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December 6, 2012

Obituary: Kim Sutton-Tyrrell

Sutton-Tyrrell,KimA memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Dec. 10 at Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church for faculty member Kim Sutton-Tyrrell, who died Dec. 3, 2012, of ocular melanoma.

Tyrrell, vice chair for academics in the Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology, was 54.

Tyrrell earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Penn State in 1980. She did her graduate work in public health at Pitt, where she earned a master’s degree in 1983 and a PhD in 1986.

During graduate school she worked as a staff nurse in the cardiology unit at UPMC Presbyterian. She also was the principal research assistant in the Department of Epidemiology, 1983-88. She joined the epidemiology faculty in 1988, was promoted to associate professor in 1994 and professor in 2002. She received a secondary appointment at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute this year.

Tyrrell served for several years on the University Senate’s budget policies committee, to which she was elected in 1998.

Beyond her academic work, she took the lead in establishing summer and holiday events at which works from the hands of GSPH faculty, staff and friends — including her own handcrafted jewelry — were sold to benefit the Evelyn H. Wei Scholarship Award in Epidemiology.

Her primary scientific area was the application of subclinical measures of atherosclerosis. In the early 1990s she demonstrated that in older adults systolic blood pressure indicated the extent of vascular disease in the carotid arteries — a key stroke risk factor in the elderly — and that reducing the blood pressure with drug therapy would reduce that risk.

She went on to collaborate with faculty across the University to identify and evaluate women at high risk for cardiovascular disease. She also examined cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and smoking in women transitioning to menopause.

Tyrrell dedicated much of her academic career to women’s health, running national multicenter studies that collected the data needed to help older adults and women determine their risk of cardiovascular disease.

She was principal investigator for the National Institutes of Health-funded cardiovascular epidemiology training program and for the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, which examines the physical, biological, psychological and social health of middle-aged women.

She also was evaluating methods in young adults that would prevent age-related stiffness of the arteries that lead to cardiovascular disease and was conducting clinical trials to determine whether weight loss or a low-salt diet could improve the vascular stiffness and reduce carotid artery disease.

Tyrrell was among the first epidemiologists to apply carotid artery ultrasound imaging and vascular function techniques to clinical trials and population studies. To support this area of research, she founded and directed the epidemiology department’s ultrasound research laboratory.

Epidemiology chair Anne Newman said Tyrrell was known as “a meticulously well-organized, yet creative, researcher who expressed great joy in the process of scientific discovery. She shared her enthusiasm for her work and inspired her students and colleagues.”

Colleague Jane Cauley said, “Sorrow fills our hearts at Kim’s passing, but it’s important to concentrate on her life — a life that exemplified brilliance, curiosity, hard work, dedication, achievement and, most of all, a quiet strength and generous spirit.”

Lewis Kuller, emeritus professor of epidemiology and Tyrrell’s long-time research collaborator, said, “Kim was a unique person and will be greatly missed by her collaborators at both the University of Pittsburgh and across the world. An important role model in both her research and teaching, she combined skills in statistical and epidemiological methods with expertise in clinical laboratory approaches, understanding of human biology and application to preventative and clinical medicine.”

She is survived by her husband, Mark Tyrrell, and their children Andy, 20, and Katie, 16.

In Tyrrell’s memory, the Kim Sutton-Tyrrell Fund has been established at the Graduate School of Public Health. Donations can be mailed in care of Jill Ruempler, A660 Crabtree Hall, 130 DeSoto St., Pittsburgh 15261.

A memorial symposium is being planned for early 2013.

—From staff reports

Filed under: Feature,Volume 45 Issue 8

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