Rachel Goebel will be remembered as many things.
A miracle child whose life nearly ended at 5 weeks of age.
A committed environmentalist.
A talented musician and dancer with an especially strong passion for the tango.
But when an unexpected illness cut her life short, the young woman who friends and family say lived life to the absolute fullest managed to add one last role to her impressive repertoire: hero.
Ms. Goebel, a University at Buffalo alumna and Newburgh native, died Friday after battling a lung infection for 44 days at Buffalo General Medical Center. She was 26.
After her death, one of her kidneys was given by Unyts to a middle-age woman who underwent surgery in Erie County Medical Center. Saturday, Ms. Goebel’s parents received a call from the organ-procurement organization informing them that the recipient of their daughter’s kidney was recovering well.
Friends and family who shared memories of Ms. Goebel on Monday said her lifesaving final act followed naturally from the way she lived.
“In the worst situations, she was so inspirational and could find the silver lining in absolutely any situation,” said Nicole Desain, who was Ms. Goebel’s roommate for six years after the two met as freshmen members of the UB marching band in 2005.
“She lived life more fully than anyone I know,” Desain said of her longtime roommate, adding that “so many people learned from her and grew.”
“Even after she passed, she’s still helping people,” Dessin said.
Ms. Goebel’s father, Joe, said his daughter benefited from the lifesaving potential of organ transplants after doctors diagnosed her with aortic valve stenosis as a newborn.
Doctors initially feared that the heart condition would take her life, and the family even went so far as to have a priest perform last rites when she was 5 weeks old.
Ms. Goebel’s condition did require her to undergo a number of procedures throughout her life, capped by an aortic transplant last summer. Since then, her father said, Ms. Goebel had been living every moment as though “making up for lost time.”
In registering to be an organ donor several years ago, Ms. Goebel was essentially returning the favor that modern medicine had done for her. “She wanted to give someone else the opportunity to live,” said Anju Mathew, who lived with Ms. Goebel for the last year.
Her death followed an ordeal of more than 40 days that started when she became sick July 13. Three days later, she was in the intensive-care unit at Buffalo General, being treated for a severe lung infection. For weeks, doctors used ventilators to prop up her failing lungs while they sought a cure, but by Saturday, her father said, it had become clear they were out of options.
Even as the end drew near, however, family and friends celebrated Ms. Goebel’s vibrant life right there in the ICU. One night in mid-August, after doctors announced that she might be on the brink of death, more than 40 of her friends came to the hospital to show support. Many of them knew her through a dance group devoted to a recently acquired interest of hers – the tango.
“We always said that music is a passion, but tango is her love,” said Mathew, her roommate, recalling how Ms. Goebel never missed an opportunity to tango after learning the dance in UB and could often be found dancing around the apartment when she wasn’t traveling to places like Toronto and Pittsburgh in pursuit of the newfound love.
Many of those who arrived at the hospital that night chose to celebrate their friend and dance partner by dancing the tango right there on the ICU floor.
Joe Goebel praised the staff at Buffalo General for allowing visitors into the ICU well past visiting hours, as well as for the expert care his daughter received. He also expressed gratitude to the anonymous Western New Yorkers whose 150 pints of donated blood products sustained his daughter while undergoing treatment, and to the staff of the DoubleTree hotel near the hospital, where members of the family stayed.
“We did not sign up for a 45-day tour of duty,” he said, noting his appreciation that the hotel was so understanding.
Born in Newburgh, on the Hudson River 60 miles north of New York City, Ms. Goebel attended Valley Central High School in nearby Montgomery before coming to UB, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in geology in 2009. While at UB, she took an active role in protesting the controversial natural gas drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing in her home state, and was a member of the marching band all four years.
After college, she took a job as a customer service representative at HSBC Bank. Her plan, friends and family said, was to enroll in culinary school and then start a catering business in Buffalo emphasizing local ingredients, in keeping with her focus on the environment.
Surviving in addition to her father are her mother, Paula, and a grandmother, Irene Lucas.
Services will be held Sept. 14 in Millspaugh Funeral Home, Walden.