A Life Lived: Lauren Matta

Lauren Matta's senior picture from Pinelands Regional High School was taken last spring, shortly before she found out she had an aggressive form of leukemia.

Photo provided by the Matta family

Lauren Matta was on schedule to graduate last week with her Pinelands Regional High School class, but she didn’t get the chance.

The New Gretna resident died last month at 17, of complications from leukemia.

Regardless, her mother, Tracy, her father, Chris, and older and younger brothers, Christopher and Craig, all went to the graduation. And when Lauren’s name was called with the other seniors, her mom walked up to get the diploma.

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That was “hard, really hard,” Tracy Matta said a few days later. “She was looking forward to graduating and going off to college.”

Lauren had to spend most of her senior year in A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., instead of school. She was diagnosed in May 2011 with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive blood cancer. Still, Lauren kept up with her studies, with the help of a tutor in the hospital, and her own determination.

“She didn’t care about the prom,” said Megan Carville, a duPont nurse who had spent lots of time since last June with Lauren. “She just wanted to graduate. All she wanted was to walk across that stage.”

The 25-year-old nurse was impressed by the 16-year-old patient’s maturity, selflessness and sense of humor.

“I used to push her to do what she had to do, even if she didn’t want to,” Carville said. “So she told me I was the big sister she never had — and never wanted.”

The nurse laughed, repeating that wise-guy line, but Carville was amazed by the teenager’s concern for other people.

“It wasn’t about her — it was about the other kids on the (hospital) floor,” the nurse said. “Or her brother. ... She worried that (Craig) didn’t get to spend enough time with his mom because Tracy was always here with Lauren.”

But Lauren impressed lots of people in her 17 years. Family friend Anne Marie Galfo, of Little Egg Harbor Township, helped organize a bone-marrow-donor drive in February, when Lauren needed a transplant. More than 1,000 people stood in line or went online to see if they were a match for her.

“A lot of the people only wanted to (donate) for Lauren,” Galfo said. “But most were saying, ‘I’ll do it for anybody.’”

Galfo said she wants to keep running donor drives, and that Lauren had planned to help when she got healthy.

Tracy Matta said Lauren never stopped planning her future, until the very end.

In May, “She was on a ventilator and taken off,” Tracy said. “She was off for a few days, and heavily sedated. I told her, ‘You have to get better. You have a lot coming up — you’re going to graduate.’ She said, ‘Mom, I’m not going to make that.’ That’s all she said, and she went back to sleep.”

Four days later, Lauren died.

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