Denise Choiniere, an oncology nursing administrator at the University of Maryland Medical Center who was an advocate of environmentally friendly policies at medical institutions, died of lymphoma Sept. 16 at the hospital where she served. She was 48 and lived in Ellicott City.
Born in Norwalk, Conn., she was the daughter of Tony Briganti, an accountant, and Louise Cali, a homemaker. She was a 1986 graduate of Ridgefield High School, where she played soccer and swam. She earned two bachelor’s degrees at Syracuse University. Her first degree was in psychology and the second, in 1995, was in nursing. She also earned a master’s degree in nursing at the University of Maryland.
She met her future husband, Conrad Choiniere, through mutual friends in Burlington, Vt., where she was working as a nurse. They married in 1997 and moved to Columbia.
She joined the University of Maryland Medical Center and became a cardiac care unit nurse. She was later named director of materials management and most recently served as the director of oncology nursing at the Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In 2008, she was named one of Baltimore Magazine’s 40 people under the age of 40 to watch. She was cited for her work in conservation in the hospital workplace.
“She set about to gain administrative support from her employer … for green initiatives,” the article said. “She started with battery recycling, then moved on to encouraging the purchase of more recyclable materials, incinerating less waste, and providing healthier food to patients and staff. She obtained a grant to form employee green teams.” She also brought a weekly farmers market to the hospital.
“I've always been an environmentalist, and it just seemed natural to bring it into my work setting," she said in the article.
Ms. Choiniere became the hospital’s environmental health coordinator and networked with other state hospitals through a nonprofit, Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment.
The article said she also encouraged noise reduction through quiet hours and the adoption of less toxic cleaning products.
In a 2010 Baltimore Sun article, she said her hospital was proceeding cautiously and buying reprocessed devices such as blood pressure cuffs. “She said the push for reprocessing came from workers who recycle at home and didn't understand why they had to throw away so much equipment, particularly so much that was never used, items that are sometimes dropped or the packaging opened,” the article said.
“Safety is No. 1, and we need to make sure there are quality checks in place and what they're sending back is the same quality as new devices,” she said in the article. “But it's hard to find someone who doesn't think this is a good idea.”
In 2011, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and underwent numerous treatments, including two stem cell transplants — one of them from her brother, Stephen Briganti of New Fairfield, Conn.
“She was a tireless advocate for patients and the nurses who care for them, and was highly respected by her colleagues,” said a sister, Lisa Briganti, who lives in Easley, S.C. “Denise exuded confidence and a positive attitude despite her battle with cancer and the struggles she faced.”
Earlier this year, Ms. Choiniere fired the starting pistol and applauded about 2,000 participants at the University of Maryland's Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center's Maryland Half-Marathon and 5K in Maple Lawn in Howard County.
"I haven't been a part of the race for the last few years" she said in a Baltimore Sun article. "I'm excited to be back, cheer the runners on, and give thanks to the people who come out and support the cancer center. Every year, there's a patient that starts the race. I'm absolutely honored to be a part of that."
Ms. Choiniere often rode bikes, swam and ran in fundraising events for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. She participated in Iron Girl Triathlons and America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, a 100-mile course around Lake Tahoe in Nevada and California. Her musical tastes included the Grateful Dead and Dr. Dog.
“Denise was real,” said a friend, Erin Griffin, who lives in Felton, Pa. “What you saw is what you got. She was the same person, no matter who she was around. She was very personable with a great sense of humor. she was determined and inspiring, as well as free-spirited and laid-back, and funny as hell. There were many, many times that we laughed until we cried. But most of all, she was fighter, a warrior and a rock star during the toughest fight of her life. I can honestly say I have never met a stronger-willed person.
“She was passionate about the things she loved and would get involved,” Ms. Griffin said. She was 'green.' Bought and ate organic. She felt very strongly about sustainability and farm-to-table.
“Denise loved adventure, always wanted to be outside doing something. When we lived in Montana [for a summer in the 1990s], we hiked, mountain biked, camped and would go tubing on the Madison River,” her friend said. “Her passing has left a gaping hole in a lot of hearts.”
A celebration of Ms. Choiniere’s life will be held at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Ten Oaks Ballroom, 5000 Signal Bell Court in Clarksville.
In addition to her sister and brother, survivors include her husband of 20 years, Conrad Choiniere, an office director at the Food and Drug Administration; two sons, Sam Choiniere and Alex Choiniere, both of Ellicott City; her parents, who now live in Greenville, S.C.; and another sister, Michele Briganti of Farmington, Conn.