In the end, 12-year-old Piper Lowrey really didn’t get a fair chance at life.
She didn’t have a chance to discover boys, attend and graduate from high school, or start her own family.
Piper also didn’t stand a chance against a virulent, fast-engulfing H1N1 strain of influenza, which weakened her body and brought on renal failure. Like a freight train rounding the bend, the flu attacked and killed Piper in just four days, silently and quickly.
Piper was a sixth-grader at Manchester Elementary, bright-eyed, freckle-faced and always with a smile, said her mother Pegy Lowery. The Port Orchard girl was her mom’s “shadow” and always by her side. Her brother Noah, 9, and Piper were like two peas in a pod.
This close-knit family, with father Brian often at the wheel of the car, were always off on some adventure, which often included rides on dirt bikes.
That’s why this tragedy is so shocking, so unsettling. Piper was a cheery, buoyant and caring girl who shared her happiness and joy with others around her, in the way only a sixth-grade girl could.
This normal, loving family bound by faith would forever be altered when, on Tuesday, Jan. 19, Piper awoke with a 102-degree fever. It wasn’t a huge surprise since mom Pegy had been sick and was planning that morning to visit the urgent care clinic after making a school run. But Noah also was showing signs of a respiratory illness and complained about an earache.
Instead of dropping off the kids to Manchester Elementary, Pegy and her two children drove to the urgent care clinic. Clinic health care providers did a flu test on Pegy, who tested positive. Her son thankfully tested negative. But Piper, who had an extreme fear of hypodermic needles, begged off the test. Despite pleas from her mother, she’d have none of it. The attending doctor, however, diagnosed that Piper, based on her symptoms and their similarities to Pegy’s, also had the flu.
Piper was returned to urgent care on Thursday following a roller-coaster ride of rising and falling temperatures and experiencing a raspy, crackling throat.
The 12-year-old girl, an asthmatic, was prescribed refills and received a dose of the inflammatory-fighting drug prednisone.
Her physician, concerned with Piper’s pale appearance and 105-degree temperature, told Pegy that she should take her daughter to the emergency room if her symptoms didn’t improve overnight.
And that Friday night, Piper’s condition worsened. She didn’t sleep well, even though her fever broke and temperature dropped to 99.
On Saturday morning, Piper began coughing up blood. Dad Brian carried her to the car when she complained of having weakness in her legs.
Pegy and Piper took off for Mary Bridge Hospital in Tacoma. Brian, who had a bad feeling after they left, headed to the hospital to join them.
“I got out of our Jeep,” Pegy said. “Piper got out and said, ‘Oh, momma.’ Then her knees buckled underneath her.
“Those were her last words.”
Hearing Pegy scream for help, a couple of men standing outside ran to the vehicle and carried Piper into the emergency room. Lowery said the ER team immediately went to work to save her daughter’s life. Piper’s heart stopped beating at 10:05 a.m.
With frantic efforts by the attending medical crew, they managed to get a weak pulse. She was rushed to the intensive-care unit, but her heartbeat was temporary. She died minutes later.
Days later, Pegy struggled to explain her sudden, heartbreaking loss: “It’s so unreal. It doesn’t seem real,” Pegy repeated. “I know it happened. The only thing I know is it happened before my own eyes. It’s so unreal and hard to comprehend.”
The grieving mother said doctors told her Piper was in renal failure as she arrived at the hospital that Saturday morning. The outcome sadly would have been the same, they told her, if she had gotten to the hospital an hour earlier — or even the night before.
The influenza strain attacked her kidneys with unmerciless speed.
“Because of the way it attacked her, it was like an oncoming freight train that couldn’t be seen until it was too late,” she said.
“The sad thing is that we both had it (the flu), and it didn’t attack my kidneys. But it did with my girl.”
Pegy said her family takes comfort in knowing of Piper’s “love of Jesus.”
Pegy said: “He was there with us and with her when she passed on. She had a strong faith in the Lord.”
Piper’s funeral at Bethany Lutheran Church Jan. 23 was a celebration of her life and love of the Lord, Peg said. That’s the way she wanted it for Piper. Pegy posted on Facebook that her daughter was “our beautiful borrowed angel.”
“She was always smiling and she always brought us comfort. That was my girl.”
Those attending the public funeral learned more about Pegy’s girl.
She loved to ride dirt bikes, they learned, and she was an avid swimmer and liked to climb trees.
Piper also enjoyed sewing alongside her mother and together they made charity quilts. And she loved her dolls, her mother said.
Armed with busy hands that couldn’t stay still, Piper developed a love for the online game Minecraft, where she made friends from around the world.
Although Piper was new to Manchester Elementary, school principal Theressa Prather said she was well-liked and, in return, “was kind and friendly to so many.
“She worked hard in her classroom to always do her best work. “
Prather noted that Piper’s classmates nominated her to receive a Terrific Kid award, which she accepted at an all-school assembly.
“This closeness has made her passing all the more challenging for our staff and her classmates,” Prather said.
“It is unimaginable that someone with so much future ahead is no longer with us.”
The Lowery family is especially thankful for their extended family’s support, their church family and those in the community who’ve offered help throughout the tragedy.
Young Piper’s story has spread through news outlets not only regionally, but nationally and international. The New York Daily News and London’s Daily Mail have published articles about her.
Those stories have been constructive in cautioning parents about the dangers of influenza.
But they also paid tribute to how she shared her joy with those around her.
“We can’t believe all the love and outpouring of support,” Pegy said. “It’s really overwhelming.”
The road ahead without their Piper no doubt will be difficult, but Pegy’s sweet memories of her daughter can’t be erased: “There was always something so special about her. She just lit up a room with that smile. That was my girl.”
If you’d like to make a donation in Piper’s memory, send a check to Bethany Lutheran Church. Clearly indicate on the check that it is for the Piper Lowery Memorial Fund. The Lowery family plans in the coming weeks to decide on specific projects they’ll undertake in her memory.