The first day of school started a little later than most for Stacy Godfry-Nussbaum. After undergoing a kidney transplant in August, the fourth-grade teacher at Denham Oaks Elementary returned Sept. 16 wearing a face mask and toting bottles of hand sanitizer. Some might think her return was a little premature. Recovery can be a long haul. But "Miss Nussbaum," as she is known around the school, was running out of sick days. More important, she was itching to get back to doing what she loves.
So much so that Godfry-Nussbaum, 42, made introductions to her incoming students over the summer and kept in touch during the first weeks of school. Edmodo, a computer program used in Pasco County schools, helped her establish a rapport with students and parents, and also brought some insight to her young charges' writing skills and the lessons they were learning in her absence.
"Being involved from home helped me to get better," Godfry-Nussbaum said.
Still, there's nothing like being in the classroom.
"I was very excited to hear she was coming back," said fourth-grader Carter McDaris, a kid with a shy smile who established a fondness for Godfy-Nussbaum when she shared some of her cool "teaching tricks" with him a few years ago.
For a couple of weeks, Godfry-Nussbaum has been back to explaining lessons such as how a comma fits in to number placement when it comes to thousands, millions and billions.
"It's been great — I feel fine today," she said after completing a second day that entailed "a lot of math," students writing out their goals for the year, reading a book called The Gold Coin and the promise to get to a fun science lesson the following day.
Some might remember the popular Denham Oaks teacher. She was first profiled in Top of the Class in February after students including Carter and his younger brother, Cayden, broke into their piggy banks to donate to Team Kidney Bean, a fund established to help defray Godfry-Nussbaum's medical expenses not covered by insurance.
It was a big deal to the teacher who, after years of living with kidney disease, was undergoing dialysis multiple times each week and battling a bacterial infection called Clostridium difficile, or C Diff, which had to be cleared before she could go ahead with the kidney transplant
Her lifestyle has been a weary one, but Godfry-Nussbaum was uplifted and overwhelmed by the support of her school, the local community and her family.
Her brother-in-law, Lee Marsh, 42, offered up his kidney with the thought that a part of him could grant her a new lease on life.
"She's more of a sister to me than a sister-in-law," Marsh said. "It was hard to see her being so tired all the time and feeling so bad. And it felt good to be able to do this for her."
On Aug. 1, after a 10-hour operation, Godfry-Nussbaum got her new kidney and suddenly the future was looking a lot brighter.
"I felt so good," she said, "so much that I stayed awake for two days straight."
Even so, there have been setbacks.
Nine days after the transplant, Godfry-Nussbaum's body began to reject the kidney. That has been kept in check with medication that has her taking a slew of pills five times a day — 16 1/2 pills in the morning alone.
Godfry-Nussbaum was also hit with the discouraging news that there had been recurrence the bacterial infection — another hurdle, one that could stunt her teaching career.
Godfry-Nussbaum will now have to inject an intravenous drug daily to fight the infection through a peripherally inserted central catheter in her arm. On top of that she will have to drive to Tampa every three weeks to have more intravenous treatments.
"This obviously will interrupt my school routine, and I have no more sick days," Godfry-Nussbaum wrote in a recent email. "It does make me wonder if I should stop teaching and go on disability. I need to do what's right for the kids."
Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected]