Rachelle Pickinpaugh

Born October 14, 1982- Heaven Bound October 6, 2007


    Rachelle's Story

As I read the many stories that other heaven bound angel families have written it sends a cold chill down my spine. Much like the one I felt the day we were told our daughter had bacterial meningitis. My heart and prayers of out to each and every family that has had to face the horror of this terrible illness. It is still very hard to share my daughter's story, but if there is a chance that it might help spread awareness about this horrible, fast moving illness, I will remember my daughter's big blue eyes, her contagious smile, and her love of life, and take a deep breath and share her angel story.

     Our beloved daughter, Rachelle Lynn Pickinpaugh, was born October 14th 1982 in Columbus Nebraska. Rachelle has two sisters Ramanda 24, and Lindsay 20. Their friends often referred to them as the three amigos, as they were always together. She has on brother Ryan who is 16, two nieces Destiny and Taylor, and two nephews Johnathan and Antonio.
    As I mentioned earlier, Rachelle had the biggest blue eyes that sparkled like diamonds and a smile that would light up a room. Anyone who knew Rachelle knew how special she was. Rachelle's goal in life was to make sure everyone was happy, hence her career choice. Rachelle decided on a career early in life. In the third grade, she wrote a paper about what she wanted to be when she grew up. The paper read, "when I grow up, I want to work with handicapped people." Rachelle fulfilled that dream working as a direct support manager for Mosaic ( a facility for handicapped people.) Rachelle's boss once told me the reason she was so good at her job, was because she never treated anyone as though they had a disability. She looked past their disabilities and saw the person within. Her clients loved and respected her.
    Rachelle had recently located to a new town, Fremont Nebraska, which is about forty-five minute drive from Columbus. Being the family oriented person she was, she would return to Columbus almost every weekend to spend time with her family and friends. Little did we know the trip she made to Columbus on September 29th would be her last. That was the weekend our nightmare began. About a week prior, Rachelle has been ill with a sinus flare up and a sore throat, so she had missed a few days of work, but said she was feeling much better. She had decided to come to Columbus the weekend of the 29th to go out with her friends on Saturday, and wanted to get together for a family barbecue on Sunday, before she returned to Fremont. It was my weekend to work, so I was looking forward to Sunday after work when our family would get together. Rachelle called me at work on Sunday morning. It was a phone call that led to a sequence of events that changed my life forever. Rachelle said she wasn't feeling well again, but though this time she probably had the flu. She said she was going to her sister's house to lie down for awhile, and hoped she would feel better by the afternoon, so we could all get together as planned. Just as my shift was ending, Rachelle called me again and said she wasn't; feeling any better. She said se had a pounding headache, and was going to have her roommate take her home to Fremont. I suggested she call a doctor, which she did. The doctor told her it sounded like the flu, and told her to get plenty of rest, and drink lots of fluids. He said if she wasn't feeling any better the next day, to make an appointment. She started back to Fremont and would call me in the morning for an update. I will regret that decision for the rest of my life. If only life had rewind button.
    Rachelle called me at work on Monday morning. She wasn't feeling any better. She still had a pounding headache and ached all over. She also said she had bluish blotches on her body, and wondered what might cause that. I told  her she definitely needed to go see a doctor. She told me that she didn't; have a doctor in Fremont yet, but would call a friend and see who they recommended. Not long after that, Rachelle called back and said she was having a hard time trying to get an appointment, due to the fact that she was not an established patient. We decided she would make an appointment in  with her doctor in Columbus, which she did. I asked her if she was sure she was okay to drive to Columbus by herself. She thought she would be okay, but if not, she would give me a call. Her appointment was for 1:45 that afternoon. At 1:40 my call phone rang. It was Rachelle. She was crying, and was feeling awful and would not make it to her appointment in Columbus. I told her to go to the Emergency room in Fremont right away. We decided she would call a friend in Fremont to take her so she wouldn't have to wait the 45 minutes for me to get there. That was the last conversation I had with my beloved daughter.
