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'Strong & Courageous'

Greenwood native perseveres through heartbreaking loss

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Tayla Banks

When she was a teenager, Tayla Banks’ grandmother, the late Dorothy Boles, told her that one day she would be an inspiration to many.

She told her granddaughter that “I’d have a very special story in medicine and that I would inspire a lot of people,” said Banks, who will soon celebrate her 28th birthday. “A lot of people said that my grandmother Boles had the gift of prophecy. I was about 15 or 16, and she had just opened her church,” when Boles spoke those words to Banks.

Now, more than a decade later, Boles’ words about her granddaughter are coming to fruition.

Tayla Banks

Banks, who now resides in Clinton, is a Greenwood native. She is the daughter of Marcus Banks, who most in the area know as the Greenwood fire chief, and Tanyika Ellis of Atlanta. She is the granddaughter of the late Julia Edwards and Boles, both of whom raised her.

“I was very fortunate growing up,” said Banks. “I had both of my grandmothers and both of my parents in my life.”

She had a special bond with each of her grandmothers, who each had a strong faith and relationship with God.

Banks attended Greenwood High School for two years and transferred to the Columbus-based Mississippi School of Math and Science, where she completed her high school education. She received her bachelor’s degree from Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans and a master’s degree in biomedical sciences from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

She attends Mississippi College, where she is ranked at the top of her class working toward a Master of Science in Medicine degree to become a physician assistant.

After receiving her white coat during a recent ceremony, Banks started her first clinical rotation in the Delta at Cleveland Children’s Clinic.

Her journey to getting to where she is today, however, was not an easy one. Over the span of a year, she’s experienced heartbreaking losses. While a lot of people would have given up, Banks persevered and is achieving her dreams.

• • •

Banks always knew she wanted a career in the medical field. It was a choice that came naturally. Her paternal grandmother, Boles, was a nurse for 42 years.

“My grandmother was a nurse long before I was born, and I never wanted to do anything else; I don’t think I’ve ever considered doing anything else,” she said. “It’s just a calling that’s been placed on my life, to be able to minister through medicine.”

After receiving her master’s degree in biomedical sciences, Banks continued to reside in the Jackson area and worked in UMMC’s Adult Emergency Department.

In 2016, her maternal grandmother, Edwards, began having symptoms of what she thought might be carpel tunnel syndrome.

Tayla Banks

With Tayla Banks, center, after she graduated with a master’s degree in biomedical sciences from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson are her grandmothers Julia Edwards, left, and Dorothy Boles.

Edwards had to travel to Jackson for doctor’s appointments, and Banks would go with her.

In spring 2017, Edwards was diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or often called Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Banks was with her grandmother at the appointment when Edwards received the diagnosis. She remembers Edwards telling the doctor, “I’ll be OK; Tayla’s going to move home and take care of me.”

After Edwards said those words, Banks knew her grandmother was afraid of the rare diagnosis. When Banks went off to college and then when she moved into her first apartment, Edwards would always encourage Banks to get all of her old toys and clothes and take them to her new place because Edwards wanted to redecorate. “She loved to redecorate her home,” Banks said.

“The fact that she mentioned she wanted me to move home, I knew that she was really scared and that it was going to be hard for her,” Banks said.

Banks had lived with Edwards the longest amount of time — from a toddler to a teenager. So, she said, “I didn’t think twice about moving home, because she had sacrificed so much to raise me and send me to the Math and Science School and to college.”

Just a few months later, at the age of 25, Banks relocated to her hometown to help her grandmother as Edwards battled a disease of the nervous system that weakens muscles and affects physical function.

Most of her family members on Banks’ maternal side live out of town, with many living out of state. She has an aunt who resides in Jackson who would frequently come help, but Banks became Edwards’ main caretaker and eventually held her power of attorney.

“I was the youngest. I don’t have any kids. I had not delved into my career yet, so I was more freely able to just drop what I was doing” said Banks.

For the next two years, Banks became more than a caretaker. She was her grandmother’s health care advocate.

“Her speech became affected by ALS, so I had to be her voice when she couldn’t communicate with the doctors,” Banks said. “I would always go with her to her appointments long before she lost her speech to explain to them what was going on with her and for me to be able to translate what they were saying, or break it down in layman’s terms.”

Because of her knowledge of medicine, Banks would often get questions from the medical staff about her profession. Edwards would smile big and say, “She’s going to be doing what you’re doing one day.”

While back in Greenwood, Banks worked at Greenwood Leflore Hospital as an emergency room technician and taught a tutoring class for the Biology I state test and an ACT prep class at Greenwood High School.

