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Pregnant mom of four dies after bee stings

UPDATE: Online fundraisers for the family have raised over $150,000 in 2 days. To help, visit or

Sarah Harkins was expecting her fifth child this winter.

Sarah Harkins was expecting her fifth child this winter.

Days after her death, Sarah Harkins’ fingerprints linger throughout her Spotsylvania County home.

Her loops and whorls literally remain on unfinished projects, and figuratively tug at her family’s heart strings.

On the desk, the unfinished polymer clay beads Sarah made still bear the smudged indentation of her fingers. The 32-year-old mother of four would have turned those beads into one-of-a-kind rosaries, used for prayers throughout the world.

Her presence lingers in the toothpaste she made by hand and the jars of coleslaw she preserved; Sarah crafted both because she believed they were healthiest for her family.

Sarah Harkins, with her husband and four children, died after bee stings likely caused an undiagnosed aneurysm to rupture.

Sarah Harkins, with her husband and four children, died after bee stings likely caused an undiagnosed aneurysm to rupture.

But the strongest impression from Sarah has been left in those who now grieve her loss—her husband, Eric, and their children.

Sarah was 21 weeks pregnant with the couple’s fifth child when she died Monday after a series of medical complications.

She was in the backyard when a beehive was disturbed and she was stung, Eric said. Sarah’s face swelled from an allergic reaction.

She made it to the house and asked her husband to call for an ambulance. She collapsed while Eric was on the phone with 911. He performed CPR, and when medics arrived, they were able to revive her.

Doctors told Eric that the stress of the incident burst an aneurysm lingering in her brain. They said she was brain-dead.

The baby girl, Cecilia Rachel, died and doctors said that Sarah would not survive. Her family decided to take her off life support.

First, Eric brought the children in to say goodbye to their mother.

“I’m thankful to the medic for giving me and the kids that chance, bringing her back enough so we could say goodbye to her,” Eric said.

“Her passing was so tough, because I love her so much. She’s a gift that was given from God, he knows that I needed her, and she was this amazing gift.”

The couple had been married for nine years. They met on a mission trip while both attended Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.

Eric was first attracted to Sarah’s beauty—but then discovered she was more than a pretty face.

“Her soul is beautiful,” he said. “She was honest. She was prayerful. She encouraged me, even when I didn’t want to be encouraged.”

Sarah always wanted to be a mother, her younger brother Tom Schulzetenberg said. The second of seven children, Sarah always wanted a large family.

A devoted mother, she embraced home schooling and passionately learned as much as she could about the Montessori method of teaching, Schulzetenberg said.

After the family moved to the Fredericksburg area, Sarah became active in the parish of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. She soon became a leader in a homeschool cooperative.

She woke up early with their youngest child, 1-year-old Faustina. Sarah often prayed the rosary with Faustina, then prayed again with Eric and the older children before breakfast.

And when Faustina was born with Down syndrome, Sarah threw herself into caring for her special-needs baby.

“She was scared at first but immensely grateful,” Schulzetenberg said. “She told me she was so happy that God gave her such a gift.”

This weekend, Sarah was supposed to lead a nature camp—helping home-schooled students learn about birds, plants and trees. Her kitchen is still filled with the items needed to make bird nests.

Friends plan to carry on the nature camp for Sarah and for the children. There, children will craft nests with the sticks and leaves that still carry the faintest indentations of Sarah’s fingerprints.

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973


Within hours of Sarah Harkins’ medical emergency, friends and family had jumped in to help. Eric Harkins’ co-workers with the Secret Service gave Sarah’s siblings rides from the airport to the hospital, and paid for their hotel rooms.

Sarah’s friends from the homeschool cooperative showed up with meals and helped with child care.

Friends and family also set up two online fundraising accounts to help with expenses—and to provide a faith-based education for the children.

Within days, more than $80,000 was raised.

To help, visit or