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 commitment,
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 an
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 had arrived
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 she said
that Courtney was still on the meds for the sinus infection and they really
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 this medicine.  
 
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 Courtney
until late Tuesday night. I asked him if she had ever complained about
not feeling good and he said once she said that her lungs did not feel right.
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 going on.

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 biopsy.  The
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 eyes sparkle. 
 
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 experimental drug
that only few hospitals were authorized to use.  It was Nitrite Oxide.  At
first they thought it may be helping Courtney, but in reality, it did not.  
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 Saturday morning.  
Jim and I decided to have Courtney's respirator turned off.  We knew at
this time she was brain dead, as the oxygen level had gotten as low as 20%.  
Dr. Cummings wanted to be there.  He arrived within 20 minutes, along with
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 her
back Home.  It was Courtney's dream to be a pediatrician.  She hoped to find a "cure for all disease" in her lifetime.
 
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 Courtney's presence.
 
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."
 
Courtney's Poem
 
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 lives apart.
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 you've got.
And be thankful for the little things in life.
 
Written by Courtney S.
 
 
 
Written by Courtney's Mother, Colleen
December 2, 2000