Winter Park foundation honors doctor's legacy

Dr. Don Diebel Jr. earned a reputation as a good Samaritan doctor, traveling the globe.

Dr. Don Diebel Jr. earned a reputation as a good Samaritan doctor, traveling the globe.

Allison Olcsvay

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For Don Diebel Jr. becoming a medical doctor was not just a dream; it was a life calling. One his father says he had from an early age.

“He was one of those people that from the time he was this big,” he said, pointing to a picture of 4-year-old Don on his office wall, “that he knew he wanted to be a doctor.”

He completed medical school at the University of South Florida and, much to his father’s delight, joined him in his Winter Park office of OB/GYN specialists.

“We practiced together for five years and they were the best five years of my professional career,” Diebel Sr. said.

They shared an office, a practice and each other’s respect. They did all their surgeries together and it looked like Diebel Jr. was off to a long and prosperous career – until June 2002.

On June 8, Diebel Jr. his wife Karen and three young sons were on their way to a family vacation in Georgia when they came upon an accident on the Florida Turnpike.

True to his physician’s oath and his personal nature, he stopped to assist the accident victims. Diebel Jr. and Oviedo firefighter Shane Kelly were attempting to aid the victims when both good Samaritans were struck and killed by an out of control tractor trailer.

The loss was devastating, but it was during the outpouring of support following his death that the Diebel family came to know the true extent of the younger Diebel’s commitment to his community and his profession.

During his life, he made a habit of going to people’s homes to provide care for those who couldn’t afford it — simple things, like changing a wheelchair-bound patient’s bandages, but surely they meant the world to those who benefitted from his generosity.

“He just always did for others,” Diebel Sr. said. “In fact, he delivered his first baby in Honduras on a medical mission trip.”

That spirit is what the Diebel Legacy Fund hopes to pass on to future generations of medical doctors in the coming years.

For more information about the Diebel Legacy Fund, visit diebellegacyfund.org

Over the first 10 years following his death, they were able to donate more than half a million dollars in funding to local organizations that fell in line with Diebel Jr.’s professional health care interests including women, children and those who cannot afford medical care.

In recent years, the fund has focused its approach on a two-fold mission, trying to provide healthcare to folks who can’t afford it along with helping to produce physicians who are like the younger Diebel was: the good Samaritan doctor.

In order to do that, the Diebel Legacy Fund has partnered with the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine to provide opportunities for medical students to serve both their local and global communities as humanitarian physicians.

The Knights Clinic at Grace Medical Home operates twice a month providing acute care for uninsured patients.

Here, medical students, under the supervision of licensed physicians, provide much needed care and gain valuable experience in the field.

As part of their larger mission, the fund also contributes scholarships to students who wish to travel with the UCF College of Medicine on their annual medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

During the weeklong trip, medical, nursing and pharmacology students care for more than 800 patients in six locations, treating everything from pediatric to geriatric concerns.

One of the conditions of the scholarship is that they first volunteer at the Knights clinic or some other local medical mission.

“This is a valuable part of their training as doctors,” said Dr. Judy Simms-Cendan, UCF College of Medicine’s director of international experiences.

The students gain insight into caring for patients who are less fortunate, while serving their local community, before heading out to serve the global community.

“It’s incredibly important, even if this were a perfect world where everybody had fully provided health care, if you have a servant’s heart with a genuine desire to help others in need, you will be a better doctor for it,” Simms-Cendan said.

“The students really feel that this helps round out their education in areas that you don’t just get out of a textbook or an anatomy lesson, you’re out there in the trenches, treating real people,” Diebel Sr. said.

“We want to keep his memory alive as a role model to be this kind of person and physician.”