MODESTO, Calif. - The Alameda County Sheriff's Office is mourning its second COVID death in a week; 61-year-old Valerie Leon worked as a technician since 1997 and was most recently at the coroner’s bureau.
Family members are unsure how she contracted the virus. Leon had just come home from a road trip and had a high-risk job. The beloved employee leaves behind three sons and 13 grandchildren.
“The Grand Canyon was on her bucket list and when she was there, she was beyond happy,” said Rochelle Perez, Leon’s granddaughter.
Leon went on a spontaneous road trip with her grandchildren to the Grand Canyon in mid-July. It would be the grandkids' last memory of her.
“I was so blessed to have those memories with her and be able to go out on that trip with her,” Perez said.
Leon experienced symptoms on and off during the trip including chills, coughing and then difficulty breathing.
Back home in Modesto, she was hospitalized for six days. At first, she did not want to go on a ventilator.
Her friend Alameda County Sheriff Deputy Oscar Rocha had just died from COVID.
“She literally found out the night before he had passed,” said Frank Perez, Leon’s son. “It kind of broke her heart.”
Her family rushed to the hospital to convince her only to find out she had agreed.
“They allowed us to view her from a window unable to go to the room,” said Brandon Perez, Leon’s son.
"We saw her for one minute and we were able to blow kisses,” said Sarah Perez, Leon’s daughter-in-law.
Leon was on a ventilator for an hour. She had suffered from high blood pressure and then went into cardiac arrest. Doctors were unable to revive her.
“We never heard her voice again,” said Sarah Perez.
“It was pretty sad,” said Brandon Perez.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Frank Perez. “She was such a tremendous woman. She was such a fighter. We really thought she was going to beat this.”
A motorcade from the Sheriff’s Office on Saturday escorted her flag-draped casket from Kaiser Permanente in Modesto to her workplace, the morgue in Oakland.
Leon had transferred to the coroner's office in March from the courthouse. Her family said she had been exposed to at least one body who died from COVID. She was always careful, regularly tested and always in her PPE and a mask.
Loved ones remember her as a diehard Miami Dolphins fan who loved cooking pozole and the Dollar Store.
“I really hope everyone takes this thing seriously,” said Frank Perez. “It can hit everyone different.”
Leon will be remembered most as a doting grandmother. One of her last texts was to tell the grandkids she loved them.
“I can't believe how much love she gave to all of us,” said Rochelle Perez. “All 13 of us and to know we were one of the last thoughts she had was really memorable to me.”
Many of her family members are in quarantine after three of them tested positive for COVID. A Go Fund Me has been set up to support her family at this time.
This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.