During this time, she also began researching a career as a physician assistant.

“I was very drawn to it because I could do what I love — helping people, serving people and medicine,” she said.

She soon began working toward her goal at Mississippi College in its physician assistant program.

On Aug. 16, 2019, Edwards passed away. She was in the hospital for two weeks prior to her death.

The week Edwards passed away was also the same time as Banks’ first exams.

Because of the power of attorney, Banks had the responsibility of making many of Edwards’ medical decisions.

Banks’ mother and aunts stayed at the hospital so she could take her exams.

“They would call me when I needed to speak to a doctor or give the doctors my cellphone number,” she said.

She persisted and made it through her exams.

“It had to be God’s grace,” Banks said. “I was so actively involved ... that I just didn’t get to forget about it or put it away. There were doctors calling me five or six times a day about changes or making medical decisions.”

Banks said there were times she felt like giving up.

“It was so overwhelming,” she said. But what kept Banks going, “was the fact that she sacrificed so much to get me to where I was and that she never gave up, so she would’ve been disappointed if I would have quit.”

• • •

Banks continued with her rigorous coursework at Mississippi College.

Then, several months later, Banks experienced another loss, and this one came unexpectedly.

When the novel coronavirus spread to Leflore County, Boles was one of the county’s first four victims of the respiratory disease.

In the past, Boles would often get the flu, and Banks said it always took a toll on her. Boles would get severe muscle aches and have to be hospitalized. When her grandmother became ill

in March, Banks said the family thought it was the flu.

“At the time, COVID was new, the mention of it was new and nobody really knew anything about it,” she said. “I never even thought that’s what she had when my dad told me that they had her in the ER and the symptoms.”

Banks thought Boles would be in the hospital for about a week, get better and come home.

“But she didn’t get better; she got worse,” she said.

As Boles’ condition worsened, Banks would talk to her grandmother on the phone and say an encouraging word. She knew Boles was scared of being put on a ventilator.

“She had been a nurse for 42 years. She knew a lot of people who had gotten on a ventilator and hadn’t come off, and she ultimately lost her mom when she was on a ventilator,” she said.

Banks remembers her last conversation with Boles.

“I tried to encourage her,” she said. “She was frustrated because she was quarantined, and we couldn’t be there.”

On April 3, Boles passed away from COVID-19.

“It was tough for a number of reasons — this pandemic happened and it changed our whole lives, and that she was just working and doing what she loved,” said Banks. “It was just so unexpected that I didn’t even know what to feel.”

This heartbreaking news came once again while Banks was taking exams. She said a lot of prayers and the grace of God helped her get through.

“There were people praying for me,” she said. “I have a really, really awesome class and faculty and staff at Mississippi College. I had classmates who went above and beyond to check on me.”

During her first year of physical assistant school, Banks had others close to her pass away in between losing “the two most important women in my life besides my mother” — a friend, a cousin and an aunt.

• • •

Even after the loss, Banks remains a positive person.

“My grandmothers were always encouraging and helping people, so I am a nurturer by nature,” she said.

In her first semester of PA school, she was known as the “class hype woman” because she always encouraged others by saying, “You’ve got this.”

“Your mindset is so important,” she said.

Banks, who is the only African American in her class, finished her first year at Mississippi College with a 4.0 grade point average and was ranked No. 1 in her class.

After her second semester, she received the Wayne Parker Student Leadership Award. She received it because, even though she was dealing with the loss of Edwards, Banks continued to spread positivity and encourage her classmates. She attributes this personality trait to her grandmothers: “They set such a good example.”

• • •

When Banks received her white coat, it was a bittersweet moment. She was achieving her goals, but Edwards and Boles were not there to see it.

MC website

Recently, on Mississippi College’s website, a picture of Tayla Banks was featured on the school’s homepage with the words “Strong & Courageous” and the Bible verse Joshua 1:9.

“I know it would have been something they would have been so very happy and excited about,” she said.

Banks said she hopes her story will serve as a testament to God’s grace and an example that anyone can overcome anything.

“Oftentimes when you are going through a storm, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But if you can look at someone else’s life — you have an example in front of you — it can give you a glimmer of hope or faith to keep going.”

Recently, on Mississippi College’s website, there was a picture of Banks on the homepage with the words “Strong & Courageous” and the Bible verse Joshua 1:9 — “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Strong and courageous are definitely words that describe Banks.

Contact Ruthie Robison at 581-7235 or rrobison@gwcommonwealth.com.

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