A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Taylor Davis’ dream of becoming a nurse will become reality when family receives her pin

By Elizabeth Adams
Special to KyForward

When nursing student Taylor Davis entered Cameron Waters’ hospital room at 7 a.m., the 20-year-old cystic fibrosis patient sent a strong message he wasn’t in the mood for a visitor. The message was delivered in the form of a middle finger pointed in her direction.

Davis, standing at 4-foot-11, wasn’t discouraged by this offensive gesture. She could take some attitude from her patients — but she could dish it out, too.

“So that’s how it’s going to be?” Davis said as she prepared to take his vital signs.

 (Photo from UKNow)

Taylor Davis, who died in a car accident in February, is remembered for her infectious positivity and empathy. Her dream of of graduating from the UK College of Nursing and pursuing a career working with pediatric patients will become a reality when faculty members present her family with a pin, which symbolizes a student’s completion of nursing school and acceptance into the nursing profession. (Photo from UKNow)

Within a few minutes of their meeting in February of 2014, Davis patched up a rough start by making Waters feel comfortable with her care. Nurses passing through the hallway of Kentucky Children’s Hospital were shocked to hear Waters — who was unpleasant in the early mornings — laughing, smiling and opening up to Davis. A week later, Davis was again assigned to Waters’ room during her training rounds. This time, she brought him a few gifts.

“I don’t talk about my feelings easily, but she was always laughing and easygoing, so I felt special when I talked to her,” Waters said. “I am not used to that — I didn’t have the best family upbringing, but she felt like a sister to me.”

On the morning of Thursday, Feb. 27, Davis went to see Waters for a third time, but he was gone. He had been discharged.

A couple days later, Waters received a call from his grandmother. Friends in Lexington told her that the family of a UK student who just died in a car accident was requesting memorial gifts to be sent to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Gifts were intended to support a fund for a patient named Cameron Waters. He knew immediately that the student who died was Davis.

“I instantly broke down,” he said.

Waters was one of few patients to see Davis’ potential as a nurse, but he was not the first person to feel valued, loved and appreciated by the endearing and adventurous young woman. Friends, college roommates, co-workers at the Kentucky Clinic Starbucks where she worked as a barista, instructors in the UK College of Nursing, groundskeepers on campus, and family members back in California tell stories of how Davis was deeply invested in the well-being of others. While she worked hard to achieve academically, Davis exemplified an ideal nurse through her infectious positivity, limitless empathy and passion for people.

“Taylor had the ability to make everyone feel like they were the most important person,” Joy Sado, Davis’ aunt, said.

Taylor Ann Davis passed away in a car accident on the evening of Feb. 27. She dreamed of graduating from the UK College of Nursing and pursuing a career working with pediatric patients. On May 8, Davis’ dream will become a reality when UK College of Nursing faculty members present her family with a pin, which symbolizes a student’s completion of nursing school and acceptance into the nursing profession.

Kentucky Children's Hospital patient Cameron Waters, left, joined Taylor Davis' family at Disneyland shortly after her death. (Photo from UKNow)

Kentucky Children’s Hospital patient Cameron Waters, left, joined Taylor Davis’ family at Disneyland shortly after her death. Memorial gifts to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation were for a fund in Waters’ name. (Photo from UKNow)

Judi Dunn, the first nursing instructor to mentor Davis in a clinical setting, described Davis as an inspiration to both her peers and her nursing instructors. On the first day of clinical training, Dunn noticed Davis beaming with excitement at the thought of making a difference in the lives of patients just by relating to them. Her authenticity and enthusiasm positively influenced the other 10 nursing students in her clinical group.

Visiting a local elementary school as part of her clinical training, Davis won the affection and attention of children, who would jump up and down when she arrived to teach the health and wellness lessons. Dunn believes most people can learn the science required for nursing, but Taylor stood out in her ability to practice the art of nursing at an early stage.

“Taylor came in that first day wired to be an extraordinary nurse,” Dunn said. “She portrayed the art form of nursing­ — ­she married her heart with the science.”

Magan Carver, a fellow nursing student and friend, feels both dread and excitement for pinning day. It was a goal she shared with Davis from the start of their program. Carver remembers first meeting “Tay” after class as she was riding her skateboard across campus. Carver had never met anyone who rode a skateboard, but the two became instant friends and eventually roommates. Carver said Davis, who loved to bake, was always making cupcakes to share with friends, co-workers and even strangers. Davis baked a batch of cupcakes to show her appreciation for the apartment maintenance crew.

“She was the happiest, nicest person that you’d ever meet,” Carver said. “What makes you a good nurse is how you treat other people — and that’s what was so special about Taylor.”

Davis expressed interest in nursing as a career after seeing her grandfather treated poorly in a hospital when she was 10 years old. Sado, who had a close relationship with her niece, said Davis proved her ability to respond to medical emergencies while she was in high school. As Davis and her date were leaving a restaurant before attending their junior prom, a man ran by holding a wound on his throat. Davis responded right away, putting pressure on the wound and directing the restaurant staff to call 9-1-1. Her heroism resulted in a bloody prom dress, but also seemed to reaffirm her future in the nursing field.

“She was barking orders at all these adults that were standing around doing nothing,” Sado said. “She took charge of the moment and realized this (nursing) was something she could do.”

After high school, Davis was determined to become a nurse. She applied to a nursing program close to home in Long Beach, California, only to learn there was a waitlist for the program. She took classes at a local community college before deciding to apply to UK College of Nursing.

“When she got the acceptance letter to Kentucky, she was gone,” Shawn Davis, Davis’ father, said. “She said UK had a great nursing program.”

Taylor Davis, center, with her father Shawn Davis and mother Tammy Davis (Photo from UKNow)

Taylor Davis, center, with her father Shawn Davis and mother Tammy Davis (Photo from UKNow)

Shawn and Tammy Davis, in addition to other family members, travel to Lexington this week to accept a nursing pin on behalf of their daughter. The family has also established a close relationship with Waters. Shortly after meeting him during Davis’ memorial service, the family hosted the young man at their home in Garden Grove, California, also treating him to a visit to nearby Disneyland. Shawn Davis said he knew his daughter had a special bond with Waters, and her intentions were to stay in touch with him.

“Obviously we care about him because Taylor did,” Shawn Davis said of Waters. “Taylor was super excited about meeting him.”

Waters, who said his brief friendship with Davis changed his life, will join the family for Davis’ pinning ceremony. Living with the everyday challenges of a chronic disease, Waters feels he has inherited a supportive surrogate family through Davis. On pinning day, he’ll remember Davis for her sense of adventure and unmistakable laughter.

“I think it will be amazing,” Waters said of the pinning ceremony. “I think she will look down on us knowing she got her reward.”

The Taylor Ann Davis Starbucks Award was created to honor a graduating UK College of Nursing student who resembles Davis’ compassion for people, positive attitude and pursuit of life’s limitless possibilities. To support this award, contact Aimee Baston at abaston@uky.edu.

Elizabeth Adams writes for UKNow.

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