KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — One of the newest nurses at East Tennessee Children's Hospital now works on the same floor where she was once treated as a patient battling childhood cancer.
Ashtyn Fritz was diagnosed with leukemia when she was a month shy of her sixth birthday. She spent a lot of time at ETCH as a patient battling blood cancer, receiving treatment, and bonding with the staff.
Fritz knew even at a young age that she wanted to be a nurse and give back to others the way they did for her. Now, that dream is a reality. It's a true full-circle moment she doesn't take for granted.
She is able to relate to patients on a level others can't.
"I think I'm most excited at the fact that it's not about me anymore," Fritz said. It's not my story anymore. It's these little kiddos stories now."
She remembers exclusively eating Oreo blasts from the cafeteria, which are still there by the way, and the nurses who made her time there special. Now, her heroes are her coworkers.
"Coming back, I kind of still see the energy that was there 16 years ago, and the staff here is awesome," Fritz said. "I see them go above and beyond for patients just like they did for me."
She was told from a young age she would be behind in school from the treatments and medicine. She never let those words get her down. Rather, she used the doubt as fuel for her determination.
The now 22-year-old graduated from East Tennessee State University in May 2021 with a degree in nursing during a global pandemic.
"It's just really cool to kind of get to prove people wrong and to come back to the place where these people saved me," Fritz said.
While it's always been her dream to help kids here, she didn't expect it to happen so quickly. She got the call right out of college.
"When I got the interview I was over the moon, and then when I found out I got the job, I remember I called my mom, she was so excited and I was just like, 'there's no way this is real,'" Fritz said.
While it's hard to see kids fighting like she did, she's able to offer hope through her past struggle.
"For a long time, especially growing up, I didn't know, 'Why me?' Like why did I have to go through that," Fritz questioned. "Why did other kids not? But looking back now I wouldn't change a single thing because it did make me who I am today and it made me a fighter."
She wants to keep the circle going too.
"It's just amazing to get to watch these kids because even though I was one of them, they still amaze me and it's just incredible what these kids can do," Fritz said.
Through her adversity, she's changing lives, one patient at a time.
Fritz is originally from Jefferson County, Tennessee.