EL PASO, Texas -- A beloved English teacher at Franklin High School is among El Paso's latest victims of the coronavirus, losing a battle with the Covid-19 disease that lasted less than a month, colleagues said Friday and his family confirmed Saturday.
First word of the death of Rene Chavez due to virus complications came Friday in social media posts by fellow Franklin English teacher Keithley Stanley and El Paso Independent School District trustee Freddy Klayel-Avalos.
Chavez is survived by his wife, Annette, and a daughter, Amanda.
Chavez graduated from Austin High School where he met his high school sweetheart and eventual wife. He then studied at the University of Texas at El Paso earning two degrees, one in communications and the other in English.
Wanting to be a writer, his family said he decided to pursue a different career when his health turned for the worse.
After having both his kidneys removed when he was 22, Chavez returned to school to earn a teaching certificate. He taught English throughout the Borderland from first grade to 12th, most recently at Franklin High where he taught senior English.
The Chavez family began to get sick in May, a precursor to the family patriarch's death.
Annette Chavez kept a diary of the ordeal, and said it took her three weeks to feel the full impact from the sickness. Her husband, though, had a much more rapid attack from the virus.
He was taken to the hospital on June 3 and never left, his wife said. The hospital staff initially thought he had walking pneumonia based on how bad his lungs looked, until further tests were done indicating Rene Chavez had contracted Covid.
Annette Chavez said she was under the impression that Rene would be coming home soon after being released from the ICU. Then, nurses from the hospital called with an urgent message "that my husband was gasping for air,” she said.
The virus attacked his lungs making it near impossible for Rene Chavez to breathe.
Days later, on June 26, Annette Chavez received a much more grim call from the hospital telling her husband had died.
After arranging for transportation because she is legally blind, Annette arrived at the hospital where "they suited me up and covered me in PPE and I got to spend a couple of hours with him after he had passed."
Pain filled her voice when she told ABC-7, “I never thought I would have to have a life without him because he was my best friend.”
EPISD officials said Rene Chavez touched many lives as a teacher for the district.
"EPISD is saddened by the death of Mr. Chavez. Our teachers have a strong impact on the lives of students and Mr. Chavez was no exception... We will offer counseling to any student or employee who may want it," district leaders said in a statement.
Along with being a teacher, his family said Rene Chavez enjoyed pop culture.
He would attend comic cons all over the southwest, his wife recalled. She said some of his favorite genres were He-Man Masters of the Universe, Star Wars and Star Trek.
He eventually turned that fascination into a podcast.
Initially calling into the "Council of the First Ones podcast," Rene Chavez would call in so frequently and was so entertaining that he became a show co-host. That began his friendship with Kelly Edmonds, the host of the show.
Eventually, Rene Chavez would start his own show, "Nerds on a the Couch," which he streamed on Facebook.
Edmonds remembers her dear friend fondly: "We had a ball. Sometimes we would joke around like crazy and someone would have to remind us, hey we got to get back on topic it's getting late! Especially if we had an interview."
Before Rene Chavez died, his wife said he had wanted to speak with their daughter - but didn't want her to see him in the condition that virus put him in.
Through tears, Annette Chavez told ABC-7 that “he wanted to write a letter to his daughter because he never got a chance to talk to her or see her all throughout the time that he was in the hospital, because he wanted to protect her from actually seeing him not being able to breathe.”
She relayed the message he had for his baby girl: "“How much he loved her and how proud he was of her being able to move out of the house. She is all the way out in California and she’s only 23 and she’s making it out on her own.”
Annette Chavez said she wanted to thank Operation Hope and the El Paso Kidney Foundation for helping their family get through these tough times.
The El Paso Department of Public Health's official virus death toll stood at 127 as of Saturday. It wasn't immediately clear if the death of Rene Chavez was included in that tally.
Meantime, Stanley has launched a fundraising campaign to pay for the funeral expenses in an effort to ease the financial burden on the Chavez family.
Mr. Rene Chavez was a member of the Franklin high school family and I am sad to report that he has passed away due to COVID-19 and leaves behind a wife and daughter.— Freddy Klayel-Avalos, M.P.A (@Freddy_EPTX) June 26, 2020
Support for the family of Rene Chavez https://t.co/U2VjSQxr6V