Trailblazer for life

Retired educator needs liver, kidney; advocates for organ donations

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Yukon’s Kathy Davis, who spent 40 years with Yukon Public Schools, is receiving support and encouragement from former students, friends and colleagues as she awaits a life-saving liver transplant. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer

As she waits on a life-saving liver transplant, a well-respected retired educator who spent 40 years with Yukon Public Schools is asking fellow residents to consider organ donation – not just for her, but to benefit many others on the waiting list.

Kathy Davis was diagnosed in 1997 with primary biliary cirrhosis, a chronic disease in which the bile ducts of her liver are slowly destroyed.

Davis has been in and out of the hospital since last November and has dialysis treatment three times a week as she awaits a new liver. She’s also on the kidney transplant list as the disease is affecting other organs.

The retired educator, who was Yukon’s Teacher of the Year in 1998, must watch her daily fluid intake and is on a restricted, low-sodium diet. After spending 30 days in the hospital, she has undergone physical therapy to strengthen her legs.

She cannot drive and must rely on friends and family to take her to doctor’s appointments and medical treatments.

“I’m not the type of person to ask for help,” Davis said. “So it’s been kind of a humbling experience.”

On a recent Friday, Davis received a call at 5 a.m. and learned she would be getting a new liver from an anonymous individual who had donated in her name. She went to the hospital and was being prepped all day for the transplant, only to learn the liver was not viable for her.

Davis was sent back home but remains determined. Because of her disease, the organ donation must come from a deceased person.

“When I get my donor, I’ll get one of their kidneys and their complete liver,” she said.
Davis wants to heighten awareness about the need for organ donors.

“Not just for me, but for everybody,” she said. “Through my network, I’m asking people to talk to their friends and family, because you need to talk now. When someone passes away, everyone is more emotional and they’re not thinking about giving away organs. I want people to have those conversations now with friends and family.

“We all know we’re going to die. It’s inevitable. When it does happen, consider giving of those organs and, if possible, donating in my name.”

Davis retired from YPS in June 2017 having taught in the classroom 32 years before spending the last eight years as district curriculum director.

VILLAGE OF SUPPORT

Fellow educators, friends and family have reached out to support Davis since learning of her condition.

The retired Yukon teacher has received an outpouring of support locally from fellow educators, former students and their parents and even other students she did not know.

“It makes me feel like I did make a difference,” Davis said. “Everybody wants to step up and help.

“I was humbled; I was overwhelmed.”

Davis specifically mentioned the Beta Beta chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, an international organization of current and retired educators.

Beta Beta chapter President Kathleen Smith taught with Davis in Yukon.

“Kathy is well known as a trailblazer, both in her profession as an educator and as a committed member of Delta Kappa Gamma, but now she has become a trailblazer for her own personal health challenges and in advocating for others,” Smith said.

Davis’ professional legacy continues through the students she taught, the teachers she helped and the district improvements she implemented.

“Kathy has the amazing gift of recognizing potential and developing leaders, and she has served as an encouraging and caring mentor to many young women in Delta Kappa Gamma,” Smith added. “Following Kathy Davis’ example, members of Delta Kappa Gamma are now stepping up in positions of leadership and service to assist Kathy as she experiences health challenges.”

Despite her concerning and life-threatening diagnosis, Davis’ indomitable spirit, can-do attitude, unfailing faith, and commitment to live life to the fullest are an inspiration to all who know her, according to Smith.

Davis started her teaching career in 1978 as a physical education teacher at Central Elementary School. In 1981, she had major surgery to remove cancer after melanoma metastasized under her left arm and chemotherapy impacted her immune system.

In 1983, she moved to Parkland Elementary and taught fifth and sixth grade language arts through 1995. Davis was at Independence Middle School from 1996 to 2010, teaching language arts, social studies and American history.

TURN FOR THE WORSE

Primary biliary cirrhosis is a slow-growing disease and Davis’ doctor last May told her she was doing great and her medications were performing well.

“He even said, ‘You may never ever have to have a transplant’,” he said. “Then October came.”

Davis got an allergic reaction after getting a flu shot and a week later ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. She was in and out of the hospital in November and December for various reasons.

Davis had a difficult time breathing as fluid began building up around her lungs, so she had to have them regularly drained.

“When I got in the hospital this last time, they started me on a different regimen that also involved dialysis,” she said.

Davis is staying upbeat, knowing her body should be functioning properly within 48 hours of receiving her new liver and kidney.

After receiving the transplant, she will lean heavily on her large support group. She expects to be in the intensive care unit for three days after receiving her new organs and stay about 10 days in the hospital.

Then for three months, Davis will require around-the-clock care at home because of the medications she’ll be taking.

“I should able to get up and do things around the house, but I have to have someone there to make sure I get those medications at the right time,” she said.

Fellow retired Yukon teacher Neta Duke is a great friend who has taken on added responsibilities to get people to come in “shifts” to care for Davis during the critical three-month recovery period.

As she awaits a new liver and kidney, Davis would love to hear from people. She may be reached at kldavis52@gmail.com