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Teacher draws energy, motivation from students

There are many reasons an employee might call out sick, like a cough, fever, cold or allergies. Or perhaps a child or spouse is ill and they need to provide care.

Certainly, having kidney dialysis is a valid excuse to miss work.

Not for Pam Goldsmith, though.

“As long as I can get to work, let me work,” said Pam, an early childhood educator at the Joseph H. Messina Children’s Center in Fort Myers. “I’ve been working since I was 16 years old. That’s all I know.”

Two years ago, Pam suffered kidney failure. At first, she went to the hospital for dialysis three times per week, but found the environment depressing. It also meant missing work. Instead, she began an at-home dialysis program. Although it lasts longer – eight hours nightly for seven days a week – the at-home treatment means she doesn’t have to miss work. Pam works a 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift at the early learning center, which allows her to schedule any doctor’s appointments before she starts work.

In addition to a failing kidney, Pam also has diabetes and high blood pressure. Kidney dialysis is a physically and mentally exhausting process, and some have wondered how Pam can muster up enough energy to teach a class of spirited toddlers.

“They give me the energy,” she said. “The children motivate me to keep working.”

And she has. Through cold and flu season, the pandemic, family health issues and other challenges, Pam has been showing up to work nearly every day since Child Care of Southwest Florida hired her in June 2000.

Pam’s commitment to showing up to work every day, as well as the dedication of her colleagues, also means parents can show up to work every day. Working parents need reliable child care, and Child Care of Southwest Florida implemented numerous safety protocols early in the pandemic to help protect the health of students and staff. Florida law requires specific student-to-staff ratios, so healthy, reliable employees are critically important to maintain daily operations.

A kidney issue isn’t the only challenge Pam has overcome. She doesn’t drive. Her family, friends and colleagues gladly step in, though, knowing how important it is for her not to miss work.

“Pam gives us energy, too,” said Yolanda Vargas, director of the Messina Children’s Center. “For eight hours every day, she pours her heart and soul into the children here so they can receive a high-quality education. It’s incredible to think that after Pam leaves in the evening, she still has to go through eight hours of kidney dialysis. And then she’s back again the next morning for another day.”

Pam overcame a learning disability to graduate from North Fort Myers High School in 1988. She attended vocational school to earn a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential and later completed the early childhood education program at then-Edison Community College.

Today, Pam leads the Lions class at Messina Children’s Center, focusing on reading, math and social skills to help students prepare for kindergarten.

Pam is beginning the process of qualifying for a kidney transplant while continuing dialysis at home and working full-time. Although she occasionally needs “a minute or two” to catch her breath or get a drink of water, Pam said the overwhelming support from her colleagues and Child Care of Southwest Florida’s leadership team has helped fuel her desire to keep teaching.

“That’s why I am sticking with them,” she said. “They’ve stuck with me.”

About the Author

Chris Hansen is CEO of Child Care of Southwest Florida, a nonprofit early childhood education provider with five accredited learning centers in Lee and Hendry counties. For more information, please call 239-278-1002 or visit CCSWFL.org.

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