MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Graduation is a special time for families. One Maryville College graduate walked across the stage last Saturday, but she had to fight for her life to get there.
Kathryn Norris smiles during a visit to the hospital/Source: Kathryn Norris
As Kathryn Norris crossed the stage to get her diploma, they were the final steps of a long walk.
Her journey at Maryville College started in 2014.
"Right off the bat I started getting really involved in the college, on the choir, a diversity club, the dance team," she said.
The perfect student was struggling with an illness her classmates couldn't see.
"I was burning 70 percent of my calories just breathing," said Norris.
By her junior year, her cystic fibrosis was making it too hard to walk from her car to her classroom.
"My lung function completely dropped, and that's when I was told I would probably need a double lung transplant," she said.
Her dad quit his job so they could move to North Carolina for a double lung and liver transplant. But it was a waiting game. All organs had to come from the same donor and the surgery required months of rehab before the procedure.
"I just waited eight months for the right pair of lungs," said Norris. "I was 24 hours on oxygen, it was miserable."
Even with more than six hours of daily rehab, Norris kept up with her design school work from the hospital bed.
"I think that was the first thing I got as a message from her was, 'I'm going to come back and finish this.' There was not a single second that that was not going to happen for her," said Associate Professor of Art and Design at Maryville College Adrienne Schwarte.
Somehow Norris also finished her personal training certificate which inspired her thesis and possibly her career.
"My idea was to create a gym that is post-transplant friendly, but still appealing to the general public so they can feed off themselves and motivate each other," said Norris.
Her idea also included HVAC systems that heat the air before releasing it back into the facility to reduce germs, copper doorknobs to kill more bacteria and ADA standards throughout the facility.
Her transplant surgery was a success. After spending a few months recovering, Norris and her family moved back to East Tennessee so she could finish her degree.
"I am really thankful for that year and for my donor because it opened my eyes to what I actually am passionate about in life," she said. "I want to help other people too. I want to help other people in this position."
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