Life-altering experience set path for career

Thaxton and family

Jan. 29, 2021 – DALLAS – As a caregiver to her late husband, Cheryl Thaxton, DNP, APRN, CPNP, FNP-BC, CHPPN, ACHPN, FPCN, was so inspired by the palliative care team that worked with her family that she chose to shift her career path to focus on becoming a palliative care provider to help others.

“It provided me a glimpse of the other side of illness,” Thaxton recalled. “The experience added meaningful depth to my reflections as a nurse leader. It reminded me what it means for patients and families to receive the best possible care with compassion, and it is why I sit here today.”

Palliative care is specialized medical care focused on providing patients relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness, regardless of the diagnosis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Those who provide palliative care aim to improve quality of life for patients and their families.

Thaxton, the Doctor of Nursing Practice program director in the TWU College of Nursing and a member of the Black Faculty & Staff Affinity Group at TWU, donated a kidney to her husband who battled polycystic kidney disease (PKD). Doctors originally deemed her kidney incompatible due to differing blood types, but Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, was able to complete the surgery successfully to add 12 more years to his life.

Thanks to the surgery, Thaxton and her husband were able to laugh about his newfound affinity for oatmeal raisin cookies, a favorite of Thaxton’s but never of his until that point.

“After the surgery, he was healthier than me,” Thaxton said. “I met caring medical professionals throughout the process of becoming a living organ donor. They went above and beyond to help my family, and I have always committed to doing the same for my patients and families.”

Today, Thaxton stresses the importance of palliative care and that it requires cultural awareness and mindfulness.

“It’s a precious moment for those patients and their families and we must support them in a meaningful way with compassion,” Thaxton said.

After that life-altering experience, Thaxton went on to become a co-founder of the Duke Children’s Pediatric Quality of Life Team in Durham, North Carolina. She coordinated a $100,000 grant-funded multi-disciplinary course for Duke’s pediatric staff addressing ‘A Total Approach to Suffering in Children: Pediatric Pain and Palliative Care’.

Thaxton implements ELNEC curriculum in Japan

Thaxton said it was one of the most special achievements of her career. However, it is one in a number of career achievements that include serving as national faculty for the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC) and most recently being selected to co-chair the first ever Pediatric Palliative Care (PCC) Task Force established by the National Coalition for Hospice and Palliative Care (NCHPC).

She would not have the career she has built, though, without great, diverse mentors.

“My greatest mentors come from different backgrounds, genders, and races and have been with me throughout my career,” said Thaxton. “Having a group of mentors from diverse backgrounds is important.”

Mary Eliza Mahoney

While she certainly has photos of her mentors, the most significant photo that has been in her office her entire 29-year career is of someone she has never met – Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first Black nurse to graduate from an American school of nursing.

“Her story inspires me to work hard, serve patients and families with the utmost humility, and to continue to grow as a lifelong learner in the field of nursing,” Thaxton said. “Her legacy lives on even 95 years later.”

In addition to directing the DNP program at TWU, Thaxton also works with a team to develop the curriculum for the upcoming BSN-to-DNP in Organizational Leadership Track.

“The TWU College of Nursing has a dynamic DNP program that fully equips students to take on hospital and academic settings. The DNP program is innovative and adds transformative growth for DNP students so they have the confidence to work within various healthcare settings,” Thaxton said.

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Page last updated 9:50 AM, January 26, 2022