Abigail Burroughs, the University of Virginia student whose battle against cancer captured the spirit of an extended community stretching across the country, died of the disease in her sleep Saturday afternoon at her Falls Church home, family members said.
The 21-year-old honors student spent the final five months of her life struggling against cancer in her head, neck and lungs, and against pharmaceutical companies that refused to provide her with experimental drugs that some doctors said might have helped her.
Her story, and the efforts of those who fought to help her, quickly spread from her close friends to university students and faculty, local politicians, Capitol Hill, church groups and fellow cancer patients. People who knew her well and not at all became her life support.
Their contributions -- big and small -- were all equally meaningful, family members said yesterday. Virginia Sens. George Allen (R) and John W. Warner (R) sent letters to the drug firms on her behalf, and a group of Sunday school students in Southern Maryland mailed her personal cards and pictures. A petition that circulated through U-Va. was signed by more than 6,600 people. In recent days, sympathizers from as far away as Arizona sent words of support and offers of help to the family.
"There were lots and lots of wonderful people," her father, Frank Burroughs, said yesterday. "She very much wanted to get the word out that she wished she could thank them all."
Burroughs's final hours were spent in a recliner, where she rested for much of her last days. Her mother, Kathleen Dunn, said she talked about dying Friday night and awoke Saturday urgently requesting a videotape of "Tuesdays With Morrie," a television movie about dealing with death.
"I think she thought 'Tuesdays With Morrie' was something [that] would help" her parents, Dunn said. They did not get a chance to see it.
Burroughs's death was a bitter conclusion to her struggle for experimental drugs, friends and family members said yesterday. The companies she petitioned for months, AstraZeneca and ImClone Systems Inc., don't provide drugs for her type of cancer on a "compassionate use" basis -- a program in which pharmaceutical companies provide unapproved drugs for those with no other options. After hearing about her case, OSI Pharmaceuticals, maker of an experimental drug that has shown promise for Burroughs's type of cancer, last week arranged for her to take part in a clinical trial -- but it was too late.
Establishing a foundation to help others get drugs on a compassionate use basis was something Frank Burroughs and Abigail had talked about. Burroughs said he plans to launch it with the aid of people he has met in the last few months.
One of those people, Jullian Grante, was on Capitol Hill yesterday lobbying lawmakers. "We're going to continue this fight in Abigail's honor to help other individuals and families going through this same thing," said Grante, senior partner in the Spotsylvania County law firm J. Irving & Draper.
Frank Burroughs said that he feels twinges of anger at the companies and their refusals but that he prefers to spend his time focusing on positives, as his daughter wished.
Yesterday he remembered trips to the zoo -- Abigail so loved it that they went there eight times one year -- and vacations to Disney World, Hawaii and Europe. The family also made many trips to Chincoteague, Va., where Abigail's parents, now divorced but united in their daughter's struggles, will take another ride sometime soon to spread her ashes, another of her wishes.
In addition to her parents, survivors include her stepfather, Gene Krueger, and stepbrothers, William and Christopher Krueger. There will be a viewing from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. today at Murphy Funeral Homes in Falls Church.