Angela Rachelle Louise Gail Holm 1993-2009

She wanted to become a nurse, after battling a rare and severe immune deficiency throughout her youth

Angela Rachelle Louise Gail Holm 1993-2009Angela Rachelle Louise Gail Holm was born in Winnipeg on Feb. 24, 1993, the second of two children born to Sigga Lynn Holm and Roddy Rieck. She came into the world two years almost to the day after her brother Randall, whom she adored. Their bond was uncommonly deep. Shortly after birth, “Baby Ang,” as her parents called her, was diagnosed with the rare immune deficiency hypogammaglobulinemia; doctors had detected it in Randall when he was five months old. Neither could produce the antibodies needed to fight off routine colds and flus. Even a cut or an ear infection could land them in hospital. To boost their immunity they received monthly injections of gamma globulin. “Angie,” as she grew to be known, was prone to pneumonia, and she spent a lot of time at Children’s Hospital in downtown Winnipeg. On good days, nurses would sneak her to their station to “help” with paperwork. At night, Lynn would often crawl into her hospital bed.

By the time she was nine, Angie’s hospitalizations had mostly stopped. But Randall suddenly took a turn for the worse. It was as though they’d traded places, says Lynn; he’d never been that sick. In spite of the health challenges, though, they were normal kids. Angie had an all-pink bedroom and a bed full of stuffed animals. A “girly-girl,” she loved to style her hair and dance around the house, “shakin’ her booty”—iPod blaring hip hop, country or Rihanna. “Wish you could do this, mom?” she’d tease. On weekend mornings, she’d dive into her parents’ bed for a snuggle. She was tiny, and grew even skinnier when she got sick. Randall—“Little man” to his parents—was even smaller. He was very protective of Angie, and made sure she never wandered off or was teased.

In 2004 Lynn and Roddy split up, and Lynn moved to Saskatoon. Until things settled down, Angie and Randall lived in Selkirk with Roddy’s sister Mary Anne. Once established, Lynn came back for them. Just Angie joined her: “Randall wanted to stay with dad,” Lynn explains. That spring, when Angie finished school at Mayfair Elementary, they returned to Winnipeg to spend the summer with Randall, who had grown very ill. “When I saw how sick he was, I couldn’t leave him,” says Lynn. She found work and moved into a brown and white townhouse in suburban St. James.

Randall was rarely able to leave Children’s Hospital. He’d caught cryptosporidium, a common water-borne parasite, possibly from a swimming pool. In healthy kids, it causes a short stomach illness. For the immuno-compromised, symptoms are severe; unable to fully absorb nutrients, Randall was slowly wasting away. Angie visited often; still her protector, he’d lecture her when she misbehaved. But he’d grown “so sick and tired of being sick and tired,” says Lynn. “Just let me go,” he began telling doctors. Once more, he and Angie switched roles: “No, Randall,” she’d say, holding him. “Don’t give up, my brother.” In January 2008, aged 16, Randall died.

By May, Angie was in hospital herself. Doctors hoped a cord blood transplant, which required radiation and chemotherapy, would help her reproduce antibodies. When she was admitted, Lynn and a friend braided her long dark hair, then cut the braid off to keep and gave her a bob. Soon, she was totally bald. Radiation and chemotherapy also made her vomit and gave her searing headaches. The procedure didn’t take, so in September doctors tried a bone marrow transplant. First, they had to completely wipe out her immune system: “She had a lot more chemo, a lot more radiation and was a whole lot more sick,” says Lynn. Morphine helped dull the pain. She was discharged on Oct. 24; doctors were unsure whether the treatment had worked. At first, things seemed touch and go. Going up stairs wiped Angie out, and she was still vomiting. Gradually, however, twice weekly checkups, blood work and meds faded to just one checkup every five weeks. By spring, she’d gained weight and hadn’t had an injection in three months—“just like a normal kid,” says Lynn. A tutor was helping to pave her return to John Taylor Collegiate, where she was set to begin Grade 10 in the fall; she’d decided to become a nurse, she told Lynn. She got her first job at Steve & Niki’s, a nearby restaurant, with plans to use her tips to get her driver’s licence.

On May 24 Angie spent the night at her uncle Rudolph’s—“Uncle Bugs”—who worked demolition with her dad. She was best friends with Bugs’s kids, her cousins. At 5:30 a.m., sound asleep, she was fatally stabbed in a completely unprovoked attack, allegedly by her step-cousin who, in the preceding days, had begun showing signs of serious mental instability. She was 16, like Randall. “They’re together again,” says Lynn. “I know it.”

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