MGA Nursing Student Makes Remarkable Comeback from Tragedy

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Friday, February 12, 2016 4:00 AM
Categories: School of Health Sciences | Students | Pressroom

Macon, GA

Seth Nicholson was well on his way to realizing the career he’d dreamed of since ninth grade.

It was fall 2013, and he had just enrolled in Middle Georgia State University’s nursing program. His mother, a certified nurse-midwife, inspired his choice, as did his own desire to serve others.

“It’s always been in my nature to want to reach out to people and help them,” said Nicholson, a reed-thin, soft-spoken 22-year-old from Dexter. “Nurses can make such a difference for patients who need encouragement and understanding.”

Nicholson knows that firsthand.

In March 2014, he crashed his car on the grounds of West Laurens High School when he lost control while rounding a curve on Georgia 257. Although he doesn’t remember the accident, he thinks he fell asleep at the wheel – a stomach virus had kept him up the night before. Nicholson was on his way home from picking up some medicine when he crashed.

Somebody who was at the scene later told him he was found “face down, knees up.” With severe spinal injuries (“like bones in a blender”), along with broken ribs and collapsed lungs, he spent months at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center. Doctors held out little hope he would walk again.

In the days and weeks to come, physical and occupational therapists helped him sit up (initially for just 30 seconds at a time), learn to use a wheelchair and self-insert catheters to help him relieve himself. But as a nursing student, Nicholson knew the ability to do one’s business without the aid of medical devices is an important sign of healing. After self-inserting his first catheter, he vowed it would be the last.

“By the grace of God, I started going by myself that very day,” he said.

The possibility he might spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair was one Nicholson had accepted with courage and characteristic optimism. Many others at Shepherd were devastated by what the future might hold for them. Before long, nurses and therapists who marveled at Nicholson’s attitude began asking him to spend time with other young patients. It was an excellent chance to do what he loves most - helping others - and honing his bedside manner as a nurse-in-training.

“I knew my life wasn’t over, whether I walked again or not,” Nicholson said. “I tried to encourage every person I met at Shepherd that their life wasn’t over, either.”

Within 10 weeks of beginning rehab, Nicholson could stand by holding a walker and pulling himself up from his wheelchair. About a week after returning home, when he rose and slowly took two or three steps without assistance for the first time, his mother cried.

“The chance I wouldn’t walk again had been tougher on her than it was on me,” said Nicholson, eyes welling.

In 2015, fourteen months after his accident, Nicholson was able to resume the Middle Georgia State nursing program on the Cochran Campus. He walks with a noticeable limp – Nicholson still can’t lift his left foot and must wear thick work boots for extra support - but he handles his clinical rotations and other arduous aspects of being a nursing student with little apparent difficulty.

Faculty and fellow students are in awe of him.

“One of the things that struck me as most impressive about Seth was his perseverance and humility,” said Dr. Keri Justice, one of his instructors. “He has physical challenges due to his accident, but he never complains or seeks out an easier path for himself. Seth engages with his peers and exudes such positivity and motivation that he is highly esteemed as a team player.”

Dawn Knight, associate professor of nursing, remains amazed Nicholson is doing so well considering the severity of his injuries.

“He came back with a good attitude and has fit in well with the new cohort of students he now attends classes with,” she said. “His old cohort loved him and offered continuous support as he recovered. He is a smart young man and has great potential in the nursing profession.”

Nicholson is on track to finish his associate’s degree in spring 2016. He wants to pursue Middle Georgia State’s RN-BSN degree and work as a travel nurse. His longer term goal is to go for a graduate degree at Augusta University’s medical school to become a nurse anesthetist.

He looks back on his accident as a blessing in disguise, giving him the opportunity to become a better, more compassionate RN.

“At the Shepherd Center, nurses always appeared upbeat, even if they didn’t really feel that way,” Nicholson said. “It made me aware of how important it is for nurses to always be positive with their patients. That’s the kind of nurse I want to be.”