Betty Carole Corya, M.D.
August 9, 1937 - May 10, 2018
Betty Carole Reichel Corya, M.D., 80, died May 10, 2018, at Brookdale Carmel due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Born August 9, 1937 in St. Albans, West Virginia, Betty spent her early childhood in North Vernon, Indiana, attending elementary school in a one room schoolhouse where she simultaneously learned both her grade and advanced grade lessons and was the pianist for the church choir. Her high school years were spent in Sacramento, California where she graduated at age 16 and then returned to Indiana to attend Indiana University in Bloomington. After graduating from IU at age 19 she attended the IU School of Medicine, graduating at age 22 in 1960. She was married to Robert S. Corya for 23 years and they had four children.
Betty completed her internship and residency at IU Medical Center and was Director of Medical Services at Goodwill Industries in Indianapolis for several years before returning to IU for a Cardiology Fellowship. During her years as a faculty member and research associate at the Krannert Institute of Cardiology, she authored many peer-review articles, lectured at congresses globally, and served on multiple medical school and National committees. She was a popular professor, teaching history-taking, physical diagnosis, and clinical care to hundreds of medical students. She was a pioneer in the field of echocardiography, and published results of clinical studies demonstrating that cardiac wall motion in humans could be accurately assessed by the earliest version of the echocardiogram in the detection of coronary artery disease. Her research showed that the echocardiogram was more sensitive than the gold standard of the time (the EKG) at identifying an acute heart attack. She retired from IU in 2001 with Professor Emeritus status and remained active in echocardiography until retiring completely in April 2009. During her tenure at IU, her Academic honors included Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honorary Society. She belonged to Alpha Phi Sorority at IU in Bloomington and maintained friendships and get-togethers with a small group of her sorority sisters. She was involved in numerous community and national organizations and causes.
An avid birder and lover of nature, Betty traveled to all 50 states and all seven continents. She was particularly fond of Eagle Creek Park, visiting almost weekly from 1970-2015. She enjoyed sailing immensely and did so most of her adult life, and she played the piano and accordion. She was also an accomplished ballroom dancer after taking up this hobby later in life, and winning numerous competitive awards for her age group, including a National 10 Dance Championship at Ohio Star Ball in 2001.
Betty was preceded in death by her parents, Fritz and Irene Reichel, and sister, Faye Harper, of Wooster, Ohio. Survivors include her four children – Sara Corya (Doug Williamson), Thomas Corya, Suzanne Corya Russell and Adam Corya (Lyndsay); siblings Ann Lloyd (Jim) of Florida, Fritz Reichel (Betty) of Sardinia, IN and Bradley Reichel (Linda) of Bloomington, IN; niece Erika Roach (Neal), nephews Johnny and Bradley Reichel Jr; 14 grandchildren; and twin great-grandchildren. Dr. Corya (Betty) will be dearly missed by her family and friends. Her family would like to acknowledge Bruce E. Webb, her primary caretaker for several years, whose actions and friendship enabled her to experience additional joyful years in her own home. Her children deeply thank Susan Rasmussen, RN, Betty’s cardiology nurse, research partner, and best friend of nearly 50 years, for taking amazing care of her for the past ten.
A Celebration of Betty’s Life will be held on Friday, May 18, from 5-8pm at Trader’s Point Creamery (9101 Moore Road, Zionsville). All are welcome.
Simplicity Funeral & Cremation Care-Zionsville are handling arrangements and messages for the family may be left at www.simplicityfuneralandcremationcare.com
If desired, memorial contributions may be made to the Eagle Creek Park Foundation (7840 West 56th St, Indianapolis, IN 46278)
Her children wanted to share with everyone what they have entitled, “Our Long Goodbye”
Betty (Mom) spent her last days living the way she always has – surrounded by admirers in awe of her courage and strength, and on her own terms. She wasn’t going to go down without a heroic fight, and without making sure her family was completely prepared for her death. Which, after multiple tear-streaming false alarms, we finally were. By the time she succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease, death hastened by a mysteriously broken arm, her determination and endurance had outlasted all of ours. She said goodbye to everyone who mattered most in the end, and then she finally let go and went home. We’re not sure if her last smile was for one or all of us, or whether it was a vision of someone she loved and was going to meet, or a vision of her house and property, or one of the farms on which she lived as a little girl, but we do know that in that moment, she was happy and welcomed.
By the time Mom’s arm was broken, requiring doses of pain medication we knew would lead to unconsciousness, then dehydration (because she had been very clear years ago about her wish for no IV’s or feeding tubes) and finally death, she was all but ready to go. Despite Susan Rasmussen noting several times that Mom was dying with more brain cells intact than Susan has operating today, the truth is that the majority of things that made Mom who she was had already been taken by her disease. Even the most quintessential Betty characteristics that had lingered well past her memory – her laugh, her eye-rolling when someone was being an idiot, the propping up of her feet on whatever was handy – had disappeared. Recent visits had mostly been a reminder of how very much she, and we, had lost. So, the only work left for her to do was to ready the rest of us for her final departure, and she did that with her usual stubborn willfulness, patiently, as visitors came and went. They included not only family and friends, but also people who used to work at the memory care facility, because even 10 years into Alzheimer’s, she moved in and made such an impression on the people around her.
