Karen Kaunitz’s health journey leads to nursing education fund

Grateful patient Karen Kaunitz holds "Don't sweat the small stuff" sign.

One life-threatening condition is often more than enough for one person to handle. Karen Kaunitz has endured several, including brain infection, breast cancer, melanoma, lung blood clots and multiple fractures due to osteoporosis.

“For me, it’s like I have nine lives,” Karen Kaunitz said. “And it’s only because of the care I’ve received from my husband, my family and all of the people who work at UF Health Jacksonville.”

Kaunitz’s husband is a longtime physician with UF Health Jacksonville. Andrew Kaunitz, MD, FACOG, is the associate chair for the department of obstetrics and gynecology, and the medical director of UF Health Women’s Specialists – Emerson. 

Kaunitz’s most recent health crisis was in 2019. Her breathing and stamina decreased drastically, leaving her gasping for air whenever she would try to walk. Her husband rushed her to the UF Health Emergency Room.

“I recall being rapidly transferred to the medical intensive care unit and wondering if I would ever make it back home,” Kaunitz said.

A cardiac study discovered one of Kaunitz’s heart valves had stopped functioning. Because of her health conditions, conventional open-heart surgery to repair the valve was not an option. Fortunately, cardiologists at UF Health Jacksonville are trained to execute minimally invasive heart valve replacement procedures. This option gave Kaunitz her life back.

“I was relieved to wake up and see smiling faces around me and find out I was able to breathe on my own,” said Kaunitz. “It was like an elephant had been lifted off my chest.”

This summer, Kaunitz celebrated her 70th birthday with a virtual gathering via Zoom. Years ago, this was a celebration that she couldn’t have guaranteed would happen.

“If you asked me five years ago to envision that day, I would have told you, ‘I’m not sure I’m going to get there,’” she said. “With my future ahead of me, I can reflect on how fortunate I was to be cared for at UF Health Jacksonville.”

Realizing how fragile a person’s health can be and in deep appreciation of the care Karen Kaunitz received, the Kaunitzs established the Kaunitz-Koppel Critical Care Nursing Education Fund. Through their generosity, the fund provides opportunities and recognition for critical care nursing staff, like those who went above and beyond to care for Karen.

“We were so grateful for the compassionate care Karen received,” Andrew Kaunitz said. “That’s when we decided to give back in appreciation for all those who had a tremendous impact on our experience.”

For Karen Kaunitz, her motivation to give back was simple.

“You gave me my life, and I want to give back to you.”

Grateful patient Karen Kaunitz (left) stands next to Andrew Kaunitz, M.D., FACOG (right). The couple is joined by their beloved red poodle, Mickey.