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April 7th, 2010

Article in Vancouver Sun by Douglas Todd

Eva Markvoort gave all her life away

The young actress with cystic fibrosis shared her life and her final weeks with the world

BY DOUGLAS TODD, VANCOUVER SUN APRIL 1, 2010


Beautiful, vivacious Eva Markvoort proved an accomplished actress in the theatre department at the University of Victoria. But when she began applying for roles beyond the campus, she often didn't receive the final call.

Directors told the talented actress they worried she would at unexpected times cough, have trouble breathing or not be able to show up for rehearsal, due to her lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis.

As Eva's disappointment expanded, film and theatre friends began telling the New Westminster-raised actress she was forgetting there was a far bigger role in which she should star.

The story of her life.

In the end, Eva became an icon of strength in the midst of suffering to countless people around the world: By fearlessly telling the harrowing story of what it is like to exist with the rare genetic disease.

Eva played out her role in many ways, including through the award-winning documentary made about her double-lung transplant in 2007, in which viewers literally saw inside her troubled body.

Eva enjoyed that the two-year-old film was called 65 Red Roses, since "65 red roses" was a child's malapropism for "cystic fibrosis." And she adored the flower. Organ transplants increased after the documentary aired.

Perhaps more impressively, in the past two years Eva connected with more than a million Internet readers and viewers through her blog, also called 65 Red Roses, by revealing in intimately frank detail what it was like each day for her to live and, as she would often write online: "love, love, love."

In the past six weeks, the tragically beautiful story of Eva's life came to a climax.

Eva decided to reveal to her worldwide community of Internet followers, which was particularly strong in Canada, the U.S. and Europe (especially Poland), what it was like to be a few weeks from death's door.

Eva's parents, Bill Markvoort and Janet Brine, talked about the remarkable short life of their daughter on Wednesday in their home in New Westminster, on what would have been Eva's 26th birthday.

More than 20 of Eva's friends, many from the theatre community, were coming to the Markvoort-Brine home later in the day to mark the anniversary, with a party.

Moving among rooms stacked with letters and cards from Eva's online admirers, Bill described the moment in February when their strong-willed daughter told them to gather around her VGH bed to make a video for her blog.

No one in the family knew what was going on. "She could be a bit imperious. A bit of a diva," said Bill. When Eva wanted something, she got it.

With the camera rolling and her family hugging close beside her, gaunt Eva suddenly began to talk about how she was soon going to die. Her agonizing battle was ending.

She loved everyone.

Within hours of the video going onto the 65 Red Roses site, a tsunami of affection swept through the Internet.

Eva's last spoken words to her web community immediately drew more than 150,000 page views, in less than 24 hours. Tens of thousands more people would click with each passing day.

They still are, even with Eva passing away last Saturday in Vancouver General Hospital, waiting in vain for a donor so she could have a second double-lung transplant.

* * *

The walls of the large living-room in Eva's long-standing family home in the Queen's Park neighbourhood of New Westminster were this week blanketed from floor-to-ceiling with cards, letters, drawings, poetry, prayers, paintings, collages, mosaics and other gifts from Eva's horde of far-flung well-wishers.

The living room included a bed, which was itself smothered with cards and gifts. This had been Eva's bedroom during her many rough months, in which she was linked up to tubes and ingesting painkillers and other medications.

Of the thousands of gifts that have arrived for Eva through the family mailbox, the most common image is a red heart, in every shape, size and variation.

Eva's death is making news headlines this week across Canada and in Europe.

"It's been unbelievable. It's so overwhelming," said Bill, vice-president of Probyn Log Ltd., sitting with his wife, Janet, principal of Peace Arch Elementary School, who spent the past seven weeks sleeping in Eva's hospital room.

Eva's parents have been reluctant to speak to the media, but decided to talk to The Vancouver Sun about their daughter, whose Internet life began four years ago.

That's when Eva began a private blog to keep in touch with others with Cystic Fibrosis, which strikes roughly one in 2,000 people, mostly of European extraction.

Due to the complex infectious nature of the illness, medical specialists strongly discourage people with CF from spending any time in each other's company.

But, after a while, Eva opened her site beyond the CF community, to the public.

At first Janet was against the idea. "But eventually I came around. I could see it was a real focus for Eva. It was benefiting her and others."

The page views and comments on 65 Red Roses began mounting at a feverish pace. Eva was having an impact far greater than expected.

In their living room, the parents told a few of the many remarkable stories about how Eva inspired an online network.

One story was of a suicidal U.S. woman who said she was "saved" after watching Eva online. The despairing woman couldn't help but be inspired by the strength Eva showed; living with someone else's lungs, which frequently become overpowered by mucous. The family ended up meeting the woman.

