Erinn McCarthy

[ Age 14 ] The Maryvale Preparatory freshman enjoyed basketball, swimming, painting and writing.

March 16, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN REPORTER

Erinn Kathleen McCarthy, a ninth-grader at Maryvale Preparatory School who enjoyed writing and the theater, died Monday of osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, at her Lutherville home. She was 14.

Miss McCarthy, who enjoyed playing basketball, riding her bike and swimming, was 11 and in sixth grade at the independent school in Brooklandville, when she began experiencing pain in her knee.

An initial X-ray showed nothing, but when the pain persisted, her physician ordered an MRI which showed a cancerous growth on her femur.

It was thought that Miss McCarthy might have to lose her leg until Dr. Kristy Weber, an orthopedic surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, identified her as a perfect candidate for Repiphysis. The procedure -- used only in 110 other cases in the U.S. at the time -- saved her leg, while removing the cancerous tumor and replacing the affected area with a spring-loaded implantable prosthetic device.

Over the next 10 months, she completed 35 weeks of chemotherapy including 20 stays in the hospital, and was able to return to Maryvale as a full time seventh-grader by the following Thanksgiving.

"She had more courage, strength and determination than anyone I've ever known. She never asked, `Why me?' or `This isn't fair,' and loved to tell me, `It is what it is,'" said her father, William J. McCarthy, executive vice president of wealth management at Sun Trust Bank. "She was focused on living and reminded me that there were kids at Hopkins who were a lot sicker."

Miss McCarthy was able to ride her bike again, return to a full academic regimen, and live as a normal teenager.

But late last year, the cancer returned, and she was forced to undergo five lung operations, another on her knee and radiation.

"At the end of January, her mother, Maria, and I were told by her doctors that there was nothing more that could be done. I remember as we drove up I-83, wondering how we were going to tell her," Mr. McCarthy said.

"She asked what the doctors had said, and we told her. She said she wanted to tell her 11-year-old brother Ryan, and then we all cried," her father said.

"And then I overheard her call with her friend Melissa. `Well, they really have nothing more to offer. There is nothing more to do.' She cried and then I heard her say, `Are we going to the mall tomorrow?'"

She later told her mother, "`I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to because there are so many things I want to do,'" Mr. McCarthy said.

"She was a solid student and a person of real determination. I recently re-read her application to school where she had written: `I am friendly, caring, hardworking and would be a great representative for Maryvale,'" said Sister Shawn Marie Maguire, the school's headmistress.

"She was all of these things and so well-known throughout the campus. She loved to paint, write and read and was part of our backstage crew in the theater," the headmistress said. "And she had to be in pain most of the time, but she never let on."

"Right now we're studying To Kill a Mockingbird, and when Atticus Finch gives his son Jem his definition of courage, we all thought of Erinn," said Carol J. Malone, who has taught English at the school for 27 years. "He said, `It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through to the end no matter what.'

"When you have a young person like Erinn who is facing death and has so much wisdom, it's uncanny, yet it's what characterized her," Ms. Malone said.

Last week, Miss McCarthy was able to fulfill a wish to visit Jamaica with her family.

"Erinn liked to travel. She loved the warm weather, the beach and pool, and she had good days in the beginning but got weaker near the end of the week," her father said. "Erinn died a little more than 24 hours after we returned home."

"She was bubbly, fun-loving and full of energy," said Sandy Guillott, a longtime neighbor. "I enjoyed her company as much as my children did. It was hard not to; she was quick-witted and her laughter was contagious. Erinn celebrated life in every possible way, and I'm so happy that she was a part of mine."

Miss McCarthy was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Church of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 20 E. Ridgely Road, Timonium, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

Surviving, in addition to her parents and brother, are her grandmothers, Marie C. McCarthy of Catonsville and Rose Maggenti of Towson; and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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