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Ninety-year-old patient-turned-volunteer asks,  “How do you pay anybody back for a new lease on life?”

Ninety-year-old patient-turned-volunteer asks, “How do you pay anybody back for a new lease on life?”

Monday, Apr 17, 2023

As you walk through the hallways of Gaylord Hospital, it’s not unusual to hear Dino Fuoco softly crooning to patients as he wheels them to their therapy appointments.

Dino’s irrepressible joy, bottomless energy, and spontaneous dance moves belie the fact that only months earlier, the 90-year-old was practicing standing in the same hospital where he now volunteers twice a week.

The retired owner of a dry cleaning chain contracted severe COVID in early 2022. After an extended stay at Yale New Haven Hospital, he arrived at Gaylord in a fragile state, unable to walk and barely able to talk.

Inactivity was a foreign concept to the nonagenarian, whose many passions include singing, dancing, playing the guitar, and recording his own albums. Within only a few weeks of admission, Dino started to walk and sing the “oldies” to his Gaylord nurses and aides as soon as his voice allowed.

“They kept pushing me, and I got better,” he said. “They called me the comeback kid.”

Physical therapist Kim Tetreault recalled doing a double-take as she witnessed Dino dancing in the hallway one day near the end of his Gaylord stay.

“At that point,” she laughed, “I think we all knew he had graduated.”

On the day he was discharged home, Dino had a final, urgent question for Gaylord staff. “Who should I talk to about returning to volunteer?” he asked.

Months later, Dino called the hospital to make good on his pledge to give back to the hospital he regards so highly.

As a transport volunteer, he’s keenly aware that his role means more than a prompt arrival to appointments. More importantly, he is a beacon of hope by sharing his story with others recovering from life-altering illnesses and injuries.

“I tell them I thank two lords: the good Lord and Gaylord Hospital,” he said.

Tetrault said that many of her patients come to their appointments with a smile “because of him.” But the pleasure, Dino insists, is all his.

“Helping people is such a beautiful feeling,” he reflected.

“After all, how do you pay anybody back for a new lease on life?”

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