Losing her daughter Larissa to Rasmussen's encephalitis inspired Chris Harris to write

Writing to remember: Chris Harris has written a book following the loss of her daughter, Larissa, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at 17 years of age and died, aged 28, in 2009 from a rare condition. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
Writing to remember: Chris Harris has written a book following the loss of her daughter, Larissa, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at 17 years of age and died, aged 28, in 2009 from a rare condition. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

AT 17 years old, the future was looking bright and promising for Larissa Harris.

She was an intelligent, generous and slightly shy teenager who had a passion for the written word and a determination to excel at whatever she did.

But it was just before a trial HSC exam at Merewether High that she suffered a seizure that would prove to be the first of many.

“It traumatised everyone in the room, and they had to postpone the exam,” her mother, Chris Harris, said.

“Everybody thought it was because she had been studying hard, and she had been – she would stay up at night going over her notes.

“But then she continued to have seizures.”

Larissa was diagnosed with epilepsy at 17, which was treated and controlled with medication while she completed a Communications degree at the University of Newcastle.

“She wanted to be a journalist, a writer,” Mrs Harris said.

“But her condition became progressively worse.”

In 2006, doctors at Sydney’s Prince Of Wales hospital diagnosed Larissa with a rare inflammatory neurological disease called Rasmussen's encephalitis, characterised by frequent and severe seizures, loss of motor skills and speech, weakness on one side of the body, and inflammation of the brain.

“She went from being this intelligent, lovely, brilliant girl, to having continual seizures over the next year or two,” Mrs Harris said.

“At the end of 2006, she had an operation on her brain, and she was in hospital for nine months, bedridden.

“She lost her ability to do most things.”

Larissa’s journey from that first seizure to her death 11 years later at the age of 28 has been documented in a book written by Mrs Harris.

“I started to write a journal when she got worse in 2006, and it became rather huge,” the Glendale woman said.

“It just felt like something I should do.

“I wanted people to know about this disease. I wanted to let people know how brave she was and what she’d achieved in her short life.”

Writing to remember: Chris Harris has written a book following the loss of her daughter, Larissa, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at 17 years of age and died, aged 28, in 2009 from a rare condition. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Writing to remember: Chris Harris has written a book following the loss of her daughter, Larissa, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at 17 years of age and died, aged 28, in 2009 from a rare condition. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

In Losing Larissa: A Mother’s Story, Mrs Harris recounts the nights she spent sleeping on hospital floors to be by her daughter’s side, the occasional run-ins with insensitive medical staff, and the guilt, anger, and frustration she felt watching her eldest child suffer, all while witnessing the impact it had on the rest of the family.

“I looked after Larissa at home for close to 18 months, and then she wanted to go into care at Wallsend nursing home,” Mrs Harris said.

Larissa passed away in 2009, surrounded by her whole family.

Mrs Harris hopes the book, available at MacLeans Booksellers in Hamilton, and via Amazon, would provide comfort to other carers.