Release Date: 
Thursday, April 16, 2020

President Kavalhuna’s message about Monica Echeverri Casarez

Monica Casarez

Dear Colleagues,

It is with a heavy heart that I ask you to join me in paying homage to our colleague, Monica Echeverri Casarez, who passed away Sunday, April 12, from complications due to COVID-19. Monica was a proud alumna of our Surgical Technologist program and was our teammate as an instructor in the same program. I waited to make this announcement until I could speak with Monica’s husband, Jorge, last night and give him the College’s deepest condolences. I related that all of us hold Monica and him in our hearts and thoughts. He and I discussed a potential celebration of Monica’s life on campus after we are able to be with each other physically.

Monica placed herself in harm’s way to help others. She voluntarily returned to a hospital setting last month so she could provide direct patient care. She became ill about a week later and was diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalized, including a week on a ventilator.

Monica graduated from HFC in 2006, earning her associate degree in surgical technology. She later earned her bachelor’s degree and eventually became an HFC instructor.

The HFC website contains detailed story about Monica’s life, and I encourage you to read it.

I did not know Monica well. But the testimonies of her life make me saddened by the loss of a wonderful person. As I told her husband, learning about her has also strengthened my resolve for the critical mission we have—especially now—to serve our communities and our students. We must honor Monica and her life through our own service and perseverance. The tributes below show how much we lost in Monica’s death, and how much we gained by having her as our teammate.

Remembrances of Monica Casarez

From Monica herself:

• From her Facebook page, as she returned to direct patient care:

"Monica Casarez, March 21 Facebook post: My first shifts back at the hospital (since all this COVID-19 began) are tomorrow and Monday. That crazy place has offered me some of the richest experiences, friendships with top quality people, and tons of true belly laughs, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit nervous to be there now."

• In an email to her students when she became ill and went to the hospital, Monica wrote:

"One of the screening questions asked of me upon admissions was: 'Do you feel safe at home?' I answered, 'Yes' with a smile and added, 'and loved.' Honestly, could I ask for anything more? The most important thing I need is positivity! I promise to follow up with an update soon."


From Debra Szymanski, Associate Dean, HFC School of Health and Human Services:

“Monica consistently demonstrated her high level of organizational skill, integrity, and a creative problem-solving mind. She described her belief that diversity produces the best possible outcomes in any situation. She believed that building camaraderie, encouraging independent thinking, and supporting personal strengths for every interaction was her responsibility as a leader and instructor. Monica’s courses always filled up quickly. Her students loved having her as their instructor as much as she loved being with them. As we switched our courses to a remote learning environment this spring, Monica sent a note for us to send to her students. That was the spirit of Monica: Thinking of others first. She will be truly missed by all her friends in HHS. Her time with us was too short.”

From friend and coworker Keambra Pierson:

“Monica was the reason I applied to become director of the HFC Surgical Technologist program. I was hesitant. We debated which one of us should apply. She said with my experience, I would have a better chance, and we would be able to make the program all that we dreamed it could be. Behind every success in the program, I had a conversation with her. She was a great supporter, completely selfless, and shared all that she had. She loved life, and she valued her relationships. This is a great loss.”

From friend and coworker, Maureen Sheahan:

“She felt she had an obligation to the people and the mission.”

From former Southwest Solutions CEO (and coworker) John Van Camp:

“All of us who knew Monica will forever treasure the memories of her passion for life, her selfless caring for others, her radiant smile and robust and infectious laughter and her love for everyone she knew, starting with (husband) Jorge. Her spirit will always remain with us.”

From long-time friend Rebecca Wauldron:

“Monica was an artist with a scientific brain, so she could solve problems in a unique and elegant way. She loved teaching and was very committed to making the classroom experience meaningful to her students. One of the last conversations we had was about adapting her lessons to an online format. She wanted to ensure the student experience was valuable. She was very aware and respectful of different learning styles, and wanted her online lessons to reflect that. She was dedicated, a good person, and my best friend in the world.”

From HFC Health and Human Services Dean Susan Shunkwiler:

“We are saddened by the loss of our colleague and friend. Monica was larger than life. She always had a smile on her face and a willingness to roll up her sleeves to get the job done. She will be deeply missed.”

Legacy and grief

During this time when in-person gatherings cannot be held, it can be harder to express our shared grief over such losses. I encourage all of you who knew Monica to reach out to your HFC teammates and students and talk about what she meant to you.

I know some of you have lost family and friends to COVID-19. I am sorry for your losses and for the many ways this pandemic has caused your sorrow. If you would like us to remember your losses at the College, please send information about your loved ones to me. We will send out a bereavement notice so your colleagues can support you in honoring and remembering those you have lost.

I support you, and I stand with you. This is a time when the strength of our community can hold each other up. Let us be there for each other, in all the ways that we can.

If you knew or loved Monica and are suffering now, I pray that your grief will be a testament to your relationship with her and to the power of her life.

I pray for Monica’s soul.

Russ Kavalhuna
Henry Ford College