It was the first day of high school senior year for Katie Gerstner, a day most young adolescents look forward to during much of their formative years. It’s the year when young adults gain new responsibilities, come of age, begin applying to colleges and look forward to meeting new friends and starting new chapters in life.
The last thing she expected was waking up and discovering her body covered in bruises. What followed was a diagnosis that would change her life and all the plans she had made.
A few weeks before she turned 18, Gerstner, then a student at Blue Springs South and resident of Lee’s Summit, Mo., found her being rushed to the emergency room where she received a blood test and, after being transferred to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). She survived 12 days in respiratory failure and a coma that lasted for nine. She underwent four rounds of intensive chemo starting in September of 2011, each of which put her in the hospital for 4-6 weeks at a stretch.
In January 2012, she finished her last round of chemo and in October, she will have two full years with no evidence of disease. Today, all those plans are taking shape, and a big part of them is matriculating at Avila University’s School of Nursing.
After Gerstner went into remission, she began reflecting on the impact the nurses at Children’s Mercy had and still have on her life. She decided she wanted to make changes in the lives of others as well. She applied to Avila not only because the nursing program has one of the top reputations in the Kansas City area, but also because it allowed her to be close to home.
“I like how close-knit and supportive everyone is of each other here,” Gerstner said. “Everyone is like a big family.”
Gerstner also is involved with the Avila cheerleading squad and, through volunteer work and the example she shows being a cancer survivor, gives meaning to the Avila mission – helping the dear neighbor and being the best whole person she can be, both as a student and future nurse as well as classmate and teammate.
Gerstner took a situation life threw at her and turned it into a means to begin helping others going through similar circumstances. She is heavily involved with Children’s Mercy and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, where she spends time volunteering. She also was recently honored alongside a two-year-old named Ike - who has overcome acute lymphoblast leukemia - as heroes at the Light the Night Walk.
Gerstner has learned through a difficult period that, even with small steps, one can make a huge impact on this world.
“My experience put life as a whole into perspective,” she said. “I don’t worry about all the little things, but rather, look at the fact I have a chance to worry about them.” AU
Media Contact: Bob Luder, 816.501.2434