An Illinois teacher has died of COVID-19 after a two-month battle with the virus.
Cherie Garza, of Homewood, Illinois, died on Sept. 13, according to a GoFundMe page set up in her honor. Prior to her death, her family told Patch that Garza, 39, had planned to get the COVID-19 vaccine prior to the school year beginning, but did not do so before she contracted the illness.
Her sister, Janene Preston, said Garza had taken some time before getting vaccinated because she had family members who had "severe allergic reactions" to the flu vaccine.
"She was just trying to research, which would be the best for her and what was the safest option for her," she told Patch. "She had planned on being vaccinated before going back to school, but unfortunately this happened before that."
Preston later told The Pantagraph that she and her parents have all been fully vaccinated.
Garza first tested positive for COVID in mid-July, the GoFundMe page said, and was admitted to the ICU on July 19 with COVID pneumonia. A few days later, she was airlifted to Loyola Medical Center in Chicago as her condition continued to decline.
"Before becoming ill, Cherie was a healthy energetic 39-year-old wife, sister, daughter, aunt, and friend. Her tenacity for loving and caring for others is an example for all those she comes into contact with," the page description said. "She is the epitome of an excellent educator. Everyone would want to have a 'Cherie' as their teacher due to her humor, life stories, and passion for learning."
On the day of her death, her dad Gene Kiepura posted an update to his Facebook, sharing that he and his family are "broken" following the loss of Garza.
"Our precious CherBear went home to be with her Savior this afternoon. She was surrounded by family, not in any pain, and passed very peacefully," he wrote. "She is also reunited with her brother, who was, by the way, her hero."
Kiepura continued, "If we can be so bold to ask, please continue to pray for all of us, as we have a gigantic hole in our hearts, and frankly do not know how we are going to survive without her. Someday, with God's help, our hearts will heal. But right now we are broken!"
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The school district where Garza worked also confirmed her death to CBS Chicago.
"The Crete-Monee School District 201-U family is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of our own," Superintendent Dr. Kara Coglianese said in a statement. "Our students and staff at Crete-Monee Middle School will miss her motivational speeches, volunteerism, love of reading, cooking, all things musical theater, and her undying devotion to her beloved Chicago Cubs. Ms. Garza was an outstanding teacher, colleague, and friend to so many and she will be dearly missed."