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CKHS students rally to support sick educator

Chris Wheeler has known she was sick for 14 years, but as a single mother of five she had little time for stress management or relaxation.

“I’ve always managed my job with mind over matter. ... Unfortunately it caught up with me,” said Wheeler, Central Kitsap High School senior class advisor, pep club advisor and portfolio specialist.

On what would have been her first day of school this fall, Wheeler wound up in the hospital. A surgery she had 10 years ago to alleviate the effects of Crohn’s disease and colitis — stress-related illnesses — had come back to haunt her. Scar tissue from the procedure had embedded itself into her abdominal wall, creating an obstruction and serious health complications.

Wheeler spent a month in the hospital and had three surgeries in 10 days. Photos of the aftermath reveal a 12-inch cut on her abdomen, which has yet to heal.

Her parents came from Colorado to stay with her children, who range in age from 12 to 19 years old, and her oldest daughter took over as her nurse.

Support also has pored in from Central Kitsap High School.

“The staff initiated a food drive for her and the leadership class took it over,” said Brittany Healy-Tuke, a CKHS senior and member of the leadership class.

Mary Ann Reichley, the CKHS ProStart and family and consumer science teacher, devised a one-month menu. Students signed up either to prepare a meal or bring the ingredients.

“I heard though the grapevine that her children don’t like veggies very much,” Reichley said. “I have five kids too, so I thought about things they like to eat, things they could microwave.”

The ProStart class prepared some of the meals and baked 100 dozen cookies for the family. Other students cooked the rest and leadership students delivered the meals to the family. School staff and students visited her in the hospital and continue to call her.

“She has made such a difference in our lives, helping us find the right colleges and career path.

We wanted to reach out and support her when she needed it most,” Healy-Tuke said.

The Wheelers had to borrow a neighbor’s freezer to store all the food.

“I sat and cried when I heard about all this, I was totally overwhelmed by the kindness,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler was the sophomore and junior advisor for the class of 2002, and seniors are anxious for her to return.

“I want her to come back as soon as possible,” said Rico Macaraeg, whose mother is friends with Wheeler. “But I also want her to be up to 100 percent health.”

Wheeler is hoping she will have the energy to return to school by Dec. 5, but she has an incision that is healing, and her energy level still lags behind what it once was, she said.

Besides, she was so anxious to leave the hospital before that she ended up returning five days later for dehydration. She doesn’t want to repeat her mistake.

“I don’t want any setbacks. I don’t want to go back too soon,” Wheeler said.

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