Sudden illness takes 'child of my heart'

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Rachel Elizabeth Carson, an 18-year-old senior at Johnston High School who died on January 14 following a brief illness, is being remembered by family, friends, teachers and classmates for her creativity, passion, talent, and love of nature.

“She’s a child of my heart,” said Rachel’s mother, Mardee. “She was a Renaissance child.”

According to Mardee, the cause of Rachel’s sudden death was complications from acute leukemia. Rachel’s passing was a complete and utter surprise to her family.

“She never had leukemia growing up. Everyone thinks it’s a childhood cancer. We had no reason at all to suspect that this was going to happen,” said Mardee.

When Rachel first started showing signs of illness early this month, her parents took her to the emergency room at Fatima Hospital, where she was presented as lethargic with a low grade fever and a sore throat. After Rachel suffered a series of seizures, a critical care transport was initiated to Rhode Island Hospital, where she later passed away.

“She was back to school the day after break, she came home, got sick, and we figured it was the stomach bug because everything pointed to the flu,” said Mardee. “Within ten days, she was gone.”   

Rachel’s family moved to Johnston from north Georgia about seven years ago. While she attended Ferri Middle School, Rachel sang for her church choir and explored her interests in art and music.  

“From the time she picked up the bass clarinet in the seventh grade she’s made All-State Band,” said Mardee. 

Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo said that Rachel was very involved with the high school’s music department and program. He called Rachel “a budding artist” and highlighted the fact that some of her artwork is displayed at the central office.

“Anytime you lose a student that’s a great loss for the school, a great loss for the school community. I know her co-band members were hit hard by the loss, and certainly her teachers were hit hard by the loss,” said DiLullo. “Our thoughts and our prayers and our condolences go out to the family.”

Music teacher and band director Ronald Lamoureux said he and the students Rachel played with were “blindsided” by her loss and shocked and saddened to lose such a good friend.

“The kids in the program tend to be involved for several years with really demanding schedules and work-loads; they build close relationships that are more akin to family dynamics than to school peer dynamics,” said Lamoureux. “Rachel was extremely talented and had a very eclectic set of interests. She auditioned for the Rhode Island Music Education Association All-State ensembles and was selected to play bass clarinet in the All-State Band. She was a perennial member of the All-State ensembles. She also was a talented vocalist with an excellent sense of pitch and superb musicianship.”

Lamoureux added that Rachel was very creative and funny and that last year she helped write some of the skits for their “Friday Night Live” sketch comedy night. He said that Rachel acted in the skits and did a great impression of Mr. Morrell, the school’s principal. Lamoureux said Rachel was “very conscientious and always delivered what she promised.”

“I also know that she had a great deal of talent in the visual arts and was passionate about science,” he said. “We’re all sad for Rachel’s family but also for ourselves to be without a person that we all grew very attached to.”

Rachel delved into science as a member of the Chemistry Club, joining in her sophomore year. 

“Her passion for science was infectious and she always had new ideas for the direction of the club,” said club advisor Stephen Pickin, a science teacher at the high school. “She happily participated in all our activities and was always a key member of the club.  Rachel will be sorely missed by all of us.”

Johnston High School Principal Dennis Morrell said the students and teachers at the school are doing their best to cope with Rachel’s loss.

“The school’s come together, the senior class has really come together. They’ll be making a collection in Rachel’s memory and presenting it to her parents, as well as the Student Council, which are planning something in her honor and memory,” said Morrell. “She was a quiet kid but very bright, a talented musician and artist. She kept to herself and had a close group of friends, but she was very dedicated to animals and the environment. We’ll be collecting donations for the Audubon Society in her memory, because that’s the kind of kid she was.”

Mardee said that her daughter was to attend the University of Maine, where she planned to study wildlife ecology, and was getting ready to go off to college this fall. She said Rachel loved learning and wanted to share what she knew.

“We have our ups and downs, I cry, I smile. I’m trying for normalcy, but we’re angry and we’re accepting,” said Mardee of her and her husband Kevin’s loss. “It’s all a big jumble right now and this whole time we’re juggling with stuff you have to do in daily life and plan her memorial. Oh, my gosh, it’s a chore, it’s a real trial.”

A memorial service to celebrate Rachel’s life will be held on Saturday, February 3 at 11:00 a.m. at the First Unitarian Church of Providence, located at 1 Benevolent Street in Providence. Mardee said the service would be open to all.

“I would like people to know how much she loved nature and the environment, and how much she cared about that,” said Mardee. “She loved being in the outdoors and camping and hiking, and she wanted to share her love for the environment and nature with the world, so that they could know the same love that she had. The earth lost a warrior. She was going to change the world, I know it.”

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