'Catfish's' Michael Fortunato dies at 26
The New Jersey native died in Hartford, Connecticut from a pulmonary embolism, his younger sister Gena Fortunato confirms with MTV News. A spokesperson for the Farmington, CT chief medical examiner's office says the embolism was due to deep vein thrombosis, with other significant contributing factors including obesity and cardiomyopathy.
"We are deeply saddened by the lost of Michael Fortunato," an MTV spokesperson says in a statement. "Our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time."
Fortunato appeared in the "Ashley and Mike" episode from Season 2 of "Catfish," which followed he and Ashley Sawyer as they met for the first time after a seven-year online relationship. Sawyer tells MTV that Fortunato texted her early on Saturday saying he was considering a trip to the hospital, but later changed his mind.
Gena says that her brother left his workplace early to drive to the hospital, but swerved and hit a fence on the way. He was transported to the hospital by paramedics for treatment. Two hours later, she says, she received a call from her mom informing her that he'd passed.
"I don't even know where to start," Gena says. "He was a little kid at heart -- a gentle giant. He's somebody who put everybody before himself; everybody else came before him. The biggest heart that you'd ever meet."
Fortunato and Sawyer's episode left them on shaky ground (neither were what the other had been expecting), she says they were "very much in love" and planning on spending New Year's together.
"Me and him were very much in love ... We were definitely moving forward," Sawyer says. "If more people were like Mike, everybody would be a little happier in the world."