Your browser is unsupported

We recommend using the latest version of IE11, Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

Scholarship to honor COVID-19 frontlines nurse

A woman with short blond hair wears nursing scrubs and carries something indistinct

When Joan Duda, MS ’84, BSN ’78, was asked in 2019 to come out of retirement to help train emergency department nurses at St. Anthony Hospital, she accepted because of her passion for trauma education.

For more than 30 years, she had been a critical care and trauma nurse specialist for Cook County Hospital, one of the busiest trauma units in the country, and had led a popular annual trauma nurse certification course.

About a year after she started working at St. Anthony, the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the U.S. In Chicago, the first case of COVID was confirmed in January 2020. Hospitals were short staffed, and Duda, who had been hired as an educator, was asked to put her trauma skills to use in the St. Anthony emergency department.

She heeded the call, but even with layers of personal protective equipment, the 63-year-old Duda contracted COVID-19 from a patient. She died only a few weeks later on May 27.

Now, her husband, Kevin Kissane, and twin sister, Jane Duda, BSN ’78, have endowed a scholarship at UIC Nursing in memory of the partner and sister they lost.

“I knew in my heart that [Joan] would want this given to [UIC College of Nursing],” Jane Duda says. “The college helped give Joan her career – as well as mine. I knew she would feel grateful.”

‘No. 1’ and ‘No. 2’

Joan and Jane Duda grew up in Chicago and attended Lourdes High School, an all-girls Catholic school. They had three older siblings and a younger sister. Jane Duda says her mom nicknamed them “No. 1” and “No. 2,” based on their birth order.

“Basically, my mom told Joan, ‘You’re No. 1. Keep an eye on your sister,’” she recalls.

In school, a chemistry teacher told the sisters they both had an aptitude for science and should consider nursing. They listened and chose to attend UIC, called the “Circle” campus at that time, where their older siblings had gone.

Both went on to have decades-long careers in nursing, getting advanced degrees. After three years on a medical floor at Rush Hospital, Joan Duda took a job at Cook County Hospital, working closely with Cook County Trauma Unit pioneer John Barrett. Wanting to work as a clinical nurse specialist, Joan returned to UIC Nursing in order to earn a master’s degree.

Jane Duda, who was a nurse anesthetist, also eventually took a job at Cook County Hospital, where staff members sometimes confused them and jokingly gave Joan the nickname, “Twin.”

Happy couple pose for picture.

Known for her trauma course

Kevin Kissane met Joan Duda when they were both working as nurses at Rush Hospital. There was no romance at first. At the time, Kissane was married with four daughters.

After his first wife died from breast cancer in 2004, they reconnected when Joan Duda took a CPR recertification course being led by Kissane. They were married in 2010.

Kissane says after they began dating, he was quickly recruited to assist his future wife in the trauma nurse specialist course that she coordinated each fall. It was a requirement for working in a trauma unit, and she would lecture and organize trainings with trauma surgeons and other specialists for nurses around the Chicago area.

“I was impressed that she had contacts with other trauma centers in the city, in the suburbs, and frequent meetings with trauma nurse coordinators,” he says. “They used Joan a lot as a resource for their courses. Joan kept extensive records on all her students and would remind them when they were due to take the test again.”

A DAISY award recipient, Joan Duda combined her love of trauma education and world travel. She lectured in Germany, St. Petersburg, Russia, Ireland and Ecuador.

Outpouring of grief

When Joan Duda was hospitalized with COVID-19, Kissane recalls that more than 60 people joined a prayer marathon for her over Zoom.

“That was the beginning of the realization about how much she would be missed,” he says.

After she died, St. Anthony dedicated a garden to Joan Duda and held a memorial in her honor. Memorials were also held at the Irish American Heritage Center and in Rush Hospital’s Healing Garden.

“When she passed, the outpouring of professional grieving touched me,” Kissane says. “The number of nurses that were doing impassioned memorials to her was very impressive. She was unpretentious, but when she died, the doctors and nurses, the whole trauma community showed up.”

Name lives on

Jane Duda says she and her sister had to pay for their education at UIC Nursing on their own, and she hopes the scholarship now bearing her sister’s name will help future nurses get educated and go on to have successful nursing careers, just like the Duda sisters.

Kissane adds that he hopes scholarship beneficiaries, “pay it forward by contributing to society as professional nurses themselves.”

“I’m a nurse myself, and I appreciate nurses and nursing,” Kissane says. “I think it’s underappreciated in our culture. I think Joan would like to know that her name would live on in nursing.”

See: All College News