2014 Nicholas E. Colleluori Award

limelight4On March 21st 2014, I had the pleasure of introducing cancer survivor and heart transplant recipient Derek Fitzgerald and presenting him with the Nicholas E. Colleluori award for his demonstrated bravery and impact on the blood cancer community at the annual HEADSTRONG Foundation Lime Light Gala.

I have known Derek on multiple levels for a couple of years and have been working closely with the HEADSTRONG Foundation since I received this same award in 2012. It was only fitting that I be the one to make his presentation. Below are my notes from my introduction speech.

In 2006 my life was forever changed when I was diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia. But opportunities to work with organizations such as HEADSTRONG and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society have answered and validated that “why me” question.

And I tell you this simply so you’ll understand that through my personal journey, it’s been my fortune to have met many people who I would call heroes in this fight. And I have met many people who have touched me. While I never had the opportunity to meet Nick, I look up to him as a true hero and a trail blazer in this united fight against blood cancer. And I certainly have been touched by Nick and this mission.

The man you are about to meet has also touched me and I’m sure he will touch you.

I will share with you a couple of his high and low lights and let him fill in the grizzly but inspiring details. At the age of 30 Derek Fitzgerald was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He underwent 5 months of chemotherapy and the good news is that treatment cured his cancer. The bad news is that same treatment also killed Derek’s heart. For the next 7 years, Derek’s condition continued to decline – ultimately ending him up on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

He didn’t know how many tomorrows he had left.

But on January 3, 2011, Derek was reborn when he was given the gift of a new heart. Recovery was long, and slow, and difficult, but 8 months post transplant, with a new beating heart, he finished his first 5k race – two months later, his first half marathon. And that was only the beginning of what was to follow. Including not one but two ironman triathlon finishes in 2013.

I sometimes tease Derek, telling him that anyone can do this stuff with new body parts. He is quick to remind me how thankful he is for that 3rd chance in life and how grateful he is to his donor.

Derek has become a valuable advocate for the HEADSTRONG Foundation. He was an honorary Captain at the Nick Colleluori Lacrosse Classic sharing his experience and educating athletes. He has also joined the HEADtable program visiting with hospitalized patients providing inspiration & encouragement.

Derek has also remains very involved with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; both through the Team in Training program where he and I met, and he is also a 2014 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Man of the Year Candidate.

I have had the pleasure of knowing Derek as his triathlon coach, as a fellow survivor, and as his friend. And the more I get to know about Derek Fitzgerald, the more I shake my head in awe of everything he has overcome and accomplished and at the person Derek is.

Ladies and gentleman, it is my privilege to present a true survivor, ambassador, hero, and winner of this year’s Nicolas E. Colleluori award – Mr. Derek Fitzgerald.

For more on The HEADSTRONG Foundation visit www.headstrong.org
For more on The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society visit www.lls.org and www.teamintraining.org

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