Saturday, July 20, 2013

Diane Leavitt strategizes her way cross country By Michelle Libby

Pulmonary arterial hypertension. Two years ago, those words were spoken to Windham High School teacher Diane Leavitt. She went on oxygen right away and has had to have a portable oxygen concentrator with her all of the time since then.

That hasn’t stopped her from living her life. Leavitt has taken a road trip this summer with her middle son, Christopher. However, it’s not just any road trip. She has a mission.

Leavitt had breathing problems prior to her diagnosis, she wasn’t sure why she was walking slower and unable to do the things she wanted to do like kayak and canoe. Now she has trouble breathing when she walks into school and when she talks animatedly. “They still don’t know what’s causing it,” said Leavitt.
“I take a break getting into school outside the office, which is about halfway to my room. I get to see a lot of the kids because I’m going slow. I see a lot of good that comes out of people,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt is an educator at heart. She also likes to travel, but what’s a woman who carries oxygen around supposed to do? In Leavitt’s case, she packs her bags, Christopher, and heads on a cross country trip to document her journey and to discuss life with people she meets along the way.

“Each year I get progressively worse. Next year I might not be able to travel. I don’t expect much. I just experience it,” she said.

As a little girl she would walk around the neighborhood in Cambridge and introduce herself to the neighbors. “Finding out about other people, that’s what the traveling is all about,” she said. This trip has brought her back to that time in her life when she introduces herself to people and talks to them.

Now she uses her camera to document the stories about people with and without disabilities from all over the country. She hopes that this film will help people who get a diagnosis like hers to learn about and manage what they might go through.

“I just think about the early stage and how scary it was. Doctors specializing in this can recommend (the documentary) to their newly diagnosed patients,” Leavitt said.

Her new philosophy is “random acts of longer random but a way of life. This attitude is a magnet for kindness in return. This states a lot about the project and what we can do for each other.” She has learned about the kindness of others and how people sympathize with her. They want to know where she got her oxygen machine, which she calls R2D2 after seeing a Star Wars display, or they want to help her in general.

“I’m really visible. A lot of people are dealing with things that aren’t visible,” she said. “Find that positiveness and stick with it.”

“Part of my learning was educating my family and friends. Here I am an educator. I’m on oxygen and some people are way worse. I’m still active. It’s better to keep moving, keep doing,” she said.

“I force myself to keep going physically. People have to do what they have to do,” she said. She knows one student that has cancer and when she hears a perfectly healthy teen say that her life sucks and he can’t take it, Leavitt looks at her student and can’t believe it what she’s hearing. “I want to give a message to high school kids. You’ve got to figure out a way around it. Learn to strategize,” Leavitt said.

Medically, there was no prognosis given for her condition, but when she Googled it…”It’s very disturbing,” she said. However, her doctor told her that there are no rules.

The trip cross country is not part of a bucket list. She doesn’t want to call it that. “I understand my limitations and strategize accordingly,” she said.

Many people told her that she couldn’t make this trip. Physically, they said she couldn’t do it. “They’ll try to rob you or take advantage of you.” She didn’t believe her friends. She was determined.

t the end of day one she said, “I can’t physically do this…without Christopher. People are going to help me out. It’s a trip instead of an ordeal,” Leavitt said.

Their destination is Calfornia, San Francisco and the Redwood Forest. She also got in touch with a group that’s meeting in Sacramento like the support group she belongs to here in Maine. They invited her to stop by and she hopes to get interviews with some of the members.
They left Las Vegas on Wednesday, heading for the west coast. They plan to return to Maine around August 8.

Leavitt is best known for her work with the business simulation classes, but she is also the community service coordinator and coordinator for the allied arts at Windham High School.

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