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Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Derek Abraham


Too often, I learn about a tragedy that happened outdoors. When I am able, I try to use it to help others avoid a similar circumstance or teach them how to help someone in distress. But truthfully, sometimes the events are cruel and make no sense. When that happens, all I can do is step back and wonder, why?

I am overwhelmed today with sadness at the death of Derek Abraham, and write these words because it helps me, and perhaps will help others, to cope with his loss. I am too close to this inspirational young man and his family to make an effort to teach. I just want to remind us that each and every person has a story and deserves to be honored for the positive things they do to make life better for others. Derek certainly deserves that honor.

I have known Derek and his family since he was a small child. This past Tuesday, he graduated from Los Altos High School. I attended his graduation ceremony, because my daughter is in his graduating class. Derek was a wonderful young man – outgoing, kind, athletic, musical, compassionate, and community-minded – all attributes he nurtured with the assistance of his parents and similarly-talented brother. Derek’s father, who has been a pillar of our community with his leadership in Boy Scouts, was preparing to stand by his side this month as Derek received his Eagle Award, and his mother recently accompanied Derek and the Main Street Singers of Los Altos High School to Scandinavia on a singing tour. Derek was the focal point of friendships, activities, and adventure.

Derek’s death was a freak accident. He and his best friend, also a terrific young man whom I have had the pleasure of coaching on the wrestling team, were kiteboarding at Panther Beach near Santa Cruz. Derek was caught by a gust of wind and before he could react, was suddenly dashed into the rocks, sustaining an unsurvivable injury. His companions called for help and tried to resuscitate him, but nothing could be done to save him. I received a call from my daughter as soon as she learned of the accident and was preparing to rush to his location when she called me back, sobbing, and told me that he didn’t make it.

We all loved Derek, and we love his family. The community, and in particular his classmates and friends, have rallied around the Abrahams to offer condolences and support, but right now, we are at a loss. I practice emergency medicine for a living, and am usually strong, but today, I am not so tough. We should be the ones providing strength, but it comes mostly from Derek’s family. Yesterday, I listened to his father tell the students that they should take a lesson from Derek and “not live their lives in a box.” That is true, of course. It is impossible to be a diver, climber, backpacker, mountain biker, or kiteboarder without exposing yourself to the elements, dangerous situations, and unforeseen events. But, logic fails, I’m not practicing what I preach – I just don’t feel any better. Parents all understand. We want our children to live longer than us. My heart goes out to the Abrahams, and to every family that loses someone before their time. We will go on, but there is emptiness in our hearts. Derek, it was a blessing to know you.

photo by Lauren Auerbach

postscript - There is a nice article about Derek in the Mercury News that reflects upon what an upbeat and terrific young man he was.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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