MIAMI – Longtime Jackson Health nurse Araceli Buendia Ilagan spent 33 years of her life at the hospital, caring for the most critically ill patients.
Her last day on the job was Tuesday.
She passed away due to complications from COVID-19.
"I have no words, she was an angel," said Pam Smiley, whose mother was treated by Buenda Ilagan. "She became a part of our family we saw her like almost every day that mom was in the hospital, my mom was in the hospital for almost a year."
During her three decades with Jackson, Buendia Ilagen treated some of the most critically ill patients. Recently she treated patents in intensive care with coronavirus, the same virus that would ultimately end her life.
The 63-year-old also mentored and trained nurses.
“She was such a valuable wealth of information," said friend and colleague Dr. Sanda Stinnett. "it’s just a tremendous loss I think for everyone at Jackson.”
Healthcare professionals at Jackson are now being screened in tents before walking into work.
Family members are mourning the sudden loss. They say taking care of others was her life.
“We are very shocked, the whole family,” said Ruby Ilagan, Araceli’s sister-in-law. “She gave 100%. to her job.”
A spokesperson for Jackson Health System sent Local 10 News a statement, reading, in part:
“As we battle this global public health crisis, caregivers throughout the world are bravely serving on the frontlines, often putting their patients’ lives before theirs. These medical professionals, people like Araceli are the true heroes, and we salute them all...”
How she became ill and exactly how many patients and co-workers she came into contact with is still under investigation.
Family members say they hadn’t seen her in a while because she was so busy working, saying it was her life’s mission to care for others.