Full Circle

I feel compelled to share my story of organ donation. I by no means call myself a writer, but if you’re reading this, I hope that my story can inspire you in some way.

It was a normal day of student teaching at Plano Elementary. I remember getting a text message from my mom asking me to call her after school. I remember the words clearly, “Steph, I’ve had a heart attack.” In that moment I was very confused. I packed my bags and headed home to see what was up. Mom was transferred from Methodist Hospital in Union County, to St. Mary’s in Evansville. The days before March 10th seem unreal to me. Mom was happy. She was smiling. She was offering visitors refreshments. She was allowed to move through her room freely as she saw fit. She was FINE.

On March 10, 2014 I turned 22. Mom was finally going to have a heart cath to see what next steps needed to be taken. My parents are divorced and my younger brother was then a senior in high school. My grandparents were with me that day. I remember being called to a waiting room to meet with the Doctor to hear the news. What I heard next was a blur. The doctor told me that mom’s heart showed damage caused before her recent episode. He told me my mom’s heart was dead. He told me he was surprised she was up and walking. That she should be dead. He told me that my mom- my biggest fan, the strongest woman I knew, and my constant support- would need a heart transplant.

And I didn’t believe him.

Have you ever seen a movie where the narrator was also a character in the story? It felt like a complete out of body experience. But I didn’t believe him. He was just a doctor in Evansville, IN. How could he say this? How had no one detected the heart attacks sooner? How had mom never felt anything?

By that time mom had become more awake and wanted to see me. I greeted her and tried to smile, but I couldn’t hide my overwhelming grief and pain. I tried to not tell her, I really did. But the words,”Your heart is dead, you need a transplant,” Poured out of me. Mom didn’t believe me either.

We decided that mom would go to Jewish Hospital in Louisville instead of one in Indianapolis. I called my brother and made him come to the hospital in person so I could tell him. And then I raced off. My grandpa drove me and I prayed and tried to hold it together the entire trip up.

When we got there, mom was admitted into the CVICU- the most intense place in Jewish Hospital. Again, it’s still my birthday. It seems strange to dwell on, but I just remember continuously getting text messages wishing me “The Best Day Ever.” And it was my absolute worst.

There was a lot of waiting over the next few days. I was taking on roles and learning more about my very private mother. In a matter of days I learned about insurance, utilities, and trying to keep everyone updated while maintaining my own sanity. I spent many of those days alone while people spread out until we found out more concrete information.

I was with mom one day and she started seizing. Before that she had been fine and was talking to me just like normal. A mom in the unit came over to me and told me I looked like I needed a mom hug. I was completely touched by her small act of kindness. Both of her children had cystic fibrosis and were in rejection from lung transplants.

Another family invited me to pray with them one day in the lobby. We all circled up and they lifted up our loved ones to the Lord. That will forever be one of my most comforting moments I’ve ever experienced.

I held mom’s hand when they told her the tests were true. The doctor in Evansville was right. They couldn’t believe that mom was functioning the way she was with so much damage. She cried. I hid my tears. We prayed. Mom’s surgery to implant the VAD went well.

Easter weekend 2014 I spent the day with mom before I left for my month of student teaching in Europe. It was a hard decision but mom told me she’d be mad if I didn’t go. I was scared to death but i knew if mom could endure, so could I.

Flash forward to Easter 2015- mom was back in the hospital and I spent my spring break in Jewish Hospital.

Flash forward to winter 2015-2016. I remember telling my principal that the time would be soon. Mom was on the priority list and her name had been considered for several hearts. Then a thyroid number threw away her chances for a while. I was worried it was cancer. I was worried she would lose hope. Then one day she called and she had been put back on the transplant list. One week later: Easter

Easter 2016 my brother and I were both home to celebrate with mom- our first Easter in 2 years that she wasn’t in the hospital. I got a call from an unknown number, but as usual I didn’t answer it. A few minutes later my brother got a call. When I noticed it was the same number I knew. I knew it was “The Call.” The hours that followed were a blur. We called loved ones. We packed. We threw everything into vehicles and we were off. Mom rode with me and I didn’t cry. I couldn’t.I needed to be brave for her.

We arrived at the hospital and we took a picture; thinking we were about to be separated from mom.  Based on movies, I expected her to be whisked away and immediately taken into surgery. But we waited. All night actually. Dr. Chang had completed a transplant that morning and needed a nap before another 8 hour surgery.

