Former Cambria resident Laura Ivarami battled lupus since she was 5 years old.
Friends and family say she remained focused, positive, humorous and well-rounded — graduating from Coast Union High School in 2006 and then moving on to Sonoma State University. Still, her grandmother recalls her once asking “Why me?”
Ivarami loved playing volleyball. She enjoyed playing the clarinet, violin and ukulele. Ivarami wanted to channel her strength in persisting through the worst of pains to help others as a school counselor in her career.
She died of complications from the autoimmune disease — which affects 1.5 million Americans — on May 9 at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara at age 23.
Days before her death, she was talking to her grandmother, Yoko Stewart, about buying a new laptop that she could use from her hospital bed. She planned to beat her condition yet again.
Ivarami was born in Papua New Guinea and raised in Cambria by her grandmother, a native of Japan.
“I just want to thank all of the people who gave her and our family so much support,” Stewart said. “We’ve had so much love from so many people.”
Stewart would carry Ivarami on her back when she was a young girl too weak to walk. And as a teenager, Ivarami struggled through chemotherapy treatments and massive doses of medication.
Ivarami traveled with her grandmother once a month to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles while still managing high school and other activities.
Ivarami would pull blankets around her and try to sleep on the road trips. The chemotherapy upset her stomach.
But it didn’t stop her from serving as her junior class vice president at Coast Union High School. Her interests included travel, sporting fake tattoos, reading and “guy hunting” with her pals, she told The Tribune in 2006.
“I like to stay busy,” she said. “You can’t let it get you down.”
One of her closest childhood friends said that even after suffering severe health problems, she “could find humor in anything.” “We’d laugh so hard sometimes people would just stare at us,” Blaize Uva said.
Ivarami was nearing the completion of her degree in psychology at Sonoma State when she died. The university awarded her degree posthumously and sent letters and flowers to her family.
Her grandmother said Ivarami couldn’t get all of the medications she needed after she turned 21. Her applications to private insurers and public health programs were declined.
Stewart dabbed her eyes after a recent visit to The Tribune to talk about her granddaughter. She keeps folders filled with family photos, letters, achievements and receipts from medications that cost more than $1,000 a month.
Stewart recalled how she ordered 300 Subway sandwiches for Ivarami’s birthday party one year.
A couple of days after Ivarami’s death, an informal gathering was organized by friends and family at San Simeon Cove. About 70 people attended.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Stewart said. “There were friends, and if her friends couldn’t come, their parents came. It was so many people. I just want to say thank you.”