Teacher gets community support

Published 11:13 pm Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Suffolk teacher is very thankful this week for a community that has helped give her family peace of mind as they encounter a scary situation.

Katie Ruehl, a North Suffolk resident and sixth-grade English teacher at John F. Kennedy Middle School, was having frequent headaches throughout her pregnancy. Until little Audrey was born in May, her doctors wrote it off as hormones. After that, it was chalked up to her being tired.

But Ruehl, who with her husband, Adam, also has a 5-year-old son, Nathan, didn’t let it go.

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“I kept pushing the issue,” she said, describing frightening symptoms such as poor balance and numbness on the left side of her face.

Finally, in October, doctors did an MRI and discovered a golf-ball-sized tumor near her brain stem. They don’t think it’s cancerous, but it has to be removed nevertheless.

Ruehl stopped working last week because of the progression of her symptoms. She will likely have surgery in January, followed by a week in the hospital and several months of recovery.

Possible side effects from the surgery include facial drooping and a loss of hearing in her left ear. But Ruehl’s biggest fear is being away from her children during her stay in the hospital.

“That’s what hurts me the most, is being away from the kids,” she said, even though her husband and family are going to be helping.

Because Ruehl used up all of her sick leave last spring for maternity leave, her time off will be unpaid. She estimates she will lose $10,000 to $15,000 in salary.

Her savings was also partially depleted by having a baby.

“We were working on building our savings back up, and then this hit us,” she said.

Some of her teacher friends, Valerie Smith and Farren Webb, set up a GoFundMe page for people to help soften the financial blow.

The campaign has raised more than $9,000 so far. Ruehl said she has been overwhelmed by the response.

“We’re so thankful,” she said. “I’m going to put all my faith in God, and he’s going to take care of it.”

Ruehl said the experience has taught her that women need to self-advocate when it comes to their medical care.

“If something’s not right, they need to press the issue,” she said.

The GoFundMe page can be found here.