By Maya Gurarie
(May 2014) CU Denver biology student Luis Chavez often rereads text messages
from his friend Alejandro Daniel Rodríguez-Prieto as a reminder of
their pact to help each other get through medical school.
“You and I against the world conquering anything in the medical field,” reads one text.
became friends with Chavez while teaching a Spanish language class for
medical students. They had been friends for two years when on Aug. 10,
2013, Rodríguez crashed his motorcycle into a stalled car. He died from
his injuries. He was 26 years old.
Alex was a determined and
enthusiastic student, about to begin his second year at the School of
Medicine. He wanted to become a trauma surgeon.
“It’s hard to
imagine sometimes that Alex is gone,” says Vaughn Browne, MD, PhD,
assistant professor at the department of emergency medicine, “how he was
taken from us so quickly, so violently and so unexpectedly. I don’t
think you’ll find anyone among his classmates and clinicians who would
say that this man wasn’t a walking example of gratitude. He had
tremendous promise and had he survived, he would have been quite an
advocate for minority students.”
Rodríguez, the first person in
his family to attend college and a native of Mexico, wanted to become a
doctor since he was 3 years old. It wasn’t easy for him though. While he
had experience as a certified paramedic working with emergency medical
teams in metro Denver, he didn’t get accepted to medical school the
first time he applied.
So Rodríguez completed the one-year School
of Medicine post-baccalaureate premedical program on the University of
Colorado Denver campus and reapplied. Browne, who serves on the School
of Medicine’s admissions committee, recognized Rodríguez’s potential and
became an advocate for him. Eventually, Browne became his preceptor at
Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Rodríguez’s inspiration to others
matched his aspirations for himself. In a ceremony earlier this year,
the students in Rodríguez’s class honored him with the Eastlake
Achievement Award for his exceptional motivation in helping others
pursue their goals of becoming physicians.
Chavez, who expects to
graduate from CU Denver this fall, was one of those friends. After the
accident, Chavez started daily visits with Rodríguez’s parents, Jesus
and Irma Reyes, and brother, Jesus Reyes. When Regina Richards, director
of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the School of Medicine,
stopped at Rodríguez’s parents’ house to offer condolences, Chavez
opened the door. Richards had helped Rodríguez define his career goals
while he applied to medical school.
Richards, together with
Browne, Associate Dean Maureen Garrity, PhD, and Interim Assistant Dean
for Student Affairs Terri Blevins, established a memorial fund in
honor of Rodríguez. Individual gifts came from physicians on the School
of Medicine admissions committee, including Browne. The initial goal
was to raise $10,000 to provide scholarships for aspiring medical
Then Chavez helped spread the word about the fund, and
cash gifts started coming in from Class of 2016 medical students. A
foundation contributed $20,000 as well, which will allow scholarships
to be awarded year after year.
So far more than $30,000 has been raised for the Alex Rodríguez-Prieto Memorial
Fund. Beginning this spring, the endowed fund will award $1,000 to a CU
student from an underrepresented background who demonstrates passion
for community service and who is completing the post-baccalaureate
Rodríguez wanted to serve as a medical
volunteer in Africa for part of his career after graduating from medical
school. Chavez gathers inspiration from his friend to reach his own
dream of becoming an emergency room doctor.
“Alex said, ‘If I can change one person’s life on this planet, that’s my dream,’” Chavez says. “He changed my life.”