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Shayna Conway’s faith was shattered almost a decade ago when a gunman killed three of her close friends and nearly ended her life.
In the wake of the tragedy that claimed the lives of Alberta native Tabitha Stepple and Island ballplayers Mitch MacLean and Tanner Craswell on Dec. 15, 2011, many people told Conway she was still here for a reason.
God has a plan for her, one after another would say to the Charlottetown native, who is now 29 years old.
She found, for the longest time, such attempts to lift her spirit to be nothing short of annoying.
If there was a God, she thought at the time, how could he have delivered such devastation upon her?
She would endure a lengthy, dark period filled with anxiety, depression and daily suicidal thoughts.
“I’m not a positive person,’’ she told The Guardian in a candid interview three years after the shooting.
“I have nothing to offer. I have nothing to give. So why would I get out of bed?’’
Conway’s faith would return with a force to be reckoned with.
Faith has become her fuel.
A stint at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph, Ont., a renowned mental health treatment facility, was the start of an amazing revival.
Two months spent at Homewood to address post-traumatic stress proved life altering.
When Conway returned home to P.E.I., she started going to church with a friend. Spirituality swept over her. Her connection to God grew tight.
Shayna Conway got in plenty of caring work before starting her nursing career. She has been on two trips to Haiti and one to Bolivia, where she has three foster children.
She was also in a village called Korah in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May 2019 on an international clinical placement with UPEI's nursing program.
She was there for community placement, working with various communities in Addid Ababa and spending a significant portion of time with Brook Hills Development - a Christian organization that works with people in Korah.
"It was truly amazing,'' she says.
She strongly believes God has a plan for her, which was revealed during a mission trip to Haiti a handful of years ago where she passed out food and clothes and prayed with people in their homes.
A nurse from P.E.I. on the mission asked Shayna what she wanted to be. Shayna said perhaps a veterinarian. The woman responded that Shayna’s calling was to be a nurse.
She later enrolled in the nursing program at the University of Prince Edward Island with a great sense of purpose and conviction.
Her desire to succeed was evident from the start, says Jo-Ann MacDonald, interim dean of the faculty of nursing, adding Conway was not defined by the tragic shooting in Alberta.
“Cheerful, confident, optimistic spirit,’’ says MacDonald, who taught Conway.
“She was outstanding in her work ethic. ... She has this incredible way of thinking of what we need to do in nursing. ... She has this incredible empathy about her.’’
MacDonald says Shayna became an inspiration to her classmates.
She flourished in the program despite physical limitations that would likely keep many others from even considering a career in the physically demanding profession of nursing.
Conway made a remarkable recovery from a fractured neck, broken ribs and shattered shoulder blade after being shot four times.
Still, she is left with only extremely limited use of her left hand today.
“It doesn’t move when my brain tells it to move,’’ she explains.
“I can’t just put gloves on. (Physical) things aren’t easy for me to do.’’
Conway, who went through hours upon hours of physiotherapy to learn to walk again, also wears an insole in her left shoe to help with balance.
The faculty of nursing, she notes, was very supportive and understanding of her physical limitations.
She persevered. She triumphed.
“What it says to all of us in the faculty, I think, the resilient nature of the human spirit is just demonstrated here in Shayna,’’ says MacDonald.
“It’s a great feeling for all of us who have had an opportunity to work with her.’’
Conway, who recently graduated, is doing orientation at the Prince County Hospital in Summerside where she has been hired to work in the intensive care unit as a registered nurse.
A number of different placements during her four years of nursing programs helped Conway seek out an area of specialty that would be a good fit.
She had thought for some time that mission work was meant for her. She came to realize she can do that on P.E.I.
“Nursing as a profession is literally mission work,’’ she says.
“I’m called to be the hand and feet of God. I am literally here to do God’s work. So here I am going to try to do my best.’’
She believes she can do her best work in ICU – a place where she spent months as a patient, marvelling at the nursing staff going above and beyond to help her heal physically, emotionally and spiritually.
“ICU was basically my first pick … it’s just where I was supposed to be,’’ she says.
“I think it’s the right amount of comfort versus challenge. A lot of the care that is provided in the ICU is one-to-one nursing.’’
Dianne MacLean, the mother of slain ballplayer Mitch MacLean, makes no effort to hide her genuine delight in seeing Conway succeed.
“She has just risen above (the personal tragedy) a lot higher than I thought she would because of all she has been through. … I think she is bound and determined to help people,’’ says MacLean, who has stayed connected with Conway since the shooting, makes a point of getting together two to four times a year.
“I’m so impressed with her. She is going to make a fabulous nurse.’’
Conway, who admits to feeling a bit overwhelmed about embarking on a career that she hopes will see her helping thousands of people over 30-plus years, thanks people like MacLean for providing great love and care.
“I have so much support,’’ she says, giving a special nod to her mother with whom she has been sharing a home in Mermaid for the past five years.
“My friends and family are amazing.’’
Watch a portion of Conway's interview with The Guardian in 2014: