Nina Heidgerken, a senior at Lakeridge High School and a beloved member of The Review's Student Writers Advisory Group, died over spring break from complications related to the flu.
She was 18 years old.
According to her family, Nina had been battling flu-like symptoms for a few days when she was taken to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center on March 27, looking extremely pale and complaining of severe stomach pain and difficulty breathing. Emergency Room doctors rushed her to the Intensive Care Unit, but she developed a viral infection in her heart, and her heart, kidneys and lungs all began to fail.
Nina was transferred to Oregon Health & Science University for further treatment and monitoring on March 29, but she died in the early morning hours on Saturday.
"Every medical device and intervention was tried," her mother, Laura Heidgerken, said, "but they simply didn't work. We turned our focus to keeping her comfortable, and she passed very peacefully."
On Sunday, Nina's father, Todd Heidgerken, told The Review that his family was devastated, "yet we have been blessed with amazing family and friends to help comfort us."
"Nina was truly a remarkable kid," he said, "and we have been overwhelmed with the various comments on how she has impacted so many lives in her short time on Earth."
Among the outpouring of support, Heidgerken said: notes from a pastor in Uganda who worked with Nina during a mission trip, and a teacher in Finland who met her at a music camp.
Nevertheless, Pastor David Sorensen of Community of Faith Church, where the Heidgerkens are members, said on Facebook that his congregation was heartbroken.
"She has touched our hearts and moved us beyond words," he said.
Nina loved history and English classes at Lakeridge and was passionate about the school's performing arts programs. She starred in several school plays — including "Legally Blonde," "Bye Bye, Birdie," "Once Upon a Mattress" and "Mary Poppins" — and was a violist in the school orchestra.
"She was such a wonderful person," said Lakeridge drama teacher Andrew Ballnik. "Monumentally talented. She truly lit up the room whenever she entered."
Nina also played piano in her spare time and helped other musicians fine-tune their own gifts by volunteering with the Community of Faith Church's West Linn Corner Children and Youth Choirs.
"I love the feeling of performing live," she told The Review's Jillian Daley last year. "It's such a rush and incredibly fun."
Nina was a dedicated member of her church, her mother said, and mission work was very important to her. She went on multiple mission trips to Mexico and planned to return for a second visit this summer to Uganda, where she had worked with a children's choir.
"She's a person that everybody liked to be around. She was very caring," Todd Heidgerken said of his daughter. "She wanted to make sure everybody had what they needed at all times. We were always extremely proud of how she wanted to approach people and issues in a really caring manner."
Nina, who hoped to become an elementary school teacher and perhaps offer private music lessons on the side, was in her third year as a student writer for The Review.
"I like that I get to voice my opinions, and I feel like even though we're teenagers, our opinions can still matter," she told Daley last year. "I have even developed opinions I didn't know I had."
Two weeks ago, she weighed in on the nationwide debate over gun violence, arguing that politicians — and the country as a whole — needed to address a complicated problem together.
"Nothing will ever be accomplished regarding the safety of all Americans until politicians put down the scoreboard and make what is best for the nation their top priority," she wrote. "Our government was not created to be a competition between two parties. It was created to help the people."
On Sunday, community members began leaving flowers and notes outside Lakeridge High. Grief counselors were on hand Monday when students returned from spring break and found themselves forced to cope with the loss of a beloved classmate and friend.
Principal Jennifer Schiele said Nina's death was difficult for the school community to accept.
"Nina was such a vibrant part of our school," she said. "Her warmth, optimism and smile made every day better for all Pacers, and she will be extremely missed."
Schiele led a moment of silence on Monday morning for Nina, asking students to honor her memory by thinking, "What would Nina do?" Schiele also urged students to learn from Nina's actions.
"Nina's eyes would light up when she heard music playing or fellow students laughing," she said. "Nina would make all people feel included. Nina would invite a lonely student to sit with her at lunch. Nina would do all of this with a twinkle in her eye and love in her heart."
Yelena Friedman, one of Nina's closest friends, shared a glimpse of Nina's final days and a touching goodbye to her on Facebook the day she passed away.
"I met Nina in seventh grade and we had been friends ever since. We did shows together, scenes, sang songs, danced and had so many great moments," Friedman wrote. "(On Friday), I went to the hospital to see her.
"They told me she would be unconscious, but her family allowed me to stay and see her and be with her. I held her fragile hand and read to her a letter I had written for her that morning. Even though remnants of the surgeries were surrounding her body, she looked so beautiful laying in her hospital bed," Friedman wrote. "Nina was surrounded by loved ones and beautiful photos and notes were covering the walls of her hospital room.
"I have cried more than I ever have in my entire life these past few days. She had so many plans and adventures left to do. She had so much love and life left to live and give. I am honored to have had Nina as such a close friend who was constantly inspiring me and bringing positivity and genuine love into my life," Friedman concluded. "As Nina and I would say to one another when having to part, 'Goodbye, Lovely.' I love you so much Nina, and I miss you so much. Rest now in the deepest peace."
In addition to her parents, Nina is survived by a sister, Sela Clark; a brother, TJ Fetuuaho; and grandparents Don Heidgerken and Dale and Rosemary Cleland.
A memorial service will be held for Nina at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 8, in the auditorium at Lakeridge High School (1235 Overlook Drive, Lake Oswego). All are welcome to attend, her parents said.
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