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Nurse, mom of two, beat COVID, now fighting leukemia

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Nurse, mom of two, beat COVID, now fighting leukemia

In just two weeks, Stefanie Davis saw her life take an abrupt turn. She went from a healthy wife, and mother of two active boys, to a patient fighting leukemia.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

On one of the most celebrated holidays of summer, Stefanie Davis, enjoyed family time – boating, watching a parade, attending a festival, and taking in fireworks. And then just like a firecracker, her life exploded.

She wrote on July 17: “It’s so surreal. I don’t even think it’s fully hit me.” She described herself as “a tenant of the hospital.” It was a drastic change for someone who has dedicated her career to caring for others.

It was July 5 when Davis, 34, went to ER with pain in her right shoulder. A resource nurse at another hospital, she thought she might have pulled something at work. She spent the last year, working with COVID patients, and contracted the virus in June. It had only been weeks since her recovery, and when the shoulder pain persisted, she knew something was wrong. There was also bruising.

Tests determined Davis did not have a torn rotator cuff in her shoulder. She did not have lingering effects brought on by COVID. She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

Kristi Laurinaitis, the older sister of Davis wrote on a GoFundMe page: “This specific leukemia is a very aggressive blood cancer. Her platelets went from normally around 367,000 to 19,000 Monday morning. Things started moving very fast from there.” Davis, the daughter of Steve and Kathy Kuykendall, also has an older brother Tony Kuykendall.

Ten years ago, October 2011, she married Todd Davis. The couple met as students at Ball State University. Eight years later they welcomed their first son, Tanner. Five years ago, they had a second son, Jace. Other than her two pregnancies – one that included an ovarian torsion - Davis has never been hospitalized. She’s accustomed to spending her time on the “other side” of the bed, caring for the sick.

Shortly after her diagnosis, Davis was transferred to IU Health Simon Cancer Center where she is in the care of Dr. Larry Cripe, who specializes in hematology. She wrote in a Facebook post: “Hug your loved ones tonight, because things can change in a blink of an eye.”

Intensive inpatient chemotherapy is the focus of her medical treatment. But there’s more. Davis has what she calls her “village” that is rallying to provide meals, donations, prayers, and gifts.

“We won’t leave her alone. It’s not an option,” said Laurinaitis. Proof of that is found throughout Davis’ hospital room. It’s decorated with family photos, greeting cards, and a colorful positive vibes banner. There’s also a feathery orange boa – orange is the color representing support for leukemia patients. A sign reads: “UR Fight is R Fight. Go Stef.” Laurinaitis wears a t-shirt she made that reads: “Her Fight is My Fight.” Other family members and friends also wear the shirt to show their support for Davis. Her two young sons have an extra message on the back of their t-shirts: “#MomStrong.”

It’s not the ideal place for Davis to become a “tenant” but she realizes it is the best place for now. She’d rather be at her Westfield home playing with her boys, cuddling with her husband, and tending to their 50 chickens.

“As dark as it is, I have all the best support that I can have and I know God will get me through it. I’m just taking it one day at a time,” she said. Even in that darkness, she tries to find some lightheartedness. When she began losing her hair, her husband joined her for a shave. She jokingly refers to herself as “G.I. Jane,” and her husband as, “Mr. Clean.” She posted a photo of them holding hands and enjoying a “movie date night” in her hospital room.

“This is a different view for me,” said Davis, sitting in her hospital bed. “It’s so humbling and it’s very strange for me to be on this side, but it definitely makes me more understanding and compassionate.”

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