    After talking to Rachelle, I called Rachelle's Dad and brother and told them that Rachelle was going to the emergency room in Fremont and asked them to go with me and meet her. I tried several times to reach Rachelle on her phone, wondering what the doctor though might be wrong with her . When she did not answer her phone, I assumed she was being examined by the doctor and did not have access to her phone. My phone then rang, but it was not my daughter. It was a nurse from the hospital asking me if Rachelle was my daughter. I said  yes as my voice trembled. She said they had Rachelle in the emergency room and needed  a verbal consent before they could do any further testing or treatment. This seemed odd to me given that Rachelle was not a minor. I asked why they needed my consent. She said, " Rachelle is not responding well, and was talking deliriously." I asked what was going on and they said they needed to do a spinal tap and that I should come to Fremont right away. I said we were on our way and asked that they take good care of our daughter. The drive to Fremont seemed like forever.
    When we finally arrived, we were stopped at the door and asked to step into a room where the doctor wanted to speak to us. My heart started beating very rapidly and I felt like I was going to be sick. From that point on, ir seemed I was in a fog. The emergency room doctor introduced himself and said he would be overseeing Rachelle's case. He stated out by saying our daughter was very sick. Had we waited two more hours, she would have died at home. We are waiting for the final results from her spinal tap, but strongly suspect a serious type of bacterial meningitis. He continued to say that they had contacted life flight to fly her to Omaha Nebraska to the university hospital. The only thing I could say was that I wanted to see my daughter. The doctor allowed us to see her for a short time, but they needed to get her ready for the transfer. He told us she was in isolation and that we would have to put on masks before entering the room. I was not prepared for what I saw when I entered the room. She was completely unresponsive and they were using an ambibag to breathe for her. The doctor said that she had been struggling to breath on her own and they had to intubate her to assist with her breathing. As I looked around the room, there were so many people and there was so much commotion. I just wanted to hold her hand and tell her that I loved her and that everything was going to be okay, and  that I was going to be by her side when she came to. The life flight arrived and I asked them to let me go on the flight with them. They said it was against policy, but they promised they would take good care of her. They would meet us at the hospital . I don't remember the drive to Omaha. I just remembered praying and praying for God to make my daughter better, and for her to know how much I loved her. When we arrived  in Omaha, we were directed to the ccu( critical care unit.) The nurse said we would not be able to see Rachelle for a while because the doctor needed d to assess her and they had to put her on a ventilator, start an arterial live, and hook up iv's. They said they would let us know when we could see her. Two and a half hours went by before we were able to see our daughter. There were so many tubes and machines. I asked the nurse if Rachelle was in pain. She said probably not, but the doctor was giving her iv morphine just in case. When we were finally able to speak with the doctor, he said the next 24-48 hours would help answer a lot of questions about how much damage had been done from the disease which had been identified  as Neisseria meningitis. The doctor stated that the prognosis in these cases are usually not good, but given her  young age, they were not sure what the outcome would be. They were going to do everything in their power to give her a chance. I spent all of Monday night (October 1st) praying for a miracle sitting by Rachelle's side talking g to her and praying she would open her eyes, move a finger, or just show some facial expression. Sometimes I would watch her so closely that I would imagine I saw her move, but the reality was that she didn't. She couldn't. I know with all my heart that she wanted to, but couldn't.
    The next morning (Tuesday October 2nd), we patiently waited for the doctors to make their rounds around 11:00am. Her doctor  came to her room to talk to us. He said there had been no change in her condition through the night, but they had received the results from her CT scan. The news was not good. The scan showed profuse swelling throughout the brain. He stated that if she pulls through, we were looking at extensive brain damage. My heart dropped like a rock. All that day I continued to pray for a miracle. I prayed that the doctor had made a mistake. Rachelle was a fighter and was not going to let this take her out. On Wednesday October 3rd, they did and EEG to monitor the activity on Rachelle's brain. I watched as they preformed the test, watching the nurse, trying to detect some indication as to how the test was going, but she preformed the test and left without saying a word. It wasn't until late Wednesday that the doctor reported back to us with the results. I knew by the look on his face that it was not good. I did not want to hear what he was about to tell us, but I listened to him speak. My heart ached and my eyes once again filled with tears. He said there was very minimal brain activity and that there was no hope, not even a miracle that she would ever progress past the state she was currently in. She would never open her eyes, never take to us again. She was only alive because the machines were keeping her alive. The doctor  said he wanted us to let this all soak in and that we should spend  time with our daughter. He said he would like to talk to us in the next morning, I knew where this was al leading, but I continued to pray for a miracle. After all, God has the final say, not the doctors. That night I could not get close enough to my daughter, who I knew was slowly slipping away   from us. Several times through the night alarms would go off and the nurse would rush in the room. The nurse said Rachelle's blood pressure was getting very high, and they were worried about the possibilty of a stroke. That night I climbed into bed beside my beautiful blue eyed daughter, laid my head on her chest and listened to he heart beat. I felt her breathe on my cheek. It ws the firtst time in three nights I had slept.
