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James Paras, 93, World War II Veteran and Podiatrist, Died from COVID-19

SCARBOROUGH, ME – Greek-American James Paras (originally Paraskevas), a retired podiatrist and World War II Navy veteran, passed away on April 20 due to Lewy body dementia and COVID-19. He was 93 and one of 11 people at the Maine Veterans' Home in Scarborough who died from the virus, the Portland Press Herald (PPH) reported.

Paras would “socialize in the halls while holding onto his walker, took part in nearly every activity, and considered everyone a friend, from kitchen staff to his fellow World War II veterans” at the Maine Veterans’ Home, PPH reported.

His daughter, Mar Anne Paraskevas told PPH that her father “knew everyone and he’d introduce me eight million times. We’d walk by and he’d say ‘That’s my friend over there.’ He was Mr. Social. I’d go in and people would tell me ‘I love your dad, he’s the greatest.’ He was a real good, kind person.”

“Paras tested positive for the virus one week before he died, but did not show symptoms until the last few days, according to his family,” PPH reported, adding that he was “one of 11 people at the home who have died of COVID-19,” and “another 30 residents and 20 staff members have tested positive, according to the Maine CDC.”

Paras was born in 1927 to Greek immigrants Peter and Mary Kantilis Paraskevas and attended Thornton Academy before dropping out at 17 to join the Navy during World War II, PPH reported adding that he returned home to Saco, ME after serving for two years as a plane mechanic in Texas. Graduating from Thornton Academy in 1947, Paras attended college in Maine and medical school in Chicago.

While studying to be a podiatrist in the 1950s, Paras “was advised to change his last name because Paraskevas sounded too foreign,” PPH reported, adding that “despite the name change, his pride in his Greek heritage never wavered, his daughter said.”

Paras was married to his wife Taxia, also the child of Greek immigrants, for 57 years. Taxia “grew up on Long Island and was working as a teacher when she came to Old Orchard Beach for a baptism” and “was introduced to Paras, who kept ‘pestering’ her to have him visit her in New York,” she said, PPH reported.

Taxia Paras told PPH, “What I found attractive was he was willing to let me be me, I didn’t have to change or alter who I was or what I was so he would feel more comfortable.”

After they wed, the couple “settled in Maine and raised their son and daughter in Scarborough,” PPH reported, adding that Paras “practiced podiatry in Westbrook and Biddeford for 50 years, working well into his 70s before semi-retiring,” and “after he sold his practice, he would visit nursing homes to provide podiatry care.”

“Though he was often busy with work, his children said he always made time for them,” PPH reported. “I’ll miss having him around,” son Peter Paras said.

Daughter Mari Anne Paraskevas said “her father was always supportive and proud of his children,” PPH reported. When at about age 35, she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer in Boston and lost her hair from chemotherapy, she received a call “that dad shaved his head to match,” she told PPH.

Paras was “social and active well into his 80s, even running 5K races at the Maine and National Senior Olympics,” and “enjoyed serving drinks at the Greek Festival in Portland, belonging to social clubs, and visiting friends.”

In recent years, he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, then fell and broke his hip, PPH reported, adding that Paras was admitted to the Veterans’ Home for rehab and stayed on. His family said “he was happy and well-cared for there,” PPH reported, adding that since mid-March the family could not visit due to the measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, though they regularly spoke on the phone and via video calls.

On April 17, Paras began experiencing symptoms of the virus, body pain and difficulty breathing, PPH reported, noting that he was put on oxygen, but by the afternoon of April 18, he “had stopped responding to people,” his wife said.

By the afternoon of April 20, his wife and children called via Skype for a final time, hours before he passed, PPH reported.

Taxia Paras told PPH that “we could see him. He was sleeping and breathing normally. Whether he heard us or not, we don’t know. He only suffered one day of the three days… it was obvious he wasn’t going to pull out of it. Yes, he did suffer, but the rest of it was very peaceful and very quiet. For that we’re all thankful.”

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