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Family believes newly engaged Las Vegas paramedic died from flu

Updated December 6, 2019 - 5:13 pm

Michael Czaruk felt under the weather, but he was still healthy enough to propose to his girlfriend last week. Less than 48 hours later, the 36-year-old Las Vegas man died, possibly from the flu.

Czaruk, described by his family as an otherwise healthy man, died while sick with influenza early Sunday morning. He worked in the medical profession — mostly as a paramedic — in the Las Vegas Valley for the past 17 years and drove to the scene of the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting to help transport people to the hospital.

He died just a day before his 37th birthday, his family said.

“A man who was in perfectly good condition, fantastic health, has the flu and drops dead,” Czaruk’s mother, 68-year-old Sandra Stehlik, said during an emotional phone interview Thursday night. “He was struggling with it for a couple weeks.”

An official cause of death for Czaruk has not been determined, the Clark County coroner’s office said Friday, but his family believes the flu killed him.

His sister Sara-Nichole Prock said that about a week before his death, her brother was diagnosed with influenza, strep throat and a bacterial infection, but that his doctor said “the main thing was the flu.”

Czaruk’s family also noted that doctors prescribed Tamiflu, an anti-viral medication for the flu, when he was diagnosed with influenza.

As of Nov. 30, the Southern Nevada Health District had recorded four influenza deaths this season, all in persons over 65, according to a health district spokeswoman.

Nevada is the No. 2 state for flu activity behind Louisiana, according to an index compiled using retail prescription data from across Walgreens pharmacies nationwide.

Because he was working as a paramedic for Community Ambulance and the Las Vegas Sands Corp., Czaruk got a flu shot this year, Prock said.

Last conversation

The 39-year-old said she was on the phone with Czaruk’s fiancee, when she heard screaming from her nephew that led to the frantic 911 calls. Earlier in the night Prock had urged her brother to go back to the hospital.

Her voice shaking, Prock recounted the last conversation they had.

“I said, ‘Get some rest, I love you;’ he said, ‘I love you too, I miss you,’” Prock said.

She said Czaruk was planning on asking his girlfriend, Brenda Occhipinti, to marry him on Nov. 28, her birthday. Instead, the family went to the hospital because one of her children was sick with the flu. On Nov. 30, Czaruk proposed by putting a ring in his mouth and going in for a kiss, Prock said.

“He didn’t want to wait another minute,” she said.

One of his fiancee’s sons died from the flu a few years ago, Czaruk’s mother said.

“And now she’s going through this pain again,” Stehlik said.

Amazing dad

She described her son as a kind man with many friends who would “help anybody.” Czaruk visited his parents multiple times a week and “never had a bad word to say” about anyone, Stehlik said.

Prock said her brother loved motorcycles and was an avid snowboarder and skateboarder in his youth. He was an “amazing dad and an amazing uncle” who was looking forward to growing his family, Prock said.

Czaruk is survived by his parents; two sisters; a 9-year-old son, a 4-year-old daughter; and his fiancee’s five surviving children, Prock said.

He wasn’t the only medical professional in their family of nurses; being a first responder “runs in our blood,” Prock said.

Less than a year ago he also donated a kidney to her, she said.

When the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting happened, Czaruk was working as a flight paramedic. But when he heard what happened he immediately drove to the festival grounds and started helping take wounded concertgoers to the hospital, Prock said.

“He was doing everything he can,” she said.

‘Please take it, please’

Although the flu shot might not have saved Czaruk, Stehlik was adamant that everyone should get the yearly vaccine.

“Please take it, please,” she said. “You don’t know how important it is to have that flu shot. Why take a chance?”

A GoFundMe account has been set up to raise money for Czaruk’s children and funeral expenses. As of midday Friday, the fund had raised $5,360.

A public celebration of life ceremony for Czaruk will be held at noon Dec. 21 at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort, 10325 Nu-Wav Kaiv Boulevard, Prock said.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Glenn Puit and Mary Hynes contributed to this report.

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