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Beloved Oklahoma physical therapist dies from Covid: 'All she wanted to do was help people'

Before her death from Covid-19, Rose Giroux Kalinski took care of just about everybody, whether you were a patient, a relative or "framily."
Rose Giroux Kalinski.
Rose Giroux Kalinski.Courtesy Chris Kalinski

On their first date 25 years ago, Chris Kalinski realized that Rose Giroux, the woman he would eventually marry and have two sons with, knew just about everybody in Norman, Oklahoma.

They met at the physical therapy office where Rose had just started working and Chris, a college student, had been receiving treatment from a different therapist.

On that first date, they went to the store to buy ingredients to cook a romantic dinner together. Once inside, they split up, each tackling half of the grocery list.

"I walk into the freezer section and I see her talking to somebody — and it was my dad," Chris said. "I walked up and I go, 'I didn't know you knew each other, did you meet my dad like randomly or what?,'

"She said, 'Oh no, he's one of my patients.'"

Rose had a reputation around Norman of being the caretaker for just about everybody. So, when she died of Covid-19 on Nov. 23 — just six days shy of what should have been her 49th birthday — it came as a great comfort, but little surprise, to her husband to receive letters from strangers and hear stories from those whose lives she had touched.

In recent years, Rose worked hard to qualify to treat patients with lymphedema, the swelling in extremities often suffered by cancer patients. The physical therapist had also risen to become the clinical manager of rehabilitation services at the Norman Regional Health System. It wasn't just a job for her, it was a calling.

"I can define her really as a healer because all she wanted to do was help people," Chris said.

Rose Giroux Kalinski with her husband, Chris, and sons Mathew and Gavin, at a University of Oklahoma football game.Courtesy Chris Kalinski

That was true even when she was off the clock. Rose took care of her family — be it blood relatives or her "framily," as she called friends who may as well have been kin.

Her sons, Gavin, 16, and Mathew, 13, knew their mom would take care of them or their teammates after their basketball games, where she was a fixture in the stands.

"I feel like every time any of my friends got hurt, everyone would always come and ask for help," Gavin said. "And I'd say, 'I don't know, I'll ask my mom.'"

Rose may have taken care of everyone in and and out of the household, but she could also practice tough love when it was needed. Her favorite saying was, "Suck it up, Buttercup."

This time of year should have been devoted to her famous "framily" holiday parties, in which her Hawaiian ham sandwiches and homemade chocolate-dipped pretzels were center stage, or her equally famous tailgating parties before home football games at the University of Oklahoma, both her and her husband's alma mater.

Six weeks after Rose's death, Jennifer Messner still struggles to talk about her best friend of 30 years since the day they met as freshmen at St. Gregory’s College, before they both transferred to OU.

"Rose was the best friend that everybody needs in their life," an emotional Messner said of the godmother of both her daughters. "She took care of me for 30 years."

Born in Norman on Nov. 29, 1971, Rose Giroux was raised in nearby Purcell, Oklahoma, the youngest of four children — two brothers and a sister.

Back then, she was known by her nickname "Rosie Posie," and was always peddling furiously to keep up with her older sister, Gerry, as she biked to the local park with her friends.

"She always tagged along with us on her little training wheels because she wanted to make sure she was there with us," Gerry Bugg said. "Whenever I went somewhere, I always took my little sister with me."

Years later, that connection extended to studying for a career in the health sciences. After Gerry went to college to become a nurse, Rose followed on a similar path, first at St. Gregory's before transferring to OU, where she would graduate with a bachelor's degree in physical therapy in 1995. Not that she ever fully left OU: Rose and her family regularly tailgated before and cheered during Sooner home football games, where her husband is the public-address announcer for the marching band.

Rose began her professional career at a clinic, the Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center, the place where her co-worker set her up on the fateful date with Chris. Rose married Chris, three years her junior, on May 4, 2001, and the dancing at their wedding reception couldn't even be stopped by tornado warning sirens.

After six years at her first job, she joined the Norman Regional Health System, where her longtime boss and mentor, John McFadden, said she had what he calls "the touch."

"She just always had the ability to put people at ease and make you feel like you were the most important person at that moment," McFadden said. "And that was the way she handled everybody."

When he needed treatment for his own spine issue, McFadden entrusted Rose with the job.

Rose Giroux Kalinski plays bingo at a church fundraiser.Courtesy Jennifer Messner

It's still painful for Messner to visit her friend's grave. She likes to instead visualize the moment her favorite photo of Rose was taken a few years ago — one in which she's poised to start a game of bingo at a fundraiser for her Catholic church. In the image, she has her dabber raised in the air while flashing her trademark smile.

"That is one of my favorite pictures of her, because everything about it says her," Messner said. "That smile and the playfulness, that's her."

Days before she was rushed to the hospital with pneumonia and difficulty breathing Nov. 14, Rose had been trying to plan a virtual alternative to the Kalinskis' annual "framily" Christmas party.

Until the moment she was intubated, she kept her sense of humor intact. At one point, she texted her husband a picture of herself in an oxygen mask with a "Star Wars" reference. "She joked, 'You know I look like I could go and blow up the Death Star,'" Chris said.

"Her and her sense of humor," he sighed.

"Suck it up, Buttercup" was her motto, after all. Even though she was diabetic and the doctors were alarmed at several complications, the Kalinskis never thought she would lose the battle — right until Chris received the call from the hospital that she had died as he was entering church for a prayer vigil.

"Rose was stubborn and I thought, of all people, she's gonna pull through this no problem," he said.

"And to this day, I have to be honest, it doesn't even feel like she's gone. I feel like she's going to come home any minute now."