Medicine Alumnus Establishes Physical Therapy Scholarship Honoring Employee, Alumna
By Danette Baker
Some people come into your life, and you just never forget them. Avery Young Rademacher was one of those people. In November 2015, Avery passed away at age 32 from glioblastoma multiforme, a highly aggressive and complex type of brain tumor.
In the year since her death, those touched by Avery’s love for life and passion for her career as a physical therapist established a scholarship endowment that continues to increase, providing a coveted gift to help others who share her passion.
A generous gift by Scott A. Smith, M.D., (Medicine '91) a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and partner in Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates in Austin, Texas, where Avery worked, along with a gift from Texas Orthopedics, established the Shawn "Avery" Young Rademacher Doctor of Physical Therapy Scholarship Endowment. The endowment will provide annual scholarship support to physical therapy students at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
"She (Avery) was very enthusiastic about encouraging others to continue their education, so I have to believe she would be happy knowing help is now there," Smith said. "I’m happy to have played a role in something that Avery believed in with such passion."
Smith's endowment to honor his former employee came simultaneously with a group of Joe Young's friends who wanted to honor his daughter's memory. They initially looked into a scholarship at Camp Mystic, where Avery attended annually growing up and then returned to as a camp counselor while she was in college. The camp, however, was not set up to accept charitable donations, so Joe had begun the process of establishing a 501(c)(3) when the family learned about Smith's endowment at TTUHSC.
"It was a no-brainer to get on board with the doctor," Joe said. "Avery loved the Health Sciences Center and her job."
The Youngs say, through hard work, they were blessed to have put Avery through graduate school without student loans. "Avery knew she was blessed to have been gifted that education," said her mother Page Young. "She would often tell us how many of her classmates had to work and take out loans to attend school so she knew what an honor it was to have that type of support. She even applied for and received one scholarship because she wanted to soften the financial burden for us."
Ethan Walker, a student in the DPT program, received the first scholarship awarded through the endowment. "Avery's remarkable academic, athletic and career achievements during her life have been inspirational to me," Walker said. "I will remember this blessing and hope to further honor Avery in my future clinical practice by attempting to shine as bright as she did."
Avery Young Rademacher’s zest for life was evident in her bohemian, freestyle spirit, but she was also focused, determined and even a little stubborn when she set her mind to something, said her parents, describing their daughter, an identical twin. She was born one minute after her sister, Ashley. They also have a younger brother, Jake.
Joe and Page said Avery and Ashley were fiercely competitive – from athletics to academics. They were stellar high school athletes, winning state championships in soccer that cost both of them multiple knee injuries requiring physical therapy for rehabilitation. Avery made a connection during her physical therapy sessions, said Ashley, which planted the seed, cultivated in her kinesiology studies at the University of Texas, which led to a career that was more of a calling than simply a vocation.
The sisters shared a secret language that, Ashley recalls, often led to unintended duplicity – from finishing each other's sentences to walking into the same college freshman class despite selecting courses independently. Their one difference, she said, was that Avery had solidified her career path by the start of their sophomore year -- physical therapy -- and she knew she wanted to return to Austin to live, despite its challenging job market.
A die-hard Texas Ex, Avery applied to the University of Texas at Galveston's physical therapy program. But her alma mater's system was not in sync with Avery's timeframe. Joe said UT didn't move as quickly to accept Avery as she expected. With her younger brother Jake headed to Texas Tech, and longtime family ties to Lubbock and the university, Avery opted instead to apply at TTUHSC. She knew the School of Health Professions physical therapy program had a stellar reputation, Joe said, so she applied and was accepted for the class of 2010. Page Young called her daughter's impatience a "God thing." Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast in September 2008 causing significant flood damage and dislocating many of its students; meanwhile, "Avery was safe and her studies were uninterrupted."
Avery's persistence continued as she began interviewing for a physical therapy position. She had one offer on the table when she got an interview with Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates. Page related her daughter's interview as told in a memory book the family received from Avery's colleagues following her death. The hiring manager wrote:
"The first experience I had with Avery is one I'll never forget ... I never knew that day would profoundly affect me in so many ways. She was professional, polite and nice, but shortly into the interview she looked at me a little oddly and said how she really wanted this job. It was exactly what she had been looking for, and she had been looking for a while and really needed a job. She had finally been offered one and was supposed to accept by that morning. They agreed for her to let them know that afternoon instead because she wanted to come for this interview.
