Memories of Mariya

MCCC nursing student Mariya Heinzerling's life was filled with family friends and pets. This photo collage was created by her mother for Mariya's funeral. (Photos courtesy of Tammy Heinzerling)

Mariya Heinzerling’s shoes wait by the door, but her boyfriend knows she won’t need them anymore.

Joe Salloum’s living room is dim, lit by a single lamp, but Mariya’s presence can still be seen in the dark.

“Got a pair of flip flops by the front door,” he said. “I just don’t know what to do with them.”

Mariya was a nursing student at MCCC, on the road to success before a fatal accident took her life on July 27.

“Two months is right around the corner,” he said. “I can’t believe it’s been seven weeks.”

Mariya’s death affected the entire Health Sciences Division at MCCC.

Kim Lindquist, the dean of Health Sciences, said the nature of the nursing program brings the students close together, and they become a family.

“The students develop lifelong friendships and bonds,” she said. “Whether it’s the challenges or rigors, but when they’re missing one of their own, the program feels it.”

Nicole Garner, assistant professor of Nursing, teaches Fundamentals of Mental Health.

“In nursing, we’re so much of a family,” she said. “Fundamentals is a nine-credit-hour course, I see these students four times a week, so you spend a lot of time with each other.”

Mariya met two of her closest friends, Angelena Harnisch and Cheyenne Schmidt, and her boyfriend, Joe, in the nursing program.


The intersection at South Otter Creek and Dixie Highway is a road her friends no longer take.

“I refuse to go down that road,” Cheyenne said. “I’ll go down North Otter Creek, but I won’t go down South.”

“I’ve been very cautious driving since,” Angelena said. “I look three times every time I come to an intersection.”

Life for everyone who loved Mariya unexpectedly turned upside down, but it should have been just a normal day.

“I gave her a kiss goodbye, said I love you, and that was the last time I saw her alive,” Joe said, holding back tears.

Mariya’s mom, Tammy Heinzerling, was like her best friend, Joe said. Before the accident, Mariya was going to spend the day with her mom.

Tammy was following her daughter to lunch before the collision.

“She got caught up at Telegraph, so when she got up there she saw there was an accident, and she called Mariya, but Mariya didn’t answer,” Joe said.

“She pulled over to see the vehicle and people started to run over,” he said. “She asked what kind of car it was, and when they told her, she knew it was Mariya.”

Mariya wanted to be an organ donor, but her organs could not be donated because of damage from the collision. 

Her skull was fractured in several places, her neck was broken, her femur broken, her clavical, and more.

“I think she was killed on impact,” Joe said. “There was so much damage that I’m sure.”

Tammy and Mariya’s father, Ken Heinzerlinger, are fighting for a change at the intersection that claimed their daughter’s life. They have a GoFundMe page raising money for a traffic light to be installed there.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through,” Joe said, choking up. “I think it’s pretty rare to lose someone you love in that way.”

Lindquist sympathized with Mariya’s friends.

“I don’t think you can really make sense of these things,” she said. “It’s rough.”

The community responded to Mariya’s death by showing their love and support in amazing numbers. 

“Many faculty members attended the funeral,” Lindquist said.

Joe, Angelena, and Cheyenne said that almost everyone who knew Mariya attended the funeral, from MCCC President Kojo Quartey to classmates, clinical instructors, Middle College staff, and even her principals from Triumph Academy and Meadow Montessori. 

“I’m very proud, after seeing how the college represented their student and handled the whole situation, to say that I’m a student here,” Angelena said.
“I’m really proud to be a part of MCCC because of the support from the staff and the students,” Joe said.

The trio said they were impressed that Quartey cared enough to visit nursing classes on the first day of the semester. The whole class and the staff acknowledged that it was rough, but that Mariya would have wanted them to move on.

“She would want us to keep going strong, finish the program, and all graduate this  semester without sweeping it under the rug,” Cheyenne said. 

Mariya would have graduated from MCCCs nursing program this winter, but her memory is left behind instead.

“She wouldn’t want people to be sad for too long,” Cheyenne said. “She would want her memory kept alive, but in a way that’s going to make progress or do something for good.”

The Student Nurses Association scholarship was changed to the Mariya Heinzerling Memorial scholarship on Aug 29.

“We’re also raising money for the scholarship,” Cheyenne said. 

The nursing program will be holding bake sales around campus, she said.

Nursing skills lab instructor Monica Rancatore was wearing a Mariya Heinzerling memorial ribbon on her scrubs.

She said Cheyenne’s mom made the ribbons and the whole clinical group wears them to memorialize Mariya.

“So everyone in clinical can wear them, and Mariya can still be with us,” Rancatore said.

Assistant nursing professor Michelle Schwartz comforted Rancatore as she cried.

“I’ll always remember her for her smile and laughter,” Rancatore said. “She was always a good student and it was such a pleasure having her.”

Mariya’s professors and instructors praised her for her grit and her lightheartedness through it all.

“I think persistence is her middle name,” Rancatore said. “She really worked hard at what she wanted to do, she stayed in the lab a lot, and she pushed herself, but she tried to make learning fun.”

