Throughout her life, Dr. “Nikki” Shoemake-Patterson provided the bond that kept her medical school classmates connected, an attachment that has only strengthened since her death last June.
“Our whole class has been brought together by this tragedy,” said Dr. Jennifer J. Bryan, UMMC associate professor of family medicine.
“We grieved together, and together we hope to build a lasting memoriam to her, because we all know that could have been us.”
Bryan is among those who helped establish a scholarship fund in their classmate's name following Shoemake-Patterson's death on June 1 in Starkville as she gave birth to her second daughter, who died a week later. Shoemake-Patterson was 40.
Dr. Nikki Shoemake-Patterson and daughter Grace visit backstage together during a November 2012 beauty review in Vicksburg featuring stepdaughter Morgan Patterson.
“One reason this class has been so close was because of Nikki,” said Dr. Melissa Scholes, assistant professor of otolaryngology at the University of Colorado in Aurora. “Even after our residencies, she kept in touch with everybody.
“She was the glue that held us together.”
As the president of the medical school class of 2003, Dr. Bernard “Bernie” Sy was one of those who “got the ball rolling” for the fund.
“I got on Facebook and reached out to our class,” said Sy, an internist and pediatrician in Lebanon, Tennessee. “It's something we can work on together for her; and it will be good for her memory.”
The Paula Nicole “Nikki” Shoemake-Patterson, M.D. Award is reserved for females who are fourth-year medical students and who aspire to be a surgeon - just as the fund's namesake did.
“From the time she was small, Nikki said she wanted to be a doctor because of her grandfather - he was always sick from heart problems and diabetes,” said June Alford of Gluckstadt, her mom.
“In junior high she was still talking about being a doctor, so I thought, 'Maybe we have something here.'”
At her School of Medicine commencement ceremony in 2003, Shoemake is congratulated by her family -- from left, father Paul Shoemake, brother Blake Alford, uncle Richard Murphree, mother June Alford, aunt Bobbie Murphree and grandmother Laneita Murphree.
That proved to be so, as Nikki Shoemake excelled in her studies at Tupelo High School, where she graduated with honors, and at Mississippi State University, where, in 1998, she earned her bachelor's degree in microbiology.
In Starkville, years apart, she discovered two of her greatest passions: Bulldog sports - her father had been taking her to football games since she was 2 - and Jason Patterson, who became her husband.
When Grace was born, in January 2010, her mother was already stepmom to Jason Patterson's other children - Morgan, Cody and Johnathon Patterson.
Her goals in life were to be a doctor and to spend time with her family, and those who knew her say she excelled at both.
“Nikki juggled all the demands of motherhood, career and community with grace, plus she bettered medicine as a whole,” Bryan said. “That speaks volumes about her character.”
Her character was on display in medical school, when Dr. Melissa “Nan” Frascogna was also a student.
“She could joke around with anyone and make them feel at ease, even while working hard in stressful situations and providing great care,” said Frascogna, associate professor of pediatric emergency medicine at UMMC.
“That was Nikki.”
Shoemake-Patterson's family meets for lunch during a recent visit to Jackson. From left are Jason Patterson, his mom Kay Patterson, Grace Patterson and June Alford, Shoemake-Patterson's mom.
Her life as a physician began in 2003, after she earned her M.D. and left Mississippi to start her surgical residency at the Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven, Connecticut, taking her Labrador retriever along.
“It was her and Duke, and up they went,” Alford said. “She said it was cold up there.”
A few years later, during her residency graduation ceremony, her entire family traveled to New Haven to be with her. Immediately, she returned to Starkville to join the staff at Oktibbeha County Hospital and work with Dr. T. Steve Parvin in the Center for Breast Health & Imaging.
Although she was proud to be a physician, her mother said, she preferred to be introduced by her first name. “She said, 'I'm not Dr. Shoemake; I'm Nikki.'”
Kay Patterson of Terry, her mother-in-law, is one of the many relatives or friends who called her “down-to-earth.”
“She never tooted her own horn, and was not one to go around talking about her accomplishments,” Patterson said.
Shoemake-Patterson worked with Dr. Steve Parvin in Starkville; they are shown in this file photo taken in 2009.
Among those achievements: In 2014, she was accepted as a fellow of the prestigious American College of Surgeons.
“Nikki made such a big impact on people's lives,” Patterson said. “She has a lot of miracles out walking around in the world, and she would have had more.
“She did a mastectomy on the lady who was her neighbor; she went over and changed her dressings and her drains. That's the kind of physician she was.
“If it was bad news, she wanted to tell her patients herself, face to face if she could.”
Over the years, she stayed in touch with her medical school classmates. She and Scholes attended each other's weddings. “We probably texted or talked on the phone once a month,” said Scholes, who had made plans to visit her in mid-June, two weeks after her friend would give birth.
She had been thrilled at the thought of having a second daughter, Aubrey Caroline Patterson - named by Grace Patterson, 6, her first.
She and her infant daughter were laid to rest together.
“Nikki was a great surgeon and a dear friend,” Frascogna said. “I miss her every day.”
Among her pallbearers was an honorary group from the 2003 School of Medicine class and the Oktibbeha County Hospital medical staff.
“At her service so many people who had been her patients came up to us and told us how she had saved their lives,” Kay Patterson said.
“She was very motivated and stood her ground as a surgeon, in what is largely a man's world, but was still so compassionate with her patients.”
Her compassion is acknowledged by the scholarship that bears her name, Scholes said.
“I believe she would have been honored.”
The Paula Nicole “Nikki” Shoemake-Patterson, M.D. Award
To make a tax-deductible gift online to the Paula Nicole “Nikki” Shoemake-Patterson, M.D. Award, please go to https://www.umc.edu/nikkishoemakepattersonaward/. Checks may be mailed to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Attn: Office of Development/Dr. Sheila Henderson, 2500 N. State St., Jackson, MS 39216.