The family of a 14-year-old girl who died from suspected meningococcal disease is remembering her as a bright, dedicated young woman with a sunny personality.
Jewelean Margie Pimentel, a freshman at Patrick Henry High School, died at Rady Children’s Hospital after contracting what doctors believe was a meningococcal bacterial infection.
In a statement sent Saturday, Jewelean’s family said Jewelean first complained of a headache after school Tuesday, and from there, her illness moved devastatingly fast.
By Wednesday morning, she had been admitted to the hospital, and she succumbed to the disease Thursday night.
County health officials expect to have test results back within a week to determine if the bacteria meningococcemia killed Jewelean.
The Pimentel family said they have no idea how Jewelean became infected, and so far, no one else in her six-member family has complained of illness.
Most bafflingly to her parents: Jewelean had regular checkups and was up-to-date on all her vaccinations, including the one for meningococcemia.
“She had her vaccine and she wasn't sick at all,” her mother Monica said in the statement. “She had a headache, but it wasn't bad. She said she was tired.”
However, county health officials said the vaccine protects against most meningococcal disease strains, but not all.
Jewelean is being mourned by her mother, father, and three younger siblings.
She was a member of a competitive cheerleading squad known as Wrath, out of the Cheer Force gym in El Cajon, and her family said she loved the competitions, taking gymnastics classes to work on her tumbling skills.
The driven girl was also in Girl Scouts, participated in softball and played the piano.
Her mother remembered how Jewelean would help coach her little sister’s cheer team.
“She loved helping the little kids, she loved making up little routines for them,” said Monica.
Her sister's team wrote messages on green, star-shaped balloons and released them into the air in Jewelean's memory on Friday after practice.
Her father Joey said Jewelean hadn’t decided what she wanted to do when she grew up, but she knew she wanted to go to college.
“She could have done anything,” said Joey in the family statement. “She just loved everything.”
The Pimentel family has not announced plans for a memorial service yet, but they said they are thankful for the overwhelming support of friends, family and strangers.
“You can't take a second for granted because you never, never know,” her mother said. “Monday, Tuesday, she was a bright, happy sunny girl.”
Friends have set up a fund to help the Pimentels pay for Jewelean's funeral. Already, more than $2,000 has been donated toward their $10,000 goal.
After Jewelean's death, the Patrick Henry High School principal sent a letter home with students Friday, asking parents to watch out for signs of meningococcal disease and to encourage their kids to talk through their feelings about their classmate's death.
The school's Crisis Response Team will be on campus Tuesday to help support students, staff and parents during this tragic time.