A Life Remembered | 'She was a light in this community and she stood for strength'

A Life Remembered | 'She was a light in this community and she stood for strength'

ST. JOSEPH — Through the good times and the trying ones, Murelle Plotner remained the same spunky kid who could brighten your day no matter how hers was going.

"There are always people in your life that when you think of them, you smile," said Terri Rein, one of her high school cross-country coaches at St. Joseph-Ogden. "That is Murelle."

A 2017 SJ-O graduate, Ms. Plotner, 19, died last weekend at St. Louis Children's Hospital, where she'd spent many nights since being diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare blood cancer, as an eighth-grader.

But that didn't keep her from being the best teammate Alyssa Pridemore could ever ask for. Nor did what came in the years that followed, said Pridemore, who got to know Ms. Plotner while the two were in middle school.

"Not even chemo, a double lung transplant or several bone-marrow transplants stopped her from being the best cheerleader and biggest fan for the running community," Pridemore said.

"I have never seen a stronger person, a more positive person and never a person so willing to fight," added Rein.

The image the coach will be thinking of when Ms. Plotner is memorialized Friday at St. Joseph's Freese Funeral Home is from Nov. 5, 2016. That's the day the Spartans' cross-country team wrapped up its undefeated season, winning the Class 1A state title in Charleston.

And then came team-picture time.

"I remember handing her the trophy," Rein said with a laugh, "and it was bigger than she was."

What she lacked in size, the coach said, Ms. Plotner made up for in everything else.

"She was a light in this community and she stood for strength," Rein said.

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Friends, teammates and coaches marveled at her strength as Ms. Plotner battled one major medical obstacle after another — first a bone-marrow transplant and then, after she was diagnosed with graft-versus-host disease, a double lung transplant.

She spent her eighth-grade promotion in a St. Louis hospital for the first transplant and last year's high school graduation ceremony recovering from a 12-hour surgery to get her new lungs.

And in between, community members say, she'd be the one trying to lift the spirits of anyone she encountered.

Here's Suzanne Ford, SJ-O Class of 2011: "That little spunky fifth-grader at cross country practice made such an impression on me because she was kind and 100 percent herself, no matter what. She was a friend to anyone who needed it, even while going through more in her short life than most people can begin to imagine.

"Even while she went through bone-marrow transplants, fighting cancer and a double lung transplant, I would often receive encouraging texts, tweets and messages where she would encourage me through vet school and remind me I was loved when I was down."

Here's her former English teacher, Leslie Ellis, who remembers showing up at the house to work with Ms. Plotner while she was sick and being greeted the same way every time — with a cup of hot tea waiting for her, just the way she liked it: "This was her style. No matter her circumstance, she was selfless, thoughtful, generous, kind, gracious and optimistic."

Here's Debra Studniarz, who held multiple fundraisers for Ms. Plotner in recent years: "Cancer affects so many people, but not that many people affect others the way she did."

"I told her the cancer may have brought light to her gift, but not to ever forget that it was her, that she was reason for all of it, and there's a difference."

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Ms. Plotner never gave up hope, said family friend Mary Derenne.

Knowing that Derenne and her family used to put on an annual fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Hospital, Ms. Plotner asked if she'd hold one for St. Louis Children's Hospital, where the young student was receiving treatment at the time.

There was just one stipulation: Ms. Plotner wanted it to be for the hospital, not for herself.

"She told me 'There's kids up there worse then me, Mary,'" Derenne said.

So for the past several years, the Derennes would host the fundraiser, then ask Ms. Plotner to deliver the check.

Said Derenne: "She would thank us every single time."