Family remembers toddler a year after flu strikes

Makayleigh Hill was a clever, vivacious little gem — a girl who could pull off a fluffy, fancy dress and get it dirty examining every bug in the yard.

The 3-year-old Oak Harbor girl was pulled away from this earth too soon.

A year after her death, her family celebrated her life at a special gathering at one of her favorite places, the beach near the Deception Pass Bridge.

They lit lanterns and set them afloat from North Beach on Dec 18. They wrote messages of love on the filmy, white lanterns, set them afire and watched them push into the night sky, picked up by the breeze. The lights disappeared into the inky darkness, receding into bright points ­— small stars in the sky.

Makayleigh Ray Hill was born Dec. 19. 2010. By all accounts, she had a normal, healthy childhood.

She was the second child of Aimee and David Hill. They called her “Little Mama” because she liked to care for everyone. When her baby brother, Daimen, arrived — oh, the joy. She loved fussing over him. She would also bring her big brother, Devinion, a drink when he was thirsty. She was a caretaker.

Makayleigh was a little girl who loved her baby dolls. There was no other toy she loved more. But at heart lived a tomboy. Or maybe a scientist. She loved to dig up every bug in the yard and examine it.

And what a smart, independent little woman. By age 2, she would stack objects one on top of the other to get at the sweets her parents hid from her in the top cabinets.

“She was stubborn and strong-willed,” said her mother, Aimee Hill. “She had to do everything herself.”

December of last year, Makayleigh got sick. It didn’t last long. It seemed like a normal cold. Her mother gave her liquids, cared for her and the next day Makayleigh seemed fine.

Makayleigh wanted to watch a movie that evening. Her parents popped one in. She fell asleep and her mother carried her to bed.

Early the next morning, her father came in to check on her, as was his habit before heading to work. Something was wrong. The little girl was slumped over, stiff.

Her father, panicked, pulled her from bed and brought her to the living room to perform CPR.

Last year, the Northwest was in the grip of influenza. A day later, a little girl in Tacoma died of a H3N2 strain of the flu. That season, she wouldn’t be the last.

The Island County coroner was never able to confirm Makayleigh was killed by the flu. The family was told the virus dies with the host. But there were signs that’s what took her away.

An enlarged spleen. A rash. The coroner surmised the virus attacked the girl’s body internally, although she seemed OK.

She died one day before her fourth birthday.

Publicly, her death went unnoted among the tally of flu deaths. Privately, it didn’t matter. The Hills lost their baby girl. This past year, they’ve struggled to move forward.

“We’re a wreck,” said her mother. “But you know, we are OK. We are pushing on. Life changed.”

The family chose Deception Pass because their little girl loved the beach. She loved hiking with her family and being outdoors.

They wanted to remember.

“I’m doing this more for my son,” said Aimee Hill. “So he can do something to remember. … Her dad needs a little closure, too.

“She was just a really sweet little girl. Very special. It’s sad the world will miss out on her.”

Debra Vaughn:; 360-675-6611, ext. 5075.

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