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Sunday, January 25, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Laura Lustig's short life leaves lasting impression

By Nguyen Huy Vu
Seattle Times staff reporter

Laura Lustig
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Laura Lustig was always smiling. Family members remember her wide-eyed grins were already illuminating rooms and melting hearts of everyone she touched at a week old.

"She was always a happy girl," said her mother, Shelagh Lustig, of Seattle. "So many people who knew Laura loved her."

On Jan. 17, the Wedgwood Elementary School fourth-grader died from complications of a brain infection. She was 10.

Born May 17, 1993, at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Laura was diagnosed with a brain disorder that delayed her motor skills, affected her speech and weakened her immune system. But John Lustig said the illness never limited his daughter. She excelled in school, was popular with her classmates and charmed everyone she met.

Her mother said Laura was someone who was always sympathetic and a great comforter.

"If someone she knew or loved wasn't feeling well, she would go and pat their arm and hug them," she said.

"If John was in his office upstairs in our house and Laura was in the main floor and she heard him sneeze, Laura was there handing him a Kleenex."

She was also independent. On Jan. 8, Wedgwood Elementary awarded her a "Student of the Month" certificate.

"I told her, 'I wish I could have seen you get the award,' " Shelagh Lustig said. "But she put up her hand as if to say, 'No, Mom, I wanted to do it myself.' "

On Jan. 9, Laura's health began to deteriorate. A raspy cough that developed just after Christmas had gotten worse.

Her father said he knew something was wrong when his routine-driven daughter didn't tell him good night.

When the family tried to get her out of bed for a doctor's appointment the next morning, she couldn't move her left arm or leg and was crying.

At the hospital, Laura recognized a doctor on the way to the emergency room and managed to smile.

"That was the last Laura moment," her father said.

Tests failed to determine the cause of the infection that was swelling her brain. She was put on a ventilator, but her condition never improved. She was taken off the ventilator on the afternoon of Jan. 17. Her family was with her when she died.

More than 500 teachers, friends and family members packed Laura's memorial service Wednesday at Assumption Church in Seattle.

John Lustig said the turnout was a testament to his daughter's profound effect on everyone she came across.

"The outpouring of emotion from people was incredible," he said. "So many people came up to us to thank us for sharing her with them."

Janice Israel, one of Laura's former teacher assistants, wrote a memorial letter to her, saying that she felt an immediate "bond" when they met.

"You were always so happy and so positive and that wonderful smile touched my soul and spirit," Israel wrote.

"It amazed me how much your love for life bounced off and touched everyone, especially me."

Laura is survived by her parents and 16-year-old sister, Caitlin, as well as grandparents, a great-grandfather and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

In lieu of flowers, the Lustig family asks that contributions be made to either Wedgwood Elementary School, at 2720 N.E. 85th St., Seattle, WA 98115, or to Boyer Children's Clinic, at 1850 Boyer Ave. E., Seattle, WA 98112.

Nguyen Huy Vu: 206-464-3292 or vnguyen2@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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