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Remembering Laurie Hoirup

On June 17, I met Laurie Hoirup. She was working her author’s booth at the Cure SMA conference in the Disneyland Hotel, alongside her husband, Jacob.

Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy as a toddler, Hoirup has related how many times medical professionals did not expect her to survive. What she did was carry on, magnificently: Among other achievements, she was appointed to a state disability council in 2005 by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Hoirup earned a master’s degree in rehabilitative counseling and an elementary school teaching credential, and her jobs included advocating for people with developmental disabilities as chief deputy director for a state agency, according to her Web site. She had two grown children and was a grandmother.

Hoirup, 60, had retired from her state agency position, but never from advocating for opportunities for those with disabilities. She wrote several books, including one for children called “Being Different is Okay… My Disability Is Part of Who I Am.” She traveled extensively, though she wasn’t far from her Northern California home when I met her in Anaheim.

She was friendly and warm, and pointed out that “Lauries of a certain age” tended to spell their names the way she and I did. I laughed, acknowledging that I was indeed a Laurie of That Age.

Scouring newswire reports after the Independence Day weekend, I came across an account of a woman named Laurell L. Hoirup who had drowned when her wheelchair fell into the Sacramento River after holiday fireworks. With a sinking heart, I looked up the news report, then another. Laurell Hoirup was Laurie.

Laurie Hoirup didn’t die of SMA, despite all the doctors who expected her to. She died while in her community, with her family, in the middle of a busy life that few medical experts could have envisioned when she was diagnosed in the 1950s.

To parents who heard her story at the SMA conference, I imagine Laurie embodied hope and opportunities for their own children. To me, in our short meeting, Laurie embodied what can happen when you push ahead with life anyway. I’m thankful to have met her.

Posted by Laurie Watanabe on Aug 12, 2016

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