Nurse graduate inspired by memory of daughter

(Valley Morning Star) Madison Randolph was a ball of energy with an adventurous spirit.

On Friday, her mother Gina delivered the salutatorian address at the inaugural pinning ceremony for the Registered Nursing Program at Texas State Technical College. And much of the strength Gina needed to get through her speech she drew from her late daughter.

Madison wasn’t physically at the Cultural Arts Center to witness her mother and 22 other nursing students receive their traditional pins. Madison passed away in her sleep in November.

Seven years ago, Madison was involved in a swimming pool accident when Gina took her eyes off her fearless daughter for just a few seconds at their Los Fresnos home.

“I went into the laundry room for a bit and when I came back I couldn’t find her,” Gina recalled. “She snuck out and fell in the pool. It was a horrible accident. She spent one month in ICU (intensive care unit) and another month in San Antonio going through rehab. She finally came home and needed full-time care.”

Madison suffered considerable brain damage and was never the same.

“What made Madison, Madison was taken away from her,” Gina said. “She was trapped in her body. She was in a cocoon. But even when she couldn’t move or talk people were still drawn to her. The accident couldn’t dull her light. She was always happy and smiling.”

It was during those trying times that Gina decided to go back to school and make a career change.

Originally from Massachusetts, Gina moved to Weslaco when she was 13 years old when her father took a job as a high school band director at the high school. Years later, Gina would study music and also become a band director. She taught band in New Braunfels then moved closer to home and was a band director in Los Fresnos, where she still lives. In 1997, Gina decided to walk away from work and dedicate her life to her children.

“I felt like I didn’t want anyone else raising my children,” Randolph said. “That was my job and no one was going to pass on the morals that I could. I loved my job and took pride in it. But now I was taking pride in being a mother.”

Randolph and her husband John have three other kids, Matthew, 16, Evan, 13, Jason, 10, who was Madison’s twin.

Madison was in and out of rehabilitation, therapy and doctor’s appointments in the years following her accident. And while Randolph was at home full time now, Madison still required caretakers around the clock.

This is what inspired Randolph to pursue another passion she possessed since she was young.

“I’ve always been about music and medicine,” Randolph said. “But when I saw how much the nurses would take care of Madison and just being around that environment for years, it made me want to go back to school.”

In 2010, Randolph enrolled at TSTC and took prerequisites for the Licensed Vocational Nursing Program. After a couple of years, Randolph was part of the LVN Class of 2012. Then in August 2012, she started the Registered Nursing Program.

So when tragedy struck Randolph and her family, the 41-year-old was in the middle of completing nursing school. But even then, quitting was never an option for Randolph. As a matter of fact, Randolph said it was her school work and classmates that helped her deal with the loss at that moment.

“I thought about it briefly,” Randolph said of quitting nursing school. “But I knew that Madison wouldn’t want me to quit. So I kept going.”

The passing of Madison helped unite the 23 nursing students, who’ll be remembered always as the first-ever graduating class of the RN program.

Tracy Cash, from Lyford, is one of Randolph’s close friends and also received her nursing pin on Friday.

“She’s (Randolph) very resilient,” Cash said. “I think after Madison passed away, we all bonded as a group. We came together for Gina and became really close.”

So much so that the group donated approximately $500 to Randolph to help pay for funeral expenses. The money had been raised throughout the year to help pay for their NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination).

Sonia Curi, also a mother of four and a fellow nursing student, said Madison’s passing devastated the group.

“No one was in the right state of mind,” Curi said. “We all have our own children and couldn’t help but imagine this happening to us too. I think when Gina came back it helped. We encouraged her and she encouraged us with her determination.”

When Randolph received her Vocational Nursing pin, Madison was still alive and was at that pinning ceremony. On Friday evening, there was an unquenchable void in Randolph’s life. And as Randolph gave her speech, her voice cracked at times but she never broke down.

“Madison fulfilled her purpose in life and she’s in a better place,” Randolph said. “She’s not trapped in her body anymore and I can take solace in that. She can run and play and do whatever she wants to do now. And as hard it is for me not to have her here, I’m happy for that.”