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Meet Bernardine Donato, who throughout her career as a Navy nurse, and a US Air National Guard tactical flight nurse, has used strength training, skydiving and running to stay active and keep her body well conditioned. The days of serving in both Operation Desert Shield as well as Desert Story are over, but even in retirement, she refuses to let arthritis slow her down, as she continues to compete in athletic competitions as well as community art contests. She’s an inspiration for all of us, including her physician, Dr. Rumey Ishizawar. Enjoy reading Bernadine’s story…


Being “retired” is a relative term for former U.S. Navy nurse and Air Force aeromedical evacuation nurse Bernardine Donato, R.N. Despite having two autoimmune conditions, one which affects her joints and the other affecting her muscles, Bernadine is a competitive athlete who frequently wins within her age bracket in a variety of events.

“When faced with a challenge, you can let it dictate your life or chart your own course,” says Bernardine. She is an active participant with Team Red, White, and Blue (RWB), a veterans organization whose mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through social and physical activity. With Team RWB, Bernadine actively hikes, bikes, and runs, while participating in a variety of races. She also volunteers and engages in the arts.

To help her to meet these physical challenges head on and continue to pursue the hobbies she loves, Bernardine is cared for by a group of University of North Carolina physicians specializing in Internal Medicine, Neurology, and Rheumatology. Dr. Rumey Ishizawar, who is the Medical Director of the UNC Hospitals Rheumatology Specialty Clinic and a physician-scientist with the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center in Chapel Hill, NC, manages Bernadine’s autoimmune-mediated inflammatory arthritis in collaboration with her other physicians.

“My goal for Bernardine and other patients I treat who have arthritis is to provide the best care, in order to allow them to continue an active lifestyle,” says Dr. Ishizawar. “Bernardine is an inspiration to me as her physician and others with arthritis because of her positive outlook and active engagement in sports as well as the community.”

“Keeping my mind and body healthy with sports and other interests is essential in my life,” says Bernardine. “For someone who is very active like me, it’s crucial to have a doctor who really listens, values your input, and works closely with you to find solutions that fit your lifestyle. Dr. Ishizawar does that, and that’s one of the reasons she’s such an amazing physician.”

Bernardine was recently selected as one of 10 veterans from throughout the U.S. to be honored by the Department of Veterans affairs’ Women Veterans Athletes Initiative, and profiled on the VA website. Most recently, she was featured as the guest speaker and Veteran Engagement Director for a Durham, NC, VA town hall meeting. You can read her story and listen to her interview via this link.

Congratulations to Bernardine Donato, who we thank for her 24 years of service in the U.S. military, as well as for being an inspiration for others with arthritis and autoimmune conditions. Her upcoming goals include activities such as running in 5K and an 8K races.

Even before she runs the races, however, it’s clear by anyone’s standards that she’s a winner.