They called him the “radar” of Atascosa County.
As the emergency management coordinator of the Texas county, David Prasifka was always on the lookout for how he could help his community.
So when the coronavirus pandemic started to creep in, he hit the ground running, searching near and far to procure personal protective equipment for the county’s first responders, hospital staff and essential workers on the front lines of the fight against the virus.
Then last week, Prasifka fell ill, with doctors diagnosing him with acute leukemia, according to Atascosa Judge Robert Hurley, who worked closely with Prasifka on the county’s Covid-19 efforts.
But then another diagnosis came shortly after. A positive test for Covid-19 — the very disease he had been “valiantly fighting against,” Atascosa County officials said in a Facebook post.
Prasifka passed away on Saturday from the effects of leukemia and Covid-19, according to his obituary. He was 58.
“David had been leading Atascosa County through the COVID-19 pandemic. His humor, heart, and passion for not only his EM job, but his family will be missed by many,” the county officials added.
A lifelong dedication to serving others
Before he was appointed as Atascosa’s emergency management coordinator nearly six years ago, Prasifka served with the Jourdanton Volunteer Fire Department for more than 25 years, first as a volunteer firefighter and then as chief.
“David jumps into things feet first. He never ran from a problem,” Don Penny, the county’s EMS director told CNN. “He looked out for everyone else.”
In his role as emergency management coordinator, Prasifka already wore many hats. He would investigate if somebody got hurt on the job and would take steps to prevent it from happening again. He would prepare the community for any dangerous weather events and update people on any accidents or crimes around the county.
But when the pandemic hit and quickly became “overwhelmingly serious,” Prasifka “stepped in at every level,” Hurley, the county judge, said.
“He worked evenings, he got up early in the morning. He communicated with state officials when PPE was extraordinarily short. He scrounged all over the state for it … Sometimes that involved him driving a couple hundred miles to pick up PPE. It didn’t matter how far he had to go, what he had to do to get it.”
Prasifka had also led the county’s efforts of organizing the state-run Covid-19 testings, helping move the testing sites around different locations to make it easier for people to get tested.
“We probably had more (testing sites) in our county than any other that are our size, at least in our area of Texas, and he ran them personally,” Hurley said. “There’s no question (he helped save lives)… We had extremely low numbers for a county our size until they opened the bars and beaches back up.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Atascosa county reported 148 confirmed cases and two deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University date.
Two heavy diagnoses at once
Two weeks ago, Prasifka decided to get tested at one of his Covid-19 testing sites “just for the heck of it,” Hurley said, and it came back negative.
He had been feeling tired and losing weight, but he blamed it on an abscessed tooth. Then on Monday, he started having fainting spells so he went to the doctor at the strong recommendation of his friends and family.
“David was not the kind of person that would go to the doctor,” Hurley said. The doctor diagnosed him with acute leukemia and he was admitted into a San Antonio hospital, where he was tested for the coronavirus once again, a standard procedure at the hospital.
This time, it came back positive.
“He called me Friday morning,” Hurley said. “He told me what his situation was and that he had tested positive, but that he felt great. They were going to start treating the leukemia and everything was going to be fine. He was upbeat just like he always is.”
Hurley was later told that night by a family member that Prasifka was put on a ventilator. Then by noon the next day, his organs were shutting down.
“At 4:33, he was dead,” Hurley said.
Continuing his work
On Monday morning, dozens of first responders from Atascosa and the neighboring county of Bexar escorted Prasifka’s body from the hospital to the funeral home.
“I stood on the side of the road and watched that procession and just cried,” Hurley said. “There were fire departments, police departments, emergency management departments from all over.
“Everybody is in a state of grief over losing David. We still can’t believe he’s gone. He was always just there, always ready to help,” he added.
Penny, the county’s EMS director, has been working to keep Prasifka’s work going.
“It’s a real shame that one of our greatest ones in Atascosa county, the one that was working the hardest to keep us straight died from (Covid-19),” Penny said. “I know that I will continue his fight. We worked on this a lot together and he taught me a lot on the aspects of his job.”
Prasifka leaves behind four sons, his wife, Donna, and five grandchildren.
While there are no funeral services scheduled at this time, his family is asking that instead of flowers, people donate to leukemia or coronavirus research.