Natalie Lowdermilk was always an upbeat person. The 15-year-old Clay City High School freshman was a happy, fun-loving girl who brightened the world and made life more enjoyable for those around her. Her mother, Cindy Lowdermilk, described her daughter as, "the spirit of the team".
Money was scarce in the Lowdermilk household after Natalie's dad, Darrell, died in 1993 of heart problems. But there was always plenty of love for everyone. The close-knit family included Natalie, her sister, Emily, 17, brother, Troy, 22, her mother and her grandma, Elenora Lowdermilk. With love for one another and faith in God, together they looked toward the future.
But fate had other plans for Natalie. In November 2003, after experiencing severe knee pain, her mother took her to the Union Hospital Emergency Room. The attending physician said it could be a side effect of Osgood-Schlatter disease, joint inflammation not uncommon in children. He advised that she follow-up with her family physician.
After Clay City Physician's Assistant George Brown completed his testing, he referred Natalie to Union Hospital where they found evidence of a malignant tumor. She was then sent to Riley Hospital.
On Nov. 18, Natalie was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare, extremely malignant neoplasm originating in skeletal muscle.
During one of her many visits to Riley Hospital, Natalie was referred to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This organization is dedicated to granting the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. Their hope is to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Although receiving a wish is not a cure for wish children, it can be a rallying point, one that makes a difference in the course of an illness.
Natalie was given guide lines of the Make-A-Wish program to help her decide what her request would be. In May, Make-A-Wish Foundation members Teresa Bradley, of Brazil, and Peggy Hutson from Marshall, Ill., met with Natalie and her family. Natalie told them her wish was to have a makeover of her bedroom.
Natalie had been started on chemotherapy in November. At first she experienced few symptoms from the disease itself. And though, eventually, pain was a constant companion, most of her discomfort initially came from the chemo treatments. Due to the effects of the drugs, she had to be home-schooled.
Her initial chemotherapy did not work so the doctor started a new one. From November 2003 to June 2004, several different types of chemotherapy were tried. Some helped, but none ever worked totally. She had intermittent periods where it appeared that the disease had plateaued or maybe even improved a little. The Make-A-Wish Foundation had picked the end of July to do Natalie's wish. Her choice was a little different from the usual requests. Most wishes fall into four categories: An occupational wish, where the child may like to be an actor or football player; a gift wish, where they want a computer, entertainment system or some specific item; travel wish, where they'd like to go to Disney World, the Grand Canyon, the Super Bowl; or a celebrity wish, where they want to meet Peyton Manning, Sammy Sosa, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears.
Teresa thought the room makeover was a wonderful choice. Natalie and Emily were very close and they shared the room. That may have influenced the decision.
The Make-A-Wish process began in May. Volunteers were requested from the community and from Natalie and Emily's friends. Businesses were asked for donations. The response was tremendous. It looked like the July 31 completion date would be no problem. However, by the time all of the funding could be secured, the date was changed to November.
Natalie remained positive and upbeat. With her cheerful nature, she kept up the spirits of her family and friends.
"She gave it a lot of thought and considered many different options," Cindy said. "Natalie said, 'with a trip, you go and it's over. It's one time and doesn't last.' She's the one who came up with the room makeover."
Cindy paused, then continued in a subdued voice.
"I think she knew what was ahead and she wanted it for her sister."
Tomorrow: The Make-A-Wish Foundation and Natalie's legacy.