Originally Published December 28, 1995; Section: OBITUARY; Edition: SOONER; Page: A-13
Sharon Voas, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Twenty years ago, Karen Tirimacco faced a bright future.
The honors student at Duquesne University was about to graduate and be married and planned to start her graduate work in clinical psychology at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.In May 1976, the day after she was fitted for her wedding dress, she walked into Mercy Hospital’s emergency room complaining of difficulty in breathing. She became a quadriplegic after suffering brain damage during the hospital stay. Her parents sued Mercy and two staff doctors, claiming “professional negligence,” and the $1.15 million settlement made front-page news in the late 1970s. Miss Tirimacco, now 41, died in her mother’s Canonsburg home on Christmas morning. The cause of her death Monday was not available. “She was just a wonderful person, by all descriptions — with everything ahead of her — and then this occurred,” said Jerry Meyers, a Downtown malpractice lawyer who represented her parents in the lawsuit. A bright-eyed woman with long, dark hair, Miss Tirimacco was known at Duquesne as someone who could help a person through troublesome times. She spent her summers working with retarded children and played the piano for relaxation. Her father, the late Dr. Sam P. Tirimacco, and mother, Eleanor, a nurse, alleged in their lawsuit negligence involving the use of a respirator. What happened to Miss Tirimacco prompted two other Pittsburgh hospitals to change their procedures involving respirators, Meyers said.
In 1979, Mercy settled for what was one of the largest-ever malpractice settlements in the Pittsburgh area at the time. But Mercy and the doctors denied responsibility and claimed the injury was caused by an unidentified pre-existing condition. Part of the $1.15 million settlement — $600,000 — went into a trust fund to provide support and medical care for Miss Tirimacco, who needed round-the- clock care in her parents’ home.
Although a later operation performed in Ohio improved her condition, she was never again able to speak, communicate or move her body. She spent the rest of her life bed-ridden in her parents’ home, surrounded by music that they hoped she could hear. Besides her mother, she is survived by three sisters, Kris Tirimacco Eckroate of South Fayette, Kira of New York City, and Karla of Canonsburg. A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today in St. Patrick Church, 300 West Pike St., Canonsburg. Interment will be in St. Patrick Cemetery. Arrangements are by Sollon Funeral Home Ltd., 30 E. College St., Canonsburg. Memorial donations may be made to Canonsburg Hospital, Medical Boulevard, Canonsburg 15317, or to the Women’s Shelter of Washington, Pa., which does not divulge its address, (800) 791-4000.