Brooke Pasch had a gift for connecting people. The 19-year-old from Tampa died May 20 at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg after battling a chronic illness. Her memorial service drew people whose lives she only touched momentarily, such as her seamstress for theater shows and a former massage therapist. In life and in death, Pasch refused to be confined by social circles.
Just ask Fancy Hill, 26, who, by chance, met Pasch and her friends.
"She brought joy," said Hill, who worked as a server at Red Robin restaurant. "She was very vibrant. It really was love at first sight."
After only a couple visits and barely knowing Hill, Pasch and her friends walked into the restaurant one day sporting handmade "I <3 Fancy" T-shirts.
"My heart, I was just so touched," Hill said. "I asked her, 'Why do you love me so much?'"
"Because," Pasch said, "you treat me like a real person."
Pasch was born with what is termed VACTERL association, a series of birth defects characterized by deformed organs and other anomalies. She underwent surgery before her mom could even hold her. Doctors gave her two weeks to live.
"I kept asking for a timeline," her mother Kim Pasch said. "I didn't want to be blindsided."
Pretty soon, doctors stopped setting timetables because Brooke Pasch kept surpassing them.
The family resolved to live every day to the fullest. Pasch, who had a passion for performing, attended Blake High School, a magnet school for the arts. Life was a whirlwind of vocal lessons and theater shows.
Because she couldn't be away from home for too long — she had a regular schedule of injections, medication and blood tests — she brought the action to her, often hosting pool parties.
Sophomore Mickey Reichert, 16, said he doesn't know how he would've endured his first year without her. She made him a freshman survival kit and switched lunch periods so he'd have someone to sit with. When she found out he wasn't planning to have a 15th birthday party, she threw a surprise pool party at her house.
"Brooke was just a bundle of support, love, joy and inspiration," Reichert said. "She was able to teach me lessons on how to just enjoy life and live in the moment."
Her friends at Blake, especially her thespian group, were her family, her mom said. Pasch burst with school spirit, volunteering to be the mascot. Her peers voted her "most likely to brighten your day." She walked through the hallways all smiles, weighed down by a backpack full of medicine, her Canon DSLR slung over her shoulder and pulling her craft box on wheels behind her.
"Her disease, she never let it define her," said senior Kevin Beckam. "That was never the first thing you noticed. You noticed the smile first."
At 4 feet 9, and just over 100 pounds, Pasch often was handed kids' menus at restaurants. When she didn't feel well, Beckam, more than a foot taller, would scoop her up and carry her.
Outside of school, Pasch volunteered with the Make-a-Wish Foundation. She had her wish granted four years ago when she met Selena Gomez and the cast of Wizards of Waverly Place. Always eager to help, she sang at fundraisers and volunteered as a spokeswoman. This spring, she went to the foundation nearly every day, planning an event she hoped would raise $7,000 — enough to grant one child's wish.
"She really wanted to give back and have other kids see their wish come true," regional director Lisa Andrews said. "She was always just so happy and cheerful, and for this tiny, little person, always had the biggest smile on her face."
Pasch never showed anger toward God or anyone for how she was made, her parents said. She was able to see the humor in the little things, too. A sonogram of her deformed spleen hangs in her room. It looks like Mickey Mouse, she would say. For the girl who always loved Disney, that was pretty cool.
Despite monthly hospital visits, multiple surgeries and a kidney transplant from her mom, Pasch was determined not to let her disease define her.
"She wasn't built to last," Kim said. "But the time she had was packed full of family, friends and theater and life."
Friends say Pasch and her sister, Hannah, 15, were the perfect pair. Brooke loved to smile and Hannah has the gift of making people laugh. The sisters often stayed up late, Brooke's head resting on Hannah's stomach, laughing through the night.
"We made our own party," Hannah said. "I never really realized until now how much she lived life."
Pasch was never alone in the hospital, her dad Jeff Pasch said. Friends and family would take rotations sitting in the "lifeguard chair," making sure someone was always there when she woke up. And though there were many scary hospitalizations over the years, Pasch always powered through them.
"She was in the hospital, but she was going to get through like she's done so many times before," Beckam said. "But I guess when God wants his angel home, he'll bring it."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3111.