Seven-year-old Kara Claypool died wrapped in her mother’s arms Wednesday in her bed at Spokane’s Deaconess Medical Center. Before slipping into a coma, she said, “I love you, Mom.”
Joyce Claypool, smiling like the mother of a newborn, thanked God for answering prayers that her youngest child would have an easy death.
“My daughter’s in heaven, safe and sound,” she said.
Little Kara belonged to all of Spokane.
The first publicly known child with AIDS in the city’s schools, she changed people’s minds about a deadly and misunderstood disease. Her spunk won her the city’s Chase Youth Award in 1994. At age 5, she was its youngest recipient.
“I think Spokane labels itself as being a redneck town and people label the Inland Empire as racist,” said Kara’s doctor, Bill Greene, who also cares for a number of other children with AIDS. “Yet, in fact, my experience is that’s not true. It certainly wasn’t my experience with Kara. Spokane should be proud of itself.”
Joyce Claypool, who also has AIDS, speaks publicly about the disease. Kara got the virus before or during birth; Joyce, from sexual relations with her husband, Doug, an intravenous drug user. He died in 1990.
“Joyce’s honesty was the reason Kara got a standing ovation at the Chase awards last year,” said Toni Nersesian of the Inland Empire Girl Scouts Council.
Kara’s hugs and smiles affected people at Willard Elementary, where she would have been a second-grader, and at several Spokane churches the family attended.
The school district spent months carefully preparing how they would educate and inform parents of Willard students about Kara’s illness and the AIDS virus.
Fear still caused one family to pull their children out of the school when Kara first enrolled in 1993 and several churches turned the Claypools away, but most people embraced the challenge.
Kara’s two years at Willard were remarkably normal.
Late last month, Kara was hospitalized with persistent headaches and fever. Doctors spotted an inflammation on her brain. Two biopsies and a battery of tests failed to identify what caused it.
Joyce Claypool and her sons, Dale, 11, and Chris, 9, slept most nights at the hospital to remain near her.
Nurses got used to Kara advising them how to do their jobs or pretending to turn them into frogs or ponies with her magic wand.
This week the inflammation, a spreading white phantom on magnetic resonance images, began to affect some of the basic functions of Kara’s brain. On Tuesday, her eyelids drooped, she felt dizzy and she had trouble clearing fluid from her lungs.
During the night, nurses gave her oxygen to ease her breathing. Joyce Claypool asked that no other extraordinary measures be taken to prolong her daughter’s life.
Friends and relatives mobbed the pediatrics ward to say their goodbyes Wednesday morning.
“I love you, Kara,” said 8-year-old Megan Clarry, who was in Kara’s class last year.
“She loves you too, Megan,” said Kara’s mother. “You know she’s going to meet Jesus.”
“And she’ll see her dad.”
“Yes, she’ll see her dad.”
Eli Doty, one of Kara’s best friends, arrived at the hospital dressed in his best clothes to see Kara one last time. Last year, he told his father he wanted to marry Kara when he grew up.
“All I can say is she’s a very nice girl,” Eli said Wednesday in Kara’s hospital room. “She’s not a rotten old snob.”
Kara inspired thousands of other people throughout the Inland Northwest, who read her story in the newspaper or saw it on television. The producers of a PBS documentary have called for an interview.
The congregation of Community Bible Chapel, a conservative, evangelical church, accepted the Claypools as members, shrugging off its fear of the disease and finding compassion for AIDS patients.
“God brought that little girl here because there’s no segment, not just of the church community, but of mankind, that can isolate itself and ignore these people (with AIDS). And there’s some beautiful people,” said the Rev. Bob Smith.
The Claypools’ direct approach invited people to change, Smith said.
“They said, ‘Here’s who we are. Will you love us for who we are? We’re not going to lie to you.”’
The Rev. Tom Starr, who will help lead a memorial service in a few weeks, said God had a plan for Kara.
“God can use a young life. We have this idea that we have to be old for God to use us. She served his purpose and glorified the Lord in her short life.”
Willard staff will work with grief counselors who have helped them plan for Kara’s death.
If Kara had lived, her teacher Mary Haymond would have taken children on field trips to visit the hospital this fall. Now, the staff will meet to decide how to answer children’s questions when school starts Tuesday.
They will take the lead from Joyce Claypool, whose desire for honesty propelled Kara into the public spotlight and whose faith gave Kara the courage to face death bravely.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Service for Kara A memorial service, planned by Kara during the past month, will be held in a few weeks. Details will be determined soon by the family. The service will be a celebration of Kara’s life.