     The next morning came very quickly. The high spirited nurse seemed not so cheeery today. She seemed to be very troubled. I asked what  was going on. She said that Rachelle had been putting out massive amounts of urine(500-550cc per hour). This was another sign her brain was not functioning. It was not sending the signal that controls the urine output. Also the stomach tube was starting to show large amounts of blood which meant internal bleeding. She then said that the doctor would be in soon, and would like to talk to the whole family in the consult room. When the doctor arrived, the first thing I noticed was that he could not look me in the eyes when he entered the room. Each step seemed as though I was dragging 50 pound weight with me. The doctor said he had worked there for 13 years and had only seen a few cases of bacterial meningitis, and Rachelles's had been the worst. He stated that he believed in miracles, but that in Rachelle's case there was just no hope. He said his heart went out to us. He also said he usually doesn't take work home with him, but that Rachelles case hit home with him as he had children  the same age. He said he had lost many nights of sleep trying to think of something more he could do for Rachelle, but there was nothing. "I'm sorry he continued to say. I have actually let this go longer than I normally would, primarily because of her young age. Sometimes because of a young age, there is more of a  chance for a positive outcome.  But not this time." He said we had reached a point at which there were some decisions that we needed to make as a family. The first being given the fact that her organs were slowly starting to fail, if her heart should stop, would we want to resuscitate  her by doing c.p.r? The second decision was that if her heart would continue to function, how long should we keep her on life support? He said that he wanted us to understand that without the machines, she could not continue to live, and explained that life support is to help someone in the event that a person is sick or compromised and has a chance of recovery and may eventually sustain life with out the machines. This was not Rachelle's case. She would not be able to at any point to sustain life without the machines since her organs were stating to shut down. We were only prolonging the inevitable. Rachelle's father and I stared at each other with a blank look on our faces. How could we be expected to make a decision that no parent should ever be asked to make, the decision to end a child's life. The doctor told us he would let ud discuss this as a family and the nurse would contact him when we had made our decision.
     Shortly after he left the room, we made the decision to sign a DNR( do not resuscitate). We decided that if God was gracious enough to make the decision  for us, we would not interfere. We also agreed that this decision was based on the fact that here was no hope for recovery. I knew at that point that my decisions about the life support had to be , but decided to give Rick ( Rachelle's father) and her two sisters and brother a chance to think about what we had just been told. It was extremely painful for me as an adult, I couldn't even imagine what they must have been feeling. I spent a short time in the hospital chapel praying for the strength to get through this horrible nightmare, and then I returned to my precious daughter's side. She looked very peaceful and at that moment I felt very close to her. I knew I had to let her go  so I talked to her. I told her how much I loved her and how proud I was for her fighting so hard. Then I told her that it was okay to let go., she could quit fighting. I told her I knew in my heart that the next journey she would make was going to to be the most beautiful thing she ever experienced, because I knew that God had something very special planned for such a  special person.
    Later that day, we gathered as a family and although it was the hardest decision that any one of us had to make, we all agreed that we knew what Rachelle would want us to do. She would not want to be kept alive by machines and so the decision was made. We spoke with  the nurse and  she said we were doing doing the right thing and that she was proud of us for making such an unselfish decision. The nurse informed the doctor of our decision and they planned to discontinue life support the next morning in order to give everyone a chance to say their final goodbyes.
    That evening each of is had our own time  with Rachelle, a chance to say goodbye and tell her whatever they felt they needed to. The nurse talked to our family that evening and wanted to know if we would like to be there when she was taken off life support. She warned us that there could be some reflex gasping and it may be unpleasant to have to go through. I told her even though It would be hard, I needed to be there with her as did her dad, as she took her final journey. I could not let her be in a room full of strangers in her final moments.
