Daughter of Woman Who Drowned Trying to Save Boy: “She Gave Everything to My Family”

“She gave everything to my family,” said 17-year-old Elizabeth Wessel. “We’ll miss her"

Family and friends gathered Saturday to remember an Illinois woman who died while trying to save a 9-year-old boy in a Wisconsin Lake.

Karen Wessel, 47, of Arlington Heights, died in what many who knew her called “the ultimate act of heroism.”

“She was just an amazing woman,” said her daughter Elizabeth Wessel.

Karen Wessel was on vacation with her sister, and a friend and four children in Star Lake when they decided to go for a swim.

Three of the boys swam across a channel to a sandbar, but when they started heading back, they got tired and started to struggle.

Wessel's sister, Janice Potocki, and her friend, Karen Altamore, swam out to assist two of the boys and swam back to shore.

Potocki went back out to help the third boy, but Wessel also went out to assist when she noticed her sister getting tired.

Wessel swam underneath the boy to try to push him above the water's surface, but witnesses told authorities that after a short time, Wessel didn't come back up.

A person in a pontoon boat rescued the boy from the water, but wasn't able to get to Wessel soon enough. Despite several efforts to perform CPR, she was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

“Karen gave herself to everyone, everything,” said family friend Don Bussey. “Almost to a fault.”

On Saturday, mourners packed into the Our Lady of the Wayside Church in Arlington Heights for Wessel’s funeral.

Neighbor and family friend Barb McCoy said Wessel was always involved in volunteering and giving to others in need.

“It was just go, go, go,” she said. "And for her to take something, you had to really go behind her back to give her something."

Wessel left behind two children, ages 9 and 17.

“She gave everything to my family,” said 17-year-old Elizabeth Wessel. “We’ll miss her.”

Even though they lost their mother, Wessel’s children know she gave her life to save another.

Her son Michael used just two words to describe that selfless act.

“She rocks,” he said.

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