“It wasn’t an awkward ‘hi’ but instead a resume of all his attributes and what he likes and dislikes, and everything he wanted to do and ambitions and morals. I was like, ‘I wonder who this guy is,’ ” his wife, Marina Leiva, recalled.
It wasn’t until the day after they graduated from high school that Kevin and Marina finally met in person. They had been inseparable ever since.
They were married Jan. 4, 2018. Marina took a job in sales at a clothing store, while Kevin went to college. They lived in a room above his parents’ place in Pompton Lakes, N.J.
Leiva had always wanted to be a doctor, but coming from a working-class family — his father is a restaurant cook and his mother a homemaker — he was worried about being able to afford the cost of a medical education. So he chose a major — criminal justice — he thought was more practical. One day, he got an email meant for someone else about a scholarship for emergency medical technicians. He applied and got it. Marina thinks about that event as “an act of God.”
He loved everything about being an EMT. He loved the medicine and loved being out and about in the neighborhoods and being able to help. His friend and fellow EMT Franklin Pachay said the 24-year-old Leiva was always looking after other co-workers. No one was surprised when he was quickly promoted to supervisor at one of his two EMT jobs at St. Clare’s Dover Hospital ambulance service. His other job was for North Bergen township’s emergency medical services.
“He was very selfless, always caring about others. He always wanted to be about work and helping his crews and co-workers and making sure everyone was okay,” Pachay said.
Leiva, who suffered from asthma as a child but was otherwise healthy, is believed to have been exposed while on a call. One of his partners at St. Clare’s, 33-year-old Israel Tolentino Jr., was also infected and died.
Outside of work, Kevin and Marina Leiva lived a happy and simple life. He played guitar, acoustic and electric. She loves to cook, and he loved to eat whatever she cooked. They had a tradition of going out to movies at the latest showing and then walking around afterward until 1 a.m., just enjoying the sounds of the night. He was trying to learn how to fish. They would go to a small lake or river, and she would sit by him and not get too bored, even when they never caught anything. “He wasn’t very good at it,” she said, laughing.
They were saving up to buy their own home and couldn’t wait to have children.
“We always talked about our future and how this year we were going to pay off credit cards and student loans,” she said. They hoped to move out of state, away from the sometimes gritty urban areas where he grew up. Perhaps Maine, perhaps a house with a farm in the backyard. Two kids.
Marina said she finds comfort knowing Leiva died pursuing his passion. “I’d always be worried for him, but he had such a confidence about him that everything seemed easy, and I knew he was happy doing what he did and couldn’t imagine him doing anything else.”