Pat Lichty
Pat Lichty (John A. Pavoncello)

The only place Pat Lichty wanted to be after her double lung transplant two years ago was back in her classroom.

So the eighth-grade world history teacher turned what doctors said might be a permanent leave from teaching into an eight-month hiatus. In spring 2013, she returned to York Catholic to teach part-time for the last quarter of the school year.

"It was really weird being at home when I knew I should be in school," Lichty said. "Part of me was missing."

This month, she celebrated her first full year back in the classroom.

That feat, plus her dedication in the classroom and as the social studies department chair, prompted two of Lichty's colleagues to nominate her for a Golden Apple award, presented to top Catholic school teachers. Lichty was one of seven teachers to receive the award from the Diocese of Harrisburg this year, and the only teacher from York County.

Lichty devotes extra time to helping students understand classroom material and can often identify when a student might need extra educational support, said Anne Clinton, one of the teachers who nominated Lichty.

The transplant: The lung transplant was a long-term solution for Lichty's pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that makes it difficult to breathe as tissue in the lungs becomes hardened and scarred. It's the same condition that claimed the life of Lichty's mother.

Lichty, 58, spent the months leading up to the summer of 2012 preparing for the transplant, but she didn't officially put her name on the list until after school finished that year, for fear of getting a call before school was over.

In August 2012, Lichty received her two new lungs and began the recovery process. Even while at home, she organized the junior high geography bee, ordered supplies and mentored staff members in the social studies department, Clinton said.

Teaching: Now, Lichty said she doesn't think much anymore about the transplant, besides the additional medication she takes and the doctor appointments. Instead, she can get back to focusing on the students and the content she loves.

The self-described history nerd said she has a special fondness for ancient Rome, one of the units she teaches her eighth-graders.

She shows YouTube videos to help students remember facts about the city and has her students play interactive games online. Lichty said it's special when students link concepts like taxes or unemployment in ancient Rome to life in the United States.

"I like to see them make the connection," Lichty said. "You see the light bulb go on."

And Lichty said she's in the sweet spot of teaching, where she can witness her students shift from the concrete thinking of lower grade levels to inferences and higher-level thinking necessary for high school.

"I love junior high," she said. "Not many people say that."

Travel: Lichty has visited Italy twice to see Rome and other landmarks she teaches about. Last year, on the one-year anniversary of her lung transplant, she visited Ireland.

This summer, Lichty plans to visit Belgium for more historical sightseeing. On her list to visit is the Atlantic wall, a defense of the Germans in World War II; and Aachen, a town near Belgium in northwest Germany that Charlemagne designated as the capital of the Roman Empire in the Middle Ages.

Lichty knows there are no guarantees with organ transplants: Her new set of lungs could keep her healthy for the next 20 years or could start to fail much faster than that. Lichty said she'll stay in the classroom for as long as she can.

"I tell them I'm going to be one of those 20-year people," she said.