2001, and they married three years later.
“He was a very good-natured guy, very easygoing and understanding, with a heart of gold,” Lin said. " ... He was always upbeat and could always see the rainbow even through a thick cloud. That often cheered people around him up, and always put a big smile on people’s faces, including mine."
In 2002, he became a part-time firefighter and paramedic in River Grove, a small suburb west of Chicago. Flynn said he had a knack for teaching EMS techniques to his colleagues.
“He was just very kind and gentle,” Flynn said. “He could take something very complex and break it down to almost every learner’s ability to absorb it.”
Kellie Newcomer, a Chicago paramedic who works part-time in River Grove, said Reisinger had a passion for the job that kept him going even after he retired from Stroger.
On top of that, she said, “he was a great human being. One of the nicest people I know. He just always was helping others. If you needed anything, he would be there before, whether it had to do with work or your personal life.”
River Grove hung dark bunting on its firehouse Wednesday to memorialize Reisinger. River Grove Village President David Guerin said with Reisinger’s death, the town had “lost a hero.”
“His job of protecting the public, not only through firefighting but the constant threat of COVID-19, has taken its ultimate toll,” Guerin said. “Our firehouse is like family, and this is a tragedy that has affected our entire village.”
A celebration of life will be held when circumstances allow.
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