Rachael Fiege was a typical teenager. She was a good student but not at the top of her class academically. Nonetheless, she was able to use grit and persistence to earn her academic Honor’s Diploma. She was a multisport athlete playing soccer for much of her life, yet she was not the star of her high-school team. She was a respectful daughter but was not above testing the waters. However, in many other ways she was exceptional. Her work ethic in academics and sports was enviable. She was well liked universally. She loved her friends like they were family and she was fiercely loyal to each. She was a peace-broker not an instigator. Rachael believed in the inherent goodness in everyone. She championed the cause of the underdog and treated those who other teens might ridicule with compassion and respect. She volunteered at an animal shelter. She worked with physically, mentally and economically disadvantaged youth, not only at school but also on the soccer field. It was not uncommon for Rachael to ask the special needs students with whom she worked to join her and her friends at the lunch table. She was zany, fun loving and edgy. She loved her many earrings and Converse tennis shoes. She was the kind of daughter that would make any parent proud, and the kind of friend that everyone would want as their own. She was beautiful, both inside and out.
Rachael Fiege knew she wanted to have a career that would enable her help others. She was not sure where her academic path might take her – nursing, physical therapy, perhaps even becoming a doctor. But she was sure of one thing: She wanted to go to Indiana University. On August 21, 2013, Rachael’s mom took her to IU in Bloomington, IN to begin her college career. However, the week that followed abruptly terminated her hopes and dreams.
Rachael’s First Week
Rachael’s first week began as a family affair. Rachael and her mom, Angi, spent two full days on campus shopping for college supplies, purchasing text books, moving her belongings in and decorating and organizing her room. Jeremy, her brother and an IU Junior, was their private tour guide, and the three spent an afternoon walking all over campus so that Rachael could find the most convenient short cuts to class and more importantly, the best places to eat on campus. Angi and Jeremy returned home to Zionsville, and Rachael spent her first night on campus. As she was getting settled in, Rachael reunited, often by chance, with many of her friends from all over the state that she had known through school and soccer. She excitedly texted Angi that night with all she was doing – just like she always did when she was in high school.
The next day, Rachael’s dad, Rick, drove down to Bloomington to meet her for lunch and spend some special father-daughter time. They went to the Campus Credit Union to set up her checking and savings accounts. Rick shared with her the pride he and Angi felt for all she had accomplished to this point in her life. When Rick dropped her off at her dorm, Rick gave her a kiss goodbye and Rachael gave him a bear hug in return. She jumped out of the car with a huge smile on her face as she headed into her dorm.
Later that night, Rachael went to her first off-campus party. It was a relatively low-key gathering hosted by upper classmen from her hometown and who had attended her high school. Beer pong had been set up and Rachael was having the time of her life working as the “assistant DJ”. Rick texted her at 10:00 PM to say good night, and she texted right back, “I love you!”. Angi texted her at 11:00 PM, “Be careful, stay in a pack. And I love you”. Once again, Rachael texted right back as she always did, “I love you too Mom”. About one hour later, Rachael fell down a flight of steep stairs leading to the basement of the off-campus house, striking her head. She really had no outward physical signs of injury. Her friends did not think she was hurt, and had her lie down on a couch. As the party winded down, some students went back to their respective dorms, others slept at the house. At around 7:00 AM that morning, someone noticed Rachael did not look right. She was not breathing. EMS and police were called. They worked fervently to revive her, and were able to get back a pulse, and transported her to the local hospital. At 8:30 AM, Rachael’s mom received the phone call every parent dreads – Rachael was seriously injured and she was on a ventilator. She had been in cardiac arrest four times already that morning, and was too unstable to transport to Indianapolis. A few hours later, Rachael was dead. Her parents gave her one last kiss as she was wheeled into the operating room. In keeping with her essence, Rachael donated her organs to others less fortunate and in need.
The End…..and The Beginning
The story of Rachael’s shortened life was shocking. Things like that happened to other people – not to someone like Rachael. Friends, family, coworkers and strangers alike all wanted to make sense of the tragedy and offer their help. Through the blur of tear-stained eyes came a vision that has become known as Rachael’s First Week. It a multi-faceted program dedicated protecting the vulnerable lives of teens as they make to transition to adulthood. Rachael’s First Week challenges young men and women to think about the choices they make, and always look out for each other, even strangers. The program encourages a change in culture from approaching college with risk-taking behaviors to one of fun using common sense and caring for friends and strangers alike. It is led by students who have been there – college freshmen who experienced the thrills and terrors of the first year of college and who come back to their high schools to mentor the graduating seniors. The message is reinforced by Emergency Medicine physicians who are on the front line of taking care of young adults who have fallen victim to poor choices. The message is clear – you don’t have to know the details of how to take care of someone who is injured or overly intoxicated – you just have to call for help immediately before a life-ending event occurs.
Rachael’s first week was her last week. Her death should not be viewed as a tragedy but as an opportunity for teens to develop their potential as friends, mentors and good citizens as they mature into adulthood.