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Goodbye, Jennifer

September 28, 1998|LORI SHEPLER

In February, the Health section featured a story about Jennifer O'Neill, a young girl who received a heart transplant nearly a year ago. On Tuesday, Jennifer died suddenly at age 12. Times photographer Lori Shepler has followed Jennifer's story since June 1997.


On a cloudy morning, when she would have been preparing for her first week back at school since her October 1997 heart surgery, Jennifer Laura O'Neill lost her 12-year battle for life.

The little red-haired girl with the bouncy pigtails had fought through many life-threatening situations. She had recovered quickly from her transplant, leading an active and full life.

There had been no sign of problems until, one day before her death, she complained to her parents that her heart hurt. While at the hospital for tests, she began having breathing problems and later died of heart failure, according to her parents, Bill and Louise.

Her parents spoke about how Jennifer had touched the lives of so many people.

"Her little spirit will always be with us and all the things she taught us and others--courage, peace, love--will continue because of her," her mother said.

Jennifer left life the same way she lived it, said her father: "Always on the go, energetic and dynamic. [It's like] she said, 'OK, my time is up.' And then she left, in a heartbeat."

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