"She wanted to know if I would be interested in hiring her in the next couple of hours. ... I usually take overnight to think on my new hires and how they might fit into the clinic and this young thing wants to know in few hours, which really threw me off my game.
" ... I really liked this girl Avery, and my gut told me to take the chance. I was both completely accurate and mistaken. Avery turned out to be an exemplary employee. My mistake was that she was not just a good therapist; she was an incredible therapist. Avery truly had compassion for physical therapy, a love for people and the desire to help everyone.
"My life changed for the better that day ... Not only was I blessed but all of Texas Orthopedics was blessed to have Avery come into our lives even if for such a short time."
From day one, (Avery) was a leader, said Smith. "She worked hard to keep herself fit, and she cared about herpatients. You could tell she cared about her patients by how she interacted with them and how they responded. She didn't only want them to get better physically so our work as surgeons would have great outcomes, she cared for their whole being."
In December 2014, Avery had worked four years at Texas Orthopedics when she was diagnosed with the brain tumor. Within a few short weeks, she took leave from her job for surgery in Austin and then moved temporarily to Houston for treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Paul Rademacher recalled his wife's response upon learning within days of the first surgery that a second surgery was necessary to remove more of the tumor. "Avery’s response? 'Game On,'" he said. "She was like that the entire time. People tried to make it sound like I was doing something heroic because I tried to stay positive right alongside her," he said. "I was really just going off her lead."
Avery very seldom stood down to a challenge, he said. In fact, that was among the qualities that made her attractive.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Paul met at Avery at a house party in Dallas, both invited by a mutual friend. They didn't begin dating until the following year, after Avery graduated and moved to Austin. They married Feb. 16, 2013.
"I never forgot how Avery made me, the stranger in the room, feel so welcome that day," Paul said. "It wasn't anything special about me, that was just Avery. She did that for everyone; she never met a stranger.
"A lot of that was because she was so well-connected. But more than anything, she was always looking out for other people."
Avery never purposefully sought attention for herself, either; in fact, she was quite shy, Paul said. But she easily became the life of any gathering, intentionally making sure each person felt welcome and known. "She even had a signature birthday greeting for her Facebook friends, "HBD, way to be born!"
He described her infectious laugh as well as dedication to helping others, but one of the things he remembers most about Avery was how vivaciously she lived.
FIGHT OF HER LIFE
Avery was angry when the doctors gave her the initial diagnosis of cancer, said her mother, but directed her emotions immediately to beating it. "She and Paul had started doing CrossFit after they married. Avery said, 'Here I am in the best shape ever, and I get a brain tumor? Well, cancer is not going to beat me.'
After six-weeks of radiation, Avery returned to Austin in March 2015 and her job at Texas Orthopedics. She slowly began working out again, gaining strength as well as self-confidence, Paul said. "She would take selfies as she saw her body transforming back into her 'fit' self. It was more of a mental game than vanity. She was even getting her energy back and talking about us returning to CrossFit."
In late summer, Avery began to experience vertigo; the tumor had returned. This time, Avery continued to work while she was on oral chemotherapy treatment, Page said. "She was so strong. She wanted to be at work even on days when she felt crummy. Unbeknownst to most of her colleagues, she would go lay down for 20 minutes between patients just to keep going."
In September, Paul and Avery participated in Austin's Brain Power 5K – initially with the intention of competing as racers; they ended up walking the entire race because Avery didn't have the strength and stamina to run. "She did the entire race course," Paul said, with more than 100 family members and friends as part of their team.
"I know she appreciated the support; she was always humbled by things like that."
Avery passed away November 6, 2015. "We still grieve, I don't mind telling you that, but we know right where she is, and we'll see her again," said her father. "She just got to see the Lord quicker than we did."
Losing a loved one is never easy. Losing a child, sister, wife, colleague and friend at such a young age is devastating. "Avery was kind of an infectious person," Smith said. "She was a tremendous athlete, she had high moral character, she worked hard and she cared for her patients. There are not a lot of PT scholarships available, so it's pretty cool to put this one out there to honor such a bright light taken so young."
After faith and her family, Avery's life was about helping others through physical therapy. Now, she always can.