Michele Kuntz Wood, R.N.
Manager of Women’s Health Services, Franciscan St. Francis Health
The signature on her email messages includes a quote from Maya Angelou: “Women should be tough, tender, laugh as much as possible and live long lives.” That pretty much sums up Michele Kuntz Wood.
“I think most people, when they first meet me, would see me as pretty tough and maybe even hard-hearted,” Wood said. “I can be pretty single-minded. But there’s no one you’d rather be in battle with, rather than against.”
Wood, 60, has been an indomitable crusader for women’s health since becoming “hooked” on the power and miracle of birth during her second year of nursing school at Marion County General Hospital (now Wishard Memorial Hospital). After working as a nurse practitioner in women’s health in Utah for several years, she took a management position in obstetrics with St. Francis in 1984. She’s remained there for 27 years.
In 1987 Wood was charged with creating the hospital’s women’s health program and generating community interest in it long before such programs were in vogue.
“One of the gifts my parents instilled in me is the gift of leadership,” she said. “I like to build things. I have great tenacity and I can see how things work. It all comes down to building and creating a network of like-minded people.”
Wood likes to shake things up, fix them and move on. She attributes much of her success to a mantra her dad taught her: Just act like you know what you’re doing. “It’s worked out pretty well for me,” she said.
Many organizations and projects owe their success to Wood’s leadership skills. In 1992 she participated as a sponsor and helped to organize the first Race for the Cure in Indianapolis, an event she co-chaired in 2005.
“Twenty years later, this small event has become the largest single day charity event in the state, raising over $2.6 million,” said Dana Curish, executive director, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Central Indiana.
In 1995, Wood helped form the Breast Health Awareness League. Later she was instrumental in transitioning it into the Indianapolis Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, serving as the organization’s president and a member of the board in 2002.
She also spearheaded legislation that made the breast cancer awareness license plate a reality. Wood was a founding member of Y-Me of Central Indiana, a breast cancer information and survivor support group; served on the board of the Indiana Breast Cancer Awareness Trust through 2007; and served as the Indiana Coordinator for the National Breast Cancer Coalition for six years. While serving in that capacity, she visited the White House three times during the Clinton administration.
Wood continues to serve on the board of the Catherine Peachey Fund, which funds breast cancer research programs, including the Komen Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center, the first tissue bank of its kind in the world.
“Few other women have made such a difference in this community to raise awareness of breast cancer and impact the lives of so many who come face-to-face with this disease,” Curish said.
Wood was a founding member of the Spirit of Women Health Network nearly 15 years ago. “Spirit of Women hospitals offer a mix of health fairs, classes, services and social events that help women make healthy lifestyle changes,” Curish said.
“Michele has a track record as a crusader willing to take on big projects. She wants to know that what she does makes a difference. She takes to heart Komen’s core value—the power of one and the dynamic force of many.”
In 2010 Wood partnered with Denise Johnson Miller, M.D., to establish the Inaugural St. Francis Breast Cancer Emergency Fund. The first fundraiser raised $5,000. “Michele has been generous with her time and talents, contacts and resources—intangibles that are critical to a not-for-profit’s viability,” said Robert Brody, president and CEO, Franciscan St. Francis Health.
Wood’s intense focus on breast cancer might lead people to think that she is a breast cancer survivor, but that isn’t the case. She says her involvement had to do with being in the right place, at the right time, with the right credentials. “The issue of breast cancer became my passion and mission,” she said. “But that was only part of it. It was more the people I met and the stories I heard along the way. That’s what I was fighting for.”
In 2007 Wood received the Distinguished Hoosier Award from Gov. Mitch Daniels. Last year she was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Komen Pink Tie Ball, an honor she calls “humbling.”
After all she’s accomplished in her 38-year nursing career, Wood hopes she hasn’t yet made her biggest contribution to women’s health. “There is still a lot of work to be done,” she said.