The Pacific Index

Late student’s resilience and heart inspires crowd

Shelby Cokeley, Editor-in-Chief

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“You better not give up,” Theodore “Theo” Erickson’s oldest sister said with tears in her eyes, “You better not give up because Theo would’ve never given up on any of you.”

Before April 11, Theo Erickson was just another 27-year-old Pacific University graduate student looking to make a bit of extra money, progress his education and live life to the fullest.

He would drag his new friends on challenging hikes. He would check up on his classmates before every test to wish them luck. And he would work tirelessly to live a life full of happiness — an excitable trait that was never lost on his peers.

Erickson passed away on April 14, three days after suffering a fatal off-campus workplace injury.

The first-year optometry student suffered a brain injury on April 11. According to reports from his mother, Holly Heidmann, Erickson was working his first day at a new job in construction and demolition when he fell, ultimately suffering from an “unsurvivable brain injury.”

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) confirmed it is currently investigating the fall that happened at SunPower while Erickson was working for Complete Recycling & Demolition LLC. Though it may take anywhere from four to six months to investigate fully.

On Monday morning, Pacific staff and students received an email from President Lesley Hallick, speaking fondly of Erickson, who grew up in Minnesota before moving to Oregon.

A vigil was held in honor of Erikson that following evening. In between prayers and stories from his optometry classmates, Erickson’s mother and father spoke of his kindness and generosity even beyond death.

“Don’t let what you can’t do get in the way of what you can.”  

Heidmann shared this quote with the large crowd, saying this is something her son would repeat during difficult times. A sentiment that proved to be the through-line to his life.

Erickson, be being an organ donor, was able to save five lives with what his mother described as “pristine” organs including his heart, liver, pancreas, lungs and kidneys. His eyes were also donated to science, while his tissue is intended to help burn victims.

“He would want to have you looking at the good in it,” Heidmann said to local news KPTV. “Even though it’s a horrifically bad thing, five other people on Sunday got the opposite news we did.”

This type of melancholy outlook was omnipresent at Erickson’s vigil. Student after student told stories of Erickson’s impact, even though he had only called the Pacific Northwest home for just eight months before his tragic accident.  

This love was not lost on Erickson’s siblings, many of whom donned the vigil but were too overcome with emotion to speak. However, Erickson’s oldest sister, even through tears felt the need to speak to all those who gathered at the end of the night.  

She was touched by the amount of support her brother’s new university and friends had shown her family. So much so, she said they will be most likely be present for the school of optometry’s graduation this May.  

“We will be back to see you all graduate, to see you all get your white coats,” she said. “So you better keep working hard and keep studying, because we’ll be here for you just like we would’ve been for Theo.”

After encouraging the group, she shared one last bit of hope and solace. The day prior to the vigil Erickson’s family traveled to his apartment to clean and collect his belongings, finding some unopened mail and a package.

According to Theo’s sister, the box contained a few items to decorate his room including a poster. The poster featured a Lance Armstrong quote that she felt should be shared with his optometry peers.

Similar to a text Erickson might have sent out to his friends before a tough clinical or practicum, it read:

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”

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Late student’s resilience and heart inspires crowd