Nearly a year ago, the lives of the Holmes family changed forever.
St. Cloud State University men’s soccer coach Sean Holmes met up with his wife, Dr. Carrie Holmes — a physician with the SCSU Medical Clinic, at a campus Halloween event Oct. 29, 2020. The couple then parted ways. Hours later, Sean would receive a call that his wife had been rushed to the hospital, where she would pass away the next day.
Sean said his wife’s last words to him were about “getting her steps in” and having to get back to “serve the students.”
“She was very, very smart and very, very diligent,” he said in a July interview. “She was the combination of the smartest and the hardest-working person I knew, which is such a rare thing.”
Carrie’s mother died of cancer when Carrie was 17, and Sean said that played a major part in her decision to pursue a career in medicine.
“There was always this strong sense of mission,” he said.
The couple met and started dating about a month before Carrie started medical school, and got married the week before she graduated.
“I used to always joke that I went to med school without the testing and work,” Sean said.
Carrie started her own family practice because the town they were living in at the time only had two other practices. Eventually she would sell her practice and go to work for the MercyOne health system in Iowa, and re-certify in menopause and women’s sexual health.
When Sean was hired as SCSU’s head men’s soccer coach in February 2020, Carrie would start with the University that following fall semester.
While he said not many people got to meet Carrie on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushing classes online, Sean feels many have gotten to know her through their story and through the grant that has been set up in her memory.
In the days following Carrie’s death, Sean and their three sons along with many family members, friends and colleagues, came up with the idea of the Dr. Carrie Holmes MCAT Grant. The grant is meant to pay for an expensive test needed to get into medical school, and Sean said the fund is dedicated to people who have the academic fortitude to get into med school, but face possible financial hurdles. It’s also a way to help people, a cause to which Carrie — a first-generation college student — dedicated her life’s work.
“She always felt that people help you along the way, so then you help some more people when you’re able,” Sean said. “She would have helped people for at least another 10 or 20 years through her work. So this is a way for her to keep doing that.”
An event took place Thursday, Sept. 30 inside Eastman Hall to recognize the grant. Sean said Eastman Patio became a special place for him and Carrie during their short time at SCSU together, as they both loved its view of the Mississippi River. A plaque dedicated to Carrie will now reside in the gardens on the patio.
“Carrie came to our campus at an extraordinary time when her skills and compassion were especially dear to the staff and students whose lives she affected,” said SCSU President Dr. Robbyn Wacker during Thursday’s event. “In the midst of a pandemic she was a welcome addition to our medical clinic, just as she had been a bright light at her medical practice in Iowa focused on family and women’s health before coming to us.”
Thursday’s event also publicly introduced the Dr. Carrie Holmes MCAT Grant inaugural recipients, Alec Hafferman ’20 and George Ongoro ’21.
Hafferman earned his degree in biomedical sciences and is taking a gap year while he applies for medical school. He is working as a kindergarten special education teacher in his hometown school district in the meantime. Originally from Edgar, Wisconsin, he said his love for medicine initially came from working in an assisted living facility as a primary care worker.
“I want to carry that torch that Dr. Carrie Holmes lit,” he said. “I just see what Dr. Carrie Holmes meant to everybody, and that’s what I want to do. … As a future doctor I want to give my best to make sure that we can help those around us and make our communities better.”
Hafferman said the community at SCSU as well as his parents have gotten him to where he is today. He was especially grateful to be at Thursday’s event, as he hit a deer while driving to work Thursday morning.
“I’m thankful to be here,” Hafferman said. “Take each and every day and appreciate it, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Ongoro is a lieutenant in the United States Army Medical Corps. Originally from Mogadishu, Somalia, he came to the U.S. as a child with his family as refugees. He joined the Army at 17 and then completed his degree in biomedical and military sciences at SCSU in between completing missions and other duties as a medic with the Army.
“What really sparked my passion for going into the medical field was when my two brothers got sick. Other people in my community were getting sick, and there wasn’t anywhere they could go for proper care. It made me want to heal people,” Ongoro said in a previous interview. “I wanted to be the one to heal my brothers because I could see how much they were suffering at the time.”
Like Hafferman, Ongoro is honored to be a grant recipient and plans to make the most of his journey.
“The path to medical school is hard, and to be honest, it’s expensive as well. Hearing I was awarded this, I’m just grateful for someone being so caring to support my path to medicine,” he said. “It just makes it more worth it that, in the future, as I continue my path to medicine, I’ll be helping others. I will not only be helping patients, but I will also be able to pay it forward to others who are interested in medicine.”
Sean Holmes credited SCSU biology professor Dr. Marina Cetkovic-Cvrlje — affectionately referred to as “Dr. C.” by her students and friends on staff — with helping craft the grant as well as select the inaugural recipients. Cetkovic-Cvrlje in turn said the first two recipients couldn’t be more deserving.
“Alec and George are not only academically great, but they’re fantastic human beings as well,” she said of her former students. “They’re great students, great leaders and great colleagues.”
While Sean Holmes on Thursday said Carrie, an introvert, would have hated the “fuss” people were making over her, he felt she would be proud an effort to help others had been dedicated in her name. It’s his hope to continue to grow the fund in Carrie’s name to help as many people as possible.
“If this helps two people a year become a doctor, those people will then help people for another 40 years,” he said. “The geometric progression of it can be huge. You’re not just helping one person … you could do a lot.”