A high school teacher for 24 years, she was forced to retire when she was afflicted with a non-smoking lung disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Given little chance to live, she has beaten the odds and now she is writing a book about her experiences from a Christian’s perspective.
When faced with a near-death experience, Knitter never gave up and it strengthened her faith in God. Even her doctors and nurses, who became close friends the past couple of years, knew that her faith helped Knitter beat the long odds.
As part of her fund-raising campaign to pay for printing of the book, she and Genny Dawson have planned A Slice of Heaven dinner for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday in Wright Hall at the First United Methodist Church, 601 N. Cedar.
Dawson has planned a homemade pizza and spaghetti dinner with salad and dessert. Carry-out is available. The cost is by free-will donation.
The 254-page book is scheduled to be released this September.
Knitter said her life changed and by 2009 the sickness she experienced worsened after what had been a six-year battle. Her doctors knew that the afflictions she faced would force her to step away from a career she loved – teaching students.
“That first year I hated it. I loved teaching,” Knitter said. “I’m a passionate person and I loved working with the kids.”
Her last day of teaching was Dec. 16, 2009. Her personal physician, Dr. Chantel Long, had asked her to take an open-lung biopsy and after receiving the results the doctor immediately admitted Knitter to Memorial Hospital in Abilene and then onto Salina Regional Health Center. From Dec. 16-Jan. 25 she was in and out of hospitals.
The book helps chronicle her experiences from being airlifted to specialists and the treatments that have helped her regain much of her health. Knitter said she has received many hundreds of cards and messages as well as being the recipient of prayer from her congregation and other churches. The book was one way to say thanks but also to offer support for others. She wanted the book to be well written so she called on another friend from the teaching profession.
Knitter credits Paula Peterson, a retired Abilene Middle School English teacher, who encouraged her and helped her.
“Paula co-wrote the book,” Knitter said. “We spent many hours together and e-mailed back and forth ideas. I always tell people that if anything in the book is well-written that is Paula’s part and everything else is mine.”
Knitter wanted to write the book because it can tell a story of hope. When people face difficult problems, there is a tendency to shrink or avoid them. Those tendencies are natural and she had to face them as well.
“I want people to know they can overcome what might seem like impossible challenges through Jesus Christ and also the support of family and friends,” she said.
In the book she talks about her own deep depression. She knows how hard it had to be on her husband, Jeff, and her daughters, all of whom she gives high praise. They made many sacrifices for her.
“It was so hard on Jeff and the girls,” Knitter said.
Doctors have told her that on at least three occasions they did not think she would live.
Long also has had an appreciation for Knitter’s positive approach to life.
“Dr. Long told me ‘if anything will happen it will be to you, but if anyone will beat it, it will be you,’” Knitter said.
The illness in 2003 surfaced and she was diagnosed with a form of bronchioloitis obliterans organizing pneumonia (BOOP) and later cryptogenic organizing pneumonia. Combined with rheumatoid interstitial lung disease it made it hard for Knitter to breath.
Knitter remembers wearing an oxygen mask. Self-conscious, she worried about being out in the public beyond her network of friends. She never smoked a day in her life, but worried about the stigma it carried to those who did not know her. Of course, in reflecting back, it was a stage she had to go through.
“Both are very rare,” she said. “I only know of one other person who has it.”
The other person and Knitter have become friends and they offer each other support as both continue treatments.
Dawson, also of Abilene, volunteered her skills as a chef because she admires her friend. The two also attend First United Methodist Church.
“I love her. She is an inspiring person,” Dawson said. “She helps me out when I cook at the church. I want the best for her. I wanted to help her and I love to cook.”
Dawson also wanted to be supportive of the book project, which tells a positive message because she believes Knitter is an inspirational person.
“I am a firm believer in a positive attitude,” Knitter said. “Doctors were impressed and understanding then and throughout in my faith in God. I told them I had talked to God and they said it was OK to do so.”
While the illness ended her formal career as a public school teacher, Knitter said the experiences have allowed her to grow in her faith.
“I would do it again because I liked the journey I have and I have become a better person,” she said.