Thornton finds his calling through pain and sorrow

Published 6:22 pm Monday, April 2, 2018

It is not a job Dalton Thornton would wish on anyone.

He had been told that the man who raised him did not have long to live and was coming home to spend his final days. His mom couldn’t lift his stepdad, so the job fell to Thornton.

If his stepdad needed to be moved from the bed to the wheel chair, dressed or taken to the bathroom, he was there to help. 

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His stepdad was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2016, and then in February 2017 he got pneumonia further weakening him.

“When my dad got real ill and when he was in ICU for a couple weeks, they let us know he more or likely is not going to make it,” Thornton said. “It is better that he comes home and gets home health. When he was home, I was helping him, picking him up, helping him go to the bathroom and trying to give him his medicine.

“It was something I don’t wish on anybody that they should have to do. To watch the man that raised you be helpless. I don’t wish that on anybody.”

Thornton’s stepdad died March 13, 2017, following his battle with cancer. It was through that terrible journey, and taking on the responsibility of caring for his stepdad during the final month of his life that Thornton found his calling.

The pain and sorrow became the catalyst for Thornton’s desire to be a nurse.

“It was pretty much dead set then. Since then, I haven’t thought of anything else that I want to be. I am going to graduate from this program and I am going to be a nurse,” he said.

Thornton is a senior at Warren Central High School and also enrolled in the dual-enrollment nursing program offered as partnership between the Vicksburg Warren School District and Hinds Community College. In May, he will not only graduate with his high school diploma, but he will also have his certified nursing assistant license and be only the summer and fall semesters away from his certification as a licensed practical nurse.

From there he will be able to complete his associated registered nurse education at Hinds before pursing his bachelors in nursing. He said his end goal is to become an anesthesiologist nurse after getting established as an RN and settling down.

Thornton said nursing has always been something he was interested in pursing, but the experience caring for his stepdad solidified it as his career choice. Then when he found out about the program at Hinds, that idea went from being a dream to something that very quickly became a reality.

“I was super excited,” Thornton said of being accepted into the course. “I was telling all my friends and my whole family, ‘look, I am about to start. This is the start of my nursing career right here.’ It has been eye opening. I never had to study and it is every day in this program. You have to study what you worked on and in the morning before class, you have to study what you are about to do. It has been very eye opening actually having to buckle down and study.”

Meshall Chambliss, the instructor of the nursing program, described Thornton as, “an awesome student. He goes out of his way to help the other classmates to make sure they know what they are doing and help them practice.

“His story makes me know this person is doing it for the right reasons. Not for money like some people, but doing it because he cares and this is something he wants to do.”

The youngest of four, the ability to earn his nursing certificate while still in high school has real tangible benefits for Thornton beyond just a piece of paper saying he accomplished something. With his CNA, he will be able to begin working while he finishes his LPN. It means he will be able to begin supporting his family and making a life for himself.

“Education is the only way that I know that I can provide for my family,” Thornton said. “I’ve got the physical stuff, I’ve worked in warehouses and stuff like that, but it’s not enough to provide.”

Growing up, Thornton saw the value of an education first hand. His stepdad had dropped out before even finishing junior high, Thornton said. His mom dropped out of high school after having his oldest brother and one of his brothers almost had to quit school after having a child of his own.

When he was 12, Thornton’s mom decided to take steps to better her family’s life. After quitting school in her teens, she returned to earn her GED in her 30s.

“It was kind of funny her realizing that she had forgotten all this stuff and her really buckling down and studying for it gave me some of my study skills,” Thornton said. “In regular school, I never had to study. I never had to study until I got in the class. It gave me an insight.

“Getting older, I am realizing that if I don’t have an education I will probably be working at McDonalds the rest of my life. I don’t want that.”

Thursday, Thornton took the biggest step yet towards his future as the nursing class at Hinds sat for the CNA exam. The two semesters in the program haven’t been easy. Thornton said he has had to study like never before. He has doubted himself at times and wanted to hang out with friends or play video games instead of studying.

But he has put in the work and is now ready to reap the benefits.

“It is eye opening that I didn’t have to wait until I finished high school to do something with my life or take two years at a community college to figure out what I want to do,” Thornton said. “It has helped me a lot because I always wanted to be a nurse, but I didn’t think it was possible. I don’t know what I would have done with my life if I hadn’t been able to get in the program, what my plan would have been.”