SWCS nurse earns free time

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 Messenger photo by Cindy Kazalia
 Grove City resident and registered nurse Debbie Wirth gets ready to do something that is foreign to her – relax. She is retiring from the South-Western City School District after working at several schools as a nurse. While working with local families, she endured many hardships of her own.

Long-time Grove City resident, Debbie Wirth knows a thing or two about life’s transitions. The recently retired registered nurse observed both life and death in her work at University Hospital. She also experienced transitions in the 15 schools where she served staff, students, and families during her career with South-Western City Schools (SWCS).   

Through all change, expected or not, Wirth cited her faith in God as a constant companion. A member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Wirth learned early in life to rely on a higher power. Married two years, she desperately called upon God as well as friends and family for help in one dire circumstance. That’s when her husband, Jim, at the time a Columbus firefighter, suffered a life-threatening motorcycle accident. It happened in 1977, one day before the birth of their first child. Wirth endured labor alone, not knowing if her husband would live or die.    

Jim lived but the severity of his injuries necessitated amputation of his left leg, 42 blood transfusions, and a year-long recovery. Wirth sustained her family on her salary from SWCS, income that the couple was eternally grateful to receive. Only later, after Jim completed rehabilitation and recognized he would be unable to endure the physical rigors of firefighting, did he finish college at Franklin University, successfully securing a new profession.  

Wirth, who spent the last part of her career assigned to Richard Avenue Elementary School, Highland Park Elementary School, Monterey Elementary School, and Brookpark Middle School, loved so many of the changes that each school year brought to her as a school nurse.

"I’ve seen medicine advance to the point where medically fragile children can now attend public school," Wirth observed. "It’s brought new and different challenges."

She credited the addition of medication and health aides as being an important part of this process.

"Their support means that nurses don’t get pulled out of one school as often to address issues at another."

Wirth often assisted other individuals with their own challenges.

"You help families as a whole, not just the student," she explained. "They come to school nurses for referrals with medical, dental, and other needs."

Then she added, "I had the best families!"

The staff often relied on Wirth, too. In between class bells, one person or another would quietly slip into the clinic to seek medical counsel. They cited her expertise and her open nature as making this possible.  

One anonymous source stated, "I honestly believe that Debbie Wirth’s advice helped save my husband’s life."

Wirth dismissed such high praise.

"I was often the only one they could turn to for help. Usually, I was the only staff member with any type of medical training," she said.

Wirth’s medical training – and her personal faith – was called upon again in 1990. That’s when Jim’s liver began to fail.  

"Unbeknownst to us, Jim contracted Hepatitis C when he received all those blood transfusions after the motorcycle accident but there was no test for it at the time," she explained. "The test came out one month before Jim was diagnosed in 1990."

Jim immediately qualified for a slot on the transplant list but the appearance of a suitable liver was anything but immediate.  

Wirth remembered, "It was a scary time with Jim getting really, really ill and not knowing if he’d get a transplant."  

The transplant call did come – almost ten years ago.  

"The first thing we did after we got the call that a liver was available was say a prayer for the family who had lost a loved one. We really can’t thank them enough. In the midst of their grief, they gave the greatest gift of life."

The school nurse does not know what retirement holds for her. Right now she is content to sing in three choirs, spend time with her two adult children, Michael and Ellyn as well as granddaughter, Olivia, and hold hands with her beloved husband on weekend trips to Apple Valley Lake. She’d also like to travel and increase her volunteer work with the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Relay for Life, and Lifeline of Ohio.  

Whatever transitions this time presents to Wirth, she knows she will survive.

"I can do anything with God and the support of my family and friends."

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