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Florida COVID: Port St. Lucie angler dies two days before 65th birthday

The St. Lucie News-Tribune logo The St. Lucie News-Tribune 5 days ago Max Chesnes, Treasure Coast Newspapers

Mark Cieslinski was known for his love of the outdoors.

From gardening to fishing, you could often find the 64-year-old Port St. Lucie man surrounded by the natural world. His passion shaped how his children viewed the environment, and cemented their mission to protect it. 

a man sitting on a boat: Mark Cieslinski, 64, of Port St. Lucie, died of COVID-19 complications Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, two days before his birthday, according to family members. He was a skilled angler who loved fishing on his Contender. © CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SARAH CIESLINSKI Mark Cieslinski, 64, of Port St. Lucie, died of COVID-19 complications Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, two days before his birthday, according to family members. He was a skilled angler who loved fishing on his Contender.

Especially now that he's gone. Cieslinski died of COVID-19 complications Sunday, Oct. 11 — two days before his 65th birthday, his family said. 

Cieslinski tested positive Aug. 21. During the first week and a half battling the viral infection, his symptoms included a low-grade fever and persistent migraines.

He was admitted to Cleveland Clinic Martin North Hospital Sept. 1. At one point, his oxygen levels had dipped below 80%, said his daughter, Sarah.

a man wearing a hat: Mark Cieslinski, 64, of Port St. Lucie, died of COVID-19 complications Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, two days before his birthday. © CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SARAH CIESLINSKI Mark Cieslinski, 64, of Port St. Lucie, died of COVID-19 complications Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, two days before his birthday.

"It really came out of the blue," she said. "But it can happen to you or anyone. (My father) was the perfect example of a healthy person getting sick." 

Cieslinski fought the virus for over a month, with treatments ranging from remdesivir to convalescent plasma. At the end, he was put on a ventilator.

"We know Mark’s gone and he’s in a better place," said J.J. Follano, who is engaged to Sarah, but Cieslinski already called him his son-in-law. "He had a special connection with everybody in his own, unique way." 

"You just don’t expect this to happen to you," she said. "I know he’s going to live through me." 

a man and a woman posing for the camera: Mark Cieslinski and daughter Sarah. © CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SARAH CIESLINSKI Mark Cieslinski and daughter Sarah.

A legacy passed on 

In many ways, he already has. Two years ago, Sarah created the ZeroWasteStore, an online hub for all-natural, sustainably sourced products. The brand has been wildly successful, she said, garnering over 350,000 followers on Instagram. 

Cieslinski's 23-year-old son, Daniel, is the manager of the store's shipping department. 

She said she credits her father with their appreciation for conservation and love of the outdoors. One of her favorite things about her father was the way he'd excitedly grab her shoulder and point out some of his favorite birds in the distance. 

"Everything I’ve known about the environment came from him," she said. "I just have this huge passion. And it all comes from him." 

a person standing next to a body of water posing for the camera: "Everything I’ve known about the environment came from him," Sarah Cieslinski said of her father, Mark. "I just have this huge passion. And it all comes from him." © CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SARAH CIESLINSKI "Everything I’ve known about the environment came from him," Sarah Cieslinski said of her father, Mark. "I just have this huge passion. And it all comes from him."

COVID deaths

Cieslinski is one of 43 Treasure Coast residents between the ages of 55 and 64 who have died from COVID complications, according to the latest Florida Department of Health data.

At 64, he was on the younger side of those who have succumbed to the virus. Nearly 70% of COVID deaths verified by the state were older than 75, health department data shows. 

Cieslinski had no known pre-existing health conditions, his family said.

"Mark was the healthiest 64-year-old guy I’ve ever met in my life," Follano recalled. 

a man standing next to a tree: J.J. Follano, right, is engaged to Mark Cieslinski's daughter, Sarah. © CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SARAH CIESLINSKI J.J. Follano, right, is engaged to Mark Cieslinski's daughter, Sarah.

Justin Hedges, a friend and fellow angler, said Cieslinski could keep up with the 32-year-old as they paced the shoreline together, often fishing for hours. 

When Cieslinski contracted the virus and later was admitted to the hospital, the family was taken aback, his daughter said. He was being smart with masks and social distancing, especially after his nephew tested positive, she said. 

Cieslinski worked as a manager at Spanish Lakes Golf Village. 

"Some people don’t really take it seriously before it affects a loved one," Sarah said. "But all the proper precautions, wearing a mask, staying farther than six feet apart, it’s not a joke." 

'Anything you ever asked of him' 

One time Hedges fished with Cieslinski, they caught a 40-pound cobia within the first 30 minutes and decided the victory was enough for one day and returned to shore. 

That was just a day in the life beside a wise angler, Hedges said. Cieslinski knew the spot, brought the equipment and called it a day after luring in the big one. 

"He was a really smart guy. Every time I went fishing with Mark, he had really good knowledge and advice," Hedges said. "He wasn't like most people you meet. Mark would do anything you ever asked of him." 

a man holding a fish on a boat in a body of water: Mark Cieslinski caught this dolphinfish off the St. Lucie Inlet in 2018. © CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SHAWN TOWNSEND Mark Cieslinski caught this dolphinfish off the St. Lucie Inlet in 2018.

Hedges carries memories of trout fishing with Cieslinski in the height of a cold winter, cruising the Indian River Lagoon in his Contender. Above all else, Cieslinski's selflessness is what defined their friendship. 

Cieslinski hand-crafted containers full of fishing jigs and gifted them to Hedges, he said. He intended to use them, but now plans to keep them as a token of their camaraderie. 

"He was one of those people. He would always give, but never expect to get." 

a man holding a fish in the water: Mark Cieslinski was a skilled angler. When he wasn't fishing, he was a Spanish Lakes Golf Village manager. © CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SARAH CIESLINSKI Mark Cieslinski was a skilled angler. When he wasn't fishing, he was a Spanish Lakes Golf Village manager.

For more news, follow Max Chesnes on Twitter by clicking here. 

Max Chesnes is a TCPalm reporter covering health, welfare and social justice on the Treasure Coast. You can keep up with Max on Twitter @MaxChesnes, email him at max.chesnes@tcpalm.com and give him a call at 772-978-2224.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Florida COVID: Port St. Lucie angler dies two days before 65th birthday

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