HaiLee Hayes was a healthy, happy teenage girl.

The Tamaqua student had many interests - from cooking to NASCAR and her favorite driver Jimmie Johnson.

Everyone agrees she was a sensitive and sensible young girl who cared deeply about others and had lots of love to give.

"She was everybody's little mentor," says Donna Kaminitsky, Summit Hill, HaiLee's "Nana."

That's how HaiLee was, friends say. She was nurturing and always thought of others, not herself. And she was never one to complain.

But she did speak up a few weeks ago when she sensed something bad.

HaiLee went to school on Wednesday, March 13, but knew something was wrong. She felt sick.

The flu was going around. Lots of kids were feeling under the weather.

The 14-year-old freshman at Tamaqua Area High School felt ill as soon as she started class.

She reported the illness, but wasn't sent home.

"She was in school all day," says HaiLee's aunt, Anita Kaminitsky Dietrich, Summit Hill. HaiLee even took an algebra test; but it's safe to say her mind wasn't focused on the exam.

HaiLee knew something was amiss; something was seriously wrong. She had pain around the chest area.

"My heart hurts," she told others.

After school, her alarmed mother, Amy Hayes, rushed HaiLee to the emergency room at Pottsville Hospital. There, HaiLee was examined. Doctors diagnosed flu and musculo-skeletal chest pain. HaiLee was treated, prescribed an anti-inflammatory, and released. Back home on West Broad Street, she was lethargic. She had no appetite and no energy. Of course, such might be the case with anybody suffering from the flu. But HaiLee's case was different.

In just two days, HaiLee was gone. She passed away late Friday. Her mother discovered her when she went to waken HaiLee early Saturday.

Indications are that HaiLee died of pneumonia.

Her broken-hearted family now searches for answers.

How did the system fail a healthy, precious and vibrant teenage girl?

Struggling with grief, the family agreed to talk with the TIMES NEWS to warn other parents. No family should be faced with a similar situation, they say. Nobody deserves what happened.

"If you can save one child, it's all worth it," says Dietrich. The family's message is dire.

In fact, HaiLee's death actually might be the second in our area. The flu is believed responsible for taking the life of little Devin Gombert, 9, Lehighton, the son of Brian Gombert and Candice Boyer. Devin was a second-grade student at Mahoning Valley Elementary School.

He had been treated twice at Blue Mountain Health System, Gnaden Huetten Campus.

His condition worsened and he was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital where he passed away in January.

Unusual flu season

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year's dominant influenza strain is H3N2 and can cause more serious illnesses than other strains.

And statistics indicate it reached epidemic proportions in 2013, according to the CDC.

"Most states are experiencing moderate or severe levels of flu activity," says Tom Skinner, CDC spokesman.

One local physician, Dr. Joanne Calabrese, Tamaqua, says flu can lead to pneumonia, which can be dangerous.

"Flu has been known to be fatal," she says.

HaiLee's family members say they have more questions than answers over what transpired during her final day of school.

They have concerns about current school policy. For instance, they wonder why HaiLee wasn't sent home, and why the family wasn't notified she was ill.

They were dismayed when HaiLee told them she was required to take an algebra test at school even after indicating she was sick.

The family also wishes there had been a way in which the hospital could have kept HaiLee for observation.

They say HaiLee was a strong and brave child with unusual fortitude. For instance, she wasn't given to whine or grumble about things. So when HaiLee said her heart hurt, the family knew something was gravely wrong. Her mother jumped to action immediately.

Parents know their children better than anyone, better even than the physician.

"If your child is sick, you've got to push your doctor more," says Dietrich.

Sadly, even though mother Amy did just that, the outcome still wasn't what one would expect.

It prompts the family to ask this question: how can the common flu cut short the life of a happy, healthy teen?

"She was my little 'bubbly,'" says "Nana" Kaminitsky, with whom HaiLee spent weekends.

The two would go shopping, dining, and have fun together. HaiLee enjoyed Chinese food, but also was crazy about all-American macaroni and cheese. She had aspirations of becoming a chef to let others share in her passion for culinary arts.

She also had fondness for camping and spending time at the ocean.

HaiLee was skilled on the computer, too, and had amassed over 1,170 friends on Facebook. There, her cover photo reads "Have hope," accompanied by the image of a heart.

Her favorite expression was "Hakuna Matata," from Disney's The Lion King. Translated, it means no worries for the rest of your days.

"She was my little Sunshine," says Amy, in tears. The family struggles to move forward and to make sense of things.

But how do you take your first steps forward after your Sunshine has been taken away? How do you cope with losing your only child?

It's the eternal question, the endless struggle of anybody who loses the Sunshine at the center of their life.

Actually, HaiLee herself may have provided the answer. True to form, "the little mentor" continued to look out for others.

Sometime before she passed, HaiLee logged into the online Instagram photo-sharing network. There, she expressed one single message to everyone, carefully typed on the Internet site.

With a heart full of love, HaiLee wrote: "Don't you worry, child. See, heaven's got a plan for you."

And then she journeyed there to make sure everything goes as planned.