By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, October 6, 2004
A University Medical Center employee died over the weekend, just days after learning her son, an Army specialist, was killed in Iraq.
Karen Unruh-Wahrer, a respiratory therapist supervisor at UMC, found out her son, 25-year-old Robert Oliver Unruh, was killed by enemy fire outside of Baghdad Sept. 25.
After seeing her son's body Saturday morning, 45-year-old Unruh-Wahrer collapsed in her kitchen that night, according to the Associated Press.
Her husband, Dennis Wahrer, also a respiratory therapist, and other family members tried to perform CPR on her but were unsuccessful.
Unruh-Wahrer was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital late Saturday night.
Cheryl Hamilton, manager of respiratory care services at UMC, said news of Unruh-Wahrer's death shocked UMC employees.
"It's just like a nightmare," said Hamilton, who was Unruh-Wahrer's manager.
Last week, Unruh-Wahrer was devastated by the loss of her son, Hamilton said.
Hamilton said although coroners identified cardiac arrest as the cause of death, Unruh-Wahrer did not have a history of heart disease, and family members believe she died of a broken heart.
Dr. Lorraine Mackstaller, a clinical assistant professor of medicine in the Sarver Heart Center, said most heart attacks in women are sudden cardiac arrest and might not present noticeable symptoms. However, stress can release hormones that could contribute to a sudden heart attack, she said.
Hamilton said Unruh-Wahrer's family members, who include her 25-year-old daughter Amy, 4-year-old granddaughter Ivy and husband Dennis Wahrer, are overwhelmed by the recent losses.
"Amy is taking this very, very hard," Hamilton said. "They recently told Ivy her grandmother had gone to heaven to be with Robbie."
Robert Unruh was a combat engineer for the 44th Engineering Battalion, who supported frontline troops in their movements through hostile territory.
He was fatally wounded when his unit was attacked with small-arms fire, Associated Press reports stated.
Last week, Unruh-Wahrer told reporters she was proud of her son and does not want his death to be about politics, but about honor. Unruh will posthumously earn the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service, she said.
"We're at war," Unruh-Wahrer told the Arizona Daily Star. "War takes soldiers and those soldiers come from families."
Employees and friends said Unruh-Wahrer will be missed.
Hamilton called Unruh-Wahrer an "exemplary person" who was fair and kind to all of the staff that worked under her.
"She was a wonderful person," said Anne Miros, a clinical specialist at UMC and Unruh-Wahrer's coworker.
Hamilton said employees lost not only a supervisor, but also a friend.
As a respiratory therapist, Hamilton said Unruh-Wahrer's favorite places to work were neonatal care and pediatrics with young children.
"She loved taking care of sick children and making them feel better," Hamilton said. "She was so good with them and loving and caring."
There will be a private ceremony for family members tonight, followed by a procession to Sierra Vista.
Family members will honor Unruh and Unruh-Wahrer in a joint burial service Friday at the Southern Arizona Veterans' Memorial Center at Fort Huachuca, Hamilton said. Unruh-Wahrer will be buried next to her son.
"She is irreplaceable," Hamilton said.