Sharon Watson, 38: Former cystic fibrosis poster girl

“She’d take them to Arby’s, through the drive-thru sometimes,” said friend and fellow volunteer Lane Reed. “So when we loaded up for adoption days, all of the dogs would try to ride with her. They looked disappointed when we’d put them all in the bus.”

Unable to birth children of her own, Ms. Watson poured her love into rescue animals, who she called her children, and two special young people she helped raise, said her parents, Sandy and Glynn Watson, who live in Marietta.

“She was a nanny for Elizabeth and Carter Gregory and she loved them like they were her own,” her mother said. “She was with the family for 17 years.”

“And it was like she was able to have children because of the way she cared for them,” added her father.

When Ms. Watson was 20 months old, she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, her parents said. She knew the likelihood of living a long life was remote, but she was determined to live a full life with the time she had.

Sharon Elisabeth Watson, of Marietta, died May 19 at WellStar Kennestone Hospital, from complications associated with cystic fibrosis. She was 38. Her body was cremated and a memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Davis-Struempf Funeral Home & Crematory, Austell, which is also in charge of arrangements.

As a child, Ms. Watson didn’t fully understand her cystic fibrosis diagnosis, but she did her part in helping to publicize the need for more research to help find a cure. As a third grader, Sharon and her younger brother, who was also diagnosed with the illness, were the poster children for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Mrs. Watson said.

Ms. Watson, a 1992 graduate of South Cobb High School, pursued her dreams of helping those in need by earning a bachelor’s in social work from Georgia State University in 1997. Social work was compatible with her personality, her mother said. She found ways to use her degree, though not through traditional outlets.

Her social work skills helped her rear the Gregory children until her health would no longer allow, her mother said. She also used them as she volunteered with the animal rescue organization.

“She adapted what she learned and Sharon never made excuses,” Mrs. Watson said, of her daughter. “She lived life with gusto and didn’t let anything hold her back.”

One of her favorite activities was walking dogs that the rescue organization took in, Mrs. Reed said. But when her body wouldn’t let her walk the dogs like she used to, she didn’t stop volunteering.

“She looked for something she could do,” her friend said. “She knew there were several hours a day she spent on breathing treatments, so she’d write thank you notes to friends of Georgia Homeless Pets, and her other friends, but she still found a way to be useful.”

One of Ms. Watson’s biggest contributions was the 38 years she lived, her parent said. Because she obeyed her doctors and did what she was supposed to do with her treatments, others have a better chance of living with cystic fibrosis.

“There are a lot of people who don’t live as long as Sharon did,” Mr. Watson said. “Sharon made it that long because she took excellent care of her health.”

“For her to be a 38-year-old CF patient was kind of a miracle,” Mrs. Watson added.

In addition to her parents, Ms. Watson is survived by her brother, Bradley Watson of Marietta.