As Chandra Douglas was poised to deliver her baby at Sacred Heart Hospital in 1997, the nurses begged her to hold those last pushes until the doctor could get there. In the nick of time, Dr. Usha Kundu appeared, donned her gloves and in moments announced, “It’s a boy!” Neither doctor nor patient could have imagined how fate would cross their paths again decades later.
For Erik Blount-Douglas, a career in nursing seemed a natural choice. “As a child, he was always bringing home injured animals,” said his mother Chandra. “Whether it was the dog with three legs, the cat who was blind or the bird with a broken wing. He was a very caring child who always wanted to help others.”
After becoming a certified nursing assistant while a senior in high school, Erik later earned his licensed practical nursing and registered nursing degrees. “When people find out I’m an R.N., they remark on the great salaries for nursing,” Erik said. “That is true, but I have always believed you can’t put a price on saving someone’s life. You can’t put a price on making someone feel better.”
Last year, Erik took the advice of several colleagues and chose to pursue his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree through the online program at the University of West Florida.
“I was working at Baptist Hospital’s Emergency Trauma Center and loved the challenge of using my critical thinking skills to provide the best possible care for my patients,” Erik said. “But I also wanted to take the next step in my education. Despite the challenges, I knew if I put my best foot forward, I could be successful at both.”
In November, Erik began experiencing hearing loss and nosebleeds. While working in the emergency room one evening, a particularly severe nosebleed led to a CT scan which revealed a tumor in his nasal cavity. A biopsy determined the tumor was malignant and stunningly, Erik was diagnosed with stage 3 head and neck cancer. He was plunged into the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation.
In the days following his diagnosis, Erik questioned his ability to meet the demands of nursing school while conquering the medical mountain ahead of him. “I ultimately just told myself, ‘My mother didn’t raise a quitter. I can do this!’ She taught me that whatever I’m doing, I’d better be the best at it,” Erik said.
Deciding it was not in him to give up on school or his work, Erik used his long days in chemotherapy to study, research and write papers for his nursing courses. On days without treatments, he continued his work in the ER. Not surprising to anyone who knows him, he made the Fall 2022 dean’s list, an accolade for high-achieving students earning a semester GPA of 3.50 to 3.89. And that is where Erik’s story comes full circle.
One name on Erik’s dean’s list letter jumped to his mother’s attention. It was the UWF Usha Kundu, MD College of Health. “I told Erik, ‘This is the doctor that delivered you! This is our Dr. Kundu!’”
Chandra said it wasn’t surprising that Dr. Kundu’s generosity has expanded to educating future medical professionals at UWF. “Her giving spirit was right there all those years ago when she was my doctor. She spent time with me to understand my needs. She genuinely cared for me as a patient and a person. That is such a special trait in a doctor. It comes straight from the heart.”
After growing up in rural India, Dr. Usha Kundu opened her medical practice in Pensacola in 1983 and was the area’s first female obstetrician and gynecologist. Central to Kundu’s philosophy as a physician was giving her absolute best to every patient. “I always tried to put myself in the position of my patients and treat them as I would like to be treated,” Kundu said. “I approached my patients as individuals and took time to explain their care plans and answer their questions.”
Kundu said making time for providing compassionate care in the current healthcare climate is more important than ever. “As doctors, we cannot be the stewards for our patients we are called to be without empathy and understanding,” Kundu said. “It is essential to ensuring patients’ best outcomes.”
This philosophy for patient care is one shared by Erik. “As nurses, patients come to us at their most vulnerable,” he said. “They don’t understand what is happening to them and why. If they have a thousand questions, I answer a thousand. I want every one of my patients to know that they are important. That I care about them.”
Erik said Dr. Kundu is a source of inspiration to him. “She took such amazing care of my mother and me and has supported future generations of UWF students through her generosity to the College of Health that now bears her name,” he said. “I am to-the-moon happy that one of her babies is now one of her successors in the medical profession. My way of saying thank you to her is by continuing my education and being the best I can be, regardless of my challenges.”
Kundu said Erik’s story of strength and determination should serve as a blueprint for other students facing adversity. “What a remarkable young man he is. I am proud of how he is courageously facing life’s challenges while still working hard to achieve his goals. I know he will continue to serve as a blessing to his patients and an inspiration to all.”
For now, Erik optimistically faces his prognosis in true “Erik” fashion. “Yes, I have cancer,” he said. “Yes, I have had to put some of the things I love to do on pause. But soon these hard times will be a distant memory. When I have beaten cancer and reached the goal of obtaining my degree, I won’t remember the hardships. I’ll be too busy celebrating.”
For Chandra, the full circle journey for Erik and Dr. Kundu has brought back a lot of fond memories and been something special to celebrate. “Dr. Kundu always treated me with dignity and respect and took such good care of Erik and me,” Chandra said. “I’d like to tell her thank you. And look at the incredible person you helped bring into this world!”
For more information about the Usha Kundu, MD College of Health visit uwf.edu/ukcoh.