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Illness claims victim advocate

Chelye Schuetze, an activist for victims of rape and sexual assault, dies after liver transplant

Liver failure sparked by a rare genetic disorder was likely responsible for the sudden death Tuesday of one of the Rogue Valley's most passionate activists for victims of rape and sexual assault, family members said.

Chelye Schuetze, victim advocate with Asante Health System in Medford, died in Portland two days after receiving a liver transplant and more than a week after lingering flu-like symptoms deteriorated into a coma. She was 40.

Liver specialists are almost certain Schuetze was a victim of Wilson's disease, a genetic disorder afflicting one in 30,000 people that causes the body to hoard copper, sister Jennifer Schuetze said. The disease is fatal unless detected through a simple blood test and treated with lifelong medication.

It was a complete shock, Jennifer Schuetze said. She was young and vibrant and healthy.

The death sent shock waves through the Rogue Valley's social service ranks, where Chelye Schuetze, who lived in Grants Pass, had worked as a former volunteer coordinator at the Dunn House domestic violence shelter, as coordinator of Community Works' Rape Crisis Program and, most recently, for Asante.

It will be an incredible loss for the community, said Arnie Green, director of Community Works. She was the leading, most passionate advocate for victims of rape and sexual assault.

Known for her organization and enthusiasm, Chelye Schuetze was a former hotel management worker who turned from business to social service as a way to make a difference in the world.

She wanted to work in a career where people took care of each other, her sister said.

But Schuetze combined that compassion with management-level skills, said Maggie Jordan, director of victim services at Community Works. Jordan worked with Schuetze on several area panels.

She was very bright, very energetic, she was always willing to take on assignments and to do an excellent job, Jordan said. She was just a wonderful human being.

Her death followed about two weeks of low energy, nausea and, later, jaundice. The symptoms worsened and she was airlifted to Portland, where she suffered liver failure. Schuetze received a liver transplant Sunday, but the organ never functioned, her sister said. Kidney failure and fluid retention left her with no brain function; family members agreed Monday to withdraw life support. Doctors have indicated she likely suffered from the disorder that prevents the body from excreting copper, which accumulates in the body from birth.

The bright spot in the sudden tragedy is that Schuetze's death alerted other family members to the likelihood of Wilson's disease, which is hereditary.

None of the rest of the family will ever have this because of what happened to Chelye, Jennifer Schuetze said.

A memorial service celebrating Schuetze's life is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday at Warm Hearts Ranch, 302 W. Hilltop Road, Talent.

Schuetze, a native of Kokomo, Ind., is survived by her partner, Greg Clark of Grants Pass; two sisters, Kimberly Clausen of Grants Pass and Jennifer Schuetze of Colorado Springs, Colo.; an uncle, Vic Lively of Ashland, and a large extended family.

Reach reporter JoNel Aleccia at 776-4465, or e-mail