Lifelong educator: “IU Health sees me as a challenge, not a problem”

When Kathy Dowling needed a third kidney transplant she learned that more than 80 people volunteered as a donor. A teacher, coach and counselor, Dowling says she can’t begin to count how many students have touched her life. And she has no idea how many lives she has touched over the years.

The numbers – they are mind-boggling. One hundred seventy six surgeries and surgical procedures, four kidney transplants, one intestinal transplant, two comas, and three cardiopulmonary arrests.

Kathy Dowling is thankful to be alive.

“I love that the IU Health teams see me as a challenge. They don’t see me as a problem,” said Dowling. “They’re my people. They never give up and even if they would make a mistake, I wouldn’t care because I know they’re doing their best with a difficult situation.”

Born and raised in Greenfield, IN. Dowling took to the water at a young age. She remembers riding her bike to the Riley Park Pool, swimming all day, going home for dinner and then heading back to the pool. She went on to swim throughout high school and was a lifeguard into her college years. She attended Indiana University and started teaching English at the age of 21. She lived in Merrillville, IN. for a short time and then returned to Greenfield where she continued teaching. She obtained her master degree from Purdue University and later her life science degree from Butler University. She spent more than 33 years at Greenfield Central High School in the role of dean of students and guidance counselor. She was also the swimming and diving coach. Locally, she advocated for water adjustment lessons starting before the age of seven. Her curriculum was adopted by the Red Cross and became a national trend.

She remembers a turning point in her career when a student committed suicide and included her name in a final message. She ended up consoling fellow students and found a natural calling to counseling.

“I have no idea how many lives I’ve touched but I know an awful lot of kids who have touched mine as a teacher, counselor, dean and coach,” said Dowling.

Her health issues began in 2004 with a ruptured intestine. She developed sepsis – a potentially life-threatening condition caused when the body responds to infection. She was in a drug-induced coma and her family set up long-term home care. She wasn’t expected to come out of that unconscious state. A year later she ended back in the hospital – this time at IU Health – where doctors began treating her for renal failure. She had her first kidney transplant in 2007 and a second one three years later – both kidney donors were friends – a Greenfield minister and a drama director at Greenfield Central High School. In 2014 she had a multivisceral transplant – another kidney and an intestine. When that kidney failed, she began dialysis and a fourth transplant followed. In December 2018, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer – another surgery followed to remove the tumor. Throughout her multiple hospitalizations she was in the care of IU Health nephrologist Tim E. Taber and transplant surgeons Dr. William C. Goggins and Dr. Richard Mangus.

“I’ve been an educator my whole life and IU Health is a teaching hospital so they work as a team and you see them learning from each situation, each challenge that comes their way. They’ve always made me feel so confident in their choices. They tell me they learn from my health challenges but they also say they’ve learned from my spirit,” said Dowling.

Now when she returns to IU Health once a month for lab work she is greeted with hugs and smiles. She sees lots of familiar faces – the person who cleaned her room, the receptionist at the front desk, the parking attendant, and lots of nurses. The list goes on. “I have met some wonderful people. They have all had a role in my healthcare,” said Dowling.

When she retired from Greenfield Central High School, she ran for school board and is serving her second term. She also volunteers in a first grade classroom two days a week and serves on the board of the Greenfield Parks and Recreation.

“I just care about kids and I think you learn better when you’re having fun in the classroom. There has to be one person who makes them feel special – I hope I’m that one person,” said Dowling “I think I have a lot of prayer warriors and God isn’t done with me yet. When anyone asks how I’m doing I say ‘every day is a victory.’ What I’ve been through has made life easy because you live each day like it’s your last.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email