Care, compassion between nurse and student

Published 12:22 pm Monday, August 18, 2014

Kathryn Clemmons, left, Pam Gerdes, at Valley Elementary School. (Contributed)

Kathryn Clemmons, left, Pam Gerdes, at Valley Elementary School. (Contributed)

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“She was the school nurse; I was a 5-year-old diabetic. Naturally, we became best friends,” Kathryn Clemmons wrote in an essay that would win her an Alabama High School Literary Arts Award. Sharing her heart on paper, Clemmons detailed the camaraderie and enduring friendship that began when Pam Gerdes was her school nurse.

Retired a few years earlier, but still an active volunteer at the school, Gerdes was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2013.

Valley Elementary School’s faculty and staff formed a team — Pam’s Posse — and joined the Race for the Cure.  Gerdes faced her cancer treatments bravely with family and friends surrounding her.

When the nurse who cared for Pelham’s children needed TLC herself, she found that support. Kathryn Clemmons, a 2014 PHS graduate, wrote about Gerdes—and visited her often.

“In first grade, I had my tonsils removed. I remember the teddy bear Nurse Pam brought so that I could feel better right then—and the sugar free candy,” Clemmons wrote.  Clemmons went on to Valley Intermediate after second grade. Gerdes stayed in touch—calling and visiting. Clemmons was soon on the giving end of this unique friendship.

“When I started my rehab after my knee replacement, Kathryn and her friends showed up with balloons ready to cheer me on,” Gerdes said.  “They brought cookies!”

As Gerdes endured cancer treatments, Clemmons began new health battles of her own. Complications with her diabetes and medications forced Clemmons to stop driving for a while.

“When I couldn’t drive, I realized I wasn’t pouring myself into other people. Investing in others builds me up. We share what we love, what impacts us,” Clemmons said.

The importance of supporting friends who struggle with health-related challenges is a lesson that Clemmons learned early.

“After a tough surgery, I couldn’t do much,” Gerdes said. “Kathryn visited me. I will always remember Kathryn scrapbooking with me.”

Memories of comfort and care during recuperation are the perfect reward for Pam Gerdes. Clemmons heads to Harding University this fall.

Both glowing with renewed health, these two friends promise to stay in touch.