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In our most recent episode of the podcast, Reveal and Kaiser Health News followed a first-year medical resident battling the pandemic at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, California.

In this special episode of the podcast, we hear about a man who was a patient in that hospital. He’s one of more than 500,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. 
David León was a father of six, a small-business owner and a leader in the city’s Latino community. His death left a hole in that community and with the family he left behind.

Credits

Produced by: Martin Kessler

Edited by: Brett Myers

Production manager: Amy Mostafa

Production assistance: Brett Simpson

Mixing, sound design and music by: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda

Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan

Host: Al Letson

Digital producer: Sarah Mirk 

General counsel: Victoria Baranetsky

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Maria Feldman:Hi, I’m Maria Feldman, the Director of Operations at Reveal. I’m part of a big team of people who are behind the scenes that make the show possible each week. We have staff all across the country from Tampa to Portland, to Oakland, California, and I help set up systems that keep us all connected. And most importantly, I process payroll. So, I make sure we all get paid.
Maria Feldman:We’re a nonprofit organization and members like you keep us going. Text the word ‘REVEAL’ to 474747 to show your support. You can text ‘STOP’ at any time. Standard data rates apply. Again, to support this work, just text the word ‘REVEAL’ to 474747. Thank you.
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Speaker 2:National annual average auto insurance savings by new customers surveyed in 2019. Potential savings will vary. Discounts vary, and are not available in all states and situations.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
Al Letson:In our last episode, we told you the story of Dr. Poloma Morin Navarez. She graduated med school last year and became a new doctor in the middle of a global pandemic. [Medical Room audio]
Al Letson:And we went inside the hospital where she works, Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, California. Both the hospital and the region have been hit hard by COVID. Today, we’re bringing you a special podcast. It’s a story about a man who was a patient in that hospital. He’s one of the more than 500,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 and he was Latino, a group that’s more than three times as likely to be hospitalized and more than twice as likely to die from the virus.
Al Letson:David Leone, the man at the center of this story, was a leader in Fresno’s Latino community. His death left a hole in that community and with the family he left behind.
Al Letson:Growing up David’s 24 year old daughter, Alondra, used to wake up in the morning to the sound of him singing.
Alondra Leone:I wouldn’t even be awake all fully, and I would hear him singing in the background. He would sing while he was getting ready, while he was leaving the house, inside the car…
David Leone:[Spanish singing]
Alondra Leone:To him, his singing was phenomenal…
David Leone:[foreign language singing]
Alondra Leone:It was good, but I don’t think it was as good as he thought it was, but you know, no, he did have talent. Like it was, he had a lot of passion when he sang. I admired that.
Al Letson:Passion was something David Leon had a lot of. He woke up early and sometimes he’d burst into his children’s rooms, pull open their blinds and say: “The sun is good for you. It’s time to start the day.”
Al Letson:He almost always dressed in a suit, usually paired with a bright, sometimes floral pattern dress shirt.
Alondra Leone:He would stand in front of the mirror and he would be like: “Wow.” And he would be like: “How do I look?” And I would be like: “You look great dad,” or “you look great papi.” And then he would be like: “No!” He’s like: “I look exceptional!”
Al Letson:David was good with numbers and started a small financial services business in Fresno. He loved people and advertised his tax services on local Spanish TV.
David Leone:[Spanish talking].
Al Letson:David was known in the community. Alondra says whenever she went out in public with her dad, people would stop them to say hello. He served as president of the Fresno, Latino Rotary Club. He helped people through the immigration process. He organized food and toy drives. For those, David would drive to LA, where he could get better deals on toys, and then hand them out himself, often to children of migrant workers, who’d come to Fresno to work in agriculture. He no doubt saw something of himself in those kids.
Al Letson:David was born in Mexico city, the oldest of five. As a child, he helped earn extra money for his family by selling jello on the street corners.
Alondra Leone:So he told us, he’s like: “Be grateful for what you have. There was a time…my mom brought me a birthday cake for my birthday and we took the picture, they sang happy birthday, and I was so excited to eat it but my mom only brought the cake for the picture and that was it. I couldn’t eat it cause they had to return it back to the cake shop.”
Alondra Leone:That really opened my eyes to how hard he did work to have everything that he’s given his family and himself.
Al Letson:David came to California Central Valley with his parents and siblings when he was a boy and he was driven to get ahead.
Alondra Leone:In his seventh grade photo, he’s the only kid who’s wearing a suit. So he was, he’s been wearing suits his whole life. He’s always wanted to be a professional man.
Al Letson:After earning his Associates Degree from Fresno City College, David started his business and family. He and his wife Francis Calderone had six kids. The youngest is 12. David was proud to give them more than he had, and he worked hard to do it. During tax season, Alondra says she’d go days without seeing her dad. He’d leave for work early in the morning and come back late.
Al Letson:This past tax season was especially long because the pandemic extended filing deadlines into July. So, in June, when David’s oldest daughter, Poloma Becker got a call from her dad on her 25th birthday, she knew he was swamped at work.
Paloma Becker:And just told me, “Oh, happy birthday!” But I could already hear him coughing. And, I just assumed, I’m like, oh, maybe it’s because of tax season. He usually gets a cold every tax season.
Al Letson:But it wasn’t just a cold. David started having trouble breathing, even getting up to use the bathroom became difficult. He had COVID-19.
Al Letson:A week after Paloma’s 25th birthday, the family called 911. David was admitted to the hospital and put on oxygen. Three days later, Poloma, Alondra and the rest of the family had a FaceTime call to celebrate their brother’s 19th birthday. David joined too.
Alondra Leone:He had his hospital gown on, was doing very little talking, but he had a smile on his face and he seemed to be breathing better that day.
Paloma Becker:And we all just talked and we’re like, “When do you think you can come home?” Just normal chit chatting like that. And then he still had a sense of humor.
Alondra Leone:He was playing with his hair and pretending to grab a bug out of his hair and eat it. Cause like he hasn’t showered in a long time. He would be, “Oh, I’m getting my dinner.” I would just be like, “Ewww!” and he would laugh because he thought he was so funny, you know. Always laughing at his own jokes more than other people, honestly!
Paloma Becker:I don’t think he necessarily felt that great though. And so, I think he was trying really hard to make all of us feel better. I think he was afraid by then. It was just something that I knew deep down. I’m like, I know my dad’s afraid.
Al Letson:Even as his condition worsened, David tried to reassure his kids.
Alondra Leone:We have a group chat for his children and him only. And we were like, “Papi, how are you feeling?” And he’s like, “I’m feeling great guys,” with like a smiley face emoji smiley face. But the next day he had to get intubated.
Al Letson:The following morning doctors inserted a breathing tube. And while David was still conscious, he joined his family for a video chat.
Alondra Leone:He had the tube down his throat, but he was still, his eyes were still open, that he was still awake, but he couldn’t talk anymore. [Crying] And we were…playing his favorite singer for him. And you know, we put some of his friends on the phone and we were all praying for him. And we were telling him that he’s going to come home. We’re going to be together. And I told him, I’m so excited for you to come home.
Al Letson:David was transferred to Community Regional Medical Center, the hospital we told you about earlier. For the next six weeks, he remained on a ventilator. From San Antonio, Poloma sent her younger siblings hopeful articles about people who recovered after long stretches on ventilators. Then David developed an infection.
Paloma Becker:And the doctor said this may be what breaks the camel’s back and they’re like, you may want to come here, now.
Al Letson:Alondra and her mother were given permission to visit David in the hospital. Poloma and the rest of the siblings watched on Zoom.
Paloma Becker:My sister had asked his doctor, “Can he hear us?” And he said more than likely yes. So, I remember telling him through the Zoom, “It’s okay to let go. You can go to heaven now, don’t be afraid. We’ll be okay.”
Paloma Becker:I wished I could have been there with him, to be able to hold his hand. Having to watch my father pass away through Zoom, it’s just awful. And it’s almost like it’s not happening. But then after they announce his time of death, it’s like, oh, this actually happened!
Al Letson:After David died, Paloma’s mom and sister, Alondra, stayed in the hospital room. Through the protective gear, Alondra held her father’s hand. She says he didn’t look like the man she knew. But back before he’d been intubated, David sent a text message to her.
Alondra Leone:He said, “Remember me like this, always remember me like this.” And it was a video of him singing…
David Leone:[Spanish music].
Paloma Becker:I like watching that video because he’s just so happy. You could see the passion in his face when he sings, and he gets those high notes.
David Leone:[Spanish singing].
Alondra Leone:He had passion. He just put his heart into everything he did. And that, is how I’m going to remember my dad, because that is the type of person he was.
David Leone:[Spanish singing]
Al Letson:David Leon passed away in August. He was 61 years old.
Al Letson:We want to thank the Leon family for sharing their story with us.
Al Letson:Today’s show was produced by Martin Kessler; was edited by Brett Meyers.
Al Letson:Victoria Baranetski is our General Counsel and our Production Manager is Amy Mustafa.
Al Letson:Original score and sound designed by the dynamic duo, Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda. They had help this week from Brett Simpson.
Al Letson:Our Digital Producer is Sarah Merck. Taki Telonidis is our Senior Supervising Editor. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our Editor in Chief. Our Executive Producers is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Comarado Lightening.
Al Letson:Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Inasmuch Foundation.
Al Letson:Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.