     Ramanda, Lindsay, and Ryan chose not to be in the room, as they wanted their final  memories of her to be lying in the peaceful state she was presently in. I was actually quite relieved, but I was praying I would have the strength to go through with it myself. If I knew it would be hard but I believed God would give me the strength. We decided that the kids would go back to Columbus early Friday morning as the plan was  to  take Rachelle off the life support around 11am that morning( October 5th)(. That afternoon we were in Rachelle's room when the nurse came in and said there was someone who wanted to speak to Rick and I  Once again we were taken to the "consult room". We were introduced to a man  and a women form the Nebraska Organ Recovery Team. The man asked if we were aware that Rachelle was on the organ donor registry. I stated that I was not aware, but also not surprise. We were told they wanted to discuss the possibility of fulfilling Rachelle's wish to become an organ donor  We were told that even though she had put her name on the registry, they would like our consent. Rick and I both agreed that this would be a great way for Rachelle to continue to live on through others. We couldn't think of a greater gift then to give someone a second chance at life. We were informed that is a lengthy process and would push things back by 12-48 hours. We were also told that the medical tests and lab work would be very extensive as they would have to determine if any of her organs would even  be viable due to the extensive damage caused by the meningitis. At this point it had already been determined that her eyes, heart, and liver had been too damaged to be of any use, but there was still hope for the kidneys and pancreas, which meant there was still potential to help two or three people. There was also a possibility that some organs could be used for research.
        The testing and search for possible recipients continued throughout the night. At approximately 4:00 am we were told that the test had determined that Rachelle's kidneys and pancreas could  be used for transplants. We were also told that there was a huge response for possible recipients  but due to the fact that the blood typing test indicated that Rachelle had a rare blood type, her blood would have to be sent to another lab to be retested to make sure that her and the recipient would be a perfect match.
At 7:00am Saturday October 6th,we were informed that our daughters final wish would be fulfilled.
They had found two perfect matches to receive Rachelle's kidneys and  a research team that wanted
The pancreas for diabetic research. The organ recovery team  scheduled the operating room for 9:00am.
The recovery team went over what to expect and the process that would take place. My heart ached but
Yet I felt comfort in knowing  that  even as our daughter took   her last breath, she would continue to help
Others just as she always had. Rachelle's father and I were at her side in the operating room when they
Took her off life support. We were told that after her heart quit beating ,we would have 5 minutes to say
Our final goodbyes and then they would have to start the organ retrieval process. At 10:47am  Saturday October 6th 2007,our beloved blue eyed angel peacefully  made her journey to heaven.
Ten days after we said goodbye to our beautiful angel ,we received a letter from the organ recovery team
Informing us that both of Rachelle's kidneys had been successfully transplanted and both recipients  were
Doing well.
I know in my heart that it is my destiny to meet the lucky people who were given the gift of life from our angel daughter ,but until I  am strong enough to face my destiny I will continue to pray for them and their families just as many families prayed for our beloved Rachelle. God works in mysterious ways and
Although he did not give us the exact miracle we were praying for ,he did bless us with the miracle of our daughter  being  able to do what she does best ''HELPING OTHERS''. God bless each and everyone of you who have had to endure the tremendous pain caused by this vaccine preventable disease. I have made a promise  to Rachelle and myself to do whatever I can to educate others about bacterial meningitis ,the vaccine, the symptoms and possible ways to prevent the spread of the disease .
Since our daughters death I have been fortunate enough  to have articles promoting meningitis awareness in our hometown newspaper and also the town where Rachelle had been living when she became ill. I also have been working with the nurse at the high school where our son Ryan is in his
Junior year to help promote the meningitis immunization. I am proud to say there has been a great response and many students who said they were not aware there was a vaccine ,now have been immunized. Many parents have approached me and thanked me for spreading the word .I tell them
Thank you for recognizing  my efforts, but the thanks goes to my daughter Rachelle.
                         LETS BE HEARD .....
                     SPREAD THE WORD!!!
In loving memory of our beautiful blue-eyed
Angel daughter RACHELLE