Sexual assault nurse examiner succumbs to COVID-19, but legacy lives on

She knew the work was dangerous but insisted on pushing forward, never stopping. It’s like she knew she would be doing it until the very end.

For her, the end came on July 7 at approximately 10 a.m.

Lorenza “Lori” Guerrero died at McAllen Medical Center from complications related to COVID-19, about two months short of her 73rd birthday.

After decades of helping people through her work as a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE), the coronavirus disease proved too much of a challenge for her body to overcome.

Lori is one of 150 people in Hidalgo County who have been lost to this pandemic. Each one of those with their own stories, dreams and visions for their lives, which surely didn’t include dying from a preventable disease.

Most also had family and friends they left behind — people they’ll never have a chance to speak to, smile with, laugh with, argue with ever again.

Did they have regrets?

As they neared the end of their lives, did they think about the things they never got to do?

With Lori, at least, it seems clear that she regretted nothing about the work that she did and the fact that it placed her at higher risk of contracting the disease.

It’s difficult to measure the magnitude of the impacts those who have died made on this world, but with Lori, there is some semblance of an idea.

Nurse Lorenza Guererro is memorialized outside of McAllen Medical Center on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

A group of people who felt some of her impact remembered her life during a vigil held Wednesday at McAllen Medical Center, where she started working in the emergency department back when it was still named McAllen General Hospital.

She started her career as a licensed vocational nurse in 1971 and then completed her SANE training in Houston in 1988, according to a profile South Texas Health Systems shared before her death nearly a month ago.

In 1995, Lori was certified to treat pediatric sexual assault victims as well.

At one point, she was treating about three to five victims per year, but she later started seeing as many as seven victims per day.

She was one of the first people victims saw after experiencing one of the most traumatic events anyone can go through. When she saw them, she was not only tasked with the delicate process of examining their bodies and collecting evidence, but she was also there to comfort them at a time when they’ve been emotionally broken down.

“That’s the kind of person she was, she was always thinking of somebody else, thinking of the community, thinking of doing for somebody else,” Lori’s brother, Mario Luis Guerrero, said. “Never stopped to see if it was going to affect her, if it was going to cause problems for her.”

Mario described how hardworking and endlessly generous she was. That manifested in several ways, including the launch of two small churches.

One in Mission is called “Manantial en el Desierto,” and one in McAllen, no longer open, was called “Alas de la Fé.”

“It was because of her that they were there,” said Mario, 65. “Financially and physically she was there, but she never did talk about that.”

Lori was one of five siblings. They were a migrant family and growing up, she spent time picking cotton in fields somewhere up north.

Follow nurses listen during a memorial for nurse Lorenza Guererro outside of McAllen Medical Center on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

“But she wouldn’t complain,” her brother said. “She was always ready to go to work.”

She applied that hard working mentality toward obtaining an education, which led her to her role at McAllen Medical.

“She didn’t have days off; she was always studying; she was always doing,” Mario said. “She was always getting educated because that was one of her passions — she wanted to get educated where she could help the people, she could help somebody else.”

When COVID-19 started to spread here in the Rio Grande Valley, Mario said he broached the idea of retirement.

“Her response is, ‘I’m never going to retire, especially now that they need me, this is when we have to work harder,'” he said.

Lori was admitted into McAllen Medical June 23.

The disease attacked her lungs and she contracted pneumonia, Mario said. Her kidneys also began to fail.

“She was a fighter,” Mario said. “Her body was fighting to get cured, but that virus is extremely dangerous.”

She was a hard worker all of her life and still is, Mario said, in heaven.

“She was always thinking of work, she was always thinking of the hospital, she was always thinking of the people that were in the hospital,” Mario said. “But not just that, she was always thinking of the people that worked in the hospital also. The people that worked with her, she was always thinking of them.”