Polk County educator passes away from COVID-19, husband still hospitalized

Coronavirus

MULBERRY, Fla. (WFLA) – Heartbroken by the loss of their mother, Elio Reyes Jr. and his sister are holding on to hope their father can win his battle with COVID-19.

“As hard as it is to go back to the hospital where my mom passed on the same floor, 8th floor, my dad is still there fighting, fighting for his life,” Reyes Jr. told 8 On Your Side.

Norma Reyes, 52, was a beloved educator at Purcell Elementary School since May 2003. In 2012, she was the Florida School-related Employee of the Year.

“Norma was responsible for organizing many of the fundraising efforts at Purcell Elementary,” said Principal Beth Nave, who worked with Norma for 16 years. “She also spent her personal time helping with other charitable fundraising activities in the community, such as the Relay for Life of Mulberry.”

Reyes Jr. said he remembers the final FaceTime call with his mom before she passed away last Friday.

“She just said, I love you and I’m very proud of everything,” he said. “The whole time she kept saying, ‘I’m coming home this weekend I’m gonna fight,’ gonna work on my oxygen, come home back to the family being able to make sure everything goes right with your dad. I just didn’t think she meant home as in heaven.”

Courtesy: Reyes family

Reyes started working for Polk County Schools in 2002 as a paraeducator at Bartow Middle before transferring to Purcell Elementary School.

“She was always searching for ways to help others,” Nave said. “It didn’t matter if you needed her to pick up doughnuts at 6:30 a.m. or stay until 9:30 p.m. to clean up after a school event. She was always ready to assist with her happy, excited attitude. She was dedicated to serving our students, staff and their families. She was a huge part of what makes Purcell Elementary special, and she can never be replaced. We are deeply saddened, and our hearts remain with Norma’s family during this painful time.”

Bryana Reyes said her mom helped so many of the Hispanic community grow up and learn English.

“I have a couple friends that learned English from her they have great stories of just remembering her,” Reyes said.

Bryana and her parents tested positive for the virus in July before the school year began. She had a mild case, but her mom and dad in their early 50s had trouble breathing and needed to be hospitalized at Lakeland Regional Health.

“I was getting ready for work and my mom called said your dad is getting intubated and I could hear my dad trouble breathing,” Reyes Jr. said. “But thankfully they let them be together one last time. They were able to work something out and they were able to say I love you to each other.”

Reyes Jr. said his parents, who had been married for 26 years, were not vaccinated.

“They did their best to try to get educated as much as they could on the vaccine and it was a heavy conversation in the family,” he said.

His fiancé and sister have received their first shot. He said he probably plans to do the same.

“Just as much as we’ve seen of what covid can do, I hope that the vaccine does work because I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” Reyes Jr. said.

A fundraiser has been set up to help the family in memory of Norma Reyes.

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