Students Coordinate 5K to Support Team Derek

Saturday, December 1, 2012

As University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson students work to finish the fall semester, they also have banded together to support their peer, second-year student Derek Neal, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) in September.

Since the diagnosis, the College of Medicine student government has completed various fundraisers to help “Team Derek.” In addition to raising financial support to pay hospital bills and fund other necessities, students coordinated workdays at the Neal household to help with the yard, home repairs and more.

“Hearing of Derek’s illness was one the saddest moments I can remember,” says Kevin Moynahan, MD, deputy dean of education for the UA College of Medicine – Tucson. “While physician faculty members at the College of Medicine deal with serious illness on a daily basis, it is extremely difficult to accept when illness affects ‘one of our own,’ not to mention a young man with a bright future, a loving wife and young children.”

With Derek’s permission, a class meeting was called after his diagnosis became known.

Dr. Moynahan says he remembers the outpouring of support evident at that first meeting, adding the support has continued.

“Both the College of Medicine student body and faculty mobilized to support Derek and his family as much as possible. Students set up websites and mechanisms for financial donations, meal donations and help around the Neal home in general,” he says. “Faculty throughout the Arizona Health Sciences Center responded in kind with financial and moral support. After contacting leadership at the other Arizona Health Sciences colleges, I received personal responses and promises of support the same day I sent the message.”

Second-year student Chris Shultz, a friend of Derek’s, says they wanted to do something bigger to show the 41-year-old how many people are supporting and encouraging him during this difficult time.

“In observing that a lot of our class is physically active, the idea of doing a 5K just sort of clicked. It appealed to a lot to the people within the College of Medicine and the Arizona Health Sciences Center. It’s also an event that involves a lot of people. It’s a little more tangible, I think, because you can show an individual how many people support them because large groups of people can participate,” Shultz says.

Dr. Moynahan, as well as many other AHSC and Tucson community members, participated in Team Derek 5K Race and Fun Run on Dec. 2. The event took place on the UA Mall, with more than 200 participants.

Derek and his family were in attendance, and Derek’s children led the start of the run.

Shultz says he was pleased with the event, which raised nearly $5,000. “We are busy preparing for exams, but we are always thinking about ways to help Derek,” he explains.

“This was the most memorable run I have participated in. To see and experience the diversity of participants was truly inspiring,” says Dr. Moynahan. “Derek’s wife, Sylvia Neal, shared that her husband’s disease is responding to therapy, and while the battle still is to be won, I truly felt the power behind the slogan on the website constructed by our students for Derek and his family, ‘Team Derek: A Community Behind One Man.’”

To learn more about Team Derek, please visit the website:

Photo by: AEA Alex, second-year student at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson