Rare disorder claims life of beloved, young Westport woman
WESTPORT — Rachel Doran embraced the arts, entrepreneurism, and the ones she loved, and on Aug. 17, she died too young.
“She did nothing small. Anything she did, she did it full on, full-heart,” Kathy Coon, a family friend and Greenwich resident said of Doran, a 2015 Staples High School graduate.
Just over a month ago, on July 13, Doran, who was set to begin her senior year at Cornell University, was diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, a rare reaction to common medications that led to severe burns in 95 percent of her body.
For two weeks Doran was treated at the Connecticut Burn Center at Bridgeport Hospital before her transfer to New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center for treatment of Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome, another rare and life-threatening syndrome, according to the GoFundMe page created to raise funds for Doran’s recovery.
In the ICU, Doran, who had a collapsed lung and renal failure, passed away peacefully at night with her family beside her, the GoFundMe page said. Doran leaves behind her parents, Lisa and Alan and her sister, Ellie Doran, 15, a rising junior at Staples.
“She was the most mature, independent person I’ve ever know,” Abby Lustig, a friend of Doran’s from Westport, said. Lustig met Doran at Saugatuck Nursery School when the two girls were three and although they were separated in elementary — Doran went to Greens Farms Elementary School while Lustig attended Long Lots Elementary School, the pair reunited at Bedford Middle School, stayed friends at Staples and went on to attend Cornell University together.
“She was driving highways before I could drive Post Road, running errands for her family, and bringing her sister Ellie around,” Lustig said.
At 11, Doran started a company, “Rachel’s Rags,” which sold pajamas to local stores, craft fairs and on online at etsy.com. Doran sewed all of the pajamas herself and donated 50 percent of the company’s profits to the China Care Foundation, which supports a medical facility that cares for orphaned children in China, where Doran’s younger sister Ellie was adopted from when Doran was 6.
“This is truly all Rachel’s idea,” Doran’s mother Lisa told the New Canaan News in a 2011 article featuring her daughter’s company. “For Hanukkah, Rachel asked for business cards,” Lisa added.
Lustig agreed Doran’s motivation was her own. “We’ve known she loved fashion from the beginning when she got a sewing machine and started Rachel’s Rags. Everything she did was following that passion. I don’t know what I want to do and she knew so early and kept going,” Lustig said.
At Staples, Doran designed costumes for Staples Players theatre performances and was one of 33 students in her senior class named a Commended Student in the 2015 National Merit Scholarship Program. She majored in fashion design management with a minor in business at Cornell, worked as a research assistant in the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection, and curated the exhibition “Go Figure: The Fashion Silhouette & the Female Form.”
In 2017, Doran received the Charlotte A. Jirousek Undergraduate Research Fellowship and served as vice president of public relations for Pi Sigma Epsilon, a member of the Cornell Fashion Industry Network. This summer, she worked as a swimwear production intern at Li & Fung Limited in New York City.
Despite her many accomplishments, those who knew Doran remember her for the strength of her personal relationships. “She loved small intimate gatherings, whether with family or friends and never wanted to be the center of attention even though she had a lot of things to be super proud of,” Coon said.
Lustig and Doran shared the same friends at Cornell and Lustig said the group will miss Doran at the home they were all set to share senior year. “She had a good group of people surrounding her and chose her friends carefully. She was not the kind of person to go around making surface level friendships, but she knew a lot of people and had a lot of friends,” Lustig said.
Doran loved her sister, and her mom was her best friend, Coon said, adding that Doran also had a college boyfriend, Rob Lincoln. “They were soulmates. Rachel was an old soul and he was the same way. They were just adorable together. He was there until the very last moment and Rachel, even though she was not awake, she knew he was there,” Coon said.
“She was a really deep friend for most of us, the kind of person you can go months without talking to and pick back up with easily because it’s there forever,” Lustig said.
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