Every day for over a week in the 3-windowed, pink curtained room we knew would be Mom’s last, it was almost easy to forget she hadn’t been herself for years, and to connect the way she finally died to the way she had lived, as we sat together looking at old pictures and videos, and sharing memories. Having been born dirt poor to a strong woman from West Virginia and an immigrant from Germany – who came to the US by himself on a boat at age 17 – she was first raised on a farm and attended a one-room school house. While there, she learned her lessons, and those of the grades above her. Her sister, Anna Marie, says Mom was cool and collected from her earliest days, taking care of her younger siblings while their parents worked. She announced at the age of 3 that she wanted to be a doctor, and this wish was solidified when she was thrown from the windshield of a car in her pre-teen years and had to spend the following month recovering in the home of a nurse who lived close to the hospital. Despite that setback, and the humble beginnings of her education, when the family moved to Sacramento, California, and Betty was thrust into the largest high school in the state, she graduated at age 16, then moved back to Indiana to attend IU, again graduating very early, at the age of 19. From there she went to the IU School of Medicine, one of only 3 women in her class, and impressed her professors so much that when her daughter attended that school 25 years later, some of them told her stories about Betty and her brilliance. Dr. Charles Fisch, a world-renowned cardiologist, insisted that she join his fellowship program, where, incidentally, she in turn eventually insisted that Susan Rasmussen, RN, receive training alongside the cardiology fellows. Mom and Susan’s pioneering research on the echocardiogram changed the practice of medicine, and Mom’s impact on the world – through not only her research and her clinical practice, but also through the countless medical students, residents, and fellows she taught – cannot really be measured, though we know it is vast.
Mom’s accomplishments as a cardiologist and professor did not stop her from living a full and adventurous life. She and Susan traveled the world, sometimes related to work, often just for fun. Mom traveled to every state and to all 7 continents, including Antarctica. Many trips were birding expeditions, as she was an avid birder, identifying them by not only their appearance, but also their songs and their flight patterns. She took up ballroom dancing in her forties, and (of course) won awards at competitions. She mastered everything she did. Her fondest memories, though, and our fondest memories of her, are probably those of her living life on her 9 acres on the hill near Eagle Creek Park. We remember her long walks – rain, shine or snow – on her property and well beyond past its borders; we remember her feeding the birds and watching them through binoculars from her huge living room windows; we remember her gardening out in the sun and 85 degree heat, raising vegetables she canned for the winter; we remember her playing the piano and the accordion; we remember Friday night fried chicken dinners, preceded by scotch and soda, or wine, on the back patio as the crickets chirped and the sun set. We remember thousands of things she taught us, far too many to recount here, about life, history, health, animals, parenting, and the rest. She was never one of those know-it-alls, but rather always the most humble and patient of teachers, who seemed to think it was a matter of course that a mother would know all of the things she knew, and would share them with her children to ensure their success in the world.
We have our private memories too. Susan will take hers to the grave, as Mom would want. Others we share with each other regularly, with one-word or one-phrase utterances that say all we need to hear to conjure up a fond memory: Lilly of the Valley, baby birds, the cedar closet, ice skating and the walk up the hill, cello, clarinet, flute, Pal, Duke, Henry, Amy, Sara Lee chocolate cake, the K-mart abandonment, echocardiogram reading on the living room VCR, basement floods, the Grand Canyon, motor home trips out west, vacations all over the country, piano and silly songs – the kangaroo one comes to mind, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, puffy winter coats, the blizzard of 78, Ben (a horse) and Charlie (a donkey), Ben and Charlie in the house, dish nights, and, again, days and evenings on the back patio. Mom had the best laugh, and she shared it often.
Our last 2 weeks with Mom, with all of us kids and Susan together, as the family we’ve been for so long, were hard, but also rich. We spent hours and days on end, sometimes in shifts, surrounding her bed – talking (to each other and to her), eating, sleeping, crying, welcoming visitors, laughing, and sometimes just sitting in silence. We wanted her to know we were there, we wanted to protect her, we wanted her to know she was loved, and we wanted her to know we would be OK after she left. We shared many fascinating stories with each other, some of which only one of us knew until this final time with her. Mom’s dying brought us together for a longer period than we’d been together since the first of us went off to IU. Her dying forced us to partner with each other and to take care of each other in her care, and in our grief, and in our shared joy of having known and loved her. We sat, slept, ate, talked all around the room and around her bed, from the morning darkness and the dawn chorus, through sunny days as the breeze flowed through the room and the hyacinths on the windowsill, through a thunderstorm, and through the evenings as the sun set so slowly and peacefully that we realized – seemingly suddenly – every night that we were sitting in darkness. We shared stories and spontaneous jokes and laughter and tears, Mom listening all the while, perhaps enjoying it, or perhaps wishing we’d shut up, or waiting for the right moment to leave us, or oblivious to us all – we never knew which, really. Perhaps each of these happened over the course of the week. She would like that we don’t know for sure what she was thinking in those final days, as we said goodbye.
Betty Carole Reichel Corya was an incredible many things. She was brilliant, beautiful, classy, graceful, strong, determined, composed, funny, practical, caring, gentle, brave, direct, loving, and – I just have to say it again – so ridiculously brilliant. She was an incredible woman, daughter, sister, doctor, wife, mother, and friend. We will love and remember her forever, not only through our memories, but also because we are all who we are because of who she was.