369911809 783956423736296 8217760245724311161 n (1)“I love him, and I miss him. The one thing that always helps is when people tell me stories. I knew a lot of [the stories] personally. But when someone says, ‘I’m a better nurse because of him,’ or ‘I’m alive because of him,’ those are the things that bring me comfort. And with this scholarship, my husband and I are going to continue his legacy.”

Teresa Dixon’s son, Derek Winchester, was a hero. In his 13 years as an emergency room nurse, he grew to be widely respected among the healthcare community as one of the most committed and skilled nurses in central Illinois.

Ever since he was a kid, Teresa knew Derek was meant to be a healthcare professional. He always took care of other kids – putting Band-Aids on their wounds. When he had to go through surgeries, he was asking the medical professionals as many questions as he could. Then, at the age of 12, he was in a rollover crash with his mom and his cousin.

Teresa said, “It was wintertime, and we slid and the car rolled. We were hanging upside down in our seatbelts, and I was just sobbing asking the boys, ‘Are you okay; are you okay?’ They confirmed they were, and Derek said, ‘Mom, since everybody’s okay, this is what we’re going to do. I can get out of my seatbelt. Now, I’m going to lift you up, and when I lift you up, you’re going to undo your own seatbelt, and we’re going to climb out the window.’ He was just calm.”

Out of high school, Derek wasn’t sure what path he wanted to take, so he went to Richland. Then, while he flipped through a course catalog, he found what he wanted to do – become a paramedic. Derek completed his Certificate of Emergency Medical Services, and in the middle of that, he worked at a hospital and fell in love with the ER.

So, he went back to school to get his LPN from Capitol Area School of Nursing. A few years later, Derek’s boss told him that he was the best nurse on her staff and encouraged him to get his RN so he could make more money for all the work he did. That’s when he went back to Richland.

“While he was working on his RN here, he still worked 40 hours a week at the hospital. He worked 12-hour shifts every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Then he would pick up hours during the week. So, he went to school full time and worked full time.”

Derek completed his Associate’s Degree in Nursing and RN at Richland. One of his professors, Judy Maloney, taught 800-900 students in her time at Richland, but she said Derek stood out in a special way.

“He was professional, kind, courteous, funny, and a true joy to have as a student in my classroom and on the hospital floor at Decatur Memorial. It was obvious early in the semester that he was well-regarded by his classmates. During clinicals, he established himself with the unit nurses as a potential future hire that experienced registered nurses wanted to have working with them for that day. They even tried to recruit him for their units.”

Derek began his career at Decatur Memorial Hospital and later shifted to HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital. No matter where he worked, the stories of him working with patients all express the same sentiment: he was an amazing nurse.

At one point, he even won a DAISY award – which is a prestigious award given quarterly at hospitals. Once you receive this award, you are a nationally recognized nurse known for compassionate care.

People can be nominated by patients, and Derek’s nominee said this: “Derek took care of my mom, attending to even the unimportant details. He made us feel like we were the only patients, and we definitely felt he showed warmth and kindness beyond measure.”

Derek was diagnosed with cancer in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was so dedicated to his patients and colleagues that he went back to work mere weeks after his first major cancer surgery. At this time, his aunt knew Derek loved traveling and wanted to honor him by submitting his name and story to a contest.

“His aunt submitted his name and story to Jet Blue Airlines for first responders. They were doing a giveaway – free flights to first responders. His aunt said that he was battling cancer but still coming to work and mentioned how he cared about other people so much more than he cared about himself. And he won two free tickets anywhere in the world that Jet Blue flies.”

Derek was never able to use those tickets. The cancer came back, and in November of 2021, Derek died at the age of 35. But his story does not end there.

A few months ago, Teresa and her husband Parry came to the Richland Community College Foundation with one goal in mind: to establish a scholarship in their son’s name. They have done it, but they need help from the community to provide financial assistance for as many future nurses as they can.

“This is really special for us to be able to do in his memory. If people give to this scholarship, Derek can still create a positive impact in this world. He’ll still be training nurses. Maybe they’ll be better nurses because of him. And maybe someday they can tell me some of their stories. I would love to hear them.”

Please donate and help train more healthcare workers like Derek. You can donate to the Derek Anson Winchester Memorial Scholarship at richland.edu/make-a-gift. (Make sure you select this specific scholarship in the designation section.) Every dollar counts.

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