Brett Myers is a senior radio editor for Reveal. His work has received more than 20 national honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, four nationalEdward R. Murrow Awards and multipleThird Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Competition awards. Before joining Reveal, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with teenage reporters to file stories for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace." 

Prior to becoming an audio producer, Myers trained as a documentary photographer and was named one of the 25 best American photographers under the age of 25. He loves bikes, California and his family. Before that, he was an independent radio producer and worked with StoryCorps, Sound Portraits and The Kitchen Sisters. Myers is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Brett Simpson (she/her) is an assistant producer for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she focuses on audio, print and investigative reporting. She has received fellowships from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the National Press Club, the White House Correspondents’ Association and the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center. She is also the graduate researcher at UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program. Most recently, Simpson reported breaking news for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered the coronavirus outbreak in the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times. She received a bachelor's degree in English at Princeton University, where she twice won the Ferris Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Projects in Journalism. Simpson is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa is the production manager for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree in journalism with a focus on audio and data at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is a Dean’s Merit Fellow and an Islamic Scholarship Fund scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on KALW and KALX.  Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office. 

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Najib Aminy is a producer for Reveal. Previously, he was an editor at Flipboard, a news aggregation startup, and helped guide the company’s editorial and curation practices and policies. Before that, he spent time reporting for newspapers such as Newsday and The Indianapolis Star. He is the host and producer of an independent podcast, "Some Noise," which is based out of Oakland, California, and was featured by Apple, The Guardian and The Paris Review. He is a lifelong New York Knicks fan, has a soon-to-be-named kitten and is a product of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Aminy is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.