UF Law Student Eric Gold, 26, Strived to Conquer Despite Host of Medical Challenges
Diagnosed with diabetes at age 7, he went on to help develop a summer camp for kids with that disease.
After coming down with a lung disease five years ago and later having a double lung transplant, he ran a half-marathon and became a speaker on behalf of organ and tissue donation.
On Sunday, Jan. 20, Gold died in a Gainesville hospital of pneumonia related to his most recent medical battle, this time with cancer. He turned 26 just six days earlier.
“He was a very special kid,” said his father Randy, a federal prosecutor in Orlando. “All these challenges were thrown at him and he never let one stop him until the cancer. He was smart, determined and certainly cared about others and gave back. He was a fighter. He had more strength and courage than any kid I’ve ever seen.”
Eric Matthew Gold was born in Miami and relocated to Oviedo in 1992. He graduated from Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park in 2000, before attending Northwestern University near Chicago and earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech and language pathology.
He moved to Gainesville in 2005 and worked as a speech and language pathologist with brain-injured patients at Shands Rehab Hospital.
In 2006, he enrolled at the University of Florida law school and was in his second year of studies. Last summer while he was interning as a law clerk in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Orlando, he was diagnosed with cancer.
His battle with diabetes as a child led him to be a regular, summer and weekend volunteer during the past decade, serving as a lifeguard, counselor and program director for the nonprofit Florida Camp for Children and Youth with Diabetes. He helped develop the group’s “Pee Wee Camp” for youngsters near Tampa.
Two years ago at the age of 24, he was elected as a statewide board member of the Gainesville-based organization, joining prominent doctors and professionals much older than him, said director Rosalie Bandyopadhyay.
“Even after his diagnosis with lymphoma the week before the Pee Wee Camp, he still came,” she said. “He had such a will aside from his intelligence. He earned that respect because of his perseverance and his will to fight. He was very selfless. It’s quite amazing what he did at 26.”
Gold helped children in first, second and third grades dispel fears about the disease and showed them how to monitor their blood sugar and take injections. He also served as a model for how they could live normal lives. He took them swimming, canoeing and on other activities such as archery shoots, Bandyopadhyay said.
“He was able to communicate that on a laid-back level, a Mister Rogers-type level,” she said.
Throughout his medical treatments, he remained upbeat and determined. He had a professional photography business, repaired fellow college students’ computers and enjoyed deep-sea fishing during vacations. And despite his medical conditions, he remained an honor student throughout high school and college, his father said.
After his 2004 lung transplant, he ran a half-marathon and participated three times in the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago’s “Hustle Up the Hancock,” a 94-story stair climb that raised money for the charity. He had planned to run up the skyscraper again this year on Feb. 24, but his father will be taking his place.
“On Thursday, he was saying if I’m alive, I’m going to crawl to the top,” his father said. “It was important to him. It’s important to me. So, I’m doing it in his honor.”
Survivors include his parents, Randy and Marcey Gold of Oviedo; brother Brian Gold of New York City; grandmother Barbara Miller of Glenview, Ill.; aunt Denny Gold and longtime companion Fred Stange of Sea Ranch, Calif.; uncle Mark Gold, uncle Don Miller and aunt Lynn Miller, all of Chicago; and longtime girlfriend Heather Haws of Gainesville.
A memorial service was held Wednesday, Jan. 23, in the auditorium of Trinity Preparatory School, Winter Park.
Jim Leusner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5411.
Copyright © 2008, Orlando Sentinel
Reprinted with permission from the Orlando Sentinel.