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Adrian Walker

Legacies of endurance

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / April 22, 2008

There's a song by The Calling with lyrics that stuck in Laura Dempsey's mind yesterday. The song is called "Our Lives" and it includes the following verse:

Cause these are the
days worth living
These are the years we're given
And these are the moments
These are the times
Let's make the best
out of our lives

Actually, the song wasn't just in her mind: the last line was written on the singlet she wore as she ran the Boston Marathon in memory of her late friend, Laura Linehan.

Dempsey has run the race the last three years to honor her friend, and to raise money for the American Liver Foundation; yesterday, she ran it in her friend's memory. Linehan, of Melrose, died during liver transplant surgery earlier this month.

"I had her in my mind the whole time," Dempsey, of Watertown, said after the race, which she finished in a little over four hours. "In some ways it was very motivating, and in other ways it was sad. I was very heartbroken that she wasn't going to be here physically. I just put one foot in front of the other. She was with me every step of the way."

Linehan died at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., after battling liver disease for much of her life. She contracted liver disease as an infant. During transplant surgery when she was 2, she received a blood transfusion that resulted in her contracting Hepatitis C.

Her final days could not have been more wrenching. She was near death when her parents made a televised appeal for a liver. A donor liver was located at 5 a.m. the next morning - the miracle her family and many friends had been hoping for. But a few hours later, unable to withstand the surgery, she was gone. She was 20 years old.

Unlike most people of any age, though, Linehan left a legacy. She and her family became actively - urgently - involved in persuading the public to become organ donors, and her life has helped raise awareness about liver disease.

Ann Linehan, Laura's mother, was at her daughter's side for every gut-wrenching second of her ordeal. Yesterday she was on the course, in Coolidge Corner, cheering Dempsey on.

"I'm still trying to recover from three things," she said. "One, her death itself; two, the horrible 18 days she spent in (intensive care) before she died; and three, the past 19 years of living with liver disease. Now, it's all gone."

Her daughter's death has left her with a purpose. "I'm determined to have her life make a difference," Linehan said. "Although she can't continue on, our family will, and we want to raise awareness and find a cure for hepatitis."

Linehan went to a brunch at the Westin Copley Place Sunday saluting some of the runners. The team running for liver research - some 248 strong - was honored, and there were tributes to Laura Linehan.

"Laura would have been thrilled," Linehan said. "She and Laura were so close, and supporting her in her run was something Laura always wanted to do."

The Lauras, Dempsey and Linehan, got to know each other a few years ago, when Dempsey was preparing for her first marathon run. They formed an instant bond, one that has changed Dempsey's life. She worked in sales at the time, unhappily. Now she works as a fund-raiser for the American Liver Foundation.

"I learned a lot about liver disease during my first run," said Dempsey, 32. She raised $11,000 yesterday for research. "Everything in my life changed after getting to know Laura and to know about the ALF."

That song Dempsey quoted on her back had been played at Laura Linehan's graveside. The song is not about death, which is precisely why it reminds her of her late friend.

"It's not about dying, it's about living, and how we have to make the most of our lives," Dempsey said. "That's exactly what she did in her short time."

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

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