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Remember Alejandro

Keeping a Promise, Remembering a Friend


By Maya Gurarie

Alejandro Rodriguez-Prieto
(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.

Rodríguez 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 students.

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 premedical program.

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.”