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updated: 7/11/2014 8:31 AM

Family, friends mourn death of Glenbard East cheerleader

Lombard teen remembered for her kindness, caring

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  • Lija Hyssong, 16, of Lombard, died while vacationing in Pennsylvania. The family of the Glenbard East cheerleader said they are still searching for answers regarding a brief illness that led to her passing.

      Lija Hyssong, 16, of Lombard, died while vacationing in Pennsylvania. The family of the Glenbard East cheerleader said they are still searching for answers regarding a brief illness that led to her passing.
    Courtesy of the Hyssong family

  • Lija Hyssong of Lombard celebrates her birthday with her parents, Phil and Angie Hyssong. The 16-year-old died while vacationing in Pennsylvania.

      Lija Hyssong of Lombard celebrates her birthday with her parents, Phil and Angie Hyssong. The 16-year-old died while vacationing in Pennsylvania.
    Courtesy of the Hyssong family

  • Lija Hyssong, left, of Lombard was close with her 13-year-old sister, Zoe.

      Lija Hyssong, left, of Lombard was close with her 13-year-old sister, Zoe.
    Courtesy of the Hyssong family

 
 

Lija Angela Yu Yin Hyssong's friends have a simple, new phrase they're adding to their Facebook posts.

LLL -- Love Like Lija.

The 16-year-old is being remembered as a happy girl whose compassion and kindness were obvious to everyone she met at school and church, from jocks to social outcasts.

"She was an incredible kid," her father, Phil Hyssong, said, adding that his oldest daughter made a big impact with the small things she did to brighten other people's days.

"She smiled at people," he said. "Kids said, 'Lija always said hi, she was genuinely interested in me.' We believe, as a Christian family, that was her Christian light coming through."

Lija died July 3 at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital while vacationing in Pennsylvania. Her Lombard family is still searching for answers about the brief illness that brought about her unexpected passing.

Lija was born in Xing Yi, China, in April 1998. Her parents, Phil and Angie Hyssong, adopted her eight months later and kept her Chinese-given name, Yu Yin.

Ever since she was a child, Lija loved jumping around, her father said. She enjoyed gymnastics and was a member of the cheerleading squad at Glenbard East High School, where she was entering her sophomore year.

"She was always striving to do better," Phil said, adding that Lija was taking private lessons for tumbling.

Lija also thoroughly enjoyed caring for others and her parents believed she would have been interested in pursuing a career that involved service work. She volunteered for the Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association and helped with groups her aunt, who lived with her and has cerebral palsy, was involved in.

On June 22, Lija left to participate in a nearly weeklong, overnight mission project in Chicago with other members of the St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church youth group.

It was Lija's second year participating in the mission, which included projects in the inner city, and Phil said she was happy to teach vacation Bible school on the trip.

Lija had plans to leave the mission early and head to Pennsylvania that Friday, where she was meeting with her "China Sisters," Phil said.

The group is made up of eight families who traveled together to China in 1998 to adopt eight girls, including Lija. The families hold reunions every other year and although her parents couldn't go with, they agreed to let Lija travel on her own.

Lija was feeling sick at the end of the church mission trip, but blamed it on something she ate, Phil said. She woke up Friday morning feeling better and ready for her trip, but when she got to the airport she got sick again. Still, she insisted on getting on the plane.

"She said, 'Mom, I'm just tired, I just came home from a big week,'" Phil said.

The Hyssongs sent Lija on her way and called the family she was staying with to let them know she might have the stomach flu.

Over the next four days, Lija was able to participate in some activities with the other teens, including a visit to Hershey Park. Tuesday morning, however, she started feeling ill again and the host family brought her to the doctor.

Lija was scheduled to have a CT scan and was sent back to the host family's home to consume some contrast. At one point the mother of the host family left to pick up another girl and it was during that time Lija became unresponsive.

In the hours that followed, Lija would be taken to the hospital and revived twice. She was flown to the children's hospital in Hersey, where her parents met up with her and discovered she had abdominal bleeding.

Lija never regained consciousness. She died the morning of July 3.

"Her heart was beating and we believe she was able to hear us praying and talking and loving one another," Phil said. "We are so grateful for that amount of time. That was a gift no one could imagine."

The family doesn't know what caused Lija's death. Autopsy results were inconclusive, although additional tests have begun, Phil said.

On Sunday, about 250 youths gathered at St. John's to remember Lija. Her parents sat in the balcony, crying where no one could see them, and listening to what everyone had to say about their daughter.

Phil said they were amazed to hear the stories of kids who said they had no friends before Lija or who said she brought them out of their socially awkward shell.

"It was incredible. It was so wonderfully therapeutic," Phil said. "It really felt good to think, 'Wow, Lija had such an impact on people,' and that was just an incredible blessing,"

Once, during a gathering for the church's youth group -- which Lija was very active in -- there was a discussion about heaven and dying, Phil said.

"The kids were kind of creeped out about it," he said. "And Lija said, 'I'm not creeped out about it. I think it's going to be a fine thing.' That was just kind of oddly prophetic that she felt that."

Besides her parents, Lija leaves behind a 13-year-old sister, Zoe, her grandmother, nine aunts and uncles and many cousins and friends.

Visitation will be from 2 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 11, at Brust Funeral Home, 135 S. Main St., Lombard. A funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 215 S. Lincoln Ave., Lombard.

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