Tori Schmanski

OREM — Some may call her story tragic.

But those who knew Tori Schmanski best know it's really a love story.

It's the story of a girl who loved to dance, a community that reached out to support a struggling family, and parents who went to the ends of the earth to make their daughter's life easier.

"I know that Tori knew she was so loved," said Sheryl Dowling, owner of The Dance Club, where Tori spent countless hours. "Watching her parents fight for her and take care of her, they have been such an inspiration to everyone."

Tori gained the love and prayers of an entire community after a car accident on Father's Day 2005 trapped her underwater in an upside-down car.

Those 15 minutes changed her from a vibrant, active 14-year-old into a young woman paralyzed by a traumatic brain injury.

She defied doctors by surviving but would never dance, walk or talk again.

Yet that didn't stop her from fighting — until Saturday.

"She was a hero," said her father, Tim Schmanski. "Her strength and determination to just live, it truly was something to behold."

Tori, 19, died Saturday in her Orem home as the result of a virus that attacked her lungs, which she was unable to clear.

"We're devastated, but at the same time, we're so happy for Tori that's she's free," Dowling said. "It's just really joyful but so difficult for all of us left here."

It was the second time in a month Tori had battled a virus. The first time, her parents took her to Primary Children's Medical Center, where she stayed for six days trying to get her breathing regulated, Schmanski said.

She came home healthy, but the second infection, not H1N1, set in a few days later, and she couldn't fight it off.

"I think she was ready to let go," Schmanski said. "It just didn't seem like she was fighting as much as she did in the past."

The trip to Primary Children's was hard on Tori, Schmanski said. It was the first time she'd been back since her initial visit.

Since that summer, she'd been in a battle that had spanned the globe.

In early 2007, the Schmanskis traveled to China for stem-cell therapy and holistic treatment. There was also hyperbaric chamber therapy and physical therapy — anything to help improve Tori's quality of life.

"I think we really did give it our best shot to help her," Schmanski said. "I know all of her caretakers, her doctors, nurses, therapists saw that … and knew she was in very capable hands. I think Tori realized that as well."

"They really have gone to the ends of the earth for her," Dowling said of Tim and Maria Schmanski. "They have really set such an example … to their other children as well. They know that their parents are there for them."

And the Schmanskis thank the entire community for being there for them.

There have been fundraisers, candle sales and car windows painted to say "Pray 4 Tori." Friends and even complete strangers followed her progress on the family blog, pray4tori.com, and sent supportive e-mails.

Now that her battle is over, friends fondly remember the Tori they all knew and loved.

"She always had a positive attitude," said her friend Caitlin MacEwen. "She just had this sense of humor that could lift a room and make anyone happy. I can still hear her laugh in my head. I think anyone who knows her, can."

The Schmanskis will celebrate Tori's life at 11 a.m. Friday at the Windsor Stake Center, 1600 N. 60 East. For more details about services, visit www.pray4tori.com.

"It'll be a packed house," Schmanski said, his voice breaking. "She had so much support — thousands of people praying for her, supporting her. They're all still there."

e-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com