Moments before closing her eyes, Savanna knew all was lost. Seven years earlier she'd endured a frightening asthma attack as a seven-year-old; this time, though, she couldn't find a way out. It struck so hard and fast and heavy, sucking up everything, tipping this slight, determined girl over the edge of something she never knew existed. Her glazed eyes rolled back, eyelids shut, never opening to light again. Chronic asthma was a shadow for all of her so-short life, from when as a 12-month-old toddler those initial signs, soft wheezing and a whisper of laboured breathing, appeared. By the age of two, this was the life she quite clearly was fated to lead, but with her parents' hope that like many kids she'd grow out of it by her early teenage years. Asthma was a family trait, on her mum's side. It was something that simply was, and anything different would have created a shared sense of strangeness in this humble house on Gallipoli Street. At least that's what it was like for Savanna, younger sister Keeley and their mum, Natalie. Dad Nathan, as a genetic interloper, and the youngest of the couple's tight-knit brood, Cayden, weren't tainted by asthma, a lung disease that is much more than kids quaintly, harmlessly connected to a puffer like some kind of umbilical cord. Its restriction and inflammation of the airways actually manages to kill 400 Australians a year - the toll hit 417 in 2020 alone. On that evening of August 2, 2020, Savanna Symonds came out of her room. Her asthma, as often happened, had been silent. She hadn't even used her puffer, or at least not in the 24 hours just put to bed. The Corowa teenager, 14-years-old, three months shy of turning 15, had returned from a sleepover at the home of her closest friend, a girl called Charlie. They'd been one and the same since kindergarten. Their families were intertwined in friendship, support and understanding. Before Savanna returned, her mobile rang. Mum and Dad were heading to a housewarming party across the street for old friends who had moved back to town. They had not long returned themselves from an overnight camping trip. "That's OK," Savanna chimed back to her mother, "I'll be home about tea time." Mum replied with a "no worries, I'll meet you at home around tea time". And that was that. Later that day, Savanna stepped out of her room. She called out to Keeley for help. Her sister, as a fellow chronic asthmatic, knew what came next. She'd give Savanna a hand to pack her bag for hospital - stuck in a ward for a month at a time, even longer, was not uncommon - and with her parents she'd help get her out the door. Usually it was Mum who'd stay bedside, either at Corowa or, for the longer, more frequent stays in Albury hospital, forgoing work and the income this brought in so she and Nathan could nurture their family. It was patiently waiting for the day when Savanna's asthma abated, an acute flare-up settled enough to the medicos' satisfaction so she could be discharged. Dad would do anything for his "Little Red". But going to hospital was not his thing. (She alone of her siblings shared the colour of his hair, but, Natalie says, Savanna's had a richness and brilliance that outshone Nathan's more humble orange locks). It was always far too confronting, seeing his brave, headstrong, full of cheek oldest - the toughest tackler in her all-boys' footy team, a kid so sporty and who would resolutely stand up for others she thought unfairly wronged or maligned - left so helpless. That was despite Savanna never seeing her asthma, this looming threat always sitting at her shoulder, in the same way. That was despite suffering that attack as a small girl of seven that was so bad it created a crater-like divot in the top of her chest from her almost sub-conscious, desperate bid to find air, like sucking through a straw until it closed in on itself. Until there was no air to breathe at all. Savanna's touchstone was she'd always get through and continue on. She'd soon be back at netball, she and Keeley would be back cross-country running, in one year the girls both winning state titles, each holding a Ventolin puffer in one hand for their journeys. This night though it changed; resolutely, with a force that still holds sway three years later. Keeley was sitting in the lounge room when Savanna appeared. There was an added urgency, a pall of doubt in the discomfort. She was distressed. Still strong, as always, but things needed to get moving in a hurry. These sisters, so close that they knew what the other would fire back when they bickered and argued and when they had fun, looked each other in the eye. "I need you to help me try to get hold of Mum and Dad," Savanna pleaded. "They're not answering their phone. I'm having an asthma attack." Keeley tried to call but couldn't raise them. "And then she got hold of Nan and Nan got hold of Mum," Keeley says. "I was trying to help her pack her bag for hospital and then Mum and Dad were here in two seconds." In that brief sliver of time Savanna had further deteriorated, such that she couldn't walk. Keeley recalls "trying to carry her out the door". "And then Dad picked her up." Natalie knew it was "so