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Our Nurse of the Week is Kathy Wales, a recent nursing school graduate who decided to leave the Air Force to become a nurse after losing both of her sons to a rare disease. Wales’ took a different path to nursing than most. She is a 15-year Air Force veteran who stopped working in 2009 after her two young sons were diagnosed with a rare disease. She eventually lost them both in the years that followed—one to illness, the other to suicide.
Her son’s deaths inspired Wales to build a new career, which begins next month at a Virginia hospital. Her career path will allow her to help patients work though grief and mental health issues, honoring the lives of her children.
Wales tells washingtonpost.com, “The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you have no idea what someone’s going through when you see them walking down the street. You just have no idea. And I really would like to try to be able to make a difference for people like us.”
After Wales’ youngest son, Alex, tripped over a toy truck at home, caused by disorientation, she took him to the hospital for stitches. Alex began behaving even more strangely at the hospital and an MRI showed that he had lesions on his brain and a blood test confirmed a diagnosis of adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). ALD is a degenerative disease, which often strikes boys between ages 4 and 10, and causes the brain an inability to speak, blindness, and deafness. Death often follows within five years of diagnosis.
Wales’ family sought out second opinions and treatment options, one of which included a bone marrow transplant. Alex’s older brother, Zach, was a match, but testing showed that he also had ALD. Alex eventually died at 16 years old after a long, hard seven year battle. Five months later, Kathy started an accelerated nursing program at the East Coast Polytechnic Institute, inspired by the experience she had caring for her sick sons. Three months into the program, tragedy struck again when Zach took his own life at age 20.
After a three-month break from nursing school, Wales came back and finished her degree and will begin as a nurse in the behavioral mental health program at the Novant Health UVA Prince William Medical Center in June. Her mission is simple—she’s living for her sons. To learn more about Kathy Wales, a recent nursing school graduate who decided to leave the Air Force to become a nurse after losing both of her sons to a rare disease, visit here.
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