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Emma Colette Wozny, VHS Graduate
Emma’s death was sudden and the cause is still unclear. We will not know the cause of death until the Essex County Medical Examiner’s autopsy and toxicology reports are completed. Unfortunately, we have been informed that these results will not be available for 3-4 months. At our request, the local police are working with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the matter. In the meantime, this is what we do know. There was no evidence of drug use at Emma’s home, in her car, or in her apartment at school. The medications she had been taking were all in order and none were missing. However, diet pills were found in her drawer.
During her Spring semester at Syracuse, Emma told us, via Skype, that she had been blacking out. We told her it was probably from not eating enough, and encouraged her to seek help which she did, by going to the SU Health Services and Counseling Center on campus. She started seeing a nutritionist for her eating disorder, a therapist, and a psychiatrist. She also received a full physical, and was prescribed medications to address her evolving issues with anxiety, panic attacks, an eating disorder and a sleep disorder.
Emma returned home from Spring semester at Syracuse University (SU) this year, extremely thin. We immediately enrolled her in an intensive outpatient treatment program that would address all her issues. She attended faithfully all summer, three days a week from 10:00am to 3:30pm and continued taking her medications. Along with the therapy, Emma was spending a fair amount of time helping her aging grandparents. She had wanted to go to California to visit relatives and friends, but we insisted she attend this program first.
Emma returned to school a week early, during August, because she was very excited about joining her new roommates in their first real apartment off campus. Her car had broken down during the summer and we had replaced it with a newer one that she loved. During her second week at school she got a new job, and was very excited about it. She liked her classes, her teachers, and she loved her roommates.
Emma had returned home to attend her grandfather’s funeral. She spent the evening and night before her death at home. In the early evening we had a long conversation with her covering various topics. At 12:30 a.m. her mother had a conversation with her in her room about the funeral plans, and what she should wear for the following days. She seemed fine. She planned to return to school on Tuesday after the burial. From her Facebook page we know that she was awake until almost 5:00 a.m. communicating with friends in other time zones. We found Emma at 9:00 a.m. in her bed. We called 911 and gave her CPR. She was unresponsive, and could not be revived by EMS or the ER at Mountainside Hospital.
Emma was loved by many people. Her kind spirit, passion for life, and sense of humor were infectious. She was a bright star in many people’s lives. Those who knew her best remember her for her beautiful smile and quirky personality. “She would make me laugh on a daily basis” said Aimee Mercure, a friend since freshman year. “Emma showed love for so many people. **** My life has been made so much better because of her and I know I will carry her memory with me for the rest of my life.” Liza Posner, her freshman year roommate, said Emma was quiet at first, but they bonded when Emma started leaving Post-It notes around their room with funny comments ascribed to “Sharky” the stuffed animal she kept on her bed. Current roommate, Sarah Reichheimer, described their recent trip to the New York State Fair. Emma rode a mechanical bull while Sarah took video footage and pictures. Apparently, Sarah thought the video footage was embarrassing but Emma didn’t care and just laughed about it.
She loved music, the warmth of the sun, anything soft, and animals. She enjoyed nothing more than a day at the beach. She loved the gentle rocking of the sea as she floated out past the waves, and playing catch with her Dad in the water.
Emma had many talents and accomplishments. She was a staff writer at the Daily Orange newspaper at Syracuse University where she was majoring in Psychology/Neuroscience and was considering a minor in International Relations. She loved to write, and had written screenplays, short stories and poetry for which she received recognition. She also kept a journal. She was fascinated with the music and entertainment industry, and acted in a student film during her Spring semester.
Emma loved music and was a good musician. As a young child she played piano. While at school in Verona she played many different instruments in the band. By high school she was focusing on her flute, which included performing solos and being chosen for the Honors Band. She also played guitar, sang and wrote songs.
Emma was a very creative person. She was always sketching and making things out of random, found objects. Mostly, she liked to do things like draw faces on the pistachio nuts and fruit in our kitchen. As a child, she took some classes at the Yard School of Art at Montclair Art Museum. While there she had offers from people to buy her artwork, but she chose to just give it away to friends. She only took one art class while in high school. During that time, one of her paintings was chosen to be hung in the VHS lobby.
She loved to travel, and spent a semester abroad in Spain with the SU Abroad Madrid Program. Through the SU Abroad Program she travelled throughout Spain, to Portugal and Morocco. While in Madrid she was an assistant English teacher for a local elementary school. She also travelled to Germany, France and England. With her family she travelled to Mexico, Canada, Belize and Italy. Emma also volunteered with the MedLife Mobile Medical Unit in Ecuador, to provide medical, dental care and housing to people in rural towns near Riobamba. She said her best memories of that trip were teaching the kids how to brush their teeth, and pushing MedLife’s broken down bus up a hill. She was brimming with stories and wonderful photographs of her trips abroad.
Emma’s passion for experiencing different cultures inspired many other students to travel. She was a Global Ambassador for the Syracuse Study Abroad Program, as well as a Morocco Exchange Student Ambassador.
Emma had been dealing with an array of biologically based mental health issues her entire life. When she was a child in preschool, and then again in middle school, she was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Her doctors said that she had a “constellation of symptoms” including ADD and “Tactile or Sensory Integration Disorder”. She was enrolled in the Preschool Intervention Program at F.N. Brown School in Verona, to address some of these issues but she was never given an Individualized Educational Program (IEP). We were told that because she was considered high functioning, and performed well in school, she would be mainstreamed into kindergarten. She was in the gifted and talented program, and then honors classes throughout her time in the Verona schools.
Emma was never an accomplished athlete. However, she started out with non-contact or individual sports such as swimming and running, and later played softball, lacrosse and soccer. She absolutely loved being in the Color Guard with the Verona Marching Band during the Fall. The fact that she was able to play sports that included physical contact, with such a sensory integration disorder, was a great accomplishment.
Emma did not want to die. She loved life and had a long “To Do List” in her room. Yes, she did sometimes make bad decisions like other kids her age. She may have wanted some things to change, but she was looking forward to having a full and happy life.
A Memorial and Remembrance Ceremony will be held Saturday, September 21, 2013 at Prout Funeral Home, 370 Bloomfield Avenue, Verona, NJ 07044, (973) 239-2060.
Written by Emma’s parents, Linda DeWolfe Wozny and Michael Wozny.
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