She was there when the first COVID-19 patient was admitted to the ICU at Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park, Brooklyn; was there to lead the daily prayer group that reminded co-workers to remember the entire picture, big and small. Telling them God had a plan; that it included his promise of protection.
Her name was Gresmor Blackman-Douglas, though friends and family knew her as Jesma — derived from the names Jesus and Mary, and a reminder of how she lived her life.
Just before she died, Jesma Blackman-Douglas had concerns she’d caught COVID-19 — thankful when tests came back negative so she could still spend time with her children and grandchildren. And patients.
Then she was killed in a horrific single-vehicle accident on the Southern State Parkway in North Valley Stream early Sunday as she rushed to the hospital to work on the front lines.
Gone at age 58.
“On my way home I saw the accident,” son Leston Douglas said Wednesday, recalling how he’d driven past the crash scene on his way home from Maimonides, thinking when he saw the smoke and the fire, “I hope that person’s OK.” Not long after New York State troopers were at the house on Albany Avenue in North Amityville, and Leston immediately thought they were there because something had happened to his brother, Kieon, a U.S. Army captain. Instead the troopers told him, his fiance, Marleny Peralta, his sister, Leneshia Douglas, and their father, Leslie, the terrible news.
“It didn’t make sense,” Leneshia said, “because I just saw her before she left. She woke me up, said, ‘I’m late. I woke up late,’ and the last thing I said to my mom was, 'Get to work safe. Get there safe.’”
"We’ve been hit the hardest by the coronavirus and then to lose someone who’s on the front line, dealing with all these patients with COVID, exposing herself — and she dies in a car accident?” Andrea Collazos, who worked with Blackman-Douglas in the surgical ICU at Maimonides said.
Longtime co-worker and friend Janett Perez said: “This was the first nurse to admit a COVID patient to our unit. When all the other nurses were so frightened, because no one knew what it was, she was the one who told us to not have fear, that God was always with us.”
Blackman-Douglas was born and raised in Lambeau, Tobago, in the nation of Trinidad and Tobago, and attended the Harmon School of Seventh-day Adventists there in Rocky Vale, Scarborough, before coming to the United States. She studied at Long Island University and then SUNY-Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. She had worked at Maimonides for more than 20 years, the past 18 in the surgical ICU, where she was a senior staff RN.
Blackman-Douglas loved to cook West Indian food — curry chicken, oxtails, greens and pies — and more than anything, she followed her faith, putting family and friends and patients first, doing what she could, with all that she could, for them. A selfie she posted to Facebook on April 13, herself dressed in a surgical mask and face shield that read JES B, was attached with a note that read, in part: "This is our new normal this virus is really vicious it's killing people … to all my icu nurses please be safe … we are all under his shadow God bless us and protect us all our patients and relatives from this day forward. Stay strong."
Under that posting are now more than 1,000 comments, remembering all the good things Jesma did for others. Town of Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer has announced plans to honor her loss in a future ceremony. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Leston Douglas recalled Wednesday how when he was lost after his newborn daughter, M’kenzie Leann G Douglas, died of meningitis when he was just 19, it was his mother who proved his rock.
“I almost lost everything," he said. "I didn’t know how to handle it. … My mom was there … And, that saved me.”
In fact, Leston, who works maintenance at Maimonides, now has two children, Quincy and Skylar, and is studying to be a physician assistant.
And Leneshia Douglas is following in her mother’s footsteps and will graduate SUNY-Downstate later this month. She was doing her rotations at Maimonides when the pandemic hit.
“She talked about it all the time, how heartbreaking it was,” Leneshia Douglas said of her mom and the ICU scene at Maimonides. "How you see the patients there and how you didn’t know if they were ever going to come out and how she wanted them to one day walk out and just be with family … She was … a most-impeccable prayer warrior. A caring, giving woman. My best friend.”