By Emily Zauzmer
July 20, 2018

A teen with autism in Lawrence, Kansas, tragically died of heat exhaustion after a short walk outdoors on a sweltering day earlier this month.

Elijah Mikel, 18, died on July 11 after he and his caretaker went to a nearby nature trail — a walk they often took — amid 102-degree temperatures, WDAF reported.

According to Elijah’s mother Rachel Mikel, the non-verbal teen sat down on the trail during the walk, refusing to stand up. Rachel told WDAF the caretaker called her, but it was too late.

“By the time I got there, and saw him, I knew something was wrong,” she told WDAF. Elijah’s mother and caretaker called 911, the outlet reported, but when emergency responders arrived the boy’s temperature had reached 108 degrees.

Elijah was transported to the hospital, but responders were unable to lower his body temperature, and he died from overheating, the outlet said.

“He was just hot,” Rachel recalled saying to a nurse. “He was just hot.”

Explained Dr. Steve Lauer, University of Kansas Health System associate chair of pediatrics to WDAF, “Being outside in the heat on days like this, it really is hard on the body. No matter what age you are, you can get overheated very quickly and the move from heat exhaustion to heat stroke can happen a whole lot faster than many people appreciate.”

Elijah’s family is now hoping to spread awareness of the dangers of heat exhaustion.

“Drink water. Take a break. Go inside,” Rachel told WDAF. “This is not a joke. It`s not something that happens to other people. This is real. He was 18 and fairly healthy. So just be cautious.”

Rachel remembered her son as a “bright light,” and said he “got joy out of the simplest things.”

“I want to stress the autism didn’t define him,” she added to WDAF. “He was special regardless. You just never know somebody else’s story… And I think something I want everyone to know is you just don’t know other people’s stories and how hard we worked just to get him to say two or three words. It was a challenge we lived with, but it made us love him more and it made us realize how precious life was.”

Rachel did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

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