Kayla Courvell, one of the hosts on FOX29’s Morning Show, is hard to miss. She is blond and bubbly with a million-watt smile.
The Grove City, Pa. native, who dreamed since childhood of working as a TV reporter, moved to Lake Charles almost two years ago and plans to stay. She recently bought a home.
Idyllic as her life may seem from the outside, Courvell suffers from illnesses that are invisible to everyone else.
She spoke on chasing her dreams while facing Crohn’s disease and mental illness as the guest speaker at the West Calcasieu Chamber of Commerce Empowering Women’s Luncheon last Thursday. In order to distinguish between the “Kayla” speaking about her personal pain, and the one the world sees on TV, she revealed that her given name is Kayla Sample.
Courvell said she has always been nosy. Even before she decided to be a reporter, she considered psychology or law as a career because of the access those professions would give her to people’s stories. “But then I found out how long you had to go to school,” she said.
Courvell’s determination led her to intern as a sideline reporter her senior year covering sports for a radio station. She said she realized news reporting was her calling when she was scheduled to interview a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and found herself fixated on a breaking news story involving a knife-wielding student at a local high school.
After college, she submitted her resume for 400 different job openings with news agencies. She took the first job offered as a bureau reporter in Gillette, Wyo., as the only television reporter in the northeast region of the state. “I was happy for the job,” she said. “But I was angry because I had to move.” Courvell had never lived anywhere else beside Grove City.
She soon moved on to a morning reporter position in Rapid City, S.D. After a break from the news and a short move home to Pennsylvania, Courvell reentered the media with her current position in Lake Charles.
Her journey was sidetracked and nearly derailed by her debilitating condition. She had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease her junior year in high school, which led to her giving up her place on the tennis team, a sport at which she excelled. Prior to that she had suffered with extreme stomach pain on and off since junior high. “Sometimes I was going to the restroom 30 times a day,” she said. “I was constantly nauseated.”
This physical pain was coupled with anxiety and depression and the combination was nearly fatal. In mid 2016, before her move to Rapid City, Courvell went to her doctor for a check-up and to gather her medical records to bring with her. She was told she had an intestinal stricture that had to be surgically removed.
“I thought to myself, ‘I have worked so hard to get here … to get this job. And this surgery is going to stop me’.”
Her doctor told her she could wait a few months. Her mother told her she should stay home and have the surgery as soon as possible. “I decided I was going to wait,” she said. “It was the worst decision of my life. I woke up every day in pain and went to sleep hoping I wouldn’t wake up.”
Courvell’s surgery was scheduled for that December to remove the stricture. Her doctor told her that post surgery, everything would be back to normal in two to three months. “So I set a suicide date,” she said. “March 16 was the day I was going to take all the opioids, because I had a ton, and I was going to take my own life.” In the midst of her pain and fear, Courvell couldn’t imagine a world without either.
During the December operation, doctors removed Courvell’s appendix, six inches of her small intestine and a quarter of her colon. “I was not prepared for that,” she said. “The doctors told me I would have to relearn to live. My body was going to be different.”
Courvell said the time after her surgery was a low point. But she had a saving grace in the form of a Maltese puppy. While she was in Wyoming, her parents, aware of her depression, had bought her the dog which she named Louie. “I could come up with every reason to leave every person on this earth that I was close to,” she said. “I came up with reasons for how they could cope with my suicide. And it was set. If the surgery didn’t work, I was going to take my own life.” But Courvell said she couldn’t justify leaving Louie. “I was all he had,” she said. “I could not leave him.”
Courvell said her Crohn’s slowly got better and as did her outlook on life. “March 16 came and went, and I didn’t even notice the date,” she said. “I had this companion by my side who needed me. It was something that, honestly, saved my life.” Courvell recently got Louie a sister, a maltese/yorkie mix she named Gabana Grace.
Courvell said she shares her experiences coping with mental and physical pain with people in the hopes that it helps others overcome hard times and reconsider thoughts of suicide. She said she has been helped enormously by mental health professionals and medicine. And while she still has dark times, she feels able to reach out to those around her for help.