OREM -- An Orem woman who suffered serious brain damage four years ago while saving her cousin and sister has died at the age of 19.
In 2005, Tori Schmanski was riding in a car near Delta with her sister and two cousins. The car flipped and landed in a canal. The Schmanski family says Tori pushed her sister and cousin out of the vehicle but was unable to save herself.
"She was underwater for about 20 minutes and suffered an anoxic brain injury," said her father Tim Schmanski.
Tori went from being a talented dancer to being unable to walk, speak or care for herself.
"We had to start from scratch and try to improve her life in any way we could," said Schmanski.
Tori's father said she was able to communicate on a very limited basis with her right thumb. She also was able to recognize people, including friends, family, and dance teammates. A dancer since the age of 3, she'd always trained at "The Dance Club" in Orem, owned by Chris Dowling's wife.
"There's no doubt she's an example," Dowling said. "[Other dancers] always talk about Tori four years later. She's still a presence in our studio."
Dowling said a scholarship at the club had been established in Tori's name. It's awarded to a dancer who demonstrates dedication and hard work -- traits exemplified by Tori.
"It's a tremendous honor to have your name on that plaque," said Dowling.
Tori's story was also shared online by her father through the website PrayForTori.com. It gained thousands of followers who offered their support to the family. Money was raised online to help fund a trip to China in 2007 for a stem cell transplant for Tori. She showed a small amount of improvement following the month-long trip.
"I think in another 20, 25 years there will be many more options in stem cell advancements to help people in Tori's and other conditions," said Tim Schmanski.
Tori remained remarkably healthy for four years but died Saturday at her home of a viral infection. Her family is overwhelmed by the support they continue to receive.
"We are extremely grateful and appreciative," says Schmanski.
Tori's family is requesting that instead of flowers, donations be sent to Primary Children's Medical Center.