The time Melissa Kratsa Orie of Fox Chapel spent attending Duquesne University led to bachelor's and master's degrees in medical ethics. But that tells only part of why her short life was so meaningful, those closest to her say.
Her true passion as a young adult, they recalled, was the compassion and counseling she offered to patients and their families, some facing wrenching end-of-life issues.
As patient advocate and later director of patient relations at UPMC Presbyterian between 1999 to 2002, she seemed by instinct to know what to say and when the better course was to say nothing at all, to convey concern just by being there.
"She was always able to calm the patient," said Susan Stuart, a former UPMC director of clinical operations who now is CEO of the Center for Organ Recovery and Education. "She never saw what she did at UPMC as a career. It truly was a devotion, a calling."
Ms. Orie left UPMC to marry and raise a family and confided to some that she hoped to resume her work once her children were grown, but she never got the chance. She died Feb. 24 in her Fox Chapel home at age 40 of cancer.
Ms. Orie (no family relation to the former state senator or Supreme Court justice) married Kevin Orie nine years ago. A graduate of Upper St. Clair High School, Mr. Orie played third base for the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins and is now a co-host of the pre- and post-game Pirates radio shows on 93.7 FM The Fan.
He said he met her at age 19 and knew even then there was something unique about her. "She was the sweetest, most beautiful person -- inside and out," he said.
He marveled how she could step in and out of emotionally draining situations. "I was concerned about her. It's tough to just leave it at work and come home, and there were times when she would be sad and crack a tear," he said.
Ms. Orie was a 1991 Fox Chapel Area High School graduate whose mother was a nurse and whose father is a real estate developer and hotel operator. She attended Penn State University and Arizona State University before enrolling at Duquesne, where she earned her bachelor's degree in 1995 and master's in 1996, her brother, Eric Kratsa of Fox Chapel, said.
He recalled the volunteer work she did for an Alzheimer's unit while in college. "I think she was looking to be in medicine in some capacity from an early point," he said.
The staffer at Mercy Hospital with whom Ms. Orie did her graduate practicum figured she would be mentoring a student interested in a medical ethics issue. But as Ms. Orie followed her at work, participating in delicate family meetings, she realized her student was developing an interest beyond mere theory.
"She found in herself something she didn't know she had," said Sister Judy Laffey of the Sisters of Charity, then a hospital chaplain and chair of Mercy's ethics committee and now director of nursing for the infirmary of the Sisters of Charity in Greensburg.
In addition to her husband and brother, Ms. Orie is survived by her three daughters, Ava Katarina, 6, Kara Lynn, 4, and Alexa Katerina, 2; and parents James Nicholas and Marianne Frances Kratsa of Fox Chapel.
Donations may be made in her memory to Christ the Divine Teacher Catholic Academy, 205 Brilliant Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15215. The family plans a private memorial service.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977.