Doctor's path in life still inspiring others

Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2002 at 10:14 p.m.


Troy Linn Children's Fund

The department of medicine has started a trust fund for the college education of Troy Linn's two sons. Contributions may be sent to:
Troy Linn Children's Fund SunTrust Bank Attention: Don Ryan 411 N. Main St. Gainesville, Fla. 32601 MC 0050

"I am a doctor. No, I am not yet an M.D. and I do not have a license to practice medicine, but I am a doctor nevertheless. I am a doctor the way John F. Kennedy was a Berliner; from the day I decided to study medicine, I was a doctor in my heart. I did not always know I wanted to be a doctor, but I am certain of it now; and all the events that have accompanied me down this path have changed me forever."
That's the opening paragraph of the personal statement Troy Linn included when he applied for a medical residency in the University of Florida's College of Medicine in 1999. Little did he suspect how the path his life would take over the next three years would inspire others.
When he applied for a residency in internal medicine here while in his last year of medical school at the University of Tennessee, Linn was already battling cancer. It was a battle he would lose last August, but not before earning the certificate that stated he had completed the residency requirements - the certificate that said he was, and always would be, a doctor.
And for Troy Linn, that was everything. Linn was born in 1966 and grew up in Dayton, a town of about 6,000 in East Tennessee.
He went to the University of Tennessee to earn his bachelor's degree in engineering in 1991. While in college, he worked as an upholsterer in the Dayton Laz-Z-Boy plant to cover his tuition and expenses.
A new calling Linn married a fellow engineering student, Geetha Shanmugasundara, whose family is from south India. It was the premature birth of the couple's first son, Teddy, that convinced Linn that his real calling was not engineering, but medicine.
"My son, Teddy, helped guide me into medicine," Linn wrote. "His birth represented my first significant exposure to health-care professionals; he was born prematurely, and my wife and I practically lived in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for three weeks. . . . The people and technology used to support that life also made a deep impression on me. That experience led me to a new calling, and I have been a doctor ever since."
Linn entered medical school at the University of Tennessee in Memphis in 1995, earning his M.D. degree in June 1999. Shortly before his second year of studies began, his second son, Sammy, was born - also prematurely. Like his brother, Sammy spent three weeks in the NICU.
It was in his second year that Linn was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The thyroid is a gland in the neck that acts like the body's gas pedal, and the form of cancer Linn had contracted was slow moving, but tough to treat. He underwent two surgeries at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and a six-week course of radiation therapy, then went on with his studies.
Dr. Edward Block, chairman of the department of medicine at UF, describes Linn's story as one of heroism.
"When he applied for residency, he wrote a personal statement that absolutely grabbed you. We read hundreds of these every year, but his was so moving," Block said.
Linn was admitted to the residency program despite his cancer. Block predicts that his essay on why he wanted to become a doctor "is sure to become a mantra for most of the medical trainees at the college."
Trey DeBose and Carolyn Stalvey entered the internal medicine residency program along with Linn, and DeBose said the Tennessean definitely stood out among the new residents.
"He was a fairly tall guy with short, spiky red hair - pretty hard to miss," DeBose said.
DeBose, who is from South Carolina, added, "I remember talking to him, and I was just glad to hear another Southern drawl down here in Florida."
"He didn't want to burden anyone else with what he was dealing with," Stalvey recalled. "If you didn't ask him, you wouldn't have known anything was going on."
"The guy was incredible in the fact that he had the highest commitment to patient care even though he was sicker than most of his patients," Block said.
Dedicated to patients Linn had written: "Medicine is my second career, but my first calling. I bring to my new calling an appetite for knowledge; I bring the experience of having been a patient, which has given me invaluable insight into patient care; and I bring a commitment that has been tested by adversity."
His patients loved him, DeBose said. "Troy had such a calm manner, and could relate to anyone. He was one of the most down-to-earth people you'd ever care to meet."
He was also an accomplished musician and composer, and an excellent cook, even mastering southern India cuisine.
"A guy who you would expect could make pretty fabulous biscuits and gravy turns out to have all these other talents as well," DeBose recalled with a laugh.
Geetha Linn said the couple fought cancer together for six years. They eventually divorced, their marriage perhaps one more victim of that debilitating battle.
Cancer is a terrible, terrible disease process, she says today.
"We fought this together for six years, and if Troy hadn't fought for all that time, his sons would not have known him," Linn said.
"In the last six years, we accomplished a lot. His children clearly understand that he's gone, but the most difficult part is understanding that you can't see him anymore."
Earlier this year, Linn said, Troy was going to Texas every other week for spot radiation treatments.
"I thought it would buy us a year," she said. "It gave us another month. But I'm glad he was here for that month, and I still feel like he is with me."
By spring, his fellow residents noticed that Linn's health was failing. His lungs were filling with fluid, making it difficult for him to walk more than a few steps. But he continued to see his patients.
"He had to have fluid drained off his lungs while he was here at work. He didn't want to go home, because if you're on duty and have to go home, someone else has to come in to take your place. That was the last thing Troy would allow," DeBose said.
'Determined to finish' In late July, Linn entered the hospital, where some of the same residents who had worked beside him now had to care for him.
"They were his peers and had looked up to him, so it was very challenging and emotional for them to care for a colleague that they so respected and admired," Stalvey said. "After all, Troy knew his disease better than anyone."
It was just a matter of days before Linn was moved into the intensive-care unit and placed on life support. But there was one more extraordinary moment to come.
His fellow residents came to his bedside to give him the certificate that said he had completed the requirements for his residency. Linn responded with a thumbs up, DeBose said.
"It meant the world to Troy to complete that residency," Stalvey said. "He wasn't going to let any illness stop him from doing that. He was very proud to become a physician, and very determined to finish."
On Aug. 6, Linn died. He was 35. "While he was in the ICU, we came up with the idea of a trust fund," Stalvey said. "Troy has two great little boys who are going to be without a dad."
"What he said on his deathbed to me was that the one thing he worried about whether his kids would be able to go to college," Block said.
The department of medicine has established a trust fund, the Troy Linn Children's Fund, to be used for Teddy's and Sammy's college education. The boys are now 9 and 6.
"We wanted them both to realize how important their dad was to all of us," Stalvey said.
"The thing about Troy was that his passion for being a doctor was so incredible, it is a light that is leading us even now," DeBose added. "He epitomized what it means to be a physician."
As Linn put it in his own admission essay, "I am, and always will be, a doctor."
Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or

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