SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Today we honor Dana Pounds as an Amazing Suncoast Woman. Dana watches students on the bay across from Coquina Beach in Manatee County. They are on a field trip, as a part of the year long Nature's Academy Program. It includes science, technology, engineering and math.
Dana says, "They do a nature walk. They head down to water where they do a bio- diversity study, where they are dipping into the water and discovering organism that live in our grass beds. They do coastal clean ups and some water quality testing." Nature's Academy provides this program free to every 5 th grader in Manatee County. Executive Director and Founder Dana Pounds is a marine biologist from New Jersey, who headed south after college graduation.
She says, "I packed up my car and drove as far as my gas could take me and that was all the way to the Florida Keys. And I started teaching in the Florida Keys Marine Biology when I was 22 and it's stuck ever since."
Her career soared.
She says, "I have been able to travel to Australia and dive on the Great Barrier Reef, and dive in various amazing places doing research, all over the world.
Then a stunning blow hit.
"In 1999 I was diagnosed with a very rare form of carcinoma. I started off with tumors in my right leg. I fought very hard for 9 years to maintain function in my leg but after 9 years we ended up needing to have my leg amputated to save my life."
During her battle she got married and started Nature's Academy. But she says, "I found out that my cancer had returned in my hip and pelvis."
She entered a clinical trial. "It has reduced my tumors by 50% and saved my life." But the medication caused bone density loss, cracks in her pelvis that cause terrible pain. And she also developed skin cancer. Those handling the clinical trials that were saving her life feared the skin cancer was a result of the medication and were about to take her out of the study. But she convenienced them the skin cancer was caused by sun exposure. To do that she had to move from Florida to Oregon, where the sun is not as likely to cause cancer. And since she's been there, the skin cancer has gone away. So she commutes back and forth from Oregon to Florida.
She says Nature's Academy is her legacy and she believes it will have a lasting affect on students.
She says, "Hopefully something resonates with them, they become interested in learning more about the environment, protecting it, or that there are so many amazing things out there to study and learn about than they've ever thought of before."
Her life lesson, the darkest clouds hold the most sunshine.
She says that's a scientific fact. And if cancer hadn't come into her life, she would never have started Nature's Academy, and never experienced the many wonders that have come her way. She has received numerous awards for her work with Nature's Academy, and her students have received many awards for demonstrating what they've learned there.