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Family, Friends Mourn Death of Eddie Hurley

Only 25, former Oakton football player dies of meningitis/encephalitis.

On the first play from scrimmage during the first football game of his senior year at Oakton High School in the fall of 1995, Eddie Hurley, an offensive lineman, broke his femur and tore his ACL. Hurley vowed to play again before the end of the season, and he did.

In fourth grade, Eddie Hurley stepped on the campus of the University of Virginia for the first time. "His mind was made up right then and there," his mom, Kathleen Hurley said. "He was going to do anything it took to go there." Nine years later, Eddie Hurley returned to the Charlottesville campus as a college freshman.

While in school, his friends insisted, there was no contest that Eddie Hurley wouldn't enter, and couldn't win. Before he graduated, Hurley, a health nut, won hamburger and donut eating contests. Six 'Gus Burgers' in four minutes? Pass the trophy. Thirteen Krispy Kreme donuts in one sitting? Piece of cake. "He loved competition," said Suzzette Hurley, his wife. "And he hated to lose."

So when a nagging fever landed the otherwise happy and healthy 25-year-old in the hospital at the end of February, those closest to him had little doubt, he would fight it and win.

Besides, it was not like Eddie Hurley to get sick. In the five years, she had known him, Suzzette Hurley thought he might have had the flu once, maybe. He prided himself on staying physically fit and healthy, she said. So when her husband woke up in the middle of the night after a quiet and relaxing Valentine's Day night at home, it was notable but not alarming.

"The next day, he drove me into D.C. for a mock court competition," said Suzzette Hurley, a second-year law student at George Mason University. "He still had a low-grade fever, 99.8, but otherwise he seemed fine."

One month later, Suzette Hurley, a 25-year-old widow, was delivering the eulogy for her late husband in the same Herndon church, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, where the couple was married less than two years before. Two days later, on St. Patrick's Day, Eddie Hurley's ashes were laid to rest at Fairfax Memorial Park. "For a good Irish Catholic boy, I guess that is appropriate," his wife said.

<b>FOR MORE THAN A WEEK</b> after waking up with a fever, Eddie Hurley had what Suzzette Hurley described as "general malaise." But on Feb. 25, Eddie Hurley's condition took a turn for the worse. "It was very peculiar," his wife recalled. "His balance was off and his speech was slurred. We went right to the hospital."

After a myriad of blood tests, MRIs, EEDs and ultrasounds, Suzzette Hurley said the doctors could not determine what was wrong with her husband and each day, she said, he got steadily worse.

"Eddie wasn't talking — he wasn't able to. He seemed anxious and nervous and he wasn't able to verbalize his thoughts," Suzzette Hurley said. "But still you could tell his biggest concern was for me and his mom. That is the kind of man he was."

Five days after checking in to Reston Hospital, Eddie Hurley was flown to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. By that time, Eddie Hurley was not responsive and had fallen into a coma.

Eventually doctors diagnosed their patient with meningitis, an infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, and encephalitis, the inflammation of the brain.

On March 9 and 10, Eddie Hurley underwent a series of tests which revealed no brain activity. On March 10, only 25 days after first coming down with a fever on Valentine's Day, the 25-year-old Eddie Hurley, surrounded by friends and family, died on the same campus that he first fell in love with more than 15 years ago.

His parents said they used to tease Eddie, the oldest of three children, that he was a "lucky one." From carnival games to sports, Eddie seemed to live a "charmed" life, his mom said. "But when we needed that luck the most, it wasn't there," she said, crying. "The doctors told us that he was just 'plain unlucky.'"

To this day, doctors at UVA are neither sure of what caused the illness nor whether it was viral or bacterial in nature. The investigation is ongoing.

For some in the Hurley family, like his mom, knowing the exact cause of Eddie's illness is very important. His dad, Edward Hurley, Jr., on the other hand, feels less strongly. "Would I like to know? Of course, but I don't think it is all that important," he said. "As long as I believe what I am told that it is some freakish off the wall explanation, then I am OK. I can deal with that."

<b>WITH QUESTIONS LEFT</b> unanswered and an apartment full of happy yet painful memories, Suzzette Hurley struggles to come to grips with her new role in life. "He made me complete," she said, recently. "In time, I will live out his legacy."

