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Family Mourns Laura Harsh's Death at 37

The death of a child is always devastating, whether the child is a youngster or an adult. Unfortunately, now Centreville's Joe and Trudy Harsh know that firsthand, as they mourn the loss of their daughter, Laura, 37.

She'd had health problems for quite awhile; but still, her death Tuesday night of a blood clot in her heart, at Reston Hospital, caught her parents off guard.

"We didn't expect it now, at all," said her mother. "We're both extremely sad."

Well-known in the local area, the Harshes, of Chalet Woods, have lived in Centreville since 1973. Joe taught history at GMU and Trudy's an advocate for the mentally disabled. Just last month, she received the Nancy McDonald Beyer Exemplary Community Service Award in recognition of all her hard work.

She and Joe also have two grown sons who are married and live locally. However, daughter Laura's life took a different path because of a brain tumor at age 8. Doctors removed it at age 9 but, afterward, said Trudy, "She stayed that age emotionally, socially and physically."

She was intelligent, though, and was a happy person. "She enjoyed people and made them laugh," said her mother. "She was also very religious and attended church in Centreville. And she loved nature and gardening; she loved to grow flowers."

Laura also liked collecting stickers and writing poetry; and a few years ago, she was particularly pleased because she got to attend a meeting of the Poetry Society in Orlando, Fla.

She attended London Towne Elementary, Lanier Middle School and Chantilly High and then transferred to the School for Contemporary Education in Annandale. Afterward, she went to the Devereaux School for the handicapped in Kennesaw, Ga., outside Atlanta.

Laura was there three years learning life and socialization skills and then continued this education for three more years at the Excelsior School in Aurora, Colo. Next came a work skills program for the handicapped in Staunton, Va., followed by two local work-training programs.

"After that, she did piecework for a couple years at Didlake in Manassas, a sheltered workshop for the mentally retarded," said her mother. "She was one of the best ones there and she enjoyed it."

In her mid-20s, Laura entered Fairfax County's Apartment Program, living in an apartment in Reston with two other girls. She then went into Pathway Homes in Reston, a group home for the mentally ill, and spent two years there. She also did volunteer work at a Reston elementary school and at Cameron Glen Nursing Home.

Since the tumor she had as a child affected her endocrine system, Laura also had Prader-Willi Syndrome, which makes people lose control over their eating and believe that they're always hungry. So she also spent a year at the Laura Baker School in Minnesota for those suffering from this affliction. Most recently, though, she was living at home with her parents in Centreville.

But her health problems persisted and, said Trudy Harsh, "She spent over six months in and out of hospitals this year." The end of December, Laura was a patient at Cameron Glen for two days and was then rushed to Reston Hospital and placed on a respirator. Said her mother: "She called me and said she couldn't breathe."

"She'd been so ill for the past two years — always on antibiotics for infections," said Harsh. So, she added, although she didn't expect Laura's death at this particular time, she had a feeling: "I think I knew this was coming, and she did, too."

Viewing will be held Friday, 6-9 p.m., at Price Funeral Home, 9609 Center St. in Manassas. Funeral services are Saturday at 11 a.m. at Centreville United Methodist Church. And burial will be Monday at 11 a.m. at Rest Haven Cemetery in Hagerstown, Md., where Laura's paternal grandparents are buried.

Besides her parents, she's survived by her brother Drew and his wife Lisa of Fairfax, her brother Greg and his wife Bonnie of Centreville and their son Blaine. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to The Brain Foundation, 14735 Jarnigan St., Centreville, VA 20120.