Timothy Heaton, a former Suffolk County correction officer who spent more than five months hospitalized battling COVID-19, was given his retirement shield by Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Simple, everyday tasks proved a challenge for Timothy Heaton, a former Suffolk County correction officer, after overcoming a near-death battle with COVID-19.

He spent more than five months hospitalized, with bouts at both Stony Brook University Hospital and St. Charles Hospital, before he went home last March.

His recovery, however, was far from over.

“I couldn’t move my pinkie to operate a remote,” Heaton said Thursday, adding that it took about three months before he regained strength to stand and walk.

Heaton recounted his COVID-19 experience, with family and former colleagues by his side at Yaphank Correctional Facilitywhile belatedly celebrating a momentous milestone: his retirement.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. presented Heaton a retirement shield, which he said generally is given to correction officers who end their careers after 25 or more years on the job as an acknowledgment of their commitment to service.

“To see him here today and to see him as healthy as he is with his lovely family … it’s truly an honor for me to be able to present him his retired badge,” Toulon said.

Heaton, who he described as well-respected, barely could grip his hand the last time they saw each other, the sheriff recalled.

But Thursday, the two men embraced with a hug.

A retirement shield signals the bearer is a former law enforcement official and can be helpful for the retiree to have, in addition to regular identification, if that person carries a gun, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Dozens of officers lined the hallway Thursday to cheer for Heaton, who recently turned 62, as he exited the building after the brief ceremony.

This time last year, he was on life support.

“I regained so much strength,” Heaton said. “I’m just thankful for every day.”

Heaton’s retirement date in late September 2021 passed a few weeks after his COVID-19 diagnosis and while he already was hospitalized for a battle that included six weeks in a medically-induced coma.

But retirement wasn't the only milestone clouded by Heaton's COVID-19 struggle.

His granddaughter, Haylee Jensen, also was born while he was in the hospital. Heaton and his daughter, Julie Jensen, were both patients at Stony Brook, separated by a few floors as she gave birth to Haylee.

Jensen, 28, said Thursday she remembered calling a doctor to check on her father shortly after she gave birth — only to hear that his prognosis was grim.

“I was hysterically crying,” Heaton's daughter said. “It was a lot. But he never gave up.”

The former law enforcement officer credited his family and Sheriff’s Office colleagues with helping him get through the dark time.

Now that he’s healthy enough to enjoy retirement, Heaton said he spends a lot of time with 14-month-old Haylee.

And in March, the former correction officer and his family are planning to take a cruise to Mexico — one year after his hospital release.

Simple, everyday tasks proved a challenge for Timothy Heaton, a former Suffolk County correction officer, after overcoming a near-death battle with COVID-19.

He spent more than five months hospitalized, with bouts at both Stony Brook University Hospital and St. Charles Hospital, before he went home last March.

His recovery, however, was far from over.

“I couldn’t move my pinkie to operate a remote,” Heaton said Thursday, adding that it took about three months before he regained strength to stand and walk.

Heaton recounted his COVID-19 experience, with family and former colleagues by his side at Yaphank Correctional Facilitywhile belatedly celebrating a momentous milestone: his retirement.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. presented Heaton a retirement shield, which he said generally is given to correction officers who end their careers after 25 or more years on the job as an acknowledgment of their commitment to service.

“To see him here today and to see him as healthy as he is with his lovely family … it’s truly an honor for me to be able to present him his retired badge,” Toulon said.

Heaton, who he described as well-respected, barely could grip his hand the last time they saw each other, the sheriff recalled.

But Thursday, the two men embraced with a hug.

A retirement shield signals the bearer is a former law enforcement official and can be helpful for the retiree to have, in addition to regular identification, if that person carries a gun, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Dozens of officers lined the hallway Thursday to cheer for Heaton, who recently turned 62, as he exited the building after the brief ceremony.

This time last year, he was on life support.

“I regained so much strength,” Heaton said. “I’m just thankful for every day.”

Heaton’s retirement date in late September 2021 passed a few weeks after his COVID-19 diagnosis and while he already was hospitalized for a battle that included six weeks in a medically-induced coma.

But retirement wasn't the only milestone clouded by Heaton's COVID-19 struggle.

His granddaughter, Haylee Jensen, also was born while he was in the hospital. Heaton and his daughter, Julie Jensen, were both patients at Stony Brook, separated by a few floors as she gave birth to Haylee.

Jensen, 28, said Thursday she remembered calling a doctor to check on her father shortly after she gave birth — only to hear that his prognosis was grim.

“I was hysterically crying,” Heaton's daughter said. “It was a lot. But he never gave up.”

The former law enforcement officer credited his family and Sheriff’s Office colleagues with helping him get through the dark time.

Now that he’s healthy enough to enjoy retirement, Heaton said he spends a lot of time with 14-month-old Haylee.

And in March, the former correction officer and his family are planning to take a cruise to Mexico — one year after his hospital release.