A subject of MTV's "Catfish" series, Michael Fortunato, died in Hartford, Connecticut, Saturday from a pulmonary embolism, MTV News has learned. The 26-year-old New Jersey native starred in the "Ashley and Mike" episode from season two, which followed he and 20-year-old Ashley Sawyer as they met for the first time after being in a seven-year online relationship.
An autopsy has yet to be released, but Mike's younger sister, Gena, confirmed the death to MTV News Monday night. A spokesperson for the Farmington, Connecticut, chief medical examiner's office told MTV News that Fortunato died at Hartford Hospital as a result of a pulmonary embolism due to deep vein thrombosis, with other significant contributing factors including obesity and cardiomyopathy.
A pulmonary embolism is a blockage of one of the main arteries of the lung, typically caused by a blood clot that starts in the legs or pelvis and travels to the lungs. Cardiomyopathy is a disease that weakens or causes the enlargement of the heart muscle, making it harder for your heart to pump blood and deliver it to the other parts of the body, often resulting in heart failure.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Michael Fortunato," read a statement from an MTV spokesperson. "Our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time."
Sawyer, who also opened up about his death, said Mike texted her early Saturday morning saying he was considering going to the hospital, but later wrote that he changed his mind. His sister Gena, 21, tells MTV News that Fortunato left his Connecticut workplace early to drive himself to the hospital, but swerved and hit a fence en route. When the paramedics arrived at the scene they transported him to the hospital for treatment. Two hours later, Gena said she got the call from her mom that Mike had died.
"I don't even know where to start," Gena said, still clearly struck by the loss of her big brother. "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."
Sawyer certainly echoed her praise, calling him "the most honest, loyal person I'd ever met in my life."
"He would give anybody the last shirt he had -- anything," 20-year-old Sawyer told us. "He would put his life on hold just to make sure other people moved forward. He always put people first."
From the first moment they met in person -- an altogether touching meeting despite the fact that neither were exactly what the other expected -- the couple's story touched viewers everywhere. And even though the episode left with Mike and Ashley on unsure ground, she tells us they were "very much in love." The two had planned to spend New Year's together in her hometown of Atlanta, when she and Gena would finally get to meet. In fact, Mike invited Gena to the New Year's trip during the last conversation with her brother.
"Me and him were very much in love... We were definitely moving forward," Sawyer said.
"If more people were like Mike, everybody would be a little happier in the world."