Abby Deditch knew from an early age she wanted to be a veterinarian.

“I always wanted to be in the health field but not people,” she said.

However, Deditch is following a different path than her childhood self envisioned.

When Deditch steps onto the campus at Indiana University Kokomo this fall, she’ll be a nursing student, determined to become a pediatric intensive care unit nurse.

It’s a pretty significant shift from wanting to be a veterinarian — mainly in the people department — but Deditch has seen firsthand the impact an ICU nurse can have on children.

Deditch was diagnosed with a form of leukemia when she was in the sixth grade. She wouldn’t return to school until the eighth grade.

“It was hard,” she said.

But with chemotherapy, Deditch was given an 80% survival rate.

She’d spend six months in ICU, sometimes on a ventilator. It was there where she got to know the nurses and what they mean to their patients.

“They do a lot,” she said. “I don’t think the doctors could do that.”

They always had the food hookups, too.

“The nurses there were always amazing, mostly because they brought me food, real food, not hospital food,” Deditch said.

The care she received inspired her to become a nurse herself, to work with children and families who go through what she did as a middle schooler.

“You can see how happy the patients and families are (when they leave),” she said.

Deditch graduated Friday evening. She attended the Kokomo Area Career Center in preparation to study nursing in college. She studied to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), completing clinical hours at a local nursing home.

Prior to the end of the school year, Deditch passed her CNA exam. She is now a state-certified nursing assistant.

Clinical hours featured weekly COVID-19 tests, “horrid, every week,” according to Deditch, but she played the part of providing comfort for senior citizens who became more isolated due to the pandemic and visitor restrictions.

“When you see them smile (is the best part),” Deditch said. “They haven’t had a lot visitors in the past year.”

Deditch said she appreciated her time working with senior citizens, but the experience reaffirmed her desire to work with children.

“That’s part of why we’re here,” said career center Director Jonathan Schuck, “to help kids figure out what they want to do and what they don’t want to do.”

Graduating with not only a degree but a state license and valuable hands-on experience are some of the opportunities available to career center students.

Deditch said she enjoyed her time at the career center and understands the value of education. So much so, her mom would sometimes force her to stay home from school when she didn’t feel good.

“I always wanted to come,” she said.

Teachers saw that same passion in the classroom.

Judi Townsend, health career program instructor at the career center, had Deditch for multiple classes. Illness, treatment, they were never excuses, they were things to be overcome, Townsend said.

“When Abby was going through her cancer treatments, she always had a smile on her face even if she didn’t feel 100%,” Townsend said via email. “Abby was so happy to be in school and learning.”

Townsend said Deditch has all the makings of a great nurse.

“Abby knows what it is like to be the patient,” she said. “She knows the compassion patients and families need.”

Deditch admits questions about having cancer “gets old really fast.” She doesn’t see herself as an inspiration, though she’s heard those words plenty of times.

“I was puking my guts out, it doesn’t feel inspiring,” Deditch said.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at spencer.durham@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.

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