NEVADA, Iowa -- Having a lead role in helping Nevada High School students find a love for theater is a breath of fresh air for Karen Niblock. "The students are the reason I'm here," said Karen, who is also a seventh grade middle school teacher within the district.
After being diagnosed with a lung disease called Fibrotic Non-Specific Interstitial Pneumonia (NSIP) in 2016, doctors said the number of breaths left for Karen were numbered without a double lung transplant. "They say I just have a couple of years if I'm lucky in my lungs and it could go quicker," said Karen.
Her lungs are losing strength fast. "I'm on oxygen pretty much 24/7 now," Karen said. Despite the adversity and like the students she's directing for the high schools upcoming spring musical Sister Act, Karen hasn't missed a step and continues to teach. "This energizes me," she said.
An extra boost came a year ago when the University of Iowa Hospitals accepted her into their lung transplant program and the Nevada community stepped in line. "Transplants are never free," said Karen. Online videos and a GoFundMe account, put together by her co-workers, friends and students both past and present, are trying to raise $17,000 towards her upcoming medical bills. "I'm overwhelmed. This is one of those communities that reaches out to anyone that needs help," Karen said.
Karen says the transplant call will come unexpectedly. "They said sometime in the next four to six months I should get new lungs."
When that double lung match is found Karen says she'll have just twenty minutes to gather her essentials and hit the road for Iowa City. "It's a huge blessing but it is so hard to think about because it means somebody else is going to donate those lungs and that is hard," said Karen.
The transplant may allow her to step back and take a deep breath but it's these students that have already given her life. "The only reason for me to do this transplant is to go back to doing what I love, working with students and helping them grow and be the best they can be," said Karen.
Karen plans to meet with the lung transplant team next week where she will officially be placed on the candidate list.
You can contribute the GoFundMe created for Karen at this website: