Courtney was the perfect
daughter. She was loving, caring, sensitive, giving,
unselfish, beautiful, trustworthy, and athletic. For
having just turned seventeen, she was mature beyond her years.
Courtney was very popular, not only with the "in"
crowd, but with everyone else. She would search out lonely
souls and put a smile onto their face and into their hearts. It
did not matter if they wore black chains, preppy clothes or were
nerds, (as the kids describe their generation).
It was Courtney's seventeenth birthday on May 18, 1999. She
was going to be spending a couple days at the neighbors, taking care
of their 2 children, while the parents were out of town. Courtney's
beautiful brown eyes told
all, and I could tell she was not feeling right. But it was a
and Courtney never backed out of a commitment. We had the best time
celebrating her birthday. She shared with me that not only was
this birthday special but the best birthday she had ever had.
Courtney had a job working at our Chiropractic Clinic and also for
Internal Medicine Doctor. She greeted patients and took them
back to the examining rooms, amongst many other duties. I could tell
she wasn't herself and begged her to see Dr. Marsha, our family
physician. Courtney finally did around the 4th of June.
Dr. Marsha did a blood work up and confirmed
Courtney had Mono. Something I had felt all along. The
mono was no longer in the acute phase. Dr. Marsha put Courtney
on antibiotics to kill her sinus infection and told her to
"slow down." Once the meds took effect for the sinus
infection, there was no slowing Courtney down. She, as always,
wanting to live life to the fullest.
It is now June 30th. Courtney's younger brother Kyle was
turning 9 today.
We had family over to celebrate. I could tell Courtney wasn't
feeling well again. But she would not share this with me, as we as a
family, were going to be meeting my parents in North Carolina.
We were to leave the next morning.
We got up around 3:00 AM and started the
long drive from Wisconsin to Maggie Valley. We stopped at a
McDonalds to grab a breakfast sandwich. Courtney had a
bagel. I later noticed the half eaten bagel was sitting in the
back of the Suburban. We stopped for lunch. Courtney
said she wasn't hungry. I was getting more and more worried
about her. I begged her to eat something. She ordered a
salad, but could not eat it. By this time I had made several
calls to her doctor back home. Dr. Marsha said "Colleen,
remember you said Courtney was over-doing, it sounds like her mono
has come back and bit her in the face." I told Dr.
Marsha, Courtney was never this sick when she had Mono.
We arrived in Maggie Valley around 6:00 that night. My parents
hours earlier. Courtney gave out her hugs and tried to sit
with us awhile.
We told her she really shoud go to bed. Courtney was able to
drink 7-Up and
eat toast. Two days earlier, she was swimming in her boyfriend
Zach's pool. I kept checking her throughout the night. My
husband had insisted on sleeping
on the couch so Courtney and I could share a room.
At 6:00 AM when I woke, she told me she
had laid awake since 3:00 AM. She complained of her shoulder hurting
her and also her collar bone. I insisted on her taking my
pillow and propped it under her arm. Courtney, being the
person she was, did not want to accept my pillow. She would
say "No Mom, you need it."
In a couple of hours we were off to look
for furniture. Courtney said she did not want to come. I
hesitantly left her alone. I stood over her telling my husband
JIm, "I feel it in my heart that Courtney has pneumonia."
He told me that that could not be, as he had listened to her
lungs many times and they were clear.
We would call to check on her and she
would say she was doing OK. I
could tell this was not true. I called Dr. Marsha again, and
that Courtney was still on the meds for the sinus infection and they
should kill any virus. But Marsha did prescribe another
medication. We waited and waited to have this filled. By
now we were getting very anxious to get home to her. It was
just past noon. We had stopped at a bakery and picked up
Courtney's favorite kind of bread. I was going to persuade her
into eating that, since she need to eat something before she took
We arrived home. She had been
laying on the couch. She had some bread, and then asked for
some more. Before we knew it, she stared bringing up bubbles
along with the bread and medicine she had just taken. She was
unable to keep things down.
Now I was getting even more scared.
I cautiously told her (I did not want to
scare her) that we needed to get fluids down or she would get
dehydrated. Since that morning, she had not had fluids.
I told her that if that happened, we would have no choice but
to take her to the hospital.
My parents were having the neighbors over. We brought Courtney
back into the bedroom. I sat with her. She insisted I go
out and be with the company. We made a plan, along with her
father. If she needed us, she would pound on the wall. If
she felt it were time to go to the hospital, she would pound on the
wall. Within minutes, Courtney pounded on the wall. It
was time to take her to the hospital. My husband carried her
out to the car. Her breathing had become more rapid. We
were getting ready to pull out when Courtney screamed "Wait, I
have to go potty." On her own, she ran into the house to
use the bathroom.
We went down the mountain to Haywood Regional Medical Center's
Emergency Room. They took Courtney's vitals, and listened to
her lungs. Again, I was told her lungs sounded fine, even with the
stethoscope. But her rapid breathing was really bothering me.
They decided to take a chest film. After what seemed to
be hours, they came back to tell us all four of Courtney's lobes in
her lungs were filled. They had never seen anything like it.
They were calling in an Internal Medicine Physician. The
physician arrived and said they were going to have to admit Courtney
to the hospital. I was told 3-5 days for Pneumonia. Courtney
was feeling bad. She had told us she never expected to stay.
She was worried about how much money this would cost in the
hospital. We told her that would never matter. That was
the last thing we wanted her to think about. But she was just
that type of person. She told us to go home and get some rest.
We told her we would not ever leave her side.
By 7:00 AM Saturday morning, Courtney
was getting worse. Her breathing was more rapid. It was
as if she was running in a race, watching her heart pound. I
yelled to the nurse that we had to do SOMETHING. They called
her doctor and rushed Courtney up to the ICU. Once we had arrived in
the ICU, Courtney asked me for paper. She scribbled 1. "I
love you guys so much if anything were to happen tell that to
everyone." 2. "Do you think at some point you could
call Zach?" I gave her a kiss and told her "She was
going to be all right. We were not going to let anything
happen to our baby", and ran to call Zach.
Zach was in disbelief. He had just spent the day and swam with
until late Tuesday night. I asked him if she had ever complained
not feeling good and he said once she said that her lungs did not
Courtney's doctor advised it was time to transport Courtney to a
bigger hospital. We could use flight-for-life
or ambulance. She advised using the ambulance, since
flight-for-life can get held up.
It was now 8:00 AM on Friday.
The ambulance did not arrive until almost noon. My
husband had taken off to go back to the rented house to get some of
Courtney's belongings. He was going to meet us at the other
hospital, which was approximately 45 minutes away. He was also
going to try and explain to her brothers and grandparents what was
When the crew from the ambulance finally arrived, they agreed to let
me sneak in the back to be with Courtney, even though it was
breaking every rule. I told them my promise to never
leave her side. The ride to Missions St. Joe's Hospital was
interesting. The medical team was wonderful. They
were trying to get Courtney to slow her breathing down. I
remember saying to her, "You are doing such a great job. When
it comes to having babies, you will be a pro!" Suddenly,
the ambulance started to sway and squeal. We were being thrown
around like papers blowing in the wind, except for Courtney. When
we finally came to a stop the driver apologized and told us someone
on the express way had just cut him off. By now we were making
jokes and getting Courtney to laugh.
We arrived at Missions and they had no
record of Courtney being admitted. I assured them she had to
be in their computer and told them the room number I was given for
her. It was E 3. They were putting her in the Heart
Tower. They said for us to go ahead and take her then. We
finally found the Heart Tower. This is a huge trauma center hospital
located a couple hours from Duke University.
Dr. Jim Cummings was to be her primary doctor. We later found
out that he had studied ARDS in his externship. Dr. Cummings
was amazed at Courtney's strength. He did not want to put her
on a respirator because that would cut off her ability to
communicate. He talked about ARDS, but said that that would
never happen to Courtney.
Days went by, Courtney was getting worse
and worse. Teams of doctors were trying to figure out
"what could be happening." They finally decided
to put her on a respirator. Courtney hated it. They had
to tie her small hands down so she would not pull it out, because if
she did, it would kill her. They put her on a drip that was to
make her feel as if she were dreaming. She could hear all of
us, but once they stopped the drip she would not remember
anything. They had to give Courtney so much of this twilight
drug that the doctors were amazed. They said for this 100 pound
girl, all they were giving her would put three hospital departments
to sleep. But not Courtney.
After a couple days they were weaning
her off the respirator. She was breathing 60% on her own.
In fact, like always, she was taking control of the respirator
and breathing when she should not have. But this was good news
that she was doing better. Better, that is until the middle of
the night when all her alarms went off and we almost lost her.
By this time, Dr. Cummings was very attached to Courtney and
our family. His associate doctors tried to tell us that Dr.
Cummings was no longer sleeping nights. He was calling the hospital
every 2 hours to check on Courtney. He was being emotionally
drained, along with the other doctors.
We met with a surgeon. They were talking about doing a lung
problem was it was dangerous and the results would take days, and it
may not tell us anything. We opted not to have the surgery.
Courtney was getting worse by the hour. They kept taking her
blood gasses. Missions Hospital kept calling wanting to
know how Courtney was. The personnel in the laboratories had
gotten to know her by now and were calling to see how she was doing,
as were the ER personnel from Missions. People at home in
Wisconsin were calling. Family was showing up in North
Carolina. Friends were begging to let them come and see
Courtney, along with her boyfriend and ex-boyfriend.
