When doctors told Valecha Banks she needed to remove her son from Southern California's rampant smog and pollen, she immediately put in for a transfer to her company's Midwest office.
Over the next 22 months, Demerio Thomas easily made himself a home in Schaumburg and at Fremd High School, proving to be a likable jokester and asset on the football and track teams.
Contact information ( * required )
Sadly, just three days into the pair's first visit back to Los Angeles, Demerio suffered an asthma attack from which he wouldn't recover. The sophomore died Saturday at 15.
"I never thought anything this bad could have happened," Banks said. "He wanted to go back so bad. I'm just grateful he had the time of his life those first few days."
Friends expressed shock and sadness on social media as word spread of Demerio's death. On Monday, many returned from Spring Break wearing gold and purple in a nod to his love for the L.A. Lakers.
Head boys track coach Jim Aikens said anyone who met Demerio likely saw him sporting two things: a big smile on his face and a Lakers jacket.
"He'd wear that thing all the time," Aikens said. "He couldn't get enough of it."
A big guy who stood 6-foot-2 in a size-15 shoe, Demerio tried to keep his asthma from affecting his athletic performance. Aikens said he sometimes excused himself to take care of a health issue, but never appeared distressed.
Demerio, who competed in shot put and discus, this season scored a personal best to finish second in the frosh/soph indoor conference meet, Aikens said.
Demerio also played defensive tackle and looked forward to being on the varsity football team under head coach Lou Sponsel. It was Sponsel's idea to have the football and track teams meet Monday before school began.
"It was a very solemn meeting, and some of the kids were understandably really upset," Aikens said. "But Demerio would be the first one to say he'd want people to laugh more than cry."
Fremd held a moment of silence and counselors went to each of Demerio's classes to speak with students, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 spokesman Tom Petersen said. Counselors, social workers and psychologists also were made available for students who wanted additional support.
Best friend Justin Gonzalez said everyone knew Demerio because he was so outgoing.
"He was like a brother to me," Justin said. "If you met him, you'd love him. He always had everyone laughing."
Banks also is able to laugh when she thinks of her son and is quick to rattle off stories that showcase his happy-go-lucky personality. She'll remember the practical jokes he played and Demerio driving around in circles upon getting his learner's permit.
"I never laughed so hard and was never so scared in my whole life," she said.
Banks is thankful Demerio made the most of his trip west, visiting his old neighborhood in Long Beach, playing video games at Dave & Buster's restaurant and seeing relatives.
They were on their way to Demerio's grandmother's house when he started wheezing and found himself without an inhaler. Banks said Demerio insisted he was fine, and to not call 911, but he didn't improve.
By the time paramedics arrived, Demerio had grown confused and combative due to a lack of oxygen to his brain. He was transferred to a second hospital and received an IV that Banks later saw contained cornstarch and soybean oil, both allergens to Demerio.
"There were many layers of things that went wrong," Banks said. "I miss him, but I'm not worried about his soul because he loved the Lord and always tried to do everything right."