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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Marisa Auerbach, 22; organ donor backer had new heart

MARISA AUERBACH

MARISA AUERBACH

In an unexpected rainbow, Marisa Auerbach savored beauty others might miss by not lingering to look, and her appreciation was there for all to see and share.

“I could hear her amazing laugh from miles away,” her youngest sister Emily said during Ms. Auerbach’s funeral, adding that “when Marisa smiled, everyone smiled.”

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Making collages with her two younger sisters, piling on blankets for a sleepover, or adding to the 100 or so nail polish bottles that filled her bedroom, Ms. Auerbach ­inspired all to find joy in ordinary moments.

“She could look past all the stress in life and the societal norm to go to college and make a million dollars,” said her other sister, Sarah. “The most ­important thing to her was to do what made her happy all the time. Most of us forget that life is short.”

Life stretched a decade longer for Ms. Auerbach after she received a heart transplant from Cynthia Lucero, the 28-year-old psychologist who collapsed during the Boston Marathon in 2002 after becoming overhydrated.

Ms. Auerbach, who quietly and forcefully became an advocate for organ donation, urging friends, students, and state workers to make their wishes known, died of heart failure Oct. 14 in Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

She was 22 and lived in ­Sharon.

In February, she was diagnosed with a type of lymphoma that afflicts some patients who take medication to suppress the immune system after a transplant.

Chemotherapy weakened the new heart that had allowed her to more vigorously partake of life.

Ms. Auerbach participated in the benefit race named for Lucero and once wrote in an essay: “I run in her memory. . . . I run with her family, and her friends. But most of all, I run because I can.”

Lucero, she wrote, “will ­always be close to me, because her heart beats inside of me. She helped so many people, but for me, she gave me the gift of life: a new, healthy heart.”

Born in Brigham and Women’s, Ms. Auerbach was diagnosed as a baby with cardio­myopathy and during her first dozen years had to walk while others ran.

Some summers she traveled to Vermont, where she studied art at the Putney School, crafting jewelry, stained glass, and collages that displayed inspirational phrases.

“When she got her heart, she ran and did everything,” said her mother, Andrea.

“She was normal for 10 years.”

Ms. Auerbach became an ambassador for organ donation, speaking to workers at the state Registry of Motor ­Vehicles office in Brockton and to anyone else who wavered when deciding whether or not to check the donor box.

“She used to speak to kids in high school and college about the benefits of organ donation,” said her father, Victor. “I believe that she saved a lot of lives by making people aware.”

Graduating from Sharon High School in 2008, she spent a year at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania and then attended Massasoit Community College.

While at Edinboro, she alarmed her father by calling to say she couldn’t find her health insurance card. His concerns did not diminish when she said she needed the card to go skydiving.

“Then she said: ‘Oh, never mind, I just found it. Talk to you soon,’ ” he said at the ­funeral. “Ninety minutes later she called me from a field in Ohio. She thought she was ­invincible.”

No one could blame her for thinking so. She had a marathon runner’s heart and had persevered through a lifetime of hospitals, major surgery, and endless pills.

“She has always been an ­invincible superhero in my eyes,” Sarah said at the funeral. “Every essay that I have ever been assigned to write about a hero has been about Marisa. But whenever I told her that she was so brave and so strong . . . she always shook her head and told me that she was given this life and that I would be as brave as her if I was put into her situation.”

Knowing life was precious and tenuous, Ms. Auerbach did not scrimp on everyday pleasures, whether bringing home a cat to join the household or taking a job at a cosmetics store to indulge her taste for fashion and makeup.

“She enjoyed the small stuff and loved life in the simple ­moments that many people ignore,” Sarah said at the funeral, adding that her sister “vowed to live life with no regrets, and I am so proud of her for fulfilling that promise.”

In 2005, three years after the heart transplant, Ms. ­Auerbach told the Globe that friends at school sometimes did not grasp the enormity of what she had gone through.

“They know what happened, but I don’t think they know how I feel,” said Ms. ­Auerbach, who was 14 at the time. “I feel very thankful.”

At her sister’s funeral, Sarah said one of Ms. Auerbach’s ­“favorite quotes goes like this: ‘Some people come into our lives and quickly go. . . . others stay for a while and leave footprints on our hearts . . . and we are changed forever.’ She is ­only 22 years old, but she has left footprints on each and ­every one of our hearts, and, thanks to her, we are forever changed.”

In addition to her parents and two sisters, Ms. Auerbach leaves her paternal grandmother, Roslyn of Brockton, and her step-grandmother, Karen Rapp of Sarasota, Fla.

“I am truly blessed to have gotten to have you in my life,” her sister Emily said at the ­funeral.

“God needs you up there for a reason,” she said. “Marisa, my beautiful warrior, you are the strongest of them all. . . . I love you past the world, now and forever.”

Just before illness sent Ms. Auerbach to the hospital for her remaining weeks, she and her family drove on a rainy Friday to Cape Cod, where for years she loved to spend vacations in the sun.

Ms. Auerbach was born on the Fourth of July, and “every year she would look forward to the summer and going to the beach,” Sarah said in an interview.

“To her, it was always the best time of her life: Every summer, going to Cape Cod.”

During the drive down on Sept. 21, though, a rainbow suddenly stretched across the sky as the Auerbachs ­approached their hotel.

“As we got closer, it got larger and larger,” her mother said during Ms. Auerbach’s funeral.

“We had never seen such a big rainbow before. She was snapping so many pictures of it.”

“I believe that she is now somewhere over the rainbow,” her mother said.

“She was always so full of beautiful colors. And now when you see a beautiful rainbow in the sky that is our Marisa, shining bright over us and full of beautiful colors.”

Bryan Marquard
can be reached at
bmarquard@globe.com
.

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