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Student dies after year in coma


Photo
Djamila Noelle Grossman/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Father Harry holds the Memorial Service for Sharlene Willingham at the St. Pius X Church Friday. Willingham, a UA student, died last week after a year in coma.
By Nicole Santa Cruz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 3, 2005
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A UA student died last week after being in a coma for almost a year.

Friends and family gathered at St. Pius X Church on the east side of town Friday to pay their last respects to Sharlene Willingham, a 48-year-old family studies and human development senior who died after being hit by a car and contracting a fatal infection while in a coma.

Willingham was crossing the street on campus at North Campbell Avenue and East Second Street at 12:36 p.m. Oct. 18 when she was hit by a car and fell into a coma. Willingham, who wanted to be a family counselor, was a compassionate person who could relate to other people with ease, said Lenora Tanaka, a close family friend who spoke openly about Willingham at her funeral.

"She was very much looking forward to graduating and finally starting a career that would finally be her niche in society," Tanaka said.

Willingham also had two sons, Jeremy, 14, and Ryan, 8.

"Her life was for the boys," Richard said. "They meant everything in the world to her."

Richard described his wife as "the most wonderful caring person" and said even though Willingham knew the pay wouldn't be good as a family counselor, she wanted to do it anyway.

"I don't think I will ever find anyone to compare to her," Richard said. "I could never replace her."

Tanaka said she met Willingham after her daughter and Willingham's younger son started kindergarten together.

Willingham comforted Tanaka, who was attempting to deal with separation anxiety that parents often feel when their children attend school for the first time, Tanaka said.

"She was just really understanding," Tanaka said. "She was a great listener."

Tanaka said she visited Willingham for the six days leading up to her death at Hospice Family Center on North Swan Road and East River Road, and also any time she could at other various hospitals Willingham was staying during the course of the year.

Tanaka said would do things like wash and braid Willingham's hair or give her manicures and pedicures.

She hoped Willingham would wake up and see she was being cared for, but she never did, Tanaka said.

"I think the thing that makes it a little easier is knowing that finally she's in a better place, that she's not in a suspended state," Tanaka said.



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