MONUMENT • A Lewis-Palmer Middle School teacher is about to embark on a healing journey at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and is crowdfunding to help pay for the expenses involved.
Katelynn Gillen, 27, a physical education teacher at LPMS who also teaches yoga, pilates, dance and health classes, is asking for help from the community as she raises money for the expenses related to the treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for Epstein-Barr virus and John Cunningham virus. His treatment will include six weeks of hospitalization, a stem cell transplant and chemotherapy.
Known to her students as Coach Gillen, she created a GoFundMe (bit.ly/3tYBft9) to raise at least $5,000 to cover travel and accommodation costs for herself and her family while undergoing treatment and his recovery in Minnesota. At press time, that initial goal had already been exceeded.
During her senior year of high school, Gillen was diagnosed with mononucleosis, commonly known as mono, and became very ill. Then in the summer of 2021, she started having seizures and was hospitalized, diagnosed with a seizure disorder and an enlarged thyroid. The labs showed that something was wrong with the gland.
A few months later, Gillen’s primary care physician discovered that mono had been latent in her body for six months. The doctor felt the mono was gone but left Gillen immunocompromised since contracting it. Each time she fell ill, it was difficult for Gillen to fight off the infection on her own, and her family began to suspect that she was suffering from an autoimmune disease.
“The blood tests that would be done would always come back to normal,” Gillen said. “I felt like the doctors had written me off.”
In October, Gillen began experiencing debilitating pain in his hands and feet and weakness in his upper limbs. She returned to see her doctor and the cause of her symptoms could not be determined. In early February, his pain worsened. Her feet became discolored and swollen. That’s when Gillen made an appointment with the Mayo Clinic.
Lab results soon showed Gillen’s liver enzymes were elevated, and she was referred to a vascular surgeon for testing and evaluation. The test results came back very abnormal, showing a lack of blood flow to her extremities and vasospasms occurring, she said.
“My health started to deteriorate rapidly and my labs were getting worse and worse,” Gillen said.
She received another referral to a kidney function specialist and a CT scan found fluid around Gillen’s kidneys. Gillen’s case was eventually assigned to practitioner Tracy Putz, who performed a series of tests and discovered two brain damage, further decline in Gillen’s liver enzymes, problems with the pancreas, and general neurological pain and weakness.
Putz diagnosed Gillen with Epstein-Barr virus and John Cunningham virus and determined that a stem cell transplant was in order.
Gillen’s road to recovery for Gillen will be long and difficult, she said.
“I got even worse. My lungs got involved, and now I’m currently on oxygen full time and have very limited mobility,” Gillen said. “I owe Tracy my life for listening to me and believing in myself as a patient and finding the diagnosis I had been looking for for so long.”
When Gillen was only dealing with extreme pain in her hands and feet, she was still able to continue in her role as a teacher. However, she was unable to work for four weeks due to the severity of her conditions.
“Being a teacher and a coach is an integral part of my life and my identity,” Gillen said. “I’ve really struggled being away from my students. Knowing that my students and athletes are behind me gives me the motivation to get through the bad days and to hurry and improve so that I’m back for more. the next school year.
“I’ll be back in that gym and back on the pitch.”
After always trying to support her family members in every way possible, Gillen struggles with not being able to do so anymore. In fact, she said she could barely take care of herself right now. It feels like her independence has been taken away from her as she relies on others for basic care, Gillen said.
Her family support system, including parents, brothers and grandparents, as well as extended family and her school family and friends, answered the call when Gillen found herself on her worst days. and thought negatively, she said.
Gillen said her brothers have been motivation and focus for her when her condition has been difficult to manage, and her mother is a nurse who has been a guardian and her biggest advocate with doctors.
“All of them play a major role in my finding a positive frame of mind throughout this very difficult journey,” she said. “I couldn’t keep doing it without them. I am grateful to everyone around me who cares about me and that the community rallies behind me. It shows me that I have truly found my home with the Lewis-Palmer and Colorado Springs School District.
Gillen leaves on April 6 for the Mayo Clinic and sees his first doctor there the next day. Although she knows what treatment has been prescribed, the treatment process has left her with many questions as to what it entails.
“Honestly, I have a lot of fear around the treatment and I know it’s going to be a long recovery,” Gillen said.
In a few months and especially in the last few weeks, Gillen’s life has completely changed. Once a healthy and active teacher and coach who enjoyed working long hours because of the relationships she built with students and athletes, Gillen said being away from children was actually the hardest part. difficult in his career.
“It’s a big part of my identity and connecting with children is an important aspect that brings value to my life,” she said. “Enjoy every moment of your life and embrace the people around you. You never know when something like this can drastically change your life.
“If we reach the goal we set for ourselves through GoFundMe, it would mean the world to me. The more support I receive, the less financial burden is placed on me and my family.”
Coach Gillen’s GoFundMe campaign can be found by visiting GoFundMe.com and searching for “Medical expenses for Coach Gillen”.