"... and a little child shall lead them."
When reading one of poeticbear’s very moving pieces some time ago, the emotions that came forth as I read brought forth a memory of my own that should also be shared.
I will be improving the content and accuracy of timing (dates) on this piece as I have time to dig through my saved newspaper articles for the original series on Tory. As you might expect for it to lead to a story like this, every article I’m searching for was, I believe, on the front page. Where it deserved to be. For now, this is done entirely from memory, so inaccuracies may be present till I find those articles. But it’s just too good not to share, even as a rough memory. Here, then, is Tory’s Story.
In the mid 1990s, a story appeared in our morning newspaper, right about the center of the front page. Whose idea it was to put it there I don’t recall. When I find that first story I’ll check the byline. It wasn’t about a spectacular event, or a catastrophe, or any of the usual subjects you’d expect to find there. But it was a story that was to grab and hold the hearts of not only local citizens, or communities, but an entire region, covering parts of three states, and ultimately reach even farther.
It was the story of Victoria (Tory) Koch (pronounced like ‘watch’), then about 12 years old or so. The story was the first of what would become two years or so of daily or weekly updates on Tory and her valiant fight against Cystic Fibrosis.
Even at the time of the original story she had already outlived almost, if not all other childhood victims of the disease by at least a couple years, if I remember correctly. That may have been the reason for the story.
She couldn’t run and play like other kids, because she couldn’t breathe well enough to handle that kind of exertion. Her lungs just would not allow it. Consistent time in a public school was impossible for medical reasons related to the problem. Treatments, checkups, and all the rest. Hospitals were very familiar to Tory, without question. So tutoring was the educational option. But even that didn’t stop her from keeping up with her friends that did attend public school. She stayed right up there with them on the assignments.
About two years or so after the original story appeared, with updates having been regularly printed during that time, complications arose. Tory and her parents decided to go for a rare double-lung transplant. The surgery was a wonderful success. Within weeks Tory was playing outside with friends, and going to school with them. Good thing she’d kept up on those assignments! She had a chance to be a real teenager, and made full use of it. Oh - and don’t call her Victoria. “I prefer Tory,” she’d say with a big smile. .
Then, somewhere just under a year after the surgery, more complications. I think it started with an infection, I’m not sure. But the problem grew worse. I believe the decision was made to operate, and to use a drug-induced coma to speed her recovery.
A few days later, maybe a week, she stopped breathing or her heart stopped. I’m not sure which it is right now. She and her parents had talked about what to do if they were confronted with this situation. They did not try to revive her. They let her go Home. She’d been through enough. I have to check, but she made it to either 14 or 15, and may still be the longest surviving Cystic Fibrosis victim.
How widespread was her story? How many people followed it and prayed? What was her legacy? Here are some answers. There were moments of silence at sports and other events all over the region taking place for at least three of the days following her death. Donations poured into the family from states well outside the region to help pay the huge medical bills the family faced. I have to check, but I believe enough was received to pay them off and even make a contribution to Cystic Fibrosis research in her name, or start a scholarship fund at her school. I need to check on that too. In press conferences and interviews throughout Tory's fight and at the end, her parents made it very, very clear, often to the point of crying on camera, how deeply they appreciated the outpouring of love and concern not only for Tory but for them as well. It was very obvious to those who watched, especially those who contributed to their financial recovery, that those efforts were always, right from the start, very deeply appreciated.
Her legacy? Inspiring courage in the face of adversity. You never saw her without a smile on her face. Ever. No matter the pain. Even on live TV interviews right from the start. And often she was comforting many around her, family included, when we would expect it to be the other way around. And she never lost her sense of humor, which was always just as razor sharp as her mind .
And what I consider the ultimate tribute (other than the show of financial support the family received I mean)? The day following her death, our morning paper’s editorial cartoon. The image? The Pearly Gates are opening. Slowly, Majestically. You see them at about halfway. Puffy white clouds all around. And before your eyes, you see Tory, her long, dark hair reaching below her shoulder blades, wings firmly in place, walking on those clouds through the Pearly Gates. The caption? One simple, but very appropriate word: Breathtaking.
Rest in Peace, Tory. May your memory, and your courage, be with all of us forever.