For those who knew Eddie Hurley, his legacy is complete. It is one, they say, of compassion and commitment, faith and family, softball games and pig roasts, and career advice and Cavalier football.

On campus, Eddie Hurley was actively involved in the Catholic Student Association and translated his love for the outdoors into a job on the athletic department grounds crew. He graduated in 2000 with a degree in electrical engineering. After graduation, Hurley moved back to Herndon where he took a job with Lockheed Martin. In June 2001, the college sweethearts married in Herndon. He will receive his master's degree posthumously in systems engineering from Virginia Tech in May.

Mike Belardo grew up with Eddie Hurley in Herndon. "We were really close," said Belardo, who is now an Air Force instructor pilot in Texas. "I loved the fact that he had a thirst and a passion for life."

When Belardo went away to the Air Force Academy, he said he always knew he had a friend back in Virginia. "Whenever we got back to Herndon, the first thing we would do is head to Anita's or the Vienna Inn for some chili dogs," he said. "He honestly cared about what you were doing and what you were up to."

Neal Chaisson, Eddie Hurley's best man, couldn't agree more. Chaisson and Hurley were roommates in college. "Eddie was loyal to a fault. He would defend you even if he thought you were wrong," Chaisson said. "He worked hard at making sure you knew he was your buddy."

A first year medical student at UVA, Chaisson is back on the Charlottesville campus where he and Eddie Hurley used to hold "legendary" pig roasts, sing Garth Brooks' songs together and cheer on the football team.

Tara Swaminantha, another college friend, will miss one thing about Eddie Hurley more than anything: his hugs. "What can I say, but he gave real good hugs," she said. "They weren't too long or too short. They were always just right. I miss that."

<b>"WHEN I CLOSE MY EYES</b> at night I can feel a sense of his positive energy," Suzzette Hurley said, fighting back tears. "He had the kindest heart of anyone I could ever want to know and he was the most optimistic person in the world."

The sudden and unexpected loss of your husband can test your faith, Suzzette Hurley admitted. "Eddie was committed to faith in a way that I never was," she said. "While my religion has been a tremendous source of strength for me, Eddie's death has made think. What was so clear to me before doesn't seem so clear now. I am struggling with a lot of things."

While Suzzette Hurley struggles with the loss of her husband, her father-in-law, Edward Hurley, Jr., a facilities analyst for Canon Business Solutions in Arlington, must deal with the loss of his oldest child. "As a father, you always anticipate that you will go first," he said. "And because of the kind of guy Eddie was, I always anticipated that his mother would be in good hands once I was gone. That was always very reassuring, so I don't have that peace of mind anymore."

Shortly before his death, Eddie Hurley told his wife how happy he was with his marriage, his life, and his job. 'If I died today, I'd be happy,' Suzzette Hurley recalls him saying to her.

For a young widow struggling to find meaning in the loss of her husband, this means a lot. "As hard as it has been to find comfort, knowing that he was happy is important," she said. "Eddie was not someone who put things off, so I know he could not have left earth with any regrets."

Like Suzzette Hurley, Eddie's parents and sister, Kelly, found something to hold on to during these difficult times, as well. "He knew how we felt about him and he knew we loved him. We weren't shy handing out kisses and hugs," his father said. "I know a lot of people have regrets that they lost an opportunity to say things they wanted. We don't have those regrets."

But just because he knew his parents loved him, doesn't take away the pain of a lost child, his mom and dad said.

"I guess knowing that he's not going to knock on the back door to change his oil or wash his car," his dad said. "That is very difficult."

His mom, a teacher at St. Joseph's, is no different. "He was just a good kid," his mom said. "He was my first born, and I loved him to death. We feel blessed to have had him for 25 years, but I will miss him everyday of the rest of my life."

Kelly Hurley, 21, followed in her big brother's footsteps and attended UVA, where she will graduate later this month. Eddie Hurley was a senior when his sister was a freshman and she said he kept a watchful eye over his little sister. "He was worse than my dad," she joked. "He meant well."

"He took his role as big brother very seriously," Suzzette Hurley said. "Eddie loved Kelly and Patrick so much. I know he was so proud of both of them."

Like any siblings, Kelly Hurley said she and her older brother had their share of arguments and disagreements, but she took heart in an e-mail she sent her brother on Valentine's Day, just hours before he became sick. "I know we don't always get along and we argue a lot," the note read. "But I love you a lot."