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Lara Wallace Hough, seventh grade student who cheered the underdog, dies

Lara Hough aspired to go to Princeton.
Lara Hough aspired to go to Princeton.

Lara Wallace Hough, a seventh grade student at Notre Dame Preparatory School who always rooted for the underdog, died of leukemia Wednesday at her home in the Homeland neighborhood. She was 13.

Born in New York City, she grew up in Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia, before enrolling at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson in 2018 after she and her family moved to Baltimore.

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“She walked in the door knowing no one,” said the school’s headmistress, Sister Patricia McCarron,“and what a special gift she was to us. Lara was full of grace in the way she lived, in the way she interacted and in the way she approached her illness. She had a contagious smile. Her strength was an inspiration.”

Lara was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in January 2019 and underwent treatment at Johns Hopkins Medical Center’s Children’s Cancer Center.

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“Lara was wise beyond her years,” said Abby Peko-Spicer, her social worker at Gilchrist Hospice. “She embodied grace under pressure. She was poised, funny and insightful.”

“I met Lara in January 2019, a scared 12-year-old who had no idea why she had been feeling so badly. It took a team effort to figure out the mystery that was going on in Lara’s bone marrow — myelodysplastic syndrome — relatively common in adult, but incredibly rare in children,” said Dr. Cara A. Rabik, her Johns Hopkins physician. “That led us down another path to figure out why Lara had such a ‘zebra’ of a diagnosis.”

Dr. Rabik said that with the help of the leukemia geneticists, "we were able to identify that Lara had a genetic predisposition to MDS and that she would need a bone marrow transplant to prevent it from getting worse. ...

“With the panache and strength that typified every aspect of Lara, she fought through two cycles of chemotherapy, and we were thrilled that her bone marrow showed no evidence of leukemia as she underwent her bone marrow transplant — remarkably the first extended length of time that she spent in the hospital,” Dr. Rabik said. “She sailed through transplant with none of the complications that we feared, but just three months later, the leukemia reared its ugly head again. We sat down with Lara and her mom to explain the dire situation, and Lara said she was ready to keep on fighting.”

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Dr. Rabik also said: "Lara’s altruism shines when you learn that she enrolled on two, and nearly three, clinical trials, knowing that while they may not [and even likely would not] help her, they could help other kids with leukemia later on.

“She fought with so much heart, and our hearts were all broken when the leukemia didn’t respond to the first clinical trial. The second clinical trial ... helped the leukemia, but it hurt Lara — she could barely get out of bed because of the side effects of the medications. We then moved to some targeted therapies to attack one of the mutations in the leukemia, which helped temporarily, but ultimately, the leukemia outsmarted her doctors," Dr. Rabik said.

“I have always been impressed with Lara –— with the questions she asked us in her school uniform as she came to clinic early on, with the maturity that she demonstrated during her bone marrow transplant, and with the wisdom that she showed at the end of her life,” the doctor said.

Dr. Rabik also said: “Knowing that her chances of survival were not good, Lara made sure that Christmas 2019 was special — picking out extra presents for her brothers, mom and dog. When we sat with her to get her sense of what was happening, Lara was very clear what her wishes were — she didn’t want to die, she said tearfully, but if we couldn’t promise her a fighting chance, she didn’t want to be in the hospital anymore.”

Her mother, Claudia E. Keenan, described Lara as “a straight-A student, even while undergoing crushing chemotherapy treatments" and said she "dreamed of going to Princeton to college and becoming a lawyer or a teacher. She was forever rooting for the underdog and justice in the world.”

Her mother said Lara was an enthusiastic bowler and while she did not have much strength in her arms, she rolled the ball down the lanes with accuracy. She made friends easily and often joined them on walks to a neighborhood Starbucks. She liked movies, including romantic comedies, and her favorite film was “The Sound of Music.”

Her school friends organized a drive-by for her several weeks ago. Lara was able to sit on her home’s porch and wave to her classmates in cars decorated with get-well balloons and posters.

“Up until her last breath, Lara was always concerned with everyone else — making sure they were comfortable, had what they needed. She thanked everyone who cared for her, from her doctors to her nurses to the people who cleaned her rooms,” said her mother. “No one was immune to her compassion and warmth and humor.”

A private family funeral is being held. Plans for a life celebration at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer are incomplete and will be announced at a later date.

In addition to her mother, survivors include three brothers, Griffin Hough, her twin, Beach Hough of Baltimore and Spencer Hough of Knoxville, Tennessee; a sister, Casey Hough, also of Knoxville; and a grandfather, William Wallace Keenan Jr. of Norfolk, Virginia.

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