Small-town kids reunite working at Riley

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02/22/2024

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Katie Sapp and Taryn Fledderman grew up in the small town of Batesville, Indiana. After going their separate ways in school, serendipity brought them together again at Riley.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Just like John Mellencamp sings in his 1985 hit “Small Town,” Taryn Fledderman and Katie Sapp were both “born in a small town.”

They grew up in Batesville, Indiana, about an hour northeast of Mellencamp’s hometown of Seymour. Their parents were raised in Batesville and still live there today.

The two Riley Children’s Health team members traveled in some of the same circles as kids, occasionally playing on the same sports teams and seeing each other on Sundays after church at the local Dairy Queen.

“That’s small-town Indiana,” Sapp laughed.

Their fathers carpooled to Cincinnati for their jobs at Procter & Gamble, so the connection was rooted in family.

Still, they lived what they describe as parallel lives in that small town, Sapp said. Not close friends, but friendly. (There is a slight difference in their ages, and the two went to different high schools and colleges.)

But the small-town connection continues.

Imagine their surprise when the two bumped into each other at Riley and learned they share the same clinic space for their respective roles.

Fledderman is a social worker with the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Gender Health, while Sapp is a genetic counselor with Medical & Molecular Genetics.

Sapp has been working in genetics at Riley for 13 years, and Fledderman has been a social worker at Riley for six years, the past two in gender health.

“When we told our dads that we were working together, they were both elated,” Fledderman said. “Just as we were drifting apart in the parallels, something brought us back together.”

The two are in their clinic space in separate areas of the building just once or twice a week, so it took a while before they saw and recognized each other. It had been years since they’d been in touch.

Fledderman, who uses they/them pronouns, had recently come out to their parents and wanted to show them how they had helped create a sense of home away from Batesville.

“They have taken an interest in what we do in clinic, and I think it made them feel like I was safer because there was somebody here who knew me and where I’d come from,” Fledderman said.

“Oh, that’s so sweet,” Sapp, a married mother of a 3-year-old, said as she and Fledderman shared memories in a small conference room in the clinic. “Knowing the important care they are providing … makes us as a clinical team feel protective over them,” she said.

The genetics clinic often works in a similar, if not parallel, space.

“Working in genetics and taking family histories, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on making sure people are represented the way they see themselves,” Sapp said.

The two have been gone from Batesville for so long that they can sometimes feel quite removed from the small-town community, but that hometown feeling is never far away.

“When you find another one of your Batesville orphans out in the world, there is little bit of a sense of home, a familiar face and someone who knows where you’re from and how you grew up,” Sapp said with a smile.

“Small towns can get a bad rap,” she added. There are good people in small towns who support their neighbors regardless of how they identify and what pronouns they choose to use.”

Having Sapp as an ally is important to Fledderman.

“I know how isolated I can feel here, and Katie helps with that. I want others to know they’re not alone in the system.”

Both Fledderman and Sapp are grateful for the chance to grow up in Batesville.

“I have lived across the country, and there is always somebody from my hometown,” Fledderman marveled. “That is what my family finds so special about our hometown, and I wanted to honor that. And honor the fact that people who aren’t in your life everyday can still have a positive impact on you later and build a community. You never know when that community is going to reconnect.”

The two went to rival universities – Sapp to Indiana University and Fledderman to Purdue. Neither knew they were destined to come together at Riley, but it turns out Riley is the only place in the state where they can do the work that they do.

“When you grow up in Indiana, Riley was always this prestigious place. It was the place where miracles happened,” Sapp said. “And it’s the only clinic in the state providing the kind of care we provide.”

That comes with unique rewards, she said.

“To be able to look a family in the eye who has a rare disease or something no one else in their small town has heard of, and to be able to say, ‘I know what it’s like to be from a small town, but I’ve also heard of this, and we’ve got you. We can help you through this.’ That’s what has kept me here all these years – Riley’s reputation, coupled with the actual work that we’re doing helping members of our communities.”

Fledderman doesn’t take for granted the fact that Riley is the only place in Indiana where they can do their work, which involves counseling parents on how best to support their children in the area of gender health.

“Gender-affirming care isn’t always about medical intervention,” Fledderman said. “A lot of the time we’re just helping parents learn how to support their children. Sometimes kids just need their name and pronouns used, and that’s like the most affirming thing you can do.”

The fact that the gender health clinic and Sapp’s genetics clinic are housed in the same building is “serendipitous,” Fledderman said.

Something both clinics share, Sapp said, is the fact that their patients are different in some way and require additional support.

“And both our teams are specially equipped to connect them with resources to handle those differences,” she said. “That’s a really special thing that we don’t take lightly.”

So while they may not see each other often, these two small-town natives have each other’s back.

“It’s always great to see a familiar face,” Sapp said, “to have that comfort of home pop up when you least expect it.”