For most new college students, Move–In Day is full of excitement, exhilaration and the promise of new fulfilling adventures.
For 2021 Winona State University graduate Kaylee Bayer, that was not the case.
Leading up to the big day, Bayer’s excitement at starting her journey of becoming a nurse quickly turned to worry and then to panic after her mom was hospitalized.
Becoming a nurse was always Bayer’s dream, but she found herself questioning whether to even go. Bayer’s mom, who was her most enthusiastic supporter, had been hospitalized for a couple weeks and her prognosis not coming back positive. Bayer takes her role as the oldest sibling seriously and was hard pressed to be convinced to take a step forward, but her father eventually gave her the push she needed to start her journey.
The first weeks at WSU were a blur. She had to force herself to think of her studies.
“There were times when I would fail a quiz because of everything I was dealing with,” said Bayer. “I kept it to myself.”
By September of Bayer’s freshman year, her mom had spent about six weeks at Mayo Clinic and doctors were no closer to answers. Bayer took comfort in knowing Mayo’s world-renowned reputation and that her mother was in good hands. Little did she know, Bayer would one day be the hands providing the care at the same renowned hospital.
On her mom’s birthday later that month, Bayer got a call from her dad and the panic set back in.
“By the time I got there they had determined there was nothing else they could do,” Bayer said through tears.
Bayer’s mom made it through her birthday. But just barely. The next day Bayer sat with her mom, who used to be the life of every party, and watched as her mom’s chest would rise and fall with each remaining breath, until at one point it didn’t rise again.
“Despite her grief, pain and shock, Kaylee did not leave school (and instead) became determined to become a nurse to help people like her mother and her family. Kaylee will graduate this spring in 4 years, on time, as a nurse — making her family, her mother, and me incredibly proud.”
“She was gone,” Bayer said.
Bayer kept her pain to herself. That was until Child Advocacy Professor Jodi Saunders asked for a meeting to talk about missing work and Bayer opened up.
“She is one of those people you can have a five-minute conversation with and if feels like you’ve known her for years,” Bayer said, adding that Saunders would consistently check up on her and invite her to come talk. “She essentially became my counselor/therapist.”
As the relationship grew and the impact Saunders made deepened–even inviting her to holiday dinners if she wasn’t returning home–they lovingly gave her the nickname of being Bayer’s “Winona mom.”
“I lost my mother 6 years ago and was devastated,” Saunders wrote. “I cannot fathom being a new freshman in a new place and handling everything as well as she did.”
In Spring semester of her freshman year, Bayer’s support system deepened. She was invited to join a grieving group within the WSU counseling services and for the first time since she came to WSU, Bayer went from feeling detached to feeling completely supported on campus.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” Bayer said.
As time went on, her grief turned into determination to make a difference as a nurse.
In Bayer’s sophomore year she was accepted into the nursing program at WSU-Rochester, giving her an opportunity to do her clinical rotations at Mayo Clinic—in the same building her mom was in.
“That was an adjustment to go back into that building, hear the same sounds, smell the same smells, go through the same elevator. I reminded myself why I was there…and that I was going to be able to help.”
During her 120 hours of capstone work with assigned nurse, Keeley Laughlin, Bayer stepped closer to fulfilling her dream. Just this last month, she took another step that brought her full circle to the reason she was passionate about making a difference. Laughlin asked if she’d consider going back to the ICU unit her mom was in, and to Bayer’s own astonishment she agreed.
“We got on the same elevator and my heart was racing,” Bayer said. “I was doing really good and then I got to the part where there was one of the rooms she was in.”
Bayer walked into the room – taking deep breaths along the way.
Bayer, who will continue to work at Mayo after graduation, said someday she would need to face the ICU again and this time someone’s life would be in her hands. Between the education she’s gotten through WSU and the experience of being at Mayo, Bayer is confident that she’s not only prepared but ready to make a difference.
“This is where I am meant to be,” Bayer said. “I’m really looking forward to finally starting what I’ve worked so hard for.”
Bayer knows her mom would be proud and that if she could, she would be there celebrating Bayer with every bit of energy she had.
“Despite her grief, pain and shock, Kaylee did not leave school (and instead) became determined to become a nurse to help people like her mother and her family,” Saunders said. “Kaylee will graduate this spring in 4 years, on time, as a nurse – making her family, her mother and me incredibly proud.”