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39-year-old Illinois teacher hospitalized for weeks with complications related to COVID-19 has died

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A 39-year-old schoolteacher from Homewood who had been hospitalized the last several weeks with complications stemming from COVID-19 has died.

Cherie Garza, a reading specialist at Crete-Monee Middle School in University Park, had been at Loyola University Medical Center since late July, with pneumonia brought on by the virus followed by bacterial pneumonia affecting not only her lungs but her heart and kidneys as well, according to her family.

She died peacefully Monday afternoon, according to her family.

In a message Tuesday to district families, Kara Coglianese, superintendent of Crete-Monee School District 201-U, described Garza as "an outstanding teacher, colleague and friend to so many."

"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 wrote.

The Chicago Bears are regaining health as the practice week begins for Sunday's home opener with Cincinnati as both tackle Jason Peters and nose tackle Eddie Goldman were able to work on a limited basis and linebacker Khalil Mack was dropped from the injury report.

Garza had been at Crete-Monee Middle School since 2012. Before that she worked for four years as a reading specialist in Homewood Elementary District 153.

Garza had held off getting the COVID-19 shot as she did more research, particularly in light of the fact her mother has had severe reactions to medicine, such as the flu vaccine, and was initially advised by her own doctor to hold off, her sister, Janene Preston, told the Daily Southtown last month.

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She said at the time the family hoped Garza's health struggle would prompt those wavering on getting the vaccine to be inoculated.

Earlier in July, Garza started out with muscle aches one day, then a fever the next and ended up testing positive for COVID-19, her sister said.

On July 19 she was taken by ambulance to Franciscan Health in Munster, Indiana, before being airlifted to Loyola on July 23, according to Preston.

Garza's and Preston's parents, Gene and Jan Kiepura, live in Homewood, and Gene is an elder at Living Creek Christian Church in Monee.

Preston said her brother, Jacob Kiepura, died in 1992 at age 14 when he was in a car crash while on a mission trip in Mexico.

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