ATHENS, AL (WAFF) - Jessica Elkins was a beautiful, popular teenager when she died.
Her mom, Michelle Elkins, remembers the day the final journey began.
"She had gone to school that morning to take her final exams for the Christmas holiday. It was the end of the semester. And after she finished at school she went to lunch with my daughter and son and she became ill," Michelle recalled.
After initially being diagnosed with the flu, Jessica got worse. Her mom noticed bruises on her body and she was taken to a local hospital.
"The doctor came in and said, 'I think we are dealing with meningitis. It's pretty serious. We are going to start her on the strongest antibiotic right now but we need to Medflight her to Birmingham'" said Michelle.
"You know it's bad when the doctor has tears coming down his cheeks when he's telling you.," she added.
The whole family started taking antibiotics, and by Sunday, she seemed to rally.
"On Sunday, Jessica actually got to feeling better. She sat up in bed, wanted to brush her teeth and comb her hair. The next visit we went in with her, she couldn't hardly breathe. She was very congested," Michelle said.
Michelle says the illness led them on a cruel roller coaster ride with pneumonia and mini strokes before Jessica finally died Dec. 26, 2007.
When Jessica passed away, she was a 15-year-old junior varsity cheerleader at Athens High. Her mom says the whole town felt her loss.
"That morning on, I would say at least 200 were gathered at that hospital... friends going in to see her and say their goodbyes. I held her in my arms and just turned her over to God."
Michelle says her family wants to honor Jessica by raising awareness about meningitis and offering scholarships in her name.
They sell T-shirts, have 5-k races, pageants and more to raise money. That money is used for the "Live, Laugh, Love" scholarships.
"We've also had two free vaccine clinics to date, and we're hoping to have another one soon," Michelle said. "I just don't want another family to go through the grief and what we go through every day our heart aches. If we save one life, we've made a difference..."
A difference seen and shared by and for a community.
The Limestone Area Community Foundation oversees the funds. Learn more about programs offering awareness of meningitis.