Inspiration for goodness can come in many ways—through wise words, a person loved and cherished, or a tragic event—all of which came into play on September 9, 2008, with the reaction to the death of a young, vibrant, promising, sixteen-year-old named Heather L. Harkness. Admitted to the hospital the night before for an appendicitis attack, Heather was in good spirits asking for her favorite chicken nuggets and mash potatoes. She showed her mother, Susan, how to load songs onto a new iPod® and together, they spent time listening to Alicia Keys, an artist Heather admired as she was learning to play her music on the piano. The next morning, as she waited in the surgery prep room, she was more than thrilled to see the inside of a real surgery room as her life’s aspiration and hope was to someday become a heart surgeon. Meanwhile, the entire medical team, just like most people who knew her, was won over with her infectious smile and joyful attitude. She had them and her mother entertained and laughing with her favorite impersonations. Moreover, with her volleyball teammates preparing to play in the tournament she was missing, Heather decided to send them one last inspiring text message stating, “Play hard and WIN!” With only a few minutes to go, before she was wheeled through the double doors towards surgery, she looked at her father, David, gave him one last thumbs-up and said, “I love you.”  

An hour later, Heather died.

As the fateful day went on, her sister, Ashley, found a quote on her Facebook page that would soon change everything—“It doesn’t matter how long you live, but how you live, and what you leave behind.” Was it Heather’s destiny or a destiny she left behind for the rest of us? Through time, no one has been able to authenticate this quote as any other than Heather’s.

She attended Edmond Santa Fe High School, and was also a key player on the varsity girls’ volleyball team. Aside from the athletics, she was an avid member serving as historian of the Edmond Santa Fe DECA chapter, and a youth group leader at Saint Monica Catholic Church. She was a young, passionate girl that attempted to be nothing other than herself. She was a regular person with a regular life. To her, it wasn’t about dwelling in the day’s negatives, but rather about putting on a smile and making every day count living it as if it were the last. She focused on sharing pure kindness with others and motivated them to always remain true to who they are.