Evelyn Caro, Nurse Who Realized a Lifelong Dream, Dies at 69

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An obituary by Steven Kurutz for The New York Times.

Nearing 50, with her children grown, she went back to school and became a nurse. She came out of retirement only to die of the coronavirus.

Throughout his childhood, Liam St. John would watch his mother, Evelyn Caro, start and stop her education, unable to follow through on her plan to become a nurse. Ms. Caro was a divorced single mother struggling to support three children. At one point, the family had no home of their own and briefly lived out of a car. Completing her nursing degree was not something she could afford.

Ms. Caro worked a string of low-wage jobs to provide for her sons. Inevitably, the jobs were in the health field: in long-term care facilities and nursing homes, and hospitals as a phlebotomist. She kept herself associated with the medical world the way an aspiring actor might hang around the theater.

In the late-1990s, divorced for a second time, her children now grown, Ms. Caro found herself working as a lab technician at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md. Holy Cross had a program in which employees could be paid to go to school full-time. Ms. Caro jumped at the opportunity, and in 2001, at age 50, she became a registered nurse.

She practiced for 19 years as a labor and delivery nurse and in antepartum units at Holy Cross and Kaiser Permanente of Maryland before retiring last year.

Ms. Caro died on April 11 at 69 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Mr. St. John said his mother had come out of retirement to work part-time at a women’s health care clinic before the pandemic, and fell ill with Covid-19, likely contracting the disease at her workplace.

Evelyn Cecilia Caro was born on Jan. 20, 1951, in Manhattan to Sofia (Cintron) Caro, a homemaker, and José Ramon Caro, an engineer, and was raised in the Bronx. Her parents were from Puerto Rico.

Ms. Caro joined the Navy at 19 with plans to become a naval hospital corpsman and then a nurse. Her nursing goal would be delayed for decades as she fell in love and married a fellow enlistee, became a stay-at-home mother, got divorced and faced the trials and trade-offs of adulthood.

In addition to her son, Ms. Caro is survived by two other sons, Ian St. John and Matthew St. John; a sister Patricia; four grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.

Ms. Caro’s sacrifice and perseverance became an inspiration to others. Jennifer Buckle, Ms. Caro’s former daughter-in-law (the two remained close), is about to earn her nursing degree at roughly the same midlife point as Ms. Caro.

“I had a high-school education — I never thought I’d be able to go to school,” Ms. Buckle said. “My mother-in-law was, like, ‘You can totally do it.’”

Mr. St. John also followed in his mother’s footsteps, going back to school in his 30s and becoming an operating-room nurse. Mother and son were able to connect as professional colleagues too, he said.

“She never took her eyes off that prize,” Mr. St. John said. “She had a level of dedication that I have sought to duplicate my entire life.”

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