LONGVIEW, Texas (KETK) – On July 11, Kaylen Eileen Gehrke was conducting archaeological surveys in the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana. It was her first day on the job and the area was under a heat advisory.

Kaylen’s parents, who always are in contact with their daughter, were expecting a call from her to hear about her first day.

Instead, they got a call from a coroner that would change their lives forever.

“My heart just fell to my feet. I had to go brace myself at the table there on the patio, because I thought I was going to fall because I was so shocked. I’ll never forget that pain,” said Kaylen’s mom, Betsy Gehrke, through her tears.

Kaylen’s parents said they are now living every parent’s worst nightmare.

“It’s something that never even entered my mind or crossed– I mean, wouldn’t even begin to consider that possibility,” said Ron Gehrke, Kaylen’s dad.

“It’s just not the natural order of things. It’s not supposed to happen. We’re not supposed to bury our children.”

Betsy Gehrke

Kaylen’s autopsy reveals she died of heatstroke, a dangerous condition that doctors say can happen to anyone.

“This isn’t just limited to those with underlying medical conditions or the elderly. Yes, those are risk factors, but this is something we all have to be aware of,” said Dr. Seemal Desai from Plano, Texas.

Desai explained how the heat can impact us, especially in triple-digit temperatures like we’ve seen all summer in East Texas.

“It’s a delicate balance and kind of a spectrum where the longer you’re exposed, the higher your core body temperature gets, the lack of fluid intake and dehydration and then that excessive perspiration really unfortunately can create that perfect scenario which leads to a really imperfect outcome,” added Dr. Desai.

While this information comes too late for the Gehrke family, they say they now know the dangers of extreme heat.

“I know it’s cooler now, but it’s going to get hot again and people need to know that they need to protect their children. They need to protect each other,” said Betsy.

It’s a long road of healing for Kaylen’s family, and a heartache that few can understand.

“The pain is unimaginable, and only people that have lost a child know exactly what it feels like,” sobbed Betsy.

The Gehrkes said from an early age, Kaylen was happiest outdoors. 

“She was meant to be an archeologist because she started digging in the dirt at like two years old,” said Betsy.

Her parents said they are proud of all she’s accomplished in her 24 years of life. They described her as a kind person who enjoyed helping others.

They said one of her favorite quotes was “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” by Mahatma Gandhi.

If you’d like to learn more about Kaylen or would like to help the Gehrkes, you can visit the following links: