March 9, 2016 | noon
By Emily Nelson ’17
Anna Jeter and her mom step into the pediatrician’s office hoping to find a cure to Jeter’s hoarse voice that appears to be getting worse. The cold stethoscope gently touches Jeter’s chest and echoes a heartbeat back to the doctor. Worry sets in. Four-year-old Anna sat on the thin, crackly paper rolled out on the bed watching her mom’s eyes gloss over with tears. A heart murmur wasn’t the end of it. A chest x-ray produced more troubling news and landed them in the hospital at the University of Michigan. Tests for pulmonary hypertension were run and doctors suggested she see a specialist in New York City. There, Jeter was officially diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension.
“They thought I would only live 3-5 years. Still every day and every year is a miracle,” Jeter says.
Jeter is a junior studying nursing at Bethel’s College of Arts & Sciences. Despite fighting this illness for 16 years, she is still planning her future. After graduating with her bachelor’s in nursing in 2017 she would like to attend medical school with hopes of becoming a pediatric psychologist.
Neither of Jeter’s parents have a medical background, but once their world turned upside down, her mom adopted the role of caretaker. Every six months, the family had to plan around appointments to see the specialist in New York. The nurses at these regular appointments ignited her passion for nursing
Jeter was 6 years old and in New York for an appointment. It was the first time going with only her dad. His alarm went off in the morning, but he slept right through it. He and Anna were left with only 10 minutes to get dressed and to eat the Fruit Loops her dad had poured in a Ziploc bag. Her doctor in New York was a beautiful, smart, and put-together woman. Jeter’s mom always made sure she looked her best for every appointment. So when Jeter and her dad arrived late, her two favorite nurses combed her hair and painted her nails pink so that she would look nice for her doctor.
Jeter’s mom forced herself to learn how manage Jeter’s medical needs. The first time she mixed and administered medicine to her daughter, it took 45 minutes—25 minutes more than it would take her today.
Growing up, Jeter never knew how to explain her illness to her classmates because on the outside, she seemed healthy. Her classmates always wondered why she couldn’t play as hard during recess or why she always sat against the wall every gym class. In elementary school she had to wear a backpack all day every day that delivered her medicine through a pump. Each year, Jeter’s mom visited her class to explain her illness and why she always had to wear a backpack.
“I remember in a dance rehearsal one time the gentleman in front of me saying ‘Boy that little girl must really like her backpack,’” recalls Jeter’s mom. “I would work really hard to make backpacks to match her dance costumes. She was always so brave about it and didn't care because she really wanted to dance.”
Daily, mindless tasks aren’t as easy for Jeter. Fatigue sets in during the smallest tasks such as getting dressed, or walking from the nursing department to the dining center. She uses the elevators instead of stairs. She confessed that the hardest part of this illness is trying to limit herself and knowing when she doesn’t have enough energy to go out with friends.
The only option Jeter has to get better is a heart and lung transplant. But being pretty low on the donor list, her anticipation isn’t high.
“It’s just waiting for that ball to drop to when they’ll move me up,” Jeter says. “It’s such a timing game and you can’t try to manipulate that to your own will. Right now I just live day to day.”
Prior to coming to Bethel, Jeter was hesitant to tell people she was sick, fearful she would say something wrong or make them uncomfortable. Nursing students understand and are willing to support. She realizes people are curious and want to know the story.
“I’ve become a lot more open about sharing it,” Jeter says. “What am I doing if I’m not glorifying God and showing the way He is working in my life?”
In pathophysiology class, Jeter presented her case study on pulmonary hypertension using her story. She was able to give what most students could not on this presentation: personal experiences.
“I had instant respect for her because she was so open about it,” nursing classmate Ashley Kollman says. “She’s doing something with her life and isn’t just sitting there accepting the fact that she might die. She’s not allowing the disease get the best of her.”
In the spring of 2015, Jeter’s sophomore year, she became severely sick and had to live at home. She was once again the girl who had to miss out. All she could think about was how isolated she felt. Her home is one hour away from Bethel so her friends rarely had time to come visit. There were times Jeter thought she might have to stop going to school, but being a nursing major, she couldn’t risk falling behind.
“It was hard to persevere. I was making myself do school so when I got better I would be caught up. I didn’t want to waste that time,” Jeter explains.
During her time at home Jeter realized how grateful she is for her friends and roommates at school. Her roommates called her multiple times a week filling her in on the latest details going on at school. Even with the support system, being the sole one experiencing severe suffering was difficult.
“Her attitude towards life is incredible,” roommate Ellie Johnson says. “While she has some down days, like we all do, most of the time she acts as though nothing is wrong and is always joyful. She’s always willing to give you hugs and tells you how beautiful you are. Her attitude pours into how driven she is as well. I don't think I’ve ever seen someone work so hard for something like Anna does with school work.”
With her first semester of nursing clinicals wrapping up, Jeter looks to senior year when clinicals will give her the chance to work in pediatrics, a department that holds a special place in her heart. After much exposure to hospital life growing up and growing close to her nurses as a kid Jeter wants to create the same experience for others.
“I want to shed light on the profession for myself and for others,” Jeter says. “It’s an exhausting major but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”