Cystic fibrosis won’t keep this Riley teen from graduation day

Patient Stories |



Riley School Program teachers have walked with Kami Knight from first grade to her senior year in high school.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer,

When Kami Knight crosses the stage at West Vigo High School in Terre Haute next month, she will be stepping out of her comfort zone but moving toward a future that might have seemed impossible years ago.

Kami, a patient at Riley Children’s Health since she was just a few weeks old, is graduating from high school and plans to study to become a radiology technician. Her mom, Heather Knight, says Kami is on the shy side, but she encouraged her to mark the milestone in a public way.

Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 6 weeks old, Kami has been treated at Riley ever since, sometimes spending weeks at a time on the pulmonary unit. CF is a genetic disorder that impairs lung function. Dr. Michelle Howenstine is Kami’s pulmonologist.

The pulmonology floor is where Kami met Riley educational liaison Heather Homan, who has worked with her to keep up her schoolwork since Kami was in middle school, though Kami’s time with the school program goes back to first grade.

And now she’s graduating, earning a Core 40 diploma and the designation of 21St Century Scholar. It makes Homan, a mother herself, proud as punch.

“Kami has persevered through so much – many hospitalizations, Covid, being a virtual student and doing homebound school,” Homan said. “I have been able to participate in case conference meetings with her family and have assessed her outpatient school needs in our Cystic Fibrosis clinic. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing her progress academically. She has grown into an amazing young lady.”

During Teacher Appreciation Week, we wanted to highlight one of Riley’s teachers and share the impact they have on Riley patients. The Riley School Program has been part of the hospital since its opening in 1924.

Educators not only work with patients to make sure they are doing their homework, they also collaborate with the child’s home school to ensure that their educational needs are being met.

Homan, who has been a Riley educator for nearly 14 years, has covered plenty of service lines in that time and says she has loved every area in different ways.

Seeing Kami decked out in her cap and gown, accented by sneakers, fills Homan with pride.

“It gives me goosebumps. She is 110 percent deserving of all of this, and I know she is going to be successful in college and in life.”

Cheering for Kami on graduation day (June 5) will be her mom and her dad, Charlie, her sister and grandparents. But others, like Homan, are just as proud.

And it’s about more than learning English, history and math. By building relationships and understanding how to use their voices to advocate for themselves, students like Kami learn many lessons from their time at Riley.

“Heather never gave up on her,” Knight said. “She was a very good advocate and helped her tremendously.”

Related Doctor

related doctor headshot photo

Michelle S. Howenstine, MD

Pediatric Pulmonary