Nina Veronica Roelke, 56, a founder of the Amputee Association of Maryland

December 12, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Nina Veronica Roelke, a former hospital materials supervisor and a founder of the Amputee Association of Maryland Inc., died Tuesday of brain cancer and a lung condition at Stella Maris Hospice. She was 56 and had moved to Catonsville in 2002 from her Westminster home.

Born Nina Veronica Horn in Baltimore, she was educated in city public schools and attended Hood College for two years. She worked after that as supervisor of materials management at Kernan Hospital in Baltimore into the 1990s until health problems forced her to retire, said her son, Frank Roelke of Westminster.

In 1987, Ms. Roelke and two other amputees founded the Amputee Association of Maryland Inc., a support group for those who had had an amputation or were awaiting one. The all-volunteer, nonprofit organization had trained counselors to help and provide information about topics such as prostheses and phantom pain.

In 1991, Ms. Roelke became president of the Amputee Coalition of America Inc., a national association of amputee support groups.

"When I had my right leg amputated in 1985, I didn't know what to expect. There was no one to talk to, no type of support group at all," Ms. Roelke said in 1991, during one of several interviews with The Sun and the Evening Sun . "It was so bad when I went through it. I had to make a decision - whether to lose my leg or keep what I had."

She said she lost her leg below the knee to osteomyelitis, a bone infection caused by exploratory surgery for a pain in her ankle. By the time she made the decision to amputate, Ms. Roelke had undergone 38 surgeries on her leg.

"I wore a 70-pound brace on my leg, and was in and out of hospitals having the infection treated. There was the chance that I could possibly lose my life due to the osteomyelitis. I had to decide whether I wanted to go on like this, or lose my leg and live my life without a limb," she said. "I am still struggling with this disease, and I will for the rest of my life.

"But by sitting with someone who is about to lose a limb, I know that I can help them deal with what's going to happen to them because I have been there. I know that I have given them peace of mind. They know that someone will be there for them when it's over."

Her son said Ms. Roelke underwent 64 surgeries and developed problems with her heart and lungs.

She was divorced.

No services are planned, her son said.

In addition to her son, she is survived by her parents, Betty Swift of Catonsville and Robert Horn of Ohio, and a sister, Ellen Banky of Frederick.

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