When Jack Furnari died of brain cancer on Dec. 7, 2016, just five months before he would have graduated with Central Michigan University’s first College of Medicine class, his passing left a void not only in the line of graduates but also in the hearts of his classmates and instructors.
To honor the well-liked and respected student, who also did his undergrad studies at CMU, the university presented Jack’s family with his medical degree on graduation day, May 7.
But students, family and staff wanted to go further, to make sure that his legacy would not disappear over time — and to inspire incoming medical students.
Jack Furnari, center, is flanked by his mother, Tina
Jerue, and brother, Frank Furnari, in 2013.
They developed the Jack Furnari Memorial Stethoscope Program, an annual essay contest whose winners receive a new stethoscope during orientation engraved with the words “Be comPASSIONATE” and Furnari’s nickname, “JD.” Winners’ names also are engraved on a plaque at the College of Medicine that bears a photo of Jack wearing his white coat.
The essay contest
Students accepted into the CMU College of Medicine receive a flood of information about scheduling, financial aid, participation in various projects and more, said Charmica Abinojar, the college’s executive director of student affairs. Among that barrage for this year’s class was an application to compete in the voluntary stethoscope program.
The task is to write an essay that focuses on three characteristics that Jack epitomized: living with purpose throughout medical school, taking responsibility for the welfare of classmates and leaving a legacy at the college.
After reading about Jack’s life and battle with glioblastoma, nearly 20 percent of the students accepted the challenge and wrote how Jack’s life would inspire them to reach farther and become more mindful physicians, said Nicholas Cozzi, a friend of Jack and an M.D. candidate in the class of 2018.
“One of the reasons I chose this school was
because it valued each applicant as a person. I fell for the culture and the
people here and how passionate and family-like they are.” — Carmen Avramut,
Cozzi and Abinojar helped create the award with Christopher Brown, the college’s senior associate director of financial aid; and Amy Kuechenmeister, a graduate of the first medical school class and a friend of Jack.
Many of the applicants wrote how battling cancer or another serious health issue had impacted them or a family member and how it would make them better physicians, said Cozzi.
“We gave incoming students the opportunity to express how Jack’s life and the way he lived resonated with them, and they ran with it in a way that we did not know was possible,” he said.
The essay winners
The two winners were Carmen Avramut of Westland, Michigan, and Rita Asuquo of Houston, Texas.
Essay winners Carmen Avramut, left, and Rita Asuquo,
right, stand with Jack Furnari’s brother and mother, Frank Furnari and Tina
Jerue. Frank Furnari is a third-year medical student at CMU.
Avramut told of overcoming an abundance of struggles and uncertainty as an immigrant from Romania who had to move around a lot.
“One of the reasons I chose this school was because it valued each applicant as a person,” she said. “I fell for the culture and the people here and how passionate and family-like they are. I feel that by sharing his story they showed that they care about their students and they treat them as people. That’s what we want. We want doctors who treat their patients as people and not as another number.
“I think he embodied what I think a lot of students here hope to be like as physicians.”
Asuquo said her mother’s battle with cancer helped her relate to Jack’s story.
“I understand what it does to a family,” she said.
As Asuquo considered the essay, her mother encouraged her to share her experience. She said her experience with her mother has helped her open up to different opinions.
“We have to create an environment that encourages students to be open with one another, whether it’s about their own health, academics, struggles and triumphs. We need to encourage that type of environment, because that helps us be responsible to each other.”
Encouragement was one of Jack’s traits.
“Jack had a smile and a personality that drew people in,” Abinojar said. “He had a very warm and welcoming personality.”
“The thing that I remember about him in those early days is that he always looked at you and engaged with you as if you were the only person in the room,” said Cozzi.
“His care and concern were always for other people,” added Abinojar.
She told of the time when he was really sick and as part of his therapy had to wear a hat that was connected to a backpack with a power source for that stage of his treatment. Despite that, he insisted on watching her children play a football game with her — in the rain.
“It was never ever about Jack,” she said. “It was never about ‘feel sorry for me,’ it was about ‘I want my classmates to learn what we can do, let’s work together to try to find a cure for this thing.’ ”
She said that as soon as he was released from the hospital after surgery to remove a tumor, he was back in her office.
“With fresh staples in his head, his No. 1 question was, ‘How can I continue on?’ That’s all he wanted to know. … I knew that I was dealing with someone incredible.”
Jack’s determination to get his degree also had an impact on George Kikano, dean of the College of Medicine.
“He had an amazing heart, and he worked hard all the way to the end,” Kikano said after Jack’s family was given his degree. “He knew he had a fatal illness, yet he was showing up for classes and took his boards.
“Jack never gave up.”
Only at Central
Spearheaded by Abinojar, the steps CMU took to get Jack his degree and the embracing of the stethoscope program “speaks to Central Michigan University as a whole,” said Cozzi.
Having studied in other cities and now at CMU, Cozzi said he does not think such a program would be possible at other, larger universities.
“These are things like this program that make us a better community, a more mindful community. It gets us in touch with the things that matter.
“We are proud to know that our friend’s legacy will endure and that he will continue to impact new medical students every year.”