Amy Reed, a physician whose death last week followed a remarkably successful fight to end a once-routine medical practice that spread a cancer she didn't even know she had, died "a warrior's death," her husband and fellow activist said Monday.
Now Hooman Noorchashm hopes the Veterans Administration will allow Reed, 44, to be buried Thursday at Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Newtown, not far from their Yardley home.
But the family’s request for the burial was denied Sunday by Ronald E. Walters, the Veterans Administration’s interim undersecretary for memorial affairs.
Noorchashm appealed the decision to VA Secretary David Shulkin that night. “Honoring Dr. Amy Reed’s valor and fall on the public health front would not diminish the heroic actions of our uniformed service members,” he wrote.
Noorchashm, a cardiothoracic surgeon, said laws governing burial in national cemeteries permit interment of civilians there in certain circumstances. He said his wife’s efforts to alert the the public, the medical establishment, and the Food and Drug Administration to the dangers of a surgical device known as an electric morcellator were consistent with the action of a warrior in uniform who also saves lives.
In 2013, Reed had a hysterectomy at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Physicians used a morcellator, whose motorized blades sliced up the uterus, allowing it to be removed through a small incision. But she had an undetected uterine cancer — a rare and aggressive malignancy called leiomyosarcoma — that the device spread throughout her abdomen.
As her cancer worsened, Reed and Noorchashm began an unrelenting campaign of articles, letters, emails, and social media warning against the hazard. The FDA issued a warning about the device in 2014. The leading manufacturer of the device has abandoned it. Most hospitals have stopped using the device, which had been around for two decades.
“When a citizen of the United States acts in a way that leads to hundreds if not thousands of lives being saved and sheds the light on a public health hazard, then they deserve some form of recognition in our national monuments,” Noorchashm said.
A number of civilians are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Among them are CIA and Foreign Service officials killed while serving the country, unidentified remains of the victims of American Airlines Flight 77 killed in the 9/11 attacks, and members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, writers, and movie stars. A number of the actors and other civilians buried there were the spouses of military veterans.
So the email from Walters rejecting the burial request hit Noorchashm hard. “After giving your request careful consideration, I have decided not to designate your wife as eligible for burial in a cemetery intended to honor military service,” it read.
Reed, who was an anesthesiologist and had a Ph.D., grew up in Bucks County. She and Noorchashm met as graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania 21 years ago. Both also earned medical degrees and began a family that now includes six children, ages 15, 14, 12, 10, 7, and 4.
A funeral Mass for Reed, who died Wednesday, will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Thursday, at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, 1723 Race St. The Mass will be preceded by a calling hour from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Visitors may also call from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Church of St. Andrew, 81 Swamp Rd., Newtown.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that direct contributions be made in Dr. Reed's memory to the Slay Sarcoma Research Initiative at www.slaysarcoma.com.
Noorchashm said he started thinking of ways to honor his wife's memory about a month ago. Taking the children to school every day, he would drive past the Washington Crossing cemetery, three miles from their home. Then, two days before she died, she asked him where she would be buried.
“I told her I had proposed Washington Crossing to Rep. Fitzpatrick" — U.S. Rep. Brian K. Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), who had offered his support — "and she nodded her head,” he said.