Ready to deploy, reservist dies

FROM THE CHICAGO SUN TIMES

BY ANA MENDIETA - STAFF REPORTER

April 11, 2003

A young soldier from the south suburbs died of a mysterious illness before she could fulfill her dream of serving her country on the front lines.

Rachael A. Lacy, a 22-year-old Army reservist from Lynwood, became ill more than a month ago after receiving several mandatory vaccinations--among them anthrax and smallpox--before her deployment to the Middle East. She died April 4.

"Rachael left home a healthy young woman, and she became sick shortly after she received her inoculations,'' said her father, Moses Lacy, who buried his daughter Wednesday in Lynwood.

An Army spokeswoman at Fort McCoy, Wis., where Lacy was based, said there was no indication any of the vaccinations Lacy received were involved in her death.  "But until the autopsy is done it's really hard to say," spokeswoman Linda Fournier said. She said it would be a month before all autopsy results were received.

Lacy's father said she developed what doctors first thought was a cold or a minor reaction to inoculations about five weeks ago. Her condition worsened, she did not respond to treatment for pneumonia and doctors looked further, even calling a specialist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

"They were just guessing; they had no idea,'' Moses Lacy said.

He said when his daughter could not breathe unaided and had an extremely high fever, weakness, headaches and nausea, she was taken from the military hospital to hospitals in nearby Sparta and LaCrosse, Wis., then flown by helicopter April 2 to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Rachael Lacy died there two days later. Her father said he was then told she might have suffered from the immune disorder lupus, and her condition could have been caused by the smallpox vaccination.

Rachael Lacy joined the Army Reserves in 1998 after graduating from Thornton High School in Lansing. She was studying to become a nurse at South Suburban College in South Holland and hoped to receive a master's degree as well. A straight-A student, she had received state scholarships. She was with the 452nd combat hospital support unit based in Fort McCoy.

She was a "fanatic" when it came to her health and she exercised regularly, her father said. "All she kept telling me is, 'I want to get better because I want to go with my unit.' I would like the 452nd unit to know that although my daughter did not die in the battlefield in Asia, she gave her life for her country that she loved, nonetheless," Moses Lacy said. "They are soon to be deployed, and she will be with them in spirit."

Contributing: Brenda Warner Rotzoll