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SHE PERSEVERED FOR 30 YEARS AFTER CRASH

A crash resulted in decades of pain and many surgeries, but her positive attitude prevailed.

Thirty years ago, a drunken driver plowed into Laura Marie Gray's car as she made her way to a babysitting job in West Palm Beach.

Gray was 16, and suffered massive internal injuries when her spleen exploded.

An off-duty paramedic near the scene jumped in, resuscitating the teen.

But the crash set off the beginning of lifelong medical problems for Gray, who had to have no less than 25 abdominal surgeries and 100 hospital visits in the past three decades.

Still, the health problems never held her back.

"She never allowed her medical issues to define her. That was not what she was about," said Marshall Gray, her husband of 24 years. "If she wasn't sick or flat on her back in some hospital, she was just going 100 miles per hour."

Laura Gray, a former cosmetologist, loved motorcycles, photography, music, fishing, boating, snow skiing, water sports and wildlife, among other things.

And she decided a long time ago that when it was her time to go, she wanted to leave something behind - her organs.

Gray, who lived in Tampa, died Sept. 5 at age 46.

Doctors are planning to use her heart valves, corneas, kidneys, liver, skin and bones to help others in need.

"She was a giving person all her life," Marshall Gray said. "She should've been gone 30 years ago when she had that accident. Her legacy is being positive through tough times."

Gray was born on March 9, 1963, in West Palm Beach. She graduated from Forest Hill High, and, a few years after the accident, met the man she would marry.

Marshall Gray's buddies persuaded him to let the young cosmetologist cut his hair. He fell hard for the blond with blue eyes.

The couple had a daughter, Chloe, and moved to Tampa in 1995.

Gray immersed herself in life, her husband said. She never did anything halfway.

She channeled her love of music into solos she performed in church.

She picked up photography, using her skill to capture shots of her daughter, now a 20-year-old student who attends the University of South Carolina on an equestrian scholarship.

Eventually, she combined the two passions by creating numerous DVDs with her pictures set to music.

"Laura was a constant glow," said Julie Faulkner of Dade City. "Laura showed me what it is to be strong."

When Faulkner met Gray eight years ago, she never suspected that she might be sick.

It wasn't until later, during a photography trip to North Carolina, that Faulkner realized how much pain her friend could sometimes be in because of her abdominal problems.

Other times, she experienced jaw pain because of TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder).

But when faced with either laughter or tears, Faulkner said, Gray always chose the former.

In the hospital, she always kept things upbeat, friends said.

"She just quietly dealt with a lot of things," Faulkner said. "It's just unbelievable the strength this woman had."

The man who hit Gray three decades ago was never prosecuted. Back then, drunken driving laws weren't what they are now, her family said. And besides, they were just happy to still have their daughter.

Gray never seemed angry about the situation either, those who knew her said.

On Saturday, friends and relatives gathered at First Baptist Church of Elfers in New Port Richey for a memorial service. People were asked to wear colorful clothes, in honor of a nontraditional woman who never complained.

"She was just a wonderful woman," Faulkner said. "I will miss her dearly."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at (727)893-8643 or kstanley@sptimes.com.

Biography

Laura Marie Gray

Born: March 9, 1963.

Died: Sept. 5, 2009.

Survivors: Husband, Marshall; daughter, Chloe; parents, Helen and Ron Dickey and Donald and Dee Kuschel; sister, Donna; brother, Mark and his wife, Ann; stepbrother, Mark Dickey; aunt, Juanita Hill; uncle, Alvah Dermott; mother- and father-in-law, Charles and Betty Gray; and numerous in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews.

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