Gwyneth Spangler

[Age 38] A hydrogeologist, she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 18 months but went on to live an active life.

"She had a zest for life and lived it and every opportunity it gave her, to the fullest," her former minister said.

April 30, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Gwyneth J. Spangler, who despite being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 18 months old went onto become a successful athlete and outdoorswoman while working as a hydrogeologist, died of pulmonary failure Thursday at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va.

The Catonsville resident was 38.

Gwyneth Jones was born in Baltimore and raised on West Seminary Avenue in Lutherville. At Towson High School, she was a member of the track team, which made the state finals one year, and also participated in the old Lady Equitable race in downtown Baltimore. She also enjoyed Scottish Highland dancing and danced with the Baltimore Scottish Country Dance group.

"We always encouraged her, and her doctor told us not to treat her anything less than a normal child," said her father, Earl Penuel Jones, of Lutherville. "She never ever complained."

After graduating from high school in 1988, she attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where she earned a bachelor's degree in environmental sciences in 1992. At Bates, she continued her interest in track, enjoyed hiking and skiing, and qualified as a member of the Maine Search and Rescue Team.

It was while she was at Bates that she learned that her cystic fibrosis was terminal. Cystic fibrosis is caused by a defective gene that causes the body to create large amounts of mucus, leading to lung infections, digestive disorders and other health problems.

"She joined a support group and was depressed for a while, and then she bounded back and decided to live life with a vengeance," her father said.

Mrs. Spangler completed advance course work in biology and geology, and did geological field work in the Southwest and aboard the research vessel SSV Westward in the Caribbean with the Sea Semester Program based in Woods Hole, Mass.

Some of her research was presented at meetings of the Geological Society of Maine, and she did field work for the Freeport Conservation Commission in Freeport, Maine, as a part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Casco Bay Storm Water Management Project.

After graduation from college, Mrs. Spangler worked for the state of Maine, mapping glacial deposits in Aroostook County for seven months, before returning to Maryland in 1993.

She met her future husband, Christopher B. Spangler, who worked at the Nature Company, when both attended a volunteers' meeting at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"She said there were two empty seats, `one next to an old lady, and the other next to a good-looking guy,' so she sat there," her father said.

They worked together at the Nature Company and married in 1995.

In 1993, she took a job as a hydrogeologist with Quality Environmental Solutions in Annapolis, and later held similar positions with John D. Haynes & Associates of Salisbury and Handex Corp. in Odenton.

Because of deteriorating health, she stopped working in 2000 and was put on the lung transplant list at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Inova Fairfax.

In 2004, Mrs. Spangler received a successful double lung transplant at Inova Fairfax, which gave her an additional three years of vigorous health.

She and her husband, who were joined by friends, embarked on hiking adventures that took them to Scotland, Mount St. Helens, Yellowstone National Park and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.

They were followed by hiking trips to California and Massachusetts, and two visits to South Africa.

In August, she was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow, and began chemotherapy treatments. After seven months, she relapsed and had started another round of chemotherapy treatments.

" So many of our friends at Bates didn't know that she had cystic fibrosis. To them, she was just another college co-ed. Her disease was never a factor," said Laura H. Ordway, a longtime friend who, with two other close college friends, came to Baltimore three weeks ago and visited Mrs. Spangler after they learned she had suffered a relapse.

"She had so much grace about her illness and would hold my hand and asked me how I was doing. The more I think of it, she was so much like an angel, with her curly blond hair, porcelain skin and blue eyes," Ms. Ordway said. "She had such a presence that people were drawn to her."

Mrs. Spangler was a longtime communicant of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore, where the Rev. J. Perry Smith had been assistant rector.

"When I left, in my farewell sermon I paid tribute to three people, and Gwyn was one of them," said Mr. Smith, who is now rector of St Cyprian's Episcopal Church in St Augustine, Fla.

"I had previous experience as a soldier in Vietnam and with the FBI before I became a clergyman, so I thought I understood what courage was all about," Mr. Smith said.

"And then I met this extraordinary young woman who fundamentally taught this old man what courage was really all about," he said. "She had a zest for life and lived it and every opportunity it gave her, to the fullest. She was an amazing person."

Mrs. Spangler volunteered with the Washington Regional Transplant Commission promoting organ donation and was a member of the organization's fundraising events committee.

She also conducted volunteer fundraising for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation during its Great Strides campaigns and collected used cell phones for charity.

Mrs. Spangler was a member of the Holmehurst Community Association. In addition to serving as treasurer of the association, she edited its newsletter.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. May 17 at her church, 811 Cathedral St.

In addition to her husband and father, survivors include her mother, Drusilla P. Jones; two brothers, Robin Penuel Jones of Baltimore and Jon Giles Jones of Cedar Crest, N.M.; and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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