At 4 am mom’s transplant finally started. Much of the procedure was removing the VAD. Then they went and harvested the heart and brought it back. I couldn’t sleep the entire night. I wanted to stay by mom’s side and soak up as much time as possible before the transplant. I was incredibly thankful, but incredibly scared and exhausted. The moment when the surgeon came and told me the heart was in place and beating by itself is one I will never forget. It was one of those pivotal moments in my life where I knew it was all going to be ok.

When she was in recovery, Hayden drove me to his house so I could shower and I could nap. I completely lost it. Hayden is the only one who knows that, and I’ve never told anyone, but it’s part of me. Part of my story. And I’m here to share it. Through this entire journey I tried to be the rock of my family. I don’t cry in front of my grandparents and I try not to in front of Chad. I’m the oldest and I need to be the example for my family.

In a matter of three years my life has completely changed. Today is the anniversary of mom’s transplant and it has been a day full of reflection and gratitude. Today I get my mom. She will get to witness me getting married and maybe having children someday. I know that I am lucky and that not everyone’s story plays out that way. I am grateful to serve a Heavenly Father who has a divine plan for me. I am grateful He provides me support through my friends and family. I am grateful He has given me Hayden- whom I rely on and lean on for strength. I am grateful that someone put their name on the transplant list and that they were a perfect match for mom. I think back on these years and I think how could anyone not believe in God? The perfect timing, how He’s provided for my family- that’s not just coincidence people. It’s by design and He knew when everything should be revealed.

So much grief, so much joy, so much hope. This is my life and I am now happy. Mom and Steph

Ms. Gahafer

This past week has been an absolute blast teaching 1st-4th graders at Uhland Schule in Werne, Germany. The students knew very basic English; “My name is…” “I am fine” “I am…years old.” The most challenging lessons were with the 1st graders. Even giving simple instructions was a huge task. This week Amber, Ashley, and I shared a classroom together and teachers brought their classes to us. We introduced them to us and even had them say hello to our Big Red doll. They were all extremely eager and wanted to learn from us. The school day in the primary schools here is 8-1:35 and they are in blocks of time. This is very different than in America where teachers schedule their own days and times. The teachers also don’t have their own classroom and rotate throughout the building. The atmosphere is so different in these schools. We taught about colors, numbers, weather, and more about life in America.

This week I also led an after school “English is Fun” session all by myself. I was put in a room with 20 3rd and 4th graders and led them in songs and activities to practice their English. These students were a little easier to communicate with, but again even simple game instructions was a struggle. It was an extremely difficult afternoon, but extremely rewarding. It’s a huge confidence booster facing an unknown and difficult situation and walking away successful. Throughout this entire experience I have learned so much about myself; how I communicate, how I respond to facing difficult problems, and that I can face the world with courage and navigate myself through life. It has been so enlightening and encouraging.

We have also traveled to Oberhausen where we viewed two castles and also the Gasometer. The Gasometer was an art gallery in an old oil storage facility. We rode an elevator to the top and viewed the beautiful city. Then we watched a light show that took up floors 3-10 of the building. It’s hard to describe but was incredible and mesmerizing. The bottom two floors consisted of copies of famous art works. My favorite was Starry Night.

It’s been a great week here in Germany. I’ve felt a little homesick for my friends and family, but I know I will be home very soon. It will be a bittersweet feeling leaving this beautiful country.

The Best of Both Worlds

The past few days I have been in what felt like Heaven. I experienced my first few days as a “German school teacher” and I also got to travel to two amazing cities!

Wednesday after school Jennay and I hopped on a train to Amsterdam! We were so eager and anxious, but managed to take a quick snooze on the many trains. Once we arrived we took a few pictures at the Amsterdam train station. Then we made our way into the beautiful city! It didn’t take long to find our hotel, where we checked in to our upgraded room, The Sailor’s Cabin. It was decorated so cute! We ventured around the city and decided on pasta for dinner at Pasta Plaza. On Thursday morning we ate our breakfast croissants then made our way to The Anne Frank House. We waited in line about an hour and a half, but it was completely worth it! Seeing the Secret Annex, and being where she was, was emotional, yet inspirational. Experiencing these types of moments is once in a lifetime! In the afternoon we ate Vlamese Frites and discovered a tulip garden, street dancers, museums, a magnificent park, and the beautiful canals. It was an amazing day. Friday morning we packed up and did one last loop around the city, then headed to Paris!

Arriving in Paris was a bit overwhelming at first. The train station was huge, and there wasn’t as much English as there was in Amsterdam. Jennay and I bought metro tickets and navigated our way to our hotel. Our original hotel was electrical issues, so they paid for an upgraded room at a hotel several block down. We met Amber and Ashley at The Louvre Museum, and even got in for free. My favorite pieces were The Mona Lisa (obviously), The Grand Sphinx, and The Law Code of Hammurabi. After posing for a few photos, we headed to the Eiffel Tower! We didn’t think we were in time to take the tour to the top, but we were. It was absolutely freezing, but incredibly stunning to view Paris at night, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, drinking a glass of champagne. It has honestly been one of the greatest moments of my life!

