For identical twins Kathia and Katrina Skinner, nurses didn’t just help save their grandmother’s life –they inspired them to pay forward the qualities they saw in those good nurses.

“We saw some great nurses who took time to ask how she was feeling, to just do little things,” said Katrina Skinner. “And we saw some really bad examples. We decided we wanted to do for families what the good nurses did for us – provide comfort.”

It was the girls’ experience watching their grandmother in and out of hospitals battling the late stage of Parkinson’s disease that destined the twins’ future.

The twins will be one step closer to that dream when they earn their Bachelor’s of Science degrees in Nursing from the University of Central Florida during the 9 a.m. commencement ceremony on Friday, May 4.

Time Apart
Originally from New York, Kathia and Katrina went to high school in Tampa, where they spent their teenage years running track, participating in school clubs and working hard to earn good grades.

At home their grandparents kept tabs on them, while mom called from New York multiple times a day. The twins were raised in large part (during their high school years) by their grandparents while their mom stayed in New York where she earned a higher wage so she could send both daughters to college. Then in the girls senior year of high school their grandmother began having health issues and the twins starting keeping tabs on them.

“It wasn’t until we came to college that her health issues really became significant,” said Katrina. “And our mother felt bad about us having to help with them, but she didn’t need to. We are who we are because of them and because of her. It’s the least we could do after all the sacrifices they made for us.”

It’s been a long journey for the family. Initially, the family was supposed to move to Florida together so the girls could have access to a good high school and their grandparents could benefit from the warm weather. So the family moved, but mom stayed behind until she could land a comparable job in terms of pay. She was a vice president at a medical company, and taking too big of a pay cut would impact her ability to care for her daughters and aging parents while saving enough for college. That comparable job never happened. Wages in Florida just couldn’t compare to New York and the family made the decision to stay apart.

“It was the most difficult time of my life,” said Margaret Cornelius, the twins’ mother. “I constantly questioned if I made the right decision moving them to Tampa during their teenage years when they needed me the most and I couldn’t be there for them on a full-time basis. In the beginning I cried a lot.”

But the girls thrived and Cornelius visited frequently, sometimes flying to Tampa flying down four times a month to make sure she didn’t miss the big things. Even today the three talk up to four times a day on the phone.

At UCF, the girls ran track their first two years, but once they entered the nursing program, they hung up their spikes and dug into the UCF’s demanding program.

Separation Worth the Price
They plan to take their board exams this summer and move their grandparents back to New York where the family will be together again. Eventually they plan on opening up their own clinic, which will cater to their individual interests in medicine.

“Our big dream is to open a clinic where one half would incorporate holistic medicine, what I’m really into,” Kathia said.

“The other half would focus on pregnant women and babies, what I really love,” finished Katrina.

Their concentrations are not whims. The girls participated in several clerkships and other nursing programs that exposed them to a range of opportunities.

Kathia said the most touching experience that also made her angry was an opportunity to help veterans with some basic needs.  It was an open house of sorts in conjunction with other organizations to help veterans get health referrals and other basic needs such as a shower and clean clothes.

“One vet told me people had spit on him when he came back from Afghanistan,” Kathia said. “He told me about how hard it’s been coming back. That made me mad. Here’s someone who got hurt protecting us and people treat him like that. It was disturbing. At the end of the day I didn’t help him as a nurse, but he was so grateful because I took time to listen . . .to connect as a human being.”

Katrina spoke about events at school where they helped children with good basic healthy habits. And they praised several professors and instructors.

“They helped us want more from ourselves than we thought we could do,” Katrina said. “They are exceptional and I know I will be ready, having been through the program here.”

Their personal experience has prepared them too. The twins moved their grandmother to their Orlando apartment earlier this year after she fell and broke several ribs.  Two weeks before commencement their grandmother suffered a stroke.

They were at their grandmother’s side day and night to ensure she was OK. They experienced the anxiety of not knowing for sure what was going on even though they are medically competent. They became frustrated at not being told what was going on and not having a clear diagnosis.

“It was frustrating,” Kathia said. “But again, the nurses were great. They helped my grandmother and us get through it.”

Friday the whole family will be at the UCF Arena to celebrate, even grandma who was lucky to not have sustained a lot of long-term injuries.

“We are blessed,” Katrina said. “And we’re so excited about our future. It’s been such an incredible journey and I can’t wait to start our journey as RNs.”

Her sister smiled. And they both said, “We can’t wait to make our mom so proud.”