He was supposed to retire Thursday after 34 years as a surgical tech. Instead, he died Monday after testing positive for coronavirus.

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — After decades of scrubbing in on surgeries as a surgical technologist, Juan Martinez was looking forward to retirement. He planned to travel with his wife and spend more time with his grandchildren.

His final work day was scheduled for April 30.

He was so dedicated to his job that he kept working even as the coronavirus crisis coincided with the final weeks before his retirement.

He died days before reaching it.

“My dad was a very dedicated man to work,” said his son, Juan Martinez Jr., who was so enthralled by his father’s zest for his work that he, too, chose the same career. “He was so passionate.”

Father and son worked together at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago. On Monday, Martinez, 60, died after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“He just didn’t make it,” said Martinez Jr.

He described his father as a man of faith who often spent weekends bringing his family to church services. He traveled to minister and was a leader in the education program of El Shaddai Ministries. He was also a pastor at the Rios de Agua Viva church.

As a young man, Martinez served three years in the Army before enlisting in the Illinois National Guard, where he received multiple awards during his 21 years of service.

Martinez and his wife, Martha, had three children: Juan, Angela and Rebecca. They raised the kids on Chicago’s South Side.

“He just had this charisma and personality,” said Martinez Jr. Within minutes of meeting a stranger, his dad would have found a friend, he said.

“My dad was such a lovable person. He could just make friends on the spot, just like that.”

Throughout his childhood, Martinez Jr. recalls, his father was energized by his work as a surgical technologist, which involves tasks ranging from meticulously gathering equipment and preparing trays to assisting with bed positioning.

“We anticipate the needs of pretty much everyone in the room,” Martinez Jr. said. “We’re essentially mind readers in surgery. To be honest with you, a great case for a surgical technologist is if a surgeon says absolutely nothing to you, because he knows that you know what you’re doing, and he doesn’t need to say anything.”

In an email sent to University of Illinois Hospital staffers, CEO Michael Zenn wrote, “It is with heavy hearts that we share UI Health has lost a second staff member due to COVID-19. … Our thoughts and prayers are with Juan’s family, friends and co-workers during this difficult time.”

After turning 60 on April 14, Martinez had begun planning for retirement. But after he began to feel ill, his wife took him to get tested for the coronavirus. Martinez Jr. didn’t feel well either.

Both father and son got tested April 17.

Both tests came back positive.

“We’ve been going through a lot,” said Martinez Jr.

Coronavirus changed what was supposed to be a celebratory time for the family. His children were planning to finance a well-deserved vacation for their dad and mom as a retirement gift.

“That was one of the things that he talked about the most before all of this,” his son said. “He was so excited about retiring. He had worked so, so hard to just get to the point where he could retire.”

Now the family is making funeral arrangements. A fundraiser to support the family features photos of Martinez with his grandchildren and speaking at church.

Before Martinez got sick, he posted on Facebook Live a video his son now considers his father’s own eulogy.

“He was encouraging people to trust in God and believe that we were going to get past this whole pandemic,” Martinez Jr. said. “He was just encouraging people that it’s scary, but to have faith and trust in God that everything’s going to be all right.”

He said his father added, “If we don’t see each other here anymore, we’ll see you in heaven.”



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