“She had a good sense of humor,” Schwartz said. “She was always a hard worker and extremely friendly.”

Joe said Mariya was passionate about helping others.

“She raised money for suicide awareness,” Angelena said. “And we were planning on doing the Alzheimer’s walk coming up in September.”

Mariya’s devotion to others was not exclusive to people.

“Her cats were rescue cats,” Angelena said. “The one she found starving.”

“She took in three strays all at once,”     Cheyenne said. “They were all siblings and she had slowly started passing them onto families during nursing school.”

Mariya’s cats, Zeus and Titan, and her dogs, Ares and Thor, all have found homes since her death.

Her friends said Mariya was feisty, sassy, and headstrong, but she cared deeply for others.

“If you needed something, it didn’t matter who you were or how well she knew you, she was gonna help you,” Cheyenne said. 

“She was always there and picked up the phone when you needed to vent or when you were mad or sad,” Angelena said.

It’s a cliché, they said, but Mariya would give someone the shirt off her back.

“People say that all the time, but that’s genuinely how she was,” Joe said.

At the beginning of her life, Mariya had a lot of medical issues, which inspired her pursuit of a nurse practitioner career.

“She was on the opposite end, so she knew what it was like being a sick child in the hospital,” Angelena said. 

“She had a lot of empathy for her patients because of that,” Rancatore said.

“But she felt 100 percent blessed that she was given the life that she was given,” Angelena said.

As Mariya began attending clinicals in the nursing program, she began to gravitate toward pediatrics. Those around her could tell she had found her focus.

“She had a love for kids,” Joe said.

“I have no doubt that she would’ve graduated with us, moved on, and been successful at whatever she put her mind to,” Angelena said. “She just had that drive, and not a lot of people have the drive she did.”

Mariya was remembered for her energetic and outgoing personality, but also her big smile, Garner said.

“Every time I think about her, I get a smile on my face,” she said.

Mariya’s drive and ambition shined when it came to school.

“She would study non-stop,” Joe said. “I’d be over there and she’d be studying, yelling at me because I’m not studying.”

“She was smart,” he said. “School was very important to her.”

On the other hand, Mariya did know how to have fun.

“She would plan little fun trips for all of us to get a break,” Cheyenne said. 

“We went to the casino one day, all day,” Angelena said. “And then we did that whole trip together with the Nurses March, which was very fun.”

Everyone agreed that Mariya loved being outside, whether laying in the sun, swimming, hiking, or running.

“She was getting ready to go on vacation with her mom,” Joe said. “They were going to Myrtle Beach; she loved the ocean.”

Mariya and Joe had spent a long weekend together in northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a couple weeks before the accident.

“We went to Pictured Rocks, it’s a national park off the lakeshore,” he said. “We kayaked the whole thing and hiked while we were up there.” 

Mariya liked listening to Blake Shelton’s music. If she heard a song and fell in love, she would play it several times—sometimes on repeat, Joe said.

“If she heard a new song, she would send it, and I’d go over there and she’d be listening to it in the shower,” he said. 

Mariya was known by her friends as a clean freak, Angelena said.

“We’d be sitting at the table studying and then 10 minutes later she was like, ‘Oh my god, I gotta steam clean the floor,’ ” Angelena said, laughing.

“And if the cat had just gone to the litterbox, she’d be like, ‘There’s litter everywhere, I have to clean it right now,’” Cheyenne seconded. 

“She showered about 10 times a day,” Joe joked. “At least 3-4 showers a day, and that’s not exaggerating.” 

Mariya loved candles; she always had them burning, and Joe estimated hundreds of soaps in her shower. 

She was indecisive about which pair of black pants to wear, and curled only half her hair — needing to call Cheyenne to finish the other half.

“She’d be like, ‘You have to come over and help me figure out what I need to wear,’” Angelena said, smiling. “You’d get there, you’d pick, and then she’d be like, ‘Nope, I’m gonna wear this.’ ”

“I’d come over and curl half of her hair,” Cheyenne said laughing. “Like, a lot, last semester.”

Mariya was considered a “loose vegetarian” by her friends, and her favorites were cheese pizza from Jets, and shakes from Nutrition Explosion. 

“She didn’t eat chicken, beef, or pork,” Joe said. “But she’d eat sushi and salmon.”

Mariya had been catching up on Game of Thrones because the new season was coming out, and she was almost ready for the newest season premiere.

“My favorite episode is Battle of the Bastards, and the last episode she watched was the one before it,” Joe said. “That was what we did the night before.”

“I’m just thankful we had a good night,” he said.

Joe wears Mariya’s ashes around his neck with her fingerprint on one side and “Love you, Joe”  written on the other side.

“I wear her ashes every day,” he said.

Skydiving was something that Mariya had always wanted to do, Joe said.

“I bought her a gift certificate for her birthday to go, and we were supposed to this summer before school started.”

Joe reminisced about a talk with Mariya around a bonfire. He said they discussed  bucket list goals, and what they would do if they could not finish the list.

“She told me, ‘Keep some of my ashes, and you gotta go skydiving if I don’t,’ ” Joe said.