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Long Island nurse who dies because of COVID-19 'made us laugh,' 'loved life'

Ali Guillermo is the second known nurse on

Ali Guillermo is the second known nurse on Long Island to have died amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Courtesy Romielyn Guillermo

The nurse at Long Island Community Hospital who died this week after contracting COVID-19 was hailed Thursday as a selfless father and compassionate health care provider.

Ali Dennis Guillermo, 44, of East Patchogue, came to Long Island from the Philippines in 2004 to provide a better upbringing for his family, wife Romielyn said. She said the hospital in East Patchogue was recruiting nurses from their country at the time.

“In the Philippines, the big dream is to come to the U.S.,” Romielyn said in a telephone interview. “That’s how we could help our family, especially financially.”

Guillermo, the second known nurse on Long Island to have died amid the COVID-19 pandemic, met his wife at nursing school in the Philippines and quickly made his mark among his new health care colleagues on Long Island.

“Everyone who ever worked with him loved him,” said Cathy Santacroce-Worwetz, a 29-year nurse at LICH. “He was always there with a helping hand if you needed him. He made us laugh. He loved life.”

Guillermo earned a reputation among his colleagues for making the overnight shifts go quickly, thanks to his fun-loving, upbeat attitude and willingness to do more than his share of work.

“Ali was the most thorough, gentle, kindest, funniest nurse I ever had the pleasure to work with,” nurse Kassandra Cozier said.

He loved to sing, dance — and take the workload off others.

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"No time to place that extra IV? No worries, Ali will take care of it," nurse Darriel Daniels said. "He'll send you home to sleep and not bat an eye at any work you left for him."

Nurses said Guillermo often would ask them about their families, and then always spoke adoringly of his daughter and two sons. Family time was so important to him, especially because working from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. limited his interactions with his children.

So, Romielyn said they had a rule about dinnertime.

“If he’s working, we would always be at the dinner table so he could talk to his children before he went to work,” she said. “Because by the morning, they were all gone to school and he could not see them until dinnertime again.”

His daughter Denice said he loved living in East Patchogue because of the easy commute to work and access to take the family on excursions.

“He took the family on trips to New York City from time to time, to Montauk, other places on the Island,” she said.

He also stressed the value of an education.

Denice, 21, is a student at University of Buffalo studying architecture. Son Ali, 18, is set to graduate Bellport High School in June as the valedictorian. His youngest son, Aljon, turns 13 on Monday.

Guillermo spoke often to his kids about their roots in the Philippines, where he and Romielyn were married and Denice and Ali were born.

As the kids got older, Romielyn said he talked of retiring at age 55 and returning home.

“He always dreamed of retiring in the Philippines and having his own land to farm and be with his family,” Denice said. “It was something I hoped to help him with.”

Guillermo grew up in a town on the north side of Philippines, where Denice said “farming was a way to provide for the others in the community."

"So," she said, "this was another way he can help others.”

Romielyn said Guillermo first felt sick about a month ago. By then, more patients were coming to the hospital with coronavirus symptoms, and he spoke of being concerned.

“He was saying he was getting scared because more patients were coming here with the virus, but I have to continue to go to work and protect myself,” she said.

She said he visited his doctor March 15, then the emergency room on March 18 and was sent home. But the symptoms got worse, and she brought him back to the ER on March 25.

The rest of the family was quarantined and did not get sick, Romielyn said.

A private service is being planned, but Romielyn is hopeful of a public ceremony once limitations on public gatherings are lifted. The hospital has said it will put together its own memorial.

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