In this June 30, 2015, file photo, Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, speaks at a rally in Augusta. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Rep. Jeff Evangelos was heading to the Maine State House on Wednesday when he became so weak he could barely walk.

The Friendship independent, who is living with advanced stage 4 prostate cancer and leukemia, was determined to make the first day of the emergency session. One of his flagship bills, an effort to study restoring parole to Maine that Gov. Janet Mills has held for months, was to be recalled from her desk to prevent it from dying.

But it quickly became obvious that Evangelos was unable to make the trip. He called the Maine House of Representatives clerk to let them know of his absence, and then called his wife, Harolyn York, to let her know he needed to be hospitalized.

Evangelos has been at the LincolnHealth hospital in Damariscotta ever since, suffering from COVID-19. Despite being fully vaccinated and boosted, his immune system is compromised from the rounds of chemotherapy he takes to manage his cancer.

He did not know he was sick with the virus until diagnosed at the hospital. His is perhaps the most serious case of COVID-19 to affect a Maine lawmaker so far and drives home the challenges at-risk people face in navigating the pandemic.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, mister, you’re not going up there,’” he said in a Friday interview of attending the session. “You might have COVID, and you’re not going to risk your seatmates.”

Evangelos, known for his fiery speeches, battles with the last two governors and criticism of the criminal justice system, was undeterred by his illness when speaking from the intensive care unit, where he had a briefcase and laptop and was taking constituent calls.

Rep. Thom Harnett, D-Gardiner, made the motion on Evangelos’ behalf to recall the parole bill from Mills’ desk. The Democratic governor, a former attorney general, gave no indication of her feelings about the bill on Tuesday, saying she had not looked at it this week.

Additionally, Evangelos has said this session will be his last in Augusta. He said he plans to continue his work on criminal justice reform outside the State House. For now, he plans to be there by the next House session on Jan. 26 to make a key amendment to the parole bill himself.

“I’m going to be ready to rock and roll later this month,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of consecutive terms that Evangelos has served. He is not term-limited.