Army Ranger achieves dream of being doctor

May 29, 2009 5:08:21 PM PDT
A single event changed the future for an Army Ranger. He survived being shot down as he parachuted on his first big combat mission. After he recovered, he decided to become a doctor. But there were obstacles. He hadn't gone to college and he thought he was too old. Darrell Wilcox earned a Purple Heart in Panama.

"I just got into the Ranger battalion," he recalled. "I'd been there a couple of weeks and the next thing I know we're going into combat. I said, 'Oh no! I just got here and barely unpacked.'"

So the new Army Ranger parachuted into Panama, but he was shot down. He hit the ground so hard he broke bones in both legs. His buddy was shot and mortally wounded.

"The medics tried to revive him but they weren't successful," Wilcox explained. "It made an impact on me that I didn't know what that meant at the time, but years later I kept going back to that and that was one of the underlying driving forces."

He felt driven to become a doctor. But Wilcox hadn't gone to college. So with a wife, kids and two jobs, he put himself through college at night. Even after graduating, he wasn't sure about starting med school at 33.

Darrell's wife Cyndi Wilcox said, "I said, "f you really want to do it, figure out what it's going to take and we'll look at the finances and we will make it happen.'"

Wilcox started at UT Houston medical school with savings, student loans and nine-month-old twins Abby and Savannah.

He recalled, "Those first years in medical school were so tough because I was always studying and she was basically a single mom at the time."

But army discipline paid off.

"He's got a family, he's got kids, responsibilities, bills that younger kids don't, but if you do want something you can make it happen," Cyndi said.

The Army Ranger achieved the dream. Thursday night he became Dr. Darrell Wilcox, graduating from UT Houston medical school with honors. He'll go to Duke for an anesthesia residency.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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