Milwaukie loses community pillar to COVID
According to Whitcomb Elementary instructional coach Tami Larson, Milwaukie lost "an incredible pillar in our community" when Carola Montero died of COVID-19 on Dec. 6, two days before her 47th birthday.
Montero, who leaves behind four children, had helped North Clackamas school teachers in classrooms and was involved in every extracurricular function that she could manage. She volunteered at Whitcomb, Rowe Middle School, and Milwaukie High School. While her husband served as president of MHS Music Boosters from 2016-17, she assisted him at every band and Milwaukie Pony Prancers dance practice and competition. Being in Chilenos Unidos as a secretary, she helped organize a statewide Chilean group to play soccer and celebrate Chilean holidays.
Montero, who emigrated from Chile in 2001 with her husband and two young children, hoped to become a stay-at-home mom in Oregon, working in a chocolate factory and a convenience store. However, economic necessity in the U.S. forced her into odd jobs like being a babysitter, cleaning homes, throwing newspapers, and helping with her husband's jobs. She would have two more children in 2003 and '09.
According to her 21-year-old daughter Catalina Castillo, Montero volunteered for any event that needed people to serve.
"She always made sure that she could still look after her kids during the day, so she would either be watching other kids with us or do night jobs," Castillo said. "My mom was extremely motivated to be involved in all of our things, she went to every school field trip as a chaperone, and she went to every school event, things like open houses and parent-teacher conferences."
2020 has seen "immense hardships" for the Castillo family, according to Annie Schlegel, a counselor at Whitcomb, with the family's house catching fire before the loss of their matriarch. In an email offering emotional support to those who may need it, Schlegel remembered Montero's positive contributions to the Milwaukie area while discussing how devastating her death is to so many people.
"The Castillo family has been a part of Whitcomb for more than a decade — their children Mathias, Millray, Catalina and Constanza were amazing, and Carola and Marcelo brought so much joy, happiness and support to our community," Schlegel wrote.
2020 started on a note of hope for Montero, who started a permanent position as a Providence Health caregiver in January. Her family members say they can't confirm or deny that she got COVID from working at Providence.
"My mom was extremely cautious," Castillo said. "She rarely went out during the pandemic; when she did go out, she would always wear a mask and sanitize her hands. I even saw her wear two masks if she thought that a place was too busy, but most times, she would decide to wait or find another place to go."
Krista Farnham, chief executive of Providence Portland Medical Center, declined to name Montero "in the interest of respecting her family's privacy." In an email to staff last week, however, Farnham confirmed the loss of a Providence caregiver to COVID, so this newspaper is attributing Farnham's statements as referring to Montero.
Farnham confirmed the Castillo family's statement about Montero's caution regarding COVID transmission.
"People who worked with her say she was always caring and careful – a team member you looked forward to working with who was diligent about her tasks, including wearing personal protective equipment," Farnham wrote.
Farnham acknowledged the concern about COVID transmission, but she did not elaborate on whether Providence thought Montero might have contracted the coronavirus while working.
"Based on information provided by the caregiver when she first got sick, and following our own review, there's no reason to think this case presents any risk of future workplace transmission," she wrote.
Farnham took the opportunity to thank Montero and other caregivers for being on the frontlines of the pandemic.
"We can honor our colleague's memory today by pausing, expressing thanks for her life and service, and by taking care of each other as well as our patients," she wrote. "I want to recognize everyone involved in caring for a patient who was also a co-worker. Your efforts deserve our deepest thanks. We are all witnesses to your kindness and caring in the most difficult of times."
Castillo said her mom was a modest person.
"If she heard someone calling her a 'pillar of the community,' she would say that she was just a mom," Castillo said. "She would think that she was given too much credit because she did it thinking of her kids. She did things to help other people. She never did it for any credit. She did it out of the kindness of her heart and never expected anything in return."
Castillo said her mom contracted COVID on Nov. 20, and by Dec. 1, she was taken to the ER.
"They found that she had blood clots in her small intestine," Castillo said. "They did two surgeries, and on the second they found that her small intestine hadn't received any blood flow. On Dec. 3, they informed us that there was nothing more that could be done."
Montero died in her sleep with her family at her side. Castillo said her dad needs help and support in this difficult time, as Montero brought in half of the family's income.
A fundraiser for the family has been set up at gofundme.com/f/xnga2-helping-the-castillo-family.
This story has been updated online with the correct date of death, Dec. 6, not Dec. 9. We apologize for the error.
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