An excellent nursing student who had been eager to begin her career helping others, Courtney House was supposed to graduate with her classmates last week. But the senior died in September 2009 only months after being diagnosed with cancer.
Courtney’s memory was honored at the College of Nursing’s commencement exercises with a special pinning ceremony, where her mother and stepfather, Gail and Charles Andreason, were presented with the nursing pin that Courtney would have received at graduation.
The nursing pin is a type of badge worn by nurses to identify the nursing school from which they graduated. They traditionally are presented to students at graduation or at a pinning ceremony as a symbolic welcome into the profession.
Courtney, a straight-A student, always gave 100 percent in her efforts, said Gary Ramsey, chair of the undergraduate nursing program.
“Even after her diagnosis with cancer, she remained committed to pursuing her nursing degree and made arrangements to continue some of her courses in the College of Nursing. Her integrity of strength and character were present until the end of her life,” he said.
When only 3 months old, Courtney was diagnosed with respiratory papiliomatosis, a disease that causes recurrent polyps to form on the larynx and trachea. Courtney’s family was told that the condition was not life threatening but would require laser treatments to be done every so often to remove the polyps. Before Courtney’s passing, she had endured 158 laser surgeries.
At age 5, during one of those surgeries, a machine malfunctioned shooting pieces of silver into Courtney’s lungs. In the process of removing the silver, the polyps seeded into her lung tissue. The incident made her more prone to lung infections and abscesses in the years that followed.
Courtney and her family knew that there was a possibility that the polyps could become malignant but hoped this would never happen.
In June 2009, Courtney began working 12-hour shifts at a local hospital. After the first couple of weeks, she started experiencing lower back pain, which at first she attributed to the new long hours.
Initial doctors appointments and blood work showed that Courtney’s calcium was high but otherwise nothing was wrong. Eventually, she ended up in the emergency room with severe pain. An abdominal CT scan showed that lymph nodes in her abdomen were enlarged; lymphoma was suspected.
While grave news, Courtney and her family understood that lymphoma could be a very treatable cancer and they worked to prepare Courtney for the treatment plan to come. A biopsy was scheduled to confirm the lymphoma but after comparing the results of the biopsy with Courtney’s PET scan results, she was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in her lungs, lymph nodes and hip bones.
Courtney died Sept. 15, 2009.
In a blog posted shortly before her death, Courtney wrote about having God on her side.
“The doctors can say what they want but I know who holds my future. To me, this is just another trial in life that I, with God’s help, will overcome and will be able to use my story to tell others what God has done for me. So I have chosen to turn this over to God and let the world see what he can do! Please pray and thank God every day for all he has done and will continue to do. God is so good.”
Courtney’s family has established the Courtney House Memorial Scholarship in her honor. Once the endowment is fully funded, the scholarship will be available to a rising senior in nursing with preference given to students in Knox County. To contribute to the Courtney House Memorial Scholarship, please contact the College of Nursing development office at 974-2755.