Friday, October 17, 2008

Michelle's Obituary

Michelle Lynn Mayer

Michelle Lynn Mayer, age 39, of Durham, NC, died October 11, 2008 at the Duke Hospice Inpatient Care Facility after a long battle with scleroderma. Michelle was born January 18, 1969, in Philadelphia, PA, to Claire A. (Catallo) Mayer and James A. Mayer. On October 11, 1997, she married Dr. William J. Steinbach in Philadelphia, PA.

Michelle’s commitment to leaving the world a better place than she found it has been reflected in her educational and professional career, as well as in her community and church activities. Her primary concerns centered on improving the access to and quality of health care for underserved children, supporting women and families, promoting awareness of scleroderma, and providing a forum for families facing terminal illness.

Michelle graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania (1990) with her B.S.N. in Nursing and a minor in Economics from the Wharton School; she earned her M.P.H. in Health Education (1992) and Ph.D. in Health Policy and Administration from the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1997). In 1994, Michelle served as a Health Economics Consultant for the World Bank in Washington, DC and Nairobi, Kenya. During her graduate career, Michelle was named Outstanding Doctoral Student and she received several prestigious fellowships.

While living in California, Michelle was a Clinical Research Associate in the Department of Pediatrics at Stanford University (Oct. 1998-Nov. 1999). She also served as Research Director of the Children’s Health Initiative at the Lucile S. Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA (Nov. 1999-Apr. 2001).

From 2001 until 2007, Michelle was a Research Fellow at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research and a Research Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was awarded numerous federal grants to support her research, which focused on health care access and quality for underserved and special needs children. Michelle’s scholarly work has been published in several leading journals, including Health Affairs and Pediatrics.

In her capacity as Research Assistant Professor, Michelle taught several courses and seminars in the graduate program of the Department of Health Policy and Administration in the School of Public Health of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She served as a mentor to five Ph.D. and two M.P.H. students, guiding their dissertations and theses to completion.

Michelle has always demonstrated strong leadership in her community. From 2001 to 2004, Michelle was active in the Triangle Scleroderma Support Group, leading support group meetings and promoting education and awareness of scleroderma. In 2002, she founded the Elizabeth Ministry at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, and led it until 2005. The Elizabeth Ministry supports women and their families during the childbearing years. She also volunteered with La Leche, an organization that promotes breastfeeding.

Michelle’s belief in the power of community and friendship sustained her as well as those around her. Shortly after moving to Durham, Michelle initiated a neighborhood group for families with young children. The group hosts many annual events and serves as a support network for all the families involved, including Michelle’s family during her illness. Michelle also continued to volunteer at her children’s school, even after her illness had curtailed many daily life activities.

In May of 2008, Michelle began a weblog of essays on parenting, living, and dying, to share her experiences with other families facing the challenge of terminal illness ( Since late August, the site has been visited over 70,000 times, and it includes testimonials from hundreds of readers whose lives it has touched.

Michelle is survived by her husband, Dr. William J. Steinbach, her children Amelia and Aidan, ages 9 and 7; her parents, James A. and Claire Mayer, and her brothers, Anthony, James M., Mark, and Keith Mayer, all of Philadelphia, PA.

A memorial mass will be held on Thursday, October 16, at 10:30am at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, followed by a reception celebrating Michelle’s life, complete with a slideshow she created. Her remains will be inurned in the columbarium of St. Thomas More Church upon its completion. Walker’s Funeral Home of Chapel Hill is handling the arrangements.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Scleroderma Foundation (, 300 Rosewood Drive, Suite 105, Danvers, MA 01923) or to the Duke Hospice Inpatient Care Facility (, 1001 Corporate Dr, Hillsborough, NC 27278).


Terri said...

Wow. Not much else to say about a woman who gave her heart and soul to all those that came into her life.

Linda Crispell said...

She had the accomplishments of 100 people!

Grandma J said...

God speed Michelle. May our loving and merciful Lord grant peace to Michelle's family.

I don't know how I came upon this site, but I've read Michelles whole blog, and I'm humbled...very humbled.

Connie said...

Bill to all who knew and loved Michelle,
I found this blog via an email from Dr. Finkle thru the Scleroderma support group. I never had the chance to meet Michelle in person, but about 3 years ago, I was in the throes of depression after being diagnosed with scleroderma. I was looking for someone who had the same type, who might have something to share that would give me some hope. Jane Pahner took my request to the group and soon I had an email from Michelle. She gave me what I so desperately needed and I will be forever grateful. We had more in common than either of us knew - my professional work is also in public health, in a local health department here in NC.
I try never to miss an opportunity to do for others what Michelle did for me - take the time to care.
May God bless you and your children. I know you will be held in the hearts of many for the rest of your lives, as will be Michelle.
With love,
Connie Lawson
Trinity, NC

imi4u2c said...

I feel for you every day. I keep coming back to re-read her blogs.
God bless you,

The Admiral said...

I'm sorry I never got to know about Michelle until it was too late. I have Pulmonary Hypertension, not related to scleroderma, but not unknown among the scleroderma crowd.

May light perpetual shine upon her, and remain with those who loved her.

Anonymous said...

Michelle was a beautiful person in every possible way, I am touched by her words, and saddened to hear of her passing. She is a true Saint.

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itsme said...

I still think about Michelle. I wonder if you might ever post and just let us know how you and the children are doing. She was an amazing woman.

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Norman Smith said...

We use Obituaries so that others may know the death of a person especially those who is closed to them or know them.

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