Sept. 27 is a memorable date for Nikki Coy. The memories flood and mist.
She cries, unembarrassed. There is pain, but more.
Resolve. Hope. Optimism.
On this date 13 years ago, her brother had been making his last laps on a dirt bike course near Rockford, Michigan, when he fell at a jump he had navigated many times.
He severed his spine. T-12. He heard it and he knew it. He lost mobility below his waist.
“I cannot feel my legs,” he told a friend, who thought he was joking.
Age 26, Justin—a husband and a father to two little boys—saw his life change in an instant.
A medical helicopter couldn’t land in the wooded area that day. An ambulance had to take him to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital.
“Even in the ambulance, he was resigned,” Coy said. “He was not going to walk again.”
The day before the crash, Coy, a Hudsonville native, had learned she’d become pregnant with twins. A blessed gift from in vitro fertilization.
From the highest highs, came the lowest lows.
Coy stayed at her brother’s side as he dealt with paralysis. She saw the aching progress, the black depression. She helped him learn to balance again. She provided respite for his wife at the hospital.
One day, at 6 a.m., Coy called her husband, Aaron. Both were already at work.
“I’m going to quit my job and I’m going back to school to be a nurse,” she told him.
Aaron’s response: “I think we’re both sleep deprived.”
Step ladder to success
She signed up for classes at Grand Valley State University to become a nurse, a challenge for a working mother in sales and marketing.
Her path would lead to a position as director of operations at the Spectrum Health Cancer Center. It’s a path that also led her to fraternal twins Caden and Kendall, 12, a career change, and a step ladder of responsibilities at Spectrum Health.
She landed a job at Spectrum Health in 2004, and over the years she took on a series of roles: Nurse’s aide. Orthopedic trauma. Nurse educator. Nurse manager of surgical oncology. Director of nursing in post-acute services in continuing care.
She later received the prestigious ACE Award, nominated by her co-workers. The award, which stands for Achieving Continuous Excellence, honors those who bring energy and enthusiasm to their jobs. It honors those who offer compassion to patients.
Coy fits that bill.
On a recent afternoon, she sat with a Spectrum Health Beat reporter and told how she finished her nursing director post to begin her new role as director of cancer services.
“I have not lost that hunger, or thirst, for just providing the most excellent care for patients and their families,” she said. “I’m so incredibly grateful to work for an organization that invests in their employees.”
At age 43, Coy is a marathoner. More than that, she’s a triathlon athlete who loves the swimming portion more than most. All this in the past three years.
She recalls her first marathon, 26.2 miles. A grueling endeavor.
“I remember thinking toward the end, I cannot stop,” she said.
Across the finish line, she kissed her brother in his wheelchair.