BYU Nursing Student Kimi Stevenson Learns the Cost of Empathy

By Calvin Petersen

As a nurse in good health, helping others is effortless. But when a nurse is at their worst health ever, helping others becomes remarkable. Kimi Stevenson, a BYU nursing student, woke up one night in the most pain of her life.

She described it as if somebody was repeatedly stabbing a knife in her back. Though only 18 at the time, Kimi’s arthritis had worsened over the course of a few weeks. She now found herself on the floor, unable to move. Kimi yelled to her roommate Halie, who burst into the dark bedroom, fumbled for the switch and gasped when the light revealed Kimi’s contorted form on the floor. “Kimi! Are you OK?” she yelled. Kimi asked Halie to get her medicine on the other side of the room. As the girl moved to retrieve the pills, Kimi heard a loud thump, and then silence.

“Halie?” she called. No answer. “Halie, are you okay?” Again, no answer. Kimi screamed Halie’s name until another roommate came in and found the two girls on the floor.

“I thought, ‘I’m a lifeguard, I’m in nursing school and when I get an actual opportunity to help, I’m stuck on the floor and can’t even get up,’” Kimi recalls, “but I could coach my roommate through it. I said, ‘OK, tap her shoulder. Did she wake up? Did she do anything? Is she breathing?’ She was breathing and had a heartbeat, but wasn’t waking up. So I called 9-1-1.”

Kimi explained the situation to the dispatcher, who asked Kimi if she would go to her friend and check on her. “Actually I can’t, I’m kind of stuck on the ground,” she said. “Well who’s the ambulance for, you or your friend?” the dispatcher asked.

Halie woke up as the paramedics arrived. They checked her vitals and determined she would be fine; a year later she was diagnosed with epilepsy. As for Kimi, her brother came just after the paramedics to take her to the ER. Kimi calls that paramedic visit “a blessing in disguise” because without the paramedics’ chair, specially designed to take patients down stairs, Kimi might not have made it to her brother’s car.

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Juvenile Arthritis and an Aspiring Nurse

At eight years old, Kimi was diagnosed with juvenile reactive arthritis, an autoimmune disease. It started out with a limp. A week later, Kimi’s fingers were so swollen that she couldn’t close her hands. She started to crawl around the house because walking was unbearable. After taking almost a dozen pills a day for over a month, Kimi’s doctors finally found the right treatment. “Overnight I was totally better,” she says.

Throughout the process of finding a treatment, and the monthly visits to get her blood drawn for two years afterwards, Kimi became deeply impressed with the people who cared for her. “I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field because people had been so kind to me,” she says.

Kimi proceeded to ask everyone at each of her doctor appointments if they thought she should be a PA or an NP. While most smiled at the cute eight-year-old Kimi and said, “Whatever you want to be, sweetie,” one physician assistant actually told her why she should be an NP.

“After that, I thought nursing was the right way to go. You get more hands-on experience and it’s more compassionate. By the time I was maybe 14, I knew I wanted to do nursing at BYU,” Kimi says.

Aside from the occasional lower back and leg pains of sciatica, Kimi’s personal health challenges appeared to be over. Her dreams of becoming a nurse and serving an LDS mission were on track. Or so she thought.

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Kimi practices using a stethoscope on her father at age ten.

Good News and Bad News

Kimi received her mission call to the Brazil Manaus Mission in August 2015 during her first semester at BYU’s College of Nursing. As she was preparing for her mission, the sciatica returned; only this time it was much worse.

One morning in October, Kimi began her usual three-block trek to BYU campus at 8:30 to make her 9 o’clock class. When the easy walk turned into a painful shuffle that took more than 45 minutes, she knew something was seriously wrong. That day ended with her infamous visit to the ER and her passed-out roommate.

One doctor thought her pain came from a herniated disc and gave Kimi a cortisone shot. Then she woke up to discover her knee was the size of a cantaloupe. It finally dawned on her, “This isn’t sciatica or a disc; this is arthritis!” Yet even with an expedited visit to one of Utah’s two rheumatologists, Kimi’s recovery wasn’t overnight like it was when she was eight.

She was officially diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, an inflammatory arthritis affecting the spine and joints. Kimi moved in with her grandma and spent the next six weeks in a wheelchair. The worst news of all came after Thanksgiving.

“I’m so sorry, but you can’t go on your mission,” Kimi’s doctor told her. Kimi could re-submit her mission papers if she’d improved by March, but because of her medical needs, Brazil was out of the question.

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Kimi’s friends often pushed her to class while she was in a wheelchair. One even sprinted her through the finish line of a Halloween-themed 5K run so Kimi could get extra credit for her pathophysiology class.

Delayed Plans and $70,000 in Shots

By February, Kimi no longer needed the wheelchair. Her pain was finally under control, thanks to her weekly shot. Kimi’s stake president called the Missionary Department to ask about the process for resubmitting her mission papers. That phone call produced an unexpected result.

On a quiet afternoon in BYU’s library, Kimi’s phone buzzed. It was her mom. “Kimi, don’t freak out, but look at your online mission portal. You have a new mission call!” The reassignment was to the Brazil São Paulo Interlagos Mission.

Without letting Dr. Call know about her new mission assignment, Kimi went in for a physical on March 7. “Well Kimi, you’re doing really well. I think we can talk about putting your papers back in,” he said. “Oh, about that,” Kimi said with a smile, “I got a new mission call a few weeks ago, and it’s still to Brazil.”

Dr. Call told Kimi she could go to Brazil only if she got a blood test every six months and took enough shots for every week of her mission in Brazil. Since the shots, valued at almost $1,000 each, are ruined when they reach room temperature, she’d have to find a way to get them to Brazil cold.

Weeks later, Kimi found herself flying to Brazil with $70,000 in shots on her lap in a special cooler. After her entry interview, her new mission president asked, “Is there anything I should know about?” Kimi gently placed the cooler on his desk and said, “Just one thing: can I put these in your fridge?”

Kimi still takes her weekly shot and likely will for the rest of her life. Now in her third semester of BYU’s nursing program, Kimi Stevenson has already proved she will make a remarkably empathetic nurse.

Thinking back on her journey, Kimi says, “The whole experience taught me not to take things for granted. It taught me to look at other people who are going through problems, when I’m at the hospital or even when I was on my mission, and to know what they’re feeling, and how hard that is.”

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“I’m grateful to the nursing program for all the help I received during those difficult months,” says Kimi. Gaye Ray, one of her nursing professors, made an extra effort to take care of Kimi while she underwent treatment.

2 thoughts on “BYU Nursing Student Kimi Stevenson Learns the Cost of Empathy

  1. Kimi has been an exceptional girl/young lady her entire life. She is smart, talented in many ways, kind, patient. Through her entire ordeal, she had the faith that she could go on her mission to Brazil even though everyone told her that was impossible. She knew she was supposed to go to Brazil. She has impressed and blessed everyone who has known her. Great article about a beautiful girl, inside and out.

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