At Holdsworth, we enjoy spotlighting inspiring Leaders in our programs who embody our values to drive for excellence and equity, believe in people and be of service. When we found out that Katie Dahn, a talented and gifted teacher from Cactus Ranch Elementary in Round Rock ISD, had come to our Campus Leadership Program’s July session one week after donating a kidney to her son, we were amazed. Katie’s commitment to being of service to her son, her campus team and her students while facing her own health challenges made us want to cover her in gold stars. We invited Katie to tell her story.
It’s the night before surgery and I’m lying in bed, petrified. When the sun rises, I will go to the hospital to donate a kidney to my 22-year-old son, who has battled cancer for much of his young life. Brain tumor, jaw cancer, skin cancer – this kid has beat it all. But the chemo and radiation ravaged his kidneys and they can’t support him for much longer.
I was overjoyed when we found out I was a match. But on the eve of surgery, I can’t stop the fears worming their way through my brain. What if I don’t make it? What would my two children do without a mother?
My husband is sleeping like a log, which agitates me more. How can he sleep at a time like this?
I rise from bed and hobble downstairs with my knee scooter. I broke my leg rappelling down a waterfall while on vacation in Hawaii, a shocking brush with human fragility that’s not helping to calm my fears.
I sit on the couch, close my eyes and begin to pray. A flashback pushes to the front of my mind. I see myself many years ago, sitting at Drake’s bedside holding his hands as he struggles through chemo. I was praying then too, begging God, “If there’s anything I can do, anything to ease his pain or help him be healthy, I will do it.”
Suddenly, my eyes open and the anxiety drains from my body.
Hello, I can do that right now! This kidney is what he needs. Why am I so scared? I crawl back upstairs and back into my sheets, completely at peace.
The next day, the surgeon is late. As I sit there waiting, he comes flying in the room and says, “I’ve been sick all weekend, I’m not going to do the surgery. I’m calling in backup.”
Ordinarily, this would freak me out. I’m a teacher. I like to be organized and in control. But my reaction is calm. Everything will go according to plan – God’s plan, not mine.
A few days later, Drake and I leave the hospital with the kidney function of normal people, he much healthier than when he went in, me still on the silly knee scooter. I’m tired, which is common after donation, but I can’t bear to sit still and convalesce.
A week after surgery, I hop in a car with my coworkers from Cactus Ranch Elementary and go to a weeklong professional development experience. I am part of The Holdsworth Center’s 2-year Campus Leadership Program and I love the time I spend with my team in learning sessions.
I had actually cried when I found out I had to miss the previous Holdsworth session for our Hawaiian vacation, which my husband earned through his work. When I broke my leg and got my fancy knee scooter, I joked to colleagues, “See, I knew I should have gone to Holdsworth!”
The week is action-packed and meaningful, and I get to see my friends from Marcia Garza Elementary in Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD. Even though our campuses are separated by more than 300 miles, we have a special kinship with their team and get so excited every time we meet at Holdsworth.
As part of the Holdsworth experience, every campus is working on a problem of practice, a project aimed at improving school culture and student outcomes. At Cactus Ranch, we are encouraging students to find their voice and communicate with confidence. All of our teachers are working together to reinforce skills such as listening, having two-way conversations, looking people in the eyes, articulating opinions and speaking in front of groups.
The progress our students are making is incredible, and parents are seeing it too. I believe it’s changing lives, and it would not be possible without the time and space Holdsworth carves out for our leadership team to learn, reflect, discuss and plan.
On the first day of the Holdsworth session, I have a challenging moment. I feel deeply embarrassed when my principal has to lift my knee scooter out of the car for me. Maybe that’s ridiculous, but I find it mortifying to ask for that kind of help. I also have to go up to my room and take a nap, which also felt vaguely shameful and very unlike me.
But I let it go. Like that night before surgery, I remind myself that I’m here for a reason. For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to make a difference for kids.
Hello, I can do that right now!