Memorial story

Olga Rosskopf CassellaOlga Rosskopf Cassella

by her sister, Ilma

Olga died on Sunday, 11/04/07, at 3:00 PM at the Rutland Regional Medical Center, Vermont, due to complications caused by pulmonary arterial hypertension brought on by sarcoidosis. She also suffered from scleroderma from which she was in remission for the past twenty years, but which prevented her from being a candidate for double lung organ and heart transplants because of the damage to her throat. At the time that Olga applied, The Johns Hopkins Lung Organ Transplant Center had stopped taking scleroderma patients as candidates because twelve scleroderma patients died either on the operating table, in the Recovery Room or shortly thereafter. Both Duke University Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center refused her too, for the same reason. Olga also suffered from adult-onset diabetes, probably brought on by the toxicity of the many medications she took over the past 35 years as well as the fact that our mother developed diabetes in her sixties. Olga was treated for a thyroid problem, too.

Olga' scleroderma was discovered via an X-ray of her chest following an auto accident in the early seventies. Unfortunately, her doctor did not recognize it for seven years and did not inform her later that she had a choice of aggressive or passive treatment. He chose a passive "wait and see" how it develops before putting her on an aggressive treatment path. In the meantime, her husband refused to believe her complaints of illness and other problems arose in their marriage. Finally, when her doctor finally diagnosed her, he informed her that she had to make a choice between her marriage and her health because the stress was rapidly worsening her symptoms and the course of the diseases—by this time she was also diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a rare combination she was told. So, reluctantly, after thirteen years of marriage, she divorced her husband. Thankfully, there were no children to be hurt by the split.

Olga was chronically ill for over thirty years. Among the many medications she took to treat her several diseases were: Ativan, Avandia (rosiglitazone maleate), Celexa (citalopram), Crestor (rosuvastatin calcium), Fosamax (alendronate), Januvia (sitagliptin), Klor-Kon (a potassium chloride), L-Thyroxine (synthetic thyroxine), Lasix (furosemide), Marinol (dronabinol), Medrol (methylprednisolone), Methotrexate, Nexium (esomeprazole magnesium), Remicade (infliximab) infusion therapy, Tracleer (bosanten), Flolan, and finally, Remodulin via an intravenous line. While the Remodulin was working to decrease her PAH, it was a severe allergic reaction to the increased dosage that caused her doctors to stop all treatment, leading to Olga's death three weeks later.

Olga had wanted to die at home, but it was not to be. She awoke that Sunday morning unable to breathe or get out of bed. So I dialed 911 and she was taken to the hospital. She fought off death to the end, saying that "I'm going to die in the hospital—but not today!" She wanted to talk to some of her longtime friends to say goodbye. She was always strong-willed and a fighter and talking about the future—she'd planned to tour the White House with me this past Christmas. However, death was not to be delayed.

Olga had always feared a paralytic stroke, being bedridden and lingering for years. She also feared dying in her sleep or while gasping for air, or suffocating on the fluid in her lungs. However, hers was a quick and instant death. I was with her and as she was climbing into bed after going to the bathroom, she suddenly cried out and dropped stone-cold dead on the floor. It was if Death had snuck up behind her and dealt her a lethal blow on the head. Her doctors believe that her heart and lungs just finally wore out and stopped. There was no autopsy as Olga had made arrangements to donate her body to the University of Vermont Medical School/Anatomy Board and autopsies or organ donations are, therefore, not permitted.

My sister carried herself well and had a flair for dressing stylishly. As a teenager, she enjoyed figure skating—an elegant sport. Olga also possessed a beautiful coloratura voice and studied voice at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, MD following graduation from Mount Saint Agnes College. She was in great demand as a wedding singer and could have made a career as an opera singer.

But, during a visit to me while I attended the Antioch-Putney Graduate School of Education in Putney back in the sixties, Olga fell in love with the State of Vermont. So she attended and graduated from Antioch, too. In 1968, she finally moved permanently to Vermont, where she taught elementary school in Killington and Rutland for several years. After marrying in 1972, Olga became a realtor and, later, an appraiser. Following her divorce in 1983, she operated her own business, OLGA CASSELLA REAL ESTATE, LTD, and taught real estate and appraisal courses.

When Olga was forced to retire from work due to her illnesses she applied for Social Security Disability benefits, but was denied. First, she failed to meet the disability breath test by the slimmest of margins. Second, the SS Administrative Judge, who heard the appeal, was completely ignorant about her diseases, confusing them with fibromyalgia. He refused to accept Olga's lawyer's arguments for acceptance of her case. Third, Olga lacked one work credit to qualify for disability benefits. Several years later on a second appeal of the decision, she was refused again. At the time the SSA case worker dismissively questioned her as why she hadn't been working during those years to make up that one work credit. It was all Olga could do to refrain from a sarcastic remark as she informed the worker that she had been becoming sicker and had developed pulmonary arterial hypertension and diabetes as well. Olga hated to be dependent for her financial support on me and our older sister, but there was no other option.

On a happier note, Olga was a private pilot and owned her own plane for many years. It was in Vermont that Olga fell in love with aviation in all of its aspects and flying became Olga's lifelong passion. It was with great reluctance several years ago that she sold her Archer and quit flying because she could no longer pass the medical exam. She will be honored with a plaque on the Wall of Honor during the Experimental Aircraft Association's "AirVenture 2008" at the Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, WI, on 08/03/2008. She is singing and flying with the angels now!


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