The Nurturer and the Researcher

Nicoleta Constantin BSN ’07 is part of a generation of Romanians that found opportunities outside of Romania after the fall of communism. In her life in the United States, she has performed groundbreaking biochemistry research in the lab of Duke Nobel Prize winner Paul Modrich, but she found her calling when she became a pediatric nurse at North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

by Zach Read – zachary.read@unchealth.unc.edu

Anti-government protests broke out in the city of Timișoara, in western Romania, on December 16, 1989. Within days, they spread across the country, including to Bucharest, Romania’s capital, where Nicoleta Constantin was a student at the University of Bucharest.

Bucharest saw many instances of civil unrest during this period. In one incident, police and military forces surrounded demonstrators in University Square. When Constantin heard about what happened, she and a group of students and professors gathered at the biology department to “protect it.”

“We didn’t even know what we meant by ‘protecting it,’” says Constantin, who was majoring in biochemistry. “We just wanted to be involved, so we went to the biology department and talked all night, sharing stories and discussing the future of the country.”

The following morning, a few days before Christmas, Constantin walked home to her family’s flat. It was cold and eerily quiet on the streets. No traffic. No people.

Nicoleta - with patient

Nicoleta Constantin grew up in communist Romania. After years of doing scientific research in the United States, she found her calling as a pediatric nurse at North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

“The city was frozen,” she recalls. “I was the only person out. As I passed the Ministry of War, I saw a burned-out vehicle and dead bodies on the ground. Through my studies, I was well acquainted with human anatomy and physiology. I noticed the layers of skin, fat, muscle, and bone on one particular body. It was very scary and very powerful. At that moment, it sank in how serious this was.”

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