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Family, friends, remember THS student who died Aug. 4

Family installs memorial at Cook park for Sabrina Baxter, 17, who died of an undiagnosed heart condition.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Samantha Kochanasz takes a photo of Brandi Lhotka and Janie White, two longtime friends of Tigard High School senior Sabrina Baxter, who died in August of an undiagnosed heart condition. On Saturday, the city installed a memorial bench at Cook park with her Sabrina's name.When Sabrina Baxter died, family and friends swore that her memory would live on.

Last weekend, they made sure that happened.

Sabrina, a 17-year-old Tigard High School senior, died eight months ago of an undiagnosed heart condition.

On Saturday, family and friends met at Cook Park, as a memorial bench was installed, commemoriating her life.

“This was a nice tribute,” said Samantha Kochanasz, Sabrina’s aunt. “It’s great for the family, great for the community, and the city said they’d do what they can to help.”

The memorial bench is located in Cook Park’s butterfly garden, a favorite spot of Sabrina’s.

Sabrina Baxter, 17“It’s bittersweet that we are here today,” Sabrina’s aunt, Julie Baxter, told a crowd of about two dozen family and friends. “She loved the butterfly garden. This is a place of sanctuary where you can come and pay your respects to Sabrina, and a place to just get away.”

Sabrina’s body was cremated, Kochanasz said, but family wanted a place where they could visit Sabrina.

Sabrina would walk Cook Park’s butterfly garden regularly. It was one of her favorite places, Kochanasz said, and many of Sabrina’s friends have made the garden into a refuge since her passing.

“Sometimes when I am sad I walk through Cook Park,” said Sabrina's longtime friend Brandi Lhotka. “We used to come here together, and now there’s something I can come to and enjoy that’s hers.”

The family raised about $500 at Tigard High School’s craft fair earlier this year, chipping in about half of the cost for the memorial. The city paid for the rest, Kochanasz said.

“I can’t begin to describe how great the city has been about all this,” Kochanasz said.

More room to bloom

Sabrina Baxter was out with friends when she collapsed on Aug. 4.

Family were originally told Sabrina had died of an undiagnosed pulmonary disease known as Loeffler's syndrome, but that diagnosis was later changed to left ventricular noncompaction cardiomyopathy, a rare heart condition.

Sabrina’s symptoms were so mild that neither she nor her family suspected anything was wrong.

“It was so sudden and chaotic when she passed away,” Kochanasz said. “Her mom saw her that morning and she was fine. It was not expected at all.”

Lhotka and friend Janie White organized a candlelight vigil at Bald Peak the night she died, where more than 100 people released balloons into the sky in Sabrina’s honor, and the pair raised more than $7,000 to help her family pay for medical and funeral expenses.

Kochanasz said that the park memorial will not only give family and friends a place to visit, but will provide relief for anyone looking to rest and watch the butterflies at Cook Park.

“This is our gift to her,” she said. “We can’t do much else, but we can do this.”

The memorial includes a short poem from poet R.M. Drake. Sabrina had posted the quote on social media shortly before her death:

“There was a flower in her heart, it just needed more room to bloom.

And when she let it free, she showed the world that sometimes the most beautiful things can grow from the darkest of places without the need of light.”

@LARATIGARDLUNA - Sabrina's Baxter's memorial at Cook Park's butterfly garden

By Geoff Pursinger
email: gpursinger@commnewspapers.com
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