SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Michelle Cook spent more than 20 years touching the lives of countless students across Sarasota County. She taught at Booker Middle School last year and Oak Park School over the summer.
Her sister, Bethanne Bearden, tells 8 On Your Side Cook was selfless, caring, and incredibly passionate about teaching.
“During the pandemic she was virtual-teaching, but she was also helping the students that she knew didn’t have food, books, or supplies. She was delivering them to those students in the safest way that she possibly could,” Bearden said.
The 51-year-old was getting ready to teach fifth grade at Suncoast School for Innovated Studies when she starting getting sick.
“She had a couple of tests and they were negative, but she just continued to get increasingly more sick and had another test and it was positive and the next thing I heard from her was that she was in the hospital,” explained Cook’s sister.
Cook battled COVID-19 at Sarasota Memorial hospital for more than a week. She posted a message to Facebook from her hospital bed in the intensive care unit on Aug. 17.
“Don’t be fooled into thinking your health is stronger than COVID – from a once healthy girl in day 5 COVID ICU, fighting to live,” wrote Cook on Facebook.
She was eventually placed on a ventilator. Bearden says the nursing staff at SMH helped her stay in contact with her sister.
“They did allow me to FaceTime her and talk to her and see her. I was able to see her and tell her that I love her,” Bearden said.
She also told 8 On Your Side her sister always puts others before herself. She feels her message on Facebook speaks to her character and her concern for others.
The family didn’t want to discuss vaccination status. They explained Cook was always in good health.
“She never had any health issues. We do know once she got in the hospital, she did have some underlying things that none of us knew about, I don’t even know that she knew,” said her sister.
Countless people have shared messages about the longtime educator including former students and colleagues. To all the people who love and miss her, Bearden thinks this is what her sister would want to share.
“I think her message would be to carry on, to be the best that you can be, and to make a decision to protect yourself from this nasty virus,” said Bearden. “We know that she is with Jesus and she loved him too and that is what has comforted us and given us hope.”