- Associated Press - Saturday, July 29, 2017

CROWN POINT, Ind. (AP) - Lauren Townsend had an incurable autoimmune disease that caused her to have her large intestine and two fingers removed. Yet the Crown Point woman still had an infectiously cheerful personality, mentoring young girls at her church until her final days.

Sharifa Townsend continues to carry on her late daughter’s spirit of giving. She started a foundation, called Love Laila (her daughter’s middle name), to raise money for the condition that took Lauren’s life, Crohn’s disease. Sharifa is also hosting the inaugural Northwest Indiana Crohn’s and colitis walk in August in Highland.

“She was a beautiful girl,” Sharifa said. “She had very, effervescent personality, a very, sweet, warm, caring personality. In spite of her condition, she wanted to do for other people.”

At age 16, Lauren began suffering from severe abdominal pain and other digestive ailments. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Over the next 10 years, she would undergo eight separate surgeries.

Still, Lauren continued to live life. She graduated from Merrillville High School. She went to college for nursing. Having spent so much time in hospitals and doctor’s offices, she hoped to one day help bring more compassion to the medical profession.

She never got the chance.

Doctors eventually determined she had Crohn’s disease, a condition similar to ulcerative colitis that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. By this point, her disease had progressed to the point there was nothing that could be done. Still, she kept working at Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center and as a waitress at Cooper’s Hawk.

“She needed that,” Sharifa said. “She needed to feel normal in spite of her condition.”

Lauren stayed involved at her church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Gary, where she served as the co-youth director. She mentored numerous girls, including Connie Martin-Washington’s 11-year-old daughter, Kai Washington.

“We know that Lauren was struggling physically, yet she attended church every Sunday,” said Martin-Washington, of Munster, the co-founder of the Love Laila Crohn’s Foundation. “She gave her all to the young girls at the church … letting them know to to be confident, to have high self-esteem, to walk in their grace.”

Lauren stuck with her education, despite being in and out of the hospital with infections. She earned her nursing degree a month before her death at age 26, on Dec. 30, 2014.

After Lauren died, Sharifa’s grieving process “was to heal by doing something for someone else,” she said.

She participated in the annual Crohn’s and Colitis Walk in Chicago, raising $17,000 in the two years she attended. Mark Langan, executive director of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation for Illinois and Wisconsin, remembers meeting Sharifa for the first time.

“On a rainy, cold Saturday in the spring, Sharifa and a team of about 70 people showed up at the walk in tutus and fluorescent hats and were just the life of the party,” he said. “It was really a celebration of her daughter’s life. It really kind of set the tone for the event.”

But there isn’t a walk in Northwest Indiana. So Sharifa decided to start her own.

In the process, she hopes to raise awareness about the importance of early diagnosis. She says adolescents who experiencing chronic irritable bowel syndromes - abdominal pain, blood in the stool, diarrhea - should seek medical attention. Crohn’s disease most commonly occurs between the ages of 15 and 35 years old.

She also wants to spread the word about eating the proper diet if you have an inflammatory bowel disease. Lauren consumed a lot of spicy food in high school and college, which Sharifa believes exacerbated the Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis affect 1 in 200 people, yet there is no cure. Sharifa Townsend hopes to help find one.

Either way, her daughter, despite having her life cut short, will have made quite an impact on the world.

“If there’s anybody I would want my daughter to be like, it would be Lauren,” Martin-Washington said.

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Source: The (Northwest Indiana) Times,

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Information from: The Times, https://www.nwitimes.com


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