Jessica Nodell, a Palm Beach Atlantic (PBA) University graduate, works as an athletic trainer for PBA, and nearly every Saturday for over three years she has spent her Saturday mornings with Don Chester, founders of the Pollyanna Nursing Scholarship, helping him train on his hand cycle bike.
Don is an “athlete at heart,” Jessica explained. He used to be a competitive triathlete, and he was ranked amongst the top of his age group in South Florida. On Christmas Eve in 2004, his entire life changed. He was out for a routine morning run, training for an upcoming race, when he was struck by a car. His spinal cord severed, and he became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down. He lost dexterity in his fingers, but he retained the use of his arms and hands. That is where the hand bike comes in, which allows Don to stay active and get outdoors.
“He pushes himself so hard and has incredible drive,” Nodell said. “He motivates me so much. As an athlete myself, there have been so many times where I just wanted to give up, but I would think of him and be motivated to keep going.”
After Don’s accident, his body was no longer able to regulate temperature – he does not sweat, and he is prone to getting heat exhaustion. The pair work well as a team, though, and Jessica rides alongside Don on Washington Road, cooling him off with ice towels and water, and stretching his arms every quarter mile.
One particular Saturday morning, the pair had just finished their morning ride and Jessica was cooling Don off in the garage. “Because of the heat, I have been riding shorter, but that morning I finished the eight miles and was feeling great,” said Don, who was unaware of the troubles that would ensue. “Pretty much the last thing I can remember, though, is going into the garage,” he said.
Jessica explained that Don suddenly stopped responding to her when she was cooling him down, and she knew she had to react quickly.
“I knew he was overheating and that I had to get him inside as fast as possible,” Jessica said. She wheeled Don into the house where they were greeted by his wife, Sally Chester. Realizing he was having a heat stroke, they made the decision to call 911 and waited for the ambulance to arrive.
“I have been a nurse for over 50 years, and I have seen experienced nurses less calm than Jessica was,” said Sally. “I was so impressed with her as a person, and with the education she got from Palm Beach Atlantic. She did everything right, and she didn’t panic at all. PBA did an extraordinary job in equipping her as an athletic trainer with so much experience.”
Jessica followed Sally to the emergency room where they both stayed until they were confident that Don was stable. He was released from the hospital a few days later – in good condition and ready to continue his weekly bike rides.
“She knew everything to do, and she did everything right. She did not panic at all,” said Sally. “She was incredible. God’s hand was so evidently at work – the fact that we have loved and supported PBA for so many years, and that we have a scholarship for nursing, and that we somehow ended up getting an athletic trainer from PBA – none of it was a coincidence.”
Don and Sally started the Pollyanna Nursing Scholarship in 2017. They wanted to help nurses grow and flourish, and they resonated with PBA’s goal to raise up Christ-like, servant leaders in their field.
“Your mission about helping students to grow in wisdom, lead with conviction and serve God boldly really resonates with us. Those are the kind of nurses that Palm Beach Atlantic produces,” Sally said. “This teeny, tiny school that started a couple years before we moved to South Florida has really grown into a powerhouse for education, and it stands as an example of how to grow God’s mission in West Palm Beach.”
To learn more about the Pollyanna Nursing Scholarship, visit https://www.pba.edu/give/opportunities/pollyanna-nursing-scholarship/.
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