Teacher, 28, dies after choking on hot dog at Cubs game

May 8, 2013 (PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill.)

Officials say Maureen Oleskiewicz of Orland Park was sitting in the bleachers Sunday around 12:55 p.m. with her brother when she began choking. Ballpark staff and onsite EMTs responded and transported her to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center where she died.

Oleskiewicz was a teacher at Independence Junior High School in Palos Heights.

From the time she was a little girl, Oleskiewicz was the biggest of Chicago sports fans.

"She was in her high chair. She had nowhere to go. She was watching the Cubs with me," said father George Oleskiewicz.

"Brainwashed Cub fan," said Maureen's mother Margaret Oleskiewicz.

Oleskiewicz, 28, loved the Cubs. Every year she made it a point to go to as many games as she could. She even instituted spirit days for students to dress up in support of local teams, including her beloved Cubs, Blackhawks and Bears.

"The Chicago Cubs are saddened to hear news of the untimely death of Maureen Oleskiewicz. We express our deepest sympathy to her family and friends. We will continue to keep her family in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time," a Cubs news release said.

Oleskiewicz didn't even get to see the opening pitch Sunday. She and her brother were enjoying a pre-game lunch when she caught him off-guard by what at first seemed like an attempt at humor, their mother said.

Quickly, though, Martin Oleskiewicz realized his sister was in grave danger as she fell to the floor choking.

"She was full of life. She was a joyful soul," said Margaret Oleskiewicz. "She was personality-plus. She just brought the fun."

Oleskiewicz went into cardiac arrest and never recovered, despite efforts to revive her, her mother said.

Her parents say a big part of who Oleskiewicz was is wrapped up in her chosen profession: Independence is not just where she taught for the last six years, it's also where she went to school.

"She wanted to make learning fun, because that's how she learned best, and would do such crazy fun things for these kids," said Margaret Oleskiewicz.

News of Oleskiewicz's death rocked the Independence community, where the popular teacher taught 6th and 7th grade language arts.

"There is no magic wand to fix what we cannot comprehend," District 128 Supt. Kathleen Casey wrote in a letter to parents. "Maureen had a positive impact on countless students, parents and... colleagues. Her vibrant, positive outlook on life and her joyful nature will be missed more than words can convey."

A Tuesday night vigil filled the Incarnation Catholic Parish in Palos Heights to capacity. And at an impromptu memorial afterwards, a crush of students lit candles and laid flowers outside her classroom, according to her mother.

Even in death, Oleskiewicz continues to make a difference. Though technically brain dead, she was kept alive until Tuesday so she could donate her organs.

"Someone got a liver, two people got kidneys and a 14-year-old got her heart," said Margaret Oleskiewicz. "I hope they take that and run with her kind and beautiful heart."

"She left gifts to other people," said George Oleskiewicz, "and we're so proud of her for that."

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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