The next morning Jennay and I headed to The Palace and Gardens of Versailles. This is the most lavish place I have ever visited. The palace was incredibly beautiful and full of history. Everything is perfect in there. We then headed to the gardens. Jennay and I were almost in a trance. We stayed for hours just wandering around and discovering the hidden treasures. The only reason we left was because it was getting dark and it was closing. Versailles was a little expensive but it was worth every penny! That night we also visited Notre Dame. Sadly, Sunday was our last day in Paris. We did a little souvenir shopping, and visited the Sacre Coeur! It was also magnificent! We ate crepes and had coffee, and finished the day at the Arc De Triomphe!

Visiting Europe has been so wonderful. Actually seeing and touching things that you learned about in school is priceless!

My first days in the German schools have also been excellent. Last week we mainly observed and assisted teachers at Anne Frank Gymnasium. This week Amber, Ashley, and I share a classroom at the Uhland Schue primary school. Today was very interesting. Throughout my block experiences and student teaching I have never felt out of my element. Today was a little different. We knew no prior knowledge, had no technology to use, or any other resources other than materials we had brought with us. It was a little scary trying to teach children who had no idea what the words you were saying meant. The teachers at the school were excellent though and helped translate instructions. I was honestly concerned our whole day would be a flop, but it went really well. I don’t prefer it, but being stripped of everything you are completely used to, and then succeeding is an amazing feeling. These experiences have also helped me realize more what an ESL student goes through. Not understanding what is going on around you is extremely frustrating and discouraging. Using these emotions though will hopefully help me be a better teacher.

I could not be more blessed here. My host family is so loving and funny, and I’m learning so much everyday! I can’t wait to come home and share my experiences with everyone!

Welcome to Werne

On Sunday we made the trip from Berlin to Werne. We traveled on several trains, and getting all 10 students and their luggage was a little tricky. We were greeted by our host families right at the train station! Ashley Hutsell and I live with the Leutloff family: Stefan (dad), Gudrun (mom), Antonia, (13 year old sister), and Emilia (11 year old sister). We came home and received a tour of their gorgeous home, took a walk around the area, met some neighbors, and met their dog Nero! We live in the nearby town of Lunen, and it is absolutely gorgeous here! Our family is a perfect match for us! They are so kind and outgoing. We both feel completely at home here!

Today was a interesting first day at school. We received a tour of Anne Frank Gymnasium and learned how to use their mensa (dining hall). We then took a tour of Werne for a television crew. They filmed me “shopping.” We had to order ice cream…in German, and they also filmed us doing this. It was a little unnatural, but a lot of fun. They filmed another student teacher teaching a lesson in German abut small town life. They then followed us to the mensa and filmed us eating lunch!

I’ve already noticed some differences in our school systems. One is that the students here are very self reliant. They are so proactive and help clean and do many classroom jobs for the teachers. They are kind and polite! The teachers also don’t have their own classrooms. They leave their things and teaching materials in the teachers lounge on huge tables. They don’t have a classroom to themselves, or any consistent one. The teachers lounge is a very happy and cooperative place. The schedules during the day are also very different. They can change from day to day and week to week. They have long breaks during the day and hour long lunches. Many days we might be finished with regular classes before 1 PM. Lunch time is also at least an hour long. I can’t wait to start with a teacher tomorrow and start teaching and interacting with the German curriculum!

After school today we went on and adventure! Our dad Stefan and Emilia took me, Ashley, and also Jennay to several places in the area! First we went to Schloss Nordkirchen. This was a beautiful palace very close to our home! We actually interrupted a German movie set too! We then traveled to Munster for the rest of the afternoon. Emilia downloaded an interactive guide to the city on her phone. We then plugged this into a speaker that sits on top of a Pringles can! The looks we got were priceless! We saw some amazing things! Munster is a larger town in Germany, but it has such a sweet and cozy feeling to it. I am in love with European cobblestone streets and the unique architecture in the towns. My favorite things we viewed were the churches. We started out at the University of Munster and St. Peter’s church! It was so beautiful. We saw a few more landmarks and then saw St. Lambert’s. This church is very old and has huge historical significance (as does everything here). Something unique about this church is that is has cages near the top of the tower. These were used to hold tortured prisoners during the 1500s. We got to go inside and it was stunning. The ceilings were so high and there were beautiful stain glass windows and intricate sculptures! We visited the town hall and then to St. Paul’s cathedral. This one was even more massive than St. Lambert’s and equally gorgeous! It was such a great day getting acquainted at school and taking a little trip.

