DECATUR — Patients, colleagues and friends of Dr. Evelyn Odunsi said the doctor’s impact will live on in the community for generations to come. Odunsi, 59, was found dead in her home Thursday morning. An autopsy conducted Friday revealed that the physician had died from natural causes.
As an obstetrician-gynecologist in the community for more than 20 years, Odunsi helped thousands of babies enter the world and transformed the lives of countless patients, friends and community members. Those who knew her remembered her as a warm, talented, caring, faithful woman and a champion of women’s health and empowerment.
“She had a very calming spirit,” said Richelle Irons, a patient and friend.
Odunsi delivered both of Irons’ children, Taylor, 19, and Jordan-Michael, 12. Taylor Irons is pursuing a career in the medical field because of Odunsi’s mentorship, her mom said.
The doctor also became a good friend, Irons said, adding that she was inspired by Odunsi’s giving spirit and dedication to her family, friends and community.
“She just was an awesome lady, and I’m going to miss my friend,” Irons said, adding that she is praying for Odunsi’s family.
Amy Chiligiris said she first met Odunsi in 1999 when she found out she was pregnant with her first child.
“She was a big part of my life during some of the most important times of my life,” she said.
Odunsi delivered Chiligiris’ children, George, 12, and Mia, 11.
“She is in the photo albums of the days my children were born, and I treasure those pictures of her, and our family on the days we became a family and expanded our family,” Chiligiris said.
She said the doctor’s presence was a comforting blend of warmth and quiet competence, even in scary circumstances such as the difficult delivery of her son.
“You weren’t scared because you felt very secure,” she said.
Chiligiris said Odunsi took a genuine interest in children.
“She wanted to see pictures and hear about your children, even after they were babies,” she said. “It didn’t just stop the day she delivered your child.”
Patient Scarlett Weibull said she was glad Odunsi was her doctor during her difficult pregnancy with twins Liam and Kristoffer, 19 months. It was a time filled with fear, pain and difficult medical decisions, but the physician helped the babies enter the world safely while caring for Weibull’s physical and emotional health in a way that was very meaningful to the mother of three.
“She got the human part,” Weibull said. “… You didn’t feel like ‘just’ a patient with her.”
Dr. Oliver Dold, chairman of the Decatur Memorial Hospital medical staff, said Odunsi was a productive, hardworking and well-respected doctor, combining a high level of technical skill with a great deal of compassion. Many in the local medical community were sharing special memories of the doctor Friday.
“She’s going to be sorely missed,” Dold said, adding that Odunsi’s colleagues, patients and community will surely feel the impact of her absence. “… You don’t replace someone like that.”
Dr. Dana Ray, a local physician and Decatur city councilwoman, said Odunsi first inspired her at a talk she attended as a young person.
“I remember going to a session when I was in junior high school, and she talked about being a physician and what it meant to be a physician,” Ray said, adding that the older woman’s presence had an important impact on her. “I was like, ‘I want to be a doctor just like her. That’s something that I left with after hearing her discussion.”
Ray said she respected Odunsi’s commitment to making people’s lives better.
“Her family can be confident that she did a wonderful job in our community,” she said. “She will be greatly missed, and she has left a legacy.”