By JANET HEIM
3:32 PM EDT, March 30, 2013
Amy Rohrer is remembered for putting others first, always concerned about those in need. Her career choices of social work and nursing fit her personality and values well.
“Always the first to see the good in others, Amy provided everyone the benefit of the doubt, concerning herself not with their imperfections or shortcomings, but rather focusing on their virtues,” oldest sibling David Bittle said at Amy’s celebration of life service March 25.
She recently had crossed paths with a woman and her child who were basically homeless. Amy got them something to eat, purchased some toys for the child and gave them her phone number in case they needed anything else.
“She was all about paying it forward,” said her mother, Juanita “Anita” Elliott of Hagerstown. “She felt so blessed. She had so much, and others had so little.”
Amy’s sister, Beth Bittle of Frederick, Md., said rarely did Amy go to the store, even if just to the grocery store or drugstore, that she didn’t come home with a little gift for someone.
“She was the biggest gift giver you could imagine,” Beth said. “She was so thoughtful, really sensitive, really diplomatic.”
Born and raised along Manor Church Road in Boonsboro, Amy graduated from Boonsboro High School in 1988. The youngest of Anita and the late Earl Bittle’s four children, she was only 3 when Earl died.
David was the oldest, followed by Robin, who was “profoundly retarded,” Anita said, then Beth and Amy. Robin died when she was 9 1/2, having lived at Melmark, a special-needs home, since age 4.
Amy also had a cousin with special needs, so she had a soft spot for people who were mentally or physically challenged. She worked as a residential manager for ARC at one point in her career.
Amy and Beth had a special bond.
“She was my best friend,” Beth said. “We were each other’s confidants. We grew up like that. It never ended.”
About three years after Earl’s death, Anita married William “Bill” Elliott. The Bittle children considered Bill their father.
“He was the only father she remembered,” Anita said of Amy.
“He has been a perfect rock for us. They’ll say the best decision I made was marrying Bill. He really loved all of them, but he and Amy had a really tight bond because she lived with us for a year and a half. She was such an appreciative, generous person with her compliments.”
Amy’s adoration of Bill was mutual. He noted that her focus never was on possessions, but that it was relationships that mattered to her and taking care of her son, Adam.
“She had absolutely no interest in material things,” Bill said. “Things were functional. She wanted a little house for her and Adam and a little car.”
David remarked at the service that it was easy to remember Amy’s “wide smile, exceptional compassion and kind heart” ... laugh, silliness and “inherent sweetness.”
“She made us laugh,” Anita said. “She was always looking for a fun time with everything.”
As an example, Amy had given Anita and a friend gaudy green necklaces for St. Patrick’s Day. Amy also was known for putting plastic snakes and bugs in beds as a practical joke.
Beth said Amy loved whiling away a Saturday morning drinking coffee in her pajamas and that she was known for wearing bright lipstick.
Holidays, family gatherings and having friends over for dinner were highlights for Amy. Her adventurous spirit showed when she took a nine-week, cross-country road trip in her 20s with longtime friend Becky Kendle Evans, who was a strong support for Amy and her family during Amy’s illness.
Amy’s life changed once Adam was born eight years ago. The “gregarious, self-confident” young mother’s focus now became taking care of her son.
“She was such a great mom,” Anita said.
Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in communications and eventually decided to go into nursing, seeking a flexible schedule. She graduated from Hagerstown Community College’s nursing program in 2007.
“She was always trying to find a better-suited schedule for Adam,” Beth said.
Amy and Adam had been living with Anita and Bill about a year and a half in their home of 18 years on the east side of Hagerstown. Amy had custody of Adam since she and her former husband, Dale Rohrer, divorced more than six years ago.
She loved taking Adam for hikes around the lake at Greenbrier State Park and shared her love for animals with him by taking him to the Humane Society of Washington County regularly.
Dale had Adam, a second-grader at Ruth Ann Monroe Primary School, every other weekend, but had been sharing parenting more since Amy had gotten sick. He now has custody of Adam, with Anita and Bill helping out as needed.
Amy’s life took a sudden and unexpected turn when she became sick in April 2012. She made an appointment with a doctor at the spine center in Hagerstown because of chronic neck pain, exacerbated by a disc problem after lifting a patient while a nurse at Meritus Medical Center.
She was referred to Frederick for a test and, three days later, after passing out and being rushed to the hospital, Amy learned she had sepsis, which required a five-day hospitalization at Meritus Medical Center.
She returned home with oral antibiotics, and a bone abscess developed. When Amy finally had an MRI, it was discovered that she had osteomyelitis, an infection of the spine.
Anita arranged for Amy to be transferred to Sinai Hospital, where the abscess in one and a half vertebra was removed on April 28, 2012. A major reconstructive surgery stabilized her neck on May 10, 2012.
Amy’s extended family, including aunts, cousins and sisters-in-law, rallied around her and took turns staying overnight with Amy at Sinai. David and his wife, Lynn, did the scheduling for what proved to be “wonderful bonding with both sides of the family,” Anita said.
Amy was home for six weeks when her PICC line — used for prolonged antibiotic treatment — was removed. Five days later, on June 28, 2012, she was hospitalized in Hagerstown with a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lungs.
Her love and care for Adam came before anything else. It was time for Adam to head to the YMCA for a special activity, and even though Amy sensed she had an embolism and needed to get to the hospital, she insisted on getting Adam to where he needed to be first, Anita said.
Amy’s condition was serious enough that she was moved through the emergency room quickly. After an almost-weeklong hospitalization, she was discharged with a six-month therapy of blood thinners, which had a lot of side effects.
Registered nurse Cathy Ware was very comforting to Amy and her family several times when Amy was hospitalized at Meritus, Anita said. She served as a chalicist at Amy’s celebration of life service.
Once Amy was off the blood thinners in December 2012, she then could consider options for dealing with the nerve pain as the result of her complicated neck surgeries. Most importantly, she was looking forward to being released by her doctor in April to return to work, one year after her first surgery.
“She kept having hope it would get better,” Beth said.
“She had a lot of pain,” Anita said.
“But she was not without hope,” David said.
Amy was making plans for the future, which included finding a new job.
Sadly, she collapsed March 16 after suffering cardiac arrest and died two days later. The results of an autopsy are not complete.
“It was like a medical perfect storm, rolled into a nightmare,” Bill said.
The family found a copy of a poem by Linda Ellis, “How to Live Your Dash,” in Amy’s room after her death. It was read at her funeral, summing up the dash between the birth year and the death year.
For those who knew Amy, she made the most of her dash.
“I think she really tried to make her dash count,” Anita said.
“She was a sweet angel that we were lucky to have,” Beth said.
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Amy Bittle Rohrer, who died March 18 at the age of 42. Her obituary was published in the March 21 edition of The Herald-Mail.