Our neighbors flew to North Carolina to
take Courtney's brothers, Chris and Kyle home. They were to
leave at 5:00 Thursday morning. They stopped at the hospital
to say good bye. My husband and I felt in our hearts that we
were losing our little girl and we must tell her brothers that this
could be the last time they might see her alive. During that
night there had been many codes. I remember they decided to go home
anyway. Christopher, age 16 had prayed beside Courtney's bed
and had asked her if he could take her place with this horrible
sickness. He said to her that she was always helping
people and looking out for them, it would be so much easier if he
were to die instead of her. Chris and Courtney had always been
close. They were just 13 months apart and shared everything.
As a parent, you know no matter how many or few children you
have you love them all the same. Her other brother Kyle, had
given his sister a big hug and kiss and told her that he would
always love her. That was the last time I saw his sparkly blue
When the boys arrived home in Wisconsin
the house and yard were filled with friends of Courtney's. They
were holding a prayer session. We were told there were 150
kids and a Lutheran Minister. We were told the baseball games at
home were stopped for a moment of silence and the kids would come
down from the bleachers and kneel on the field.
Back at the hospital the team of doctors decided to use an
that only few hospitals were authorized to use. It was Nitrite
first they thought it may be helping Courtney, but in reality, it
Dr. Cummings had gone over and over in his mind if he should use the
Oscillator on Courtney. It is used in pediatric patients, but
was not sure how Courtney would react to it. He and the
pediatric specialist decided to give it a try. Both doctors
came out of her room and said "They were sorry, they had hurt
Courtney." We assured them it was not on purpose, and
they must not give up the fight. They ended up draining
Courtney's lungs and did some other procedures on her. We were
not allowed in her room while this was going on. All
surgeries were done in Courtney's room since she could not be moved.
This was all on Friday.
Courtney's doctor from Wisconsin
arrived. Dr. Marsha was trying to give us hope. Jim, my
husband had seen Dr. Cummings and he was blaming himself. He
felt as if he killed our daughter. Jim ran to me and said I
had to talk with him. The hospital paged him as he was
leaving. I told him I really needed to talk to him. He
came back. He was a broken man. He sobbed in my arms
feeling like a failure. I held him tight and thanked him for
taking such good care of our Courtney and that not only did she have
the best doctor, but a very caring and sensitive one who had fallen
in love with her.
Dr. Cummings was to have the weekend off but said he was going to be
calling the hospital to check on Courtney. It was 8:00
Jim and I decided to have Courtney's respirator turned off. We
this time she was brain dead, as the oxygen level had gotten as low
Dr. Cummings wanted to be there. He arrived within 20 minutes,
Courtney's main respiratory specialist. Jim stood on one side
of Courtney and I on the other and held her small hands. There
was a minister, her doctor from WIsconsin and her respiratory
specialist. We were making a Circle of Love around Courtney as
we watched her take her last breath.
We lost our daughter, Courtney to ARDS on July 10, 1999. It
has been 16
months since we last held her hand. As time goes by, it seems
to get more
difficult to live without her. She was a healthy, happy,
athletic girl who
had just turned 17. She was a gift from God, and now He called
back Home. It was Courtney's dream to be a pediatrician.
She hoped to find a "cure for all disease" in her
We maintain communication and
friendship with Dr. Cummings. After Courtney died he wrote to
us and told us it was his birthday on the day she died.
Memorials have been built in Courtney's
honor. In our subdivision of six houses we have an
island/circle at the end of our road that we can drive around.
There is a tree along with sixty-one stepping stones that Courtney's
friends made out of cement. They had written "Courtney's
sayings" and Bible verses. Some have pictures. Some
have special items placed in the cement. Around the patio of
stones are perennials from everyone's garden. The kids bought
a cement bench and had it engraved with Courtney's name, birthday
and deathday. The kids also made two wooden benches. Her
friends often go out there. While out there at night it is not
unusual for them to see falling stars and feel the warmth of
The High School has a beautiful rock
with Courtney's name and 1982-1999. It stands tall and
strong as Courtney stood with her beliefs. There is a picture
of her that an artist etched out of black marble. It was
placed into the rock. The rock has Courtney's writings:
"Today a new sun rises for me,
everything lives, everything is animated, everything seems to speak
of my passion, everything invites me to cherish it..."
"The only love we give away is the
only love we keep."
Too often we don't realize what we have
until it's gone.
Too often we wait too long to say,
"I'm sorry" or "I was wrong."
Sometimes it seems we hurt the ones that
we hold dearest to our hearts.
And we allow stupid things to tear our
Far too many times we let unimportant
things get in our minds.
And by then, it's usually too late to
see what made us blind.
So be sure to let people know how much
they mean to you.
Take the time to say the words, before
your time is through.
Make sure you appreciate everything
And be thankful for the little things in
Written by Courtney S.
Written by Courtney's Mother, Colleen
December 2, 2000