Mother and daughters work together in a Catholic hospital

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By Gregory A. Shemitz, Catholic Press Service

ROSLYN, NY – Caring for the sick is a vocation and a way of life shared by a mother and two daughters who serve together in a Catholic hospital in Long Island, New York.

Novlet Davis-Bucknor, 59, is a nurse practitioner in the cardiothoracic department at St. Francis Hospital and Heart Center in Nassau County. Her eldest, LaToya Bucknor, 39, also a nurse practitioner, works with the intensive care team. Another girl, Shekeya Washington, 31, is a registered nurse in the medical intensive care unit.

“It’s good to work together because we always have each other to lean on,” said Novlet, who was born and raised in Jamaica and immigrated at 26 to the United States, where a few years later, she began her nursing studies.

Novlet is the ultimate role model as a professional mother and wife, LaToya and Shekeya told the Catholic News Service.

“She’s always there for us,” LaToya said. “She always loves and shows us that no matter what we go through in life, she will always be there to support us.

“My mother showed a lot of ambition and strength,” Shekeya said. “She worked really hard to get to where she is today. She is never satisfied. She always pushes for more. She is an example to my sisters and me as a black woman.

An office manager in a furniture store in Jamaica, Novlet did not initially envision nursing as a career until her husband, Paul Bucknor, offered it to her when she arrived in that country.

She changed her mind after thinking about her mother, Frances Amanda Davis, a loving and faith-filled woman who gave birth to 14 children, was a housewife and also helped midwives with childbirth.

“My mom always gave, always helped,” Novlet said. “I wanted to do something to give back. I went to nursing because I wanted to feel fulfilled when I was working.

Novlet, simultaneously managing her roles as wife, mother, and college student, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Molloy College in Rockville Center, and several years later earned a doctorate in nursing practice at the ‘Stony Brook University of New York.

She began her career in 1995 at age 34 as a nurse’s aide at St. Francis, where she worked throughout her career. She became a registered nurse in 1996 and a nurse practitioner 12 years later.

Inspired by her mother’s career, LaToya said she decided at 15 that she wanted to be a nurse. Following in her footsteps, she also obtained a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Molloy and worked her entire career at St. Francis. She became a nurse practitioner in 2019.

Shekeya, on the other hand, said watching her mother’s daily routine as a child had a different effect on her.

“To be honest, she kind of scared me not to breastfeed at first,” Shekeya said with a laugh. “She worked nights when we were little children. We couldn’t run around the house because she was sleeping. And when she got home, she would talk about her hard day as a room nurse.

After studying for her bachelor’s degree in biology at Hofstra University on Long Island, Shekeya considered furthering her education to become a doctor or medical assistant. However, after accepting a position as a unit clerk at St. Francis and seeing her mother and other nurses in action, she changed her mind.

“Working in St. Francis has allowed me to see the other side of nursing,” said Shekeya, who lives at home with her parents and baby sister in Queens. “Between what my mother showed me and what I saw for myself while working in the hospital, it cemented me. I returned for my nursing degree.

Shekeya graduated from the Molloy Nursing Program in 2018 and wants to continue her education at some point, with the goal of becoming a nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist.

Not all of Novlet’s children opted for nursing. A third daughter, Shenequa Bucknor, 29, has chosen a career in marketing and public relations.

While nursing has proven to be a rewarding career for Novlet, LaToya, and Shekeya, it also presented its share of risks. It has never been more evident than it was a year ago, when they found themselves fighting to save lives – and to protect their own – in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thinking back on that frightening time, they said their strong family bond and shared professional experiences in a common workplace proved essential to their survival, both physically and emotionally.

Although working in different fields, their paths sometimes crossed during the chaos of the first months of the coronavirus outbreak. Dressed from head to toe in personal protective equipment, they kissed when the moment allowed and shared their expertise in their respective specialties to determine how best to treat the growing number of critically ill patients.

“We took it one day at a time, one team at a time,” said LaToya. “We tried to support each other, to encourage each other.”

Shekeya, a nurse for less than two years when the coronavirus hit, was shaken by the experience. She said her mother and sister helped her through a period in which she had a constant sense of unhappiness while working non-stop in a unit “which saw a lot of deaths”.

Shekeya and her mother both contracted COVID-19 but had mild symptoms and recovered relatively quickly. LaToya, the mother of a 10-year-old son, was not infected.

Novlet told the story of a patient pleading with Shekeya, telling her, “Don’t let me die.” On leaving the hospital that day, Novlet and his daughters prayed for the patient, only to learn later that the person had passed away.

“(Shekeya) was devastated,” Novlet recalls. “I was crying with her and LaToya was comforting us both. At that point, we leaned on each other.

The ongoing health crisis has suspended an annual medical mission trip that Novlet, her husband and three children have been to Jamaica since 2013. For a week each July, the family and a team of health professionals and other New York area staff volunteers a pop-up clinic in Novlet’s hometown of Clarendon Parish, where they provide medical and dental care to its residents.

The humanitarian effort is funded by the LJDR Davis Foundation – a nonprofit organization co-founded by Novlet and her sister Pearlyn Clark – in partnership with the Catholic Health Caregivers Fund. The foundation was established in memory of four Novlet siblings who died between the ages of 28 and 40, mainly due to the lack of quality health care in the country, Novlet said.

“We provide free and impartial medical care to anyone who wants and needs help,” Novlet said, adding that more than 10,000 people have been served since the start of the program.

Although the mission trip was canceled in 2020 and this year, Novlet remains committed to the effort, organizing clothing, food, beds, wheelchairs and medical supplies to ship to Jamaica this past January.

In the past, the trip to Jamaica has given Novlet and her family the opportunity to festively reunite with her mother and other relatives. Things will be drastically different this year, however. The family will travel to Jamaica, not on a missionary trip, but to attend the funeral of Novlet’s mother, who died in March of complications from pneumonia at the age of 94. Frances Amanda Davis will be buried at the end of May.

Frances’ life story – filled with many challenges that were overcome through strength of character and deep Baptist faith – inspired Novlet last year to write a memoir dedicated to his mother’s legacy. titled “MAMA’S HEART”.

“I promised my mother that I was going to write her memoirs,” Novlet explained. “She was such an inspiring and religious woman, a woman who feared God. Even through the death of her children, she still gave glory to God.

“It will be a dark Mother’s Day this year,” she added. “I hope we can give her all the honors she deserves.”



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