bad" on first laying eyes on her daughter. "As soon as I saw her I was like 'this is not good'. And then we got to the hospital." From the attack setting-in back in her bedroom to getting to Corowa hospital, Natalie reckons barely seven or eight minutes went by, a cruel flash of time they'd successfully negotiated given what was about to unfold. After all, being so close to the hospital was the reason why they bought the house. Minutes after arriving, while trying to settle her into a bed, to apply an oxygen mask, Savanna's tender years were belied by an acute sense of reality and dread. When they got inside, Natalie says, Savanna knew she was dying. "A hundred per cent." Savanna uttered just one thing, a question wrapped in a feeling and a perception that those with her on that late winter's evening will never forget. "What, am I going to die?" Savanna's life was lost, her eyes closing moments after her almost-bewildered final words. Those scenes in Hollywood movies, where the character passes in a gentle moment, as if falling to sleep, were not mawkish acts played for the sake of an audience, Natalie says. It was how she left them, a goodbye given as hospital staff continued to fight as hard as they could to save her for a "long, long time". It was cardio-pulmonary resuscitation over and over again, giving her injection-after-injection "of whatever they needed to keep her alive". "They were on the phone to (a hospital in) Melbourne the whole time," Natalie says. "I just remember I was at the end of her bed rubbing her leg the whole time. I was saying 'come on Bub, come on Bub'. Time just went so fast." A helicopter came into land to take Savanna to Melbourne, and then Natalie heard the words uttered that shattered her life, her soul, a big ball of confusion and anger about why such a thing could happen. "(The medical team) kept saying 'we've got a pulse, we've got a pulse' and I was like 'oh my God, thank God'. But then they'd just lose her again, and that went on for two hours." The point came where they knew Savanna could not be saved. She had to be let go. "I heard the doctor say 'seven more minutes'. I was just like 'no way, no!' and I was swearing at them and everything, I was like, 'no way!'." The shock and surrealism of her death had not long been foretold. On the oxygen mask being put on Savanna - Natalie and Nathan's daughter, Keeley and Cayden's big sister - had uttered her final, innately sad words. Her pleading to be allowed to live. "But I knew we were in big trouble," Natalie says, perched with Keeley on stools at a large wine barrel repurposed into a raised bar table, replete with black marker messages pained with loss from family and friends, sitting above a long table in this haven out the back that tells this family's story of love and friendship and connections. All of that before large framed photographs of Savanna, Little Red, one in her boxing gear, full of joy and satisfaction and pride, a medal draped around her neck for a title fight won. Just like Dad, who'd landed a Riverina title many years before. Natalie told Savanna it was going to be all right, for as much as she realised with a gust of ill-feeling it would not. "I knew we were in big trouble." What unfolded that evening affected different people in different ways. Keeley still holds on to an overwhelming sense of time ambling by as she sat outside Savanna's room. For her there was no mistaking what befell her cherished sister. The moment Savanna died was clear. Keeley had already realised this day had turned truly awful, that there was an added gravity, when her dad, too, came to the hospital with her mum. "It was when I heard Mum and Dad screaming and crying," she says, pinpointing Savanna's passing. Keeley is now 15. Cayden is 13, turning 14 in December - the age Savanna was when asthma took her life. This coming Monday, November 27, would have been her 18th birthday. "And she would have been wild," Natalie says, another heartfelt, resolute smile washing over her, a mother - like the rest of the family - steadfast in her determination to keep her oldest child's memory forever alive. Keeley turning 14 had the family on tenterhooks as so often the experience is that many kids who die from an attack are 14. Many also have severe attacks at seven, as did Savanna. "They still don't know why," Natalie says, as she tells the story of a customer at the pub they once ran, Corowa's the Newmarket, coming in one day. This old man told of how he lost his daughter at 14 to asthma. "And 18 months later his second daughter passed at 14 from an asthma attack. That's happened to two families in Corowa, losing a child to asthma at 14." Keeley says even now she still expects Savanna to walk through the door, "it's like it never happened". Her sister was always busy, with her sport, with seeing her friends, so for her not to be around the house sometimes feels not too unusual. But it's a fleeting thing. Reality bites with a churn in the stomach and a tear in the heart. The family always talks about her, Natalie says, because "it'd be weird if we didn't. It's just like she's still here." Savanna's death has not sunk in, she