On a side note I haven’t talked about the food that much! The food in Berlin was good, but what our host mom has made us the past two days has been excellent! On our first night we had white asparagus with hollandaise sauce, boiled potatoes, eggs with tomatoes and spices, salad, and ham. Then strawberries for desert! Tonight we had dates with cheese, smoked ham rollups, and some outstanding pasta. It had flat long noodles coked in oil, butter, and spices. It also had some white asparagus in it. I couldn’t get enough! Also during school everyone gets a snack break. Today the Leutloffs gave us a sandwich on freshly made bread with ham, sauce, lettuce, and cheese! It’s a good thing we walk and bike so much here so I can continue to eat this delicious food!

Above all I am just so thankful to be here. It’s an odd experience being the “foreigner” but it helps me understand my students so much more. These are priceless days and I’m trying to take advantage of each of them! Thanks for following my journey! I hope so be able to post pictures soon! Auf Wiedersehen!

First Week in Germany

This week has been an absoulte whilrwind! We have been in Berlin all week! Here is what I have been up to!

Day 1

Today we arrived in Berlin. The plane trip over went smooth and great! We were greeted by Heike and she had a van take us to get checked into our hotel. We then toured the area around our hotel to become better aquainted with the area. We ate lunch at a little deli, then it was finally time to take a nap. Jetlagged was an understatement. After our nap we went to dinner and experienced our first German meal! My meal was a schnitzel with french fries. It was very delcious! After that the group of student teachers walked around Berlin and toured different parts of the city! We did not end up having wifi at the hotel, and I was a little homesick not telling my family we made it there safely! That soon ended!

Day 2

The day started with a delicious breakfast at the hotel! We quickly got acquainted with the city transportation system and rode a train to the Reichstag. This building is home to Germany’s government. We toured the area and took pictures! We then got to go up in the Bundestag. This is the top of the Reichstag and is a huge transparent glass dome that overlooks the city! We then shortly viewed the Brandenburg gate and took a few photos. It rained on this day, but luckily we missed it!

Day 3

Every day in Berlin is an adventure and I love it. However, I was very anxious about day 3. We were told we would be completing a 5 hour bike tour around 12 km long. I’m not the most skilled biker and was very nervous. We rode a couple of trains to the Potsdam area. This area is rich in beauty and history and has beautiful buildings! We got our bikes and I started out wobbly but soon got the hang of it. I was so proud of myself until…I wrecked. Jennay and I were riding side by side. the path all of a sudden narrowed and it was either ride into Jennay, or hit a pole. I hit the pole. And the bike and myself launched over it into some grass. I was very lucky and escaped with only some bruises. They are pretty intense bruises and I’m still¬† alittle sore, but at least nothing was broken. I got back on and finished the day! My favorite thing we saw this day was the Sans Soucci palace. It was magnificent to say the least. In the afternoon a few of us in the group tried out the transportaion system and viewed some historic landmarks around the city.

Day 4

Day 4 was full of activity! We first started in front of Brandenburg gate, and completed a historic walking tour around the city given by a native German Dr. McGee knows. It was beautiful! We saw the memorial for the Mudered Jews of Europe, Checkpoint Charlie, and more. We ate lunch in a shopping mall cafeteria and then the group accidently got split up. Jennay and I then had the unique opportunity to spend the afternoon with our contact person, Heike. She took us to the Berlin Walll memorial where we saw the last parts of the wall still standing. We climbed a huge watch tower and got the see the “death strip” people had to cross in order to get away. We talked with her about history and social issues for a few hours. She then took us to Tiergarten which is the largest public park in Europe. We found some row boats to rent and Jennay and I attempted the row Heike around. It was hilarious and so much fun!

Day 5

Today was our last day in Berlin. A few of us in the group had the opportunity to visit Sachsenhausen Concentraion Camp near Berlin. I knew I would leave feeling sad, but the emotion was more than I expected. Walking where such horrible things happened was emotional, heavy, and haunting. It’s almost unbelivable that humans would treat each other in that way. The experience is one I will never forget. We then ate lunch with the rest of the group and visited a flea market.

 

I am so sad to leave Berlin tomorrow bt I can’t wait to meet my host family in Werne and start school! I have wanted to post pictures, but my camera isn’t recognized on the hotel computer. On a side note, my mom got to come home yesterday! I am overjoyed!

 

Follow my experiences while I student teach in Germany!