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Teacher who planned on getting vaccinated before school year dies of COVID in Illinois

Cherie Garza, 40, died Monday after a two-month battle with COVID-19, according to her family.

Cherie Garza, 40, died Monday after a two-month battle with COVID-19, according to her family.

GoFundMe screenshot

A 40-year-old Illinois middle school teacher known for her motivational speeches and generosity died Monday after a two-month battle with COVID-19.

Cherie Garza planned on getting vaccinated before the beginning of the school year at Crete-Monee Middle School in University Park south of Chicago, her father told WLS. But she contracted the virus in July and spent most of the last two months hospitalized.

Garza was taken to a local hospital by ambulance July 19 before being airlifted to Loyola Medical Center in Chicago on July 23, according to a GoFundMe. On July 26, Garza went into respiratory failure and was placed on a ventilator, her family told Patch. She later showed signs of organ failure as her right lung had collapsed.

She had multiple surgeries during her bout with the virus, her father, Gene Kiepura, said in a series of Facebook posts. Monday, she died peacefully while surrounded by family, Kiepura said.

Last month as Garza remained in intensive care, her mother encouraged others to get the vaccine. Garza’s parents and sister have been fully vaccinated, The Pantagraph reported.

“Nobody should have to go through this. She was very healthy before this,” Jan Kiepura told WMAQ.

Her sister, Janene Preston, told Patch that Garza was researching vaccines because some of her family members have had severe allergic reactions to prescription medication and the flu vaccine.

“She was just trying to research, which would be the best for her and what was the safest option for her,” Preston said. “She had planned on being vaccinated before going back to school, but unfortunately this happened before that.”

Garza is among the more than 27,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in Illinois since the beginning of the pandemic, The New York Times reported.

Mandy Helsel described Garza as “one of the kindest, funniest, most loyal humans” she has known.

Garza was “a kind, compassionate young woman that gave some amazing advice,” added Dawn Klein Pilota.

Garza was a reading specialist for seventh graders at Crete-Monee, where she taught since 2012, according to The Pantagraph. She also worked part-time in the children’s ministry at Living Creek Christian Church, the newspaper reported.

Dr. Kara Coglianese, superintendent of the Crete-Monee School District, said in a statement to WBBM it was “deeply saddened” to learn of Garza’s death.

“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,” Coglianese said in a statement. “Ms. Garza was an outstanding teacher, colleague, and friend to so many and she will be dearly missed.”

Mike Stunson covers real-time news for McClatchy. He is a 2011 Western Kentucky University graduate who has previously worked at the Paducah Sun and Madisonville Messenger as a sports reporter and the Lexington Herald-Leader as a breaking news reporter.
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