explains, as it is "so hard to believe" they will "never see her again". "It's so, so hard. Nathan goes to the cemetery nearly every day, I really struggle to go there because I get so down and then I've got to try to get myself out of it and plod along with the rest of my day," she says of her little "fighter". "I've been there today and cleaned up and put new flowers out there. Cayden can't go, he really struggles. And we reserved all the spots next to her at the cemetery." Out of her loss, and their ongoing experience with Keeley's asthma needing to be constantly watched and treated and prevented, the family embarked on what was seen as the best way to pay tribute to their girl, while playing a wider role in helping with research into ever-improving treatment for asthma. Each November since her death, on the weekend closest to or on which Savanna's birthday falls, they hold a motorbike run, a roughly 170-kilometre loop from the Newmarket Hotel and back again. It's not just for the boys on their gleaming machines, as much as the bikie community, Nathan says, has been outstanding in its support. Anyone can come along, following the bikes in the family car if they wish, the day ending with a fundraising raffle at the pub, but not before a couple of stops along the way - one where those taking part can refuel by ordering an egg and bacon roll and a coffee. On Saturday, November 25, Little Red's Third Memorial Run will have anyone wishing to take part assembling at the pub at 9.30am, with the convoy hitting the road at 10.30am. It was in that terrible haze of the weeks following her death that the family's attention turned to trying to come up with a way to help the Asthma Foundation, while paying tribute to Savanna. The foundation had approached them to ask if they needed any support, and it was then that Nathan and Natalie asked if they could do a fundraiser. It probably wouldn't necessarily be anything of great note, but if they could raise $1000, maybe even a bit more, it would be well worth doing. A couple of weeks after Savanna's death, which led to an overwhelming wave of community love and support, the family took off to Jervis Bay, for a week where they just had time to themselves to grieve, to become anonymous again. That support had been welcomed in the spirit it had been given, but it was time for time spent without someone approaching and saying "I'm thinking of you, love". "We just walked along the beach and just spent quality time together," Natalie says, recalling the constant stream of food that arrived at their home from just hours after Savanna's death, the house full to the brim with flowers, the people lining the main street of Corowa - and the Victorian bank of the Murray River, in defiance of COVID-19 pandemic rules - for her funeral. "There were just people everywhere at the funeral. The main street was like a parade, there were people coming out of their shops and just standing on the edge of the streets on both sides." After returning from their trip away, their attention turned to how they could pull together the fundraiser. Again, they had no grand expectations. "But it just turned out to be so huge," Natalie says. "Our first run was about 200 people. And then business and companies said they'd donate prizes for raffles, then we opened up the asthma donation link, it just got bigger and bigger. Before we knew it, it was like $10,000, $12,000 that first year. It was outrageous." Up until this week the family has raised $28,049.35 for the foundation. Natalie thinks back to all that time she spent in hospital with Savanna without some kind of government support for lost income - a situation she says many, many others no doubt experienced. Her death makes her and Nathan question why asthma can somehow not be categorised as a life-threatening illness. And they hope the awareness created by holding an annual fundraiser will further focus efforts, with government support, on even finding a cure. "If they can come up with a vaccine for COVID in how many months, surely there's something (we can do) by starting to raise money," Natalie says. "Keeley has an injection every fortnight just so she can get through, but they never had these injections when Savanna was here. It's all a new thing." The grief of losing Savanna will never leave this family. But it also won't stop them, especially for Nathan and Natalie as they battle on for the sake of their children. As Nathan says, "you have no choice". In the fog of those early days after her loss, the whole family was at home - work was forsaken and the kids didn't go to school. That in itself was strange for them, given that Savanna, against her wishes, had to stay home during the pandemic because of the extreme risk her health carers thought the virus might pose to a chronic asthmatic. "I watched the kids grieve, I watched Nath', I watched the whole family," Natalie says. "And I sort of just did it in my own little time because I'm the one who keeps the family together. And if I'm not getting those kids up and getting them to school, they're not going to have any sort of life, it's going to be bad. "We just have to keep moving forward."