Neonatology professorship honors the legacy of a community caregiver

A display board featuring pictures of the 75 foster babies nurtured by Joan Islam
A display board featuring pictures of the 75 foster babies nurtured by Joan Islam.

Among the cries of newborns and the gentle touch of a caregiver’s hands, the Gainesville community witnessed the extraordinary spirit of Joan Islam. A woman whose heart overflowed with love for babies, she dedicated her life to caring for not just her five children and 15 grandchildren but also an astonishing 75 foster babies. Her legacy of compassion, resilience, and selflessness is the guiding light behind the newly established Joan Islam Rising Star Professorship in Neonatology at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

“She absolutely adored babies, I mean, truly loved them all,” said Joel Islam, one of the five Islam siblings.

In her honor, the Islam family has established the professorship to empower the division of neonatology to attract and retain exceptional early career faculty in the field of neonatology, individuals whose promising achievements mirror Joan’s dedication and impact in the realm of infant health.

“With this award, we hope to attract outstanding talent in neonatology. We anticipate that we can recruit an excellent researcher or a division chief,” said Rashmin C. Savani, M.B., Ch.B., the Nemours Eminent Scholar and a professor and chair of the College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics.

Joan Islam holding one of the foster babies.

The Islam family’s generous support is a catalyst for advancing research and ensuring that every baby facing health challenges receives the best health care.

Joan’s story is not just one of caregiving; it’s an account of dedication and love that reached far beyond her immediate family. She was more than a caregiver; she was a nurturer, an educator, and a source of unwavering support for all those around her.

“Joan confidently mentored others throughout her life. Whether friends or parents of adopted children, she shared her wisdom generously,” said Jim Islam, the family patriarch.

During her remarkable journey of fostering babies over three decades, Joan imparted invaluable lessons to her children, teaching them the essence of good parenting. Through her actions, she instilled in them the values of compassion, responsibility, and nurturing care, creating a lasting legacy of kindness and empathy.

“She taught our children the art of caring for babies,” said Jim Islam. “Early on, she demonstrated to them how to be great parents.”

In her forties, Joan pursued her passion and returned to school, earning a degree as a registered nurse. Her dedication led her to UF Health Pediatric After Hours, where she skillfully handled phone calls and triaged sick children, ensuring they received prompt care.

Joan succumbed to cancer in 2003, but her impact will be felt for generations. Her spirit lives on, not just in the memories of her family and friends but also in the lives of the countless infants whose futures will be shaped by the research and care made possible by the Joan Islam Rising Star Professorship in Neonatology. Through this enduring legacy, Joan’s love for babies will continue to inspire generations of medical professionals, researchers, and caregivers.

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Joan Islam Rising Star Professorship in Neonatology

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