Another account of Eva's Internet influence revolved around the hundreds of letters she received from black students in gang-infested ghettos of Los Angeles. An L.A. school administrator had encouraged students at 18 schools to follow Eva's blog, from which he wrote they learned no one was "worthless," and they themselves became "more empathetic."

There were also many young men who fell in love online with Eva, confessing their unrequited desire to rescue the brave, sensual young woman from the unfairness of her terminal ordeal.

In general, Bill found young men and women responded incredibly to Eva's blog, in part because for many of them it was their first grave experience of the dying process, particularly with someone their age.

There were also, as expected, many, many patients and families struggling with cystic fibrosis who considered Eva a heroine.

Perhaps most intriguingly, Eva became a media star in Poland.

She was a top story on newspapers and on TV in the country of 38-million people, to the extent that a Polish TV crew came and filmed a story about her during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

The family, including brother, Hunter, and sister Annie, were asked to give a rough idea of what kinds of people had been sending the tens of thousands of comments Eva received on 65 Red Roses.

The family estimated about 10 per cent of the blog's traffic came from people struggling with Cystic Fibrosis. The rest came from "healthy" people, many from Canada, but with about 25 per cent from the United States and another 15 per cent from Poland.

Trying to understand the mystery of the Polish phenomenon, Bill had a few theories.

The documentary about Eva aired at least twice on Polish TV, which doesn't' have as many channels as in North America, he said. Nor does Poland have a health care system, he said, that can afford lung transplants. As well, "Eva" is a common Polish name, even while "Markvoort" is Dutch.

Bill and family believe, in addition, that Eastern Europeans may have a more open and healthy attitude than North Americans to difficult and "dark" themes, such as the life and death struggles of Eva.

Whatever the case involving the Poles, Bill found Eva's widespread Internet community astounding.

"I think the Internet is the most powerful thing imaginable. It provides immediate contact. It creates circles of friendship."

* * *

In addition to exposing her vibrant life and passions on the world wide web, Eva received many accolades in her short life.

Hearing of her troubles, the University of Victoria decided to rush through her bachelor's degree in fine arts in February, even though she had not quite finished her electives.

The House of Commons was told of her death this week. She had already received the Queen's Jubilee Service Award.

Meanwhile, the documentary, 65 Red Roses, continues to be aired around the world, including again this Friday evening in Canada on CBC.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, as well, gave Eva its prestigious Summerhayes Award in March, for raising awareness. As a result of her online influence, the foundation will be switching much of its educational and outreach campaigns to the Internet.

Bill choked up as he read out a tiny sampling of the letters people have written Eva, including how she was "remarkable and strong." They thanked her for "giving all her love away" and being "one of the most beautiful people I've ever been able to know."

Bill and Janet said they feel a duty to respond publicly to the outpouring for their daughter. But, eventually, Bill said, the family will likely return to a more private life.

Just as Bill finished speaking, the mail carrier dropped another two dozen brightly coloured cards and letters through the family mailbox.

Some had red hearts.

dtodd@vancouversun.com

Read Douglas Todd's blog at www.vancouversun.com/thesearch

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.



© Eva Dien Brine Markvoort 2006-2010

Eva's Obituary

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“full of love and hope and the colour red, … your girl, eva”


Eva Dien Brine Markvoort … what a life! She lived passionately, with purpose, and died on Saturday, March 27. She left a legacy of love and made a difference in the lives of thousands of people both in her personal life and in her online community. Eva’s life, almost 26 years long, was defined by her challenges related to cystic fibrosis. She knew how to live for the moment and her magnetic personality drew people in at every turn. Eva took nothing for granted and she had no time for complainers. Her life was full of vibrant moments and she appreciated all the beautiful aspects of her surroundings, constantly adjusting to the limitations presented by her health. Eva filled every room she entered, she engaged herself in the present and she learned to turn the most challenging situations into positive experiences. She was a force! Eva has enriched the lives of her parents, Janet Brine and Bill Markvoort, her siblings Annie and Hunter, her loving extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins, and her dearest core ‘team’. Eva's family expresses their gratitude for the tremendous support provided by friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, the medical team, and Eva's online community.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Eva’s memory to the Vancouver Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will be gratefully accepted at www.cfvancouver.ca . All who read this are also encouraged to register as an organ donor at www.transplant.bc.ca . For her online community, Eva’s Celebration of Love will be streamed online on April 30 beginning at 4:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.

“The greatest thing you will ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return”
Moulin Rouge
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.



© Eva Dien Brine Markvoort 2006-2010

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