News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 25, 2013

Getting Some Face Time: Hospital-bound heart patient communicates with class over internet

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Katelyn Newell laughed as she shared with her second-grade classmates the topic of her writing assignment — Justin Bieber, of course.

“What have you guys been doing?” the 8-year-old asked Avery Long, one of her classmates at Deming Elementary.

“Right now we’re writing letters to soldiers,” Avery responded.

Their teacher at Deming, Sandy Childress, told Katelyn she could write a letter, too. It must be eight sentences in length and then she can draw a picture, Childress told her.

The second-graders also learned that Katelyn had a root beer float after breakfast, a reward to help her keep her weight up.

Katelyn wants her classmates to have root beer floats as well.

While they were able to talk and laugh together, Katelyn and her classmates were more than 70 miles apart. She is a patient at Riley Hospital for Children and awaiting a heart transplant; she’s been hospitalized for three weeks as of today.

The other students were in Childress’ classroom at Deming Elementary. Technology made the visit possible, using iPads and FaceTime.

It was the second time they visited through use of technology, and it helps the students deal with her absence, Childress said. “They are nervous about what is happening.”

With the FaceTime visits, “They feel good about seeing her and I think Katelyn gets a kick out of seeing the kids,” Childress said.

“It helps all of us,” said Susan Mardis, school principal. The students can see, and hear, that Katelyn is okay, even if her desk sits empty in class.

Childress sends school assignments to the hospital, where Katelyn works with Lindsay Waymouth, a Riley educational liaison.

On Thursday afternoon, Childress asked Katelyn about some of her assignments, including her biography on Bieber, a reading assignment and a phonics lesson on “r-controlled

vowels.”

“Good job,” Childress said. “You’re doing really well.”

Next week, when they meet through FaceTime, Katelyn will share her biography with the class, and some of the other students will share their projects

with her.

As the visit drew to a close, Mardis led Childress’ class in a valentine song for Katelyn, and they all joined together so Katelyn could see them.

When they were done, students blew her kisses and took turns waving. “Bye. We love you,” they shouted.

Avery, the only student who talked one-on-one with Katelyn during the electronic visit, said afterward he likes being able to talk with her — even if it’s from a distance.

“We hardly get to see her,” he said. School is not as fun without her, he said.  

Bryson, another classmate, said, “It’s sad to have her gone. She’s fun to have around. When we play with her, she always makes us laugh.”

Because of concerns about the flu, Katelyn’s face-to-face visitors now are limited to her mother, Robin Newell, and grandmother, Monica Trotter.

Deming Elementary continues to do fundraisers for Katelyn to assist with her medical expenses. It is selling valentines for $1, hats for $2 and bracelets for $2.

“Our whole school is embracing this,” Mardis said. “Katelyn is in our thoughts and prayers.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.