Murfreesboro special needs teacher dies from COVID-19 complications at 53

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – A 53-year-old special education teacher died last week after a nearly two-month battle with COVID-19 and its repercussions. Now, her family hopes her death will serve as a reminder the battle against this virus is not over.

Susan Keener was a special education teacher at Walter Hill Elementary, a part-time receptionist at Vision Works and the caretaker for her elderly mother and aunt.

“We started back at school in August, by the end of August, she had tested positive,” Keener’s daughter Autumn Raffaele told News 2.

“She started feeling bad on a Sunday, got her positive results back on a Tuesday, by the next Sunday, she was admitted to St. Thomas Rutherford. About a week and a half there, they decided that Vanderbilt was better equipped to handle what was going on. She had COVID pneumonia and it had also started to attack other organs,” she explained.

Keener was healthy and had no pre-existing health conditions. Suddenly she was on a ventilator, an ECMO machine, and dialysis in the ICU for weeks.

“While she was in they started to notice she was having circulation problems,” Raffaele said, “Her finger tips had started to turn purple, her toes had started to turn blue-ish purple.”

By October, Keener had tested negative for COVID-19, but her body wasn’t recovering.

“From that point, it was just a struggle. Every time they would treat one thing, we would have something else,” Raffaele recalled.

The family got to visit with Keener in the regular ICU.

“The biggest blessing that we had is that she was able to come off the ventilator and the last week… we were able to communicate a little better with her, she was awake, she was alert.”

And they got to say their ‘I love you’s.’

While Keener’s lungs were healthy again, doctors said the damage to her kidneys and her circulatory system was beyond repair.

“They had already explained to us that if she made it, she would have to have both feet amputated and fingers on her right hand,” Raffaele said.

Keener passed away on October 16, leaving behind her two daughters, four grand children, as well as her mother and aunt.

Raffaele admits that at first, they thought the virus would be like the flu as well, and they were mostly concerned for their aunt who has underlying health conditions.

She said now they know the virus shows no mercy.

“I want everybody to understand that this is not just immune compromised people…. my healthy 53-year-old mother, her life was cut short within two months of having this virus in her body.”

“Be cautious… wear a mask… the more people try to help each other, that’s how we’re going to beat this,” Raffaele said.

The Rutherford County School District did not confirm any outbreaks at Walter Hill Elementary School.

A spokesperson for the district told News 2 in a statement: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Ms. Keener. she was a longtime, well-respected employee at Walter Hill and was dedicated to serving students.”

A GoFundMe has been set up for Keener’s family to help with medical bills and end-of-life expenses.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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