Teens hold memorial to friend who lost her life after an asthma attack
Friends and family of a teenage girl who died after suffering an asthma attack have said they want to raise awareness of the condition in the hope of saving lives.
Rachel Williamson, who was just 16, passed away last week.
The Co Down schoolgirl has been described as a popular and well-loved teenager who made friends right across the generations.
Her devastated classmates said she was someone who would "always look out for you".
Now they want to remember Rachel by raising money and awareness to fight the condition which took her life.
Her parents said they hope to spare other families the heartache of losing someone to asthma.
Rachel, a fifth year Glastry student from Portavogie, passed away on July 5, having been diagnosed with the condition at the age of six.
She had just finished her GCSEs and was preparing to study a further education course in childcare in September.
She was enjoying the school holidays when she suddenly took ill at home.
Rachel's mother Barbara said it happened very quickly.
She said she thought she heard her daughter being sick at first, but soon realised she was struggling to breathe and called for help.
"She was on the phone laughing away with her cousin in her bedroom and an hour later I heard her down in the bathroom," she said.
"I thought she was being sick, so I went to see if she was okay.
"She said: 'Mummy, can you bring me my inhaler?' So I went and got it and the chamber that she uses, but it just deteriorated so quickly.
"She knew herself to say: 'Mummy, I need an ambulance'. We called for one, but within minutes she just went completely downhill. My neighbours came round and tried to help, but I don't know if it was already too late at that point."
First Responder volunteers attempted to treat Rachel at the scene while they waited for an ambulance, but despite their best efforts they could not save her.
Her funeral took place in Glastry Presbyterian Church a week ago.
School pals Courtney Bailie (16), Jessica Stanger (15), Alexia Michael (16), Kristina Stanger (16), Aimee Lee (16), Ruth McCormick (16) and Rachel Lappin (16) have joined forces to organise a lantern memorial at Portavogie beach tomorrow night.
The girls hope to use the event to raise money for Asthma UK (NI) and already have raised almost £600 in Rachel's name.
Ruth said: "We want to try and get as many people together as possible to raise awareness and to show how much Rachel really was appreciated. We want the lanterns to light the sky up to show that she's still with us."
Courtney said her friend's death had come as a terrible shock.
"You don't wake up the next day and ever think this kind of thing could happen. We didn't really plan for it but we knew we wanted to do something," she said.
Aimee said: "We came up with the idea together - it was a joint decision to do it."
Courtney added: "Rachel was always there to support us and has helped us all in so many different ways. It's just fair we give back to her, because we didn't have enough time to - it's what she deserves.
"If you ever had problems with friends, she would help you talk through it and would make sure you were making the right decision.
"If someone was walking around school on their own, she would always make it her mission to try and get them friends and would go over and talk to them. It didn't matter if you were younger or older - she would have done it for anyone."
Just a few weeks earlier, Aimee, Courtney and Kristina were with Rachel when she suffered another serious asthma attack. The scare saw Rachel end up in hospital.
Courtney said: "We were walking down to the shop and she just dropped - she just collapsed. We were close by, but she couldn't even make it the extra 30 seconds to the shop.
"We had to run down to the shop to get help. I was taught first aid in school as part of a course, but you never get taught what to do with asthma.
"It's so scary, because you can't talk to them because they can't breathe.
"She took her inhaler, but it didn't work. The doctor said 30 minutes later and she would have been dead."
The girls said they were concerned that the stigma surrounding asthma and using inhalers publicly can make it harder for those who need help to get it.
"Sometimes she would need to take a breather and it'd be fine," Jessica said.
"People take it for granted that nothing will happen. Rachel has had asthma for years, but it's only over the last few years that things have got bad."
Rachel's parents Barbara and Simon also plan to hold a 16k event in their daughter's memory in the autumn - a kilometre for each year of Rachel's life.
Her father said: "Everyone has heard of asthma, but what most people are unaware of is that it can kill. Three people die every day of asthma-related illnesses in the UK.
"Our aim is to give back through Rachel; we want her to be the leading light in this.
"We came up with the idea initially for a sponsored walk - the 16k to represent the 16 years of her life - and then we wanted to turn it into an event day and to have professionals teach CPR and first aid.
"Asthma can be controlled, but for some reason somewhere between Rachel being fine and [passing] within an hour, she went down very quickly.
"People in the local community have been very supportive and we are really grateful for people getting behind this, so that we can make a difference in our local area.
"We don't want to scare people or panic people, but what we want to do is to make a difference, it could happen to any family.
"We want to get the right professional help so that the funds raised are spent where they can be best used.
"We want somebody to be able to say: 'See that money that your daughter has raised, it's made a difference'.
"If one family doesn't have to go through the same thing, that's what we want to do.
"The ideal would be to have some kind of small ambulance station within the borough - but we know that's unlikely to ever happen."
Barbara added: "We wanted to do something to make more people aware of this condition and so that it's not just brushed over as 'only asthma - take your inhaler and you'll be okay'.
"There's a lot more to it than we ever thought."