The College of Nursing Mourns Loss of Student Leader: Shayn Elexendere

Posted: May 9, 2016

Just four days before MedVet-to-BSN student Shayn Elexendere was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident, he held a College-wide “thank you” for two custodians with help from his classmate and friend Neal Harrod, a traditional BSN student.

“It’s a testament to his character. Shayn was a very special guy and an amazing friend. I was truly blessed to call myself his friend,” says Harrod.

“I said to my daughter this morning that doing the right thing all the time is what you should be doing. You shouldn’t be doing it for a ‘thanks.’ But when you get one and you’re recognized for simply doing your job the right way…that’s really special,” said Elexendere. “You might not notice the impact you have until someone says, ‘You really make everything possible.’ And they do,” said Elexendere, speaking of the two custodians before he passed.

Elexendere was married to his wife, Jess, who is expecting a second child, and had a four-year-old daughter, Chaya. Elexendere had a son, Shepherd, who also tragically lost his life in November after complications from a tonsillectomy. That’s why nursing school was a big deal, Elexendere said.

After working as a combat medic in the Army, Elexendere completed his bachelor’s and master’s to become a teacher and taught special education in northern Alaska. He and his family eventually moved to Lexington to care for his mother-in-law. “I wanted our kids to grow up being able to play outside. You can’t really do that in Alaska, especially where we were because it never got warmer than 40 degrees.”

When asked why he chose the nursing profession, his story started with Anthony Dotson, MS, MMAS, BBA, coordinator of the Veterans Resource Center at UK. His ultimate goal was to start an NGO with aid or relief work.  “Most people think of it as giving back, but I think of it as paying forward. The more people I can help, the more lives I can touch and that means they’ll be alive to do things for other people as well.”

Elexendere was accepted to three different schools, but felt that UK matched his interests the most. “I thought UK would be the greatest challenge, and I was right! I’ve been challenged every day that I’ve been here and it’s been worth every penny.”

Although in different nursing tracks, Harrod and Elexendere were in the same graduating class and were looking forward to their fall semester working in the Markey Cancer Center together. They met in UK 100, a class for veterans taught by Dotson to introduce them to higher education. “I was really stoked because I knew Neal was a nursing student and that I would have someone to lean on.”

“Shayn was a leader in his class, especially among the MedVets, and was one of the strongest and finest young men I have ever had the privilege to know as a student,” says Dr. Janie Heath, dean and Warwick Professor of Nursing. “I’m keeping his family in my thoughts and prayers.”