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'She was our role model': Long-time East Valley teacher dies of COVID-19, family says

Vanessa Lopez Delgado taught in various East Valley schools for 20 years. She died Thursday from a COVID-related illness after spending several days in the hospital.

CHANDLER, Ariz. — A Seton Catholic Preparatory dance teacher has died after spending several days fighting a COVID-related illness. 

Vanessa Lopez Delgado, a mother of two daughters, succumbed to the virus this week after doctors intubated her on Thanksgiving Day. 

Jessica Morel, the teacher's cousin, said Delgado died Thursday after spending over two weeks in the hospital. 

"She was our role model, she was our mentor, she was the first one to help," Morel said. "We all just feel really lost without her."

Delgado, 41, grew up in the Valley and was the oldest of seven siblings. After graduating from Arizona State University, she spent several years teaching at Gilbert High School and in the Tempe Union High School District.

"She was so significant at Gilbert High," Morel said. "She started their hip hop dance club."

Dancing was Delgado's passion and her family said she made it her mission to provide many opportunities for others to explore the art form. 

"It wasn't just about dance and hip hop," Morel added. "It was about giving space for children and adults who wanted to use the medium of dance to express themselves."

Credit: Delgado family

When the coronavirus pandemic began last year, Morel said her cousin took the health crisis seriously and was cautious about not catching the virus.

Her family said doctors advised Delgado to not get the COVID-19 vaccine due to a pre-existing medical condition. 

The family is devastated by this tragic loss, Morel added, especially since Delgado had just started her "dream position" of teaching at Seton Catholic Prep. 

And some of her former students also shared her family's pain.

“She is someone who I will hold onto dearly for the rest of my life," Bianca Strauss said. "Vanessa was not only my dance teacher but she was a friend and a second mom to me."

"She taught, inspired, guided, and encouraged me every day...which pushed me to always do my best in everything, no matter how tough it got."

As of Friday, state health data shows more than 22,900 people in Arizona have died from the coronavirus since the pandemic began. 

Delgado's family is attempting to raise money for funeral costs. Their GoFundMe fundraiser can be found here.

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