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Air Force veteran dead within two days of positive Covid-19 test

A folded flag sits on a casket during ceremonial funeral training at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 22, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert/Released)
December 08, 2020

Shawn Lis learned shortly after finishing Thanksgiving dinner that his father had tested positive for Covid-19 in Schofield Residence in the Town of Tonawanda.

Less than two days later, James Lis, an Air Force veteran and music lover who had worked nearly four decades at Erie County Medical Center, was dead. He was 72.

“I’m shocked and floored by how fast it was,” said Shawn Lis of Kenmore.

Prior to the pandemic, Lis said he visited his dad three to four times per week, often taking his son and daughter with him to the nursing home. Lis hadn’t been able to visit his father since March, due to restrictions brought on by the pandemic.

“It was hard on us and it was hard on him, but I’m sure it was much, much harder on him,” said Lis.

The two spoke daily on the telephone, and Shawn Lis said he dropped off dinner for his dad at the nursing home a few times a week.

Unlike many area nursing homes, Schofield Residence has not any reported widespread outbreaks of Covid-19 to date. The nursing home reported that one resident and three staff had tested positive through Nov. 15, according to federal data.

Born in Buffalo, James Lis graduated from Burgard High School and served in the Air Force from 1968 to 1972. He was stationed in Nevada, according to his son.

He worked for 38 years as a patient transporter at ECMC until a back injury forced him to retire. His wife of 45 years, the former Carmella Sicurella, died in 2018.

Shawn Lis described his father as “the life every single party” who worked hard and spent his free time listening to music.

He recalled his father regularly visiting the Record Theatre on Main Street after a week’s work and bringing home four or five new albums to enjoy over the weekend.

James Lis treated his son’s friends as if they were family.

“I didn’t have brothers and sisters growing up, but so many of my friends considered my father a dad figure. He loved all of my friends a lot,” said Shawn Lis.

Lis said his father had tested negative for Covid on Nov. 20, but he sounded congested when they spoke after Thanksgiving dinner, so Lis called nursing home staff to see what was going on. The staff said he had a high temperature on Wednesday but it had subsided by Thursday. Later, they called back to tell Lis that a more recent Covid test had come back positive.

James Lis had survived a couple of strokes and heart attacks, narrowly escaping death on multiple occasions, and he did not want to be resuscitated or put on a ventilator, according to his son, who worried since the start of the pandemic that Covid-19 would likely kill him.

“I knew if this made it to him, he was not going to change his mind on that, and it was not going to be good. And that’s exactly how it worked out,” said Shawn Lis.

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(c) 2020 The Buffalo News

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