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When Erica died, the hospital staff handed us the heart necklace she had been wearing that day. It was all they gave us. It was all that was left for us to keep. But that heart necklace was the best thing that we could have received. It was around her neck on the last day of her life, Friday, September 5th, as she went to her classes and talked to her friends. It was around her neck as she left the University of Utah campus and drove to Park City. It was around her neck as she overcorrected her car, which had strayed over the edge of the road, causing it to roll. It was around her neck as she took her last breath and had her last conscious thought. It was around her neck when she passed from this world into the next.
How could it have survived such trauma without any scratches? How could it survive when her own heart couldn’t? The doctors told us that impact with the ground after ejection caused Erica’s pulmonary artery to tear. As she lay on the dirt and people stopped to help, her life was ebbing away. When the paramedics arrived, her life was almost gone. They didn’t know then that her heart was broken beyond repair.
The heart necklace represents the best part of Erica because she lived her life with all of her heart. Everything she did was done with passion. Anyone who had watched her dance was mesmerized by the way she poured herself into her performances. Her freestyle aerials coach at the Utah Olympic Park saw in her an athlete with determination and “ﬁght”—an athlete with great heart; and it had been highly anticipated that she would join the 2009 USA Ski Team. She did everything to the fullest, and she shared herself so freely with others. When she left this life, the people who remained behind knew that they were deeply loved. She left a legacy of love. She left her heart here.
Her heart necklace survived when her own heart was beyond repair. My heart is also broken, and sometimes I don’t understand how it can go on beating. I wonder every day, why she didn’t wear her seat belt. Did she just forget? Did she think she was invincible? Why didn’t she take a few seconds on that beautiful autumn day to buckle up? I will never know if that seat belt would have saved her life or not, and I will forever be left with the question.
It takes just a few seconds to make the decision to buckle up. Just a few seconds can end the life of someone as young, vibrant and beautiful as our Erica, and steal the happiness away from so many. Think about our daughter the next time you are deciding whether or not to buckle up, and think about how the consequences of that decision could affect the lives of all those who love you.