A Heart of Gold Lives On
In September, 1997, Erik D. Steindl, certified personal fitness trainer at Restek, a senior at The Pennsylvania State University (PSU), a Staff Sergeant in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and son of Eric Steindl (also an employee of Restek), was diagnosed with a germ-cell cancer. The initial prognosis was excellent.
At the time of diagnosis, the softball-sized tumor had already invaded Erik's left bronchial tube, restricting air and blood flow to his left lung. It also was believed to be dangerously close to his heart. Surgery at this point was not an option. The doctors moved quickly to begin a very aggressive chemotherapy treatment, which they hoped would shrink the size of the tumor and restore blood and air flow to Erik's left lung. Then they would remove the remaining cancerous tissue by surgery. While Erik's family and friends struggled to accept that a strong, otherwise healthy 24-year-old could have developed such a serious medical condition, Erik continued with his studies at PSU and planned for his future.
Initial chemotherapy treatments appeared to have a positive effect, and although chemotherapy would exhaust Erik, he never lost sight of his dreams or forgot his family and friends. He continued to write, phone, and visit people whenever possible. Too sick and tired to drive himself, his family would take him to visit his friends. Erik would always say "I need to walk in and show people I'm OK so they don't worry so much." At Restek, Erik would walk throughout the entire facility, talking to people about his hopes and plans for the future. To many, he would say "I'm going to beat this cancer and write a book about it."
In October and November, Erik's condition became more complicated. His heart rate would suddenly and dangerously increase, requiring him to be flown by Life Flight helicopter to Hershey Medical Center, PA. He developed severe headaches, and it was discovered that blood clots had formed in several major veins in his brain. While in the hospital, family and friends from across the country came to visit. Each time a person entered Erik's hospital room, Erik would sit up, try to relieve the visitor's worry, and entertain them as if nothing was wrong. Despite his declining health, Erik maintained contact with friends at Restek and PSU. In December, Erik's younger brother Greg graduated from PSU. Too sick to attend the graduation ceremony, Erik stayed at home with several friends, talking and planning for 1998.
After four chemotherapy treatments and numerous tests, Erik's doctors felt the cancer was finally operable. During surgery, the doctors found the cancer had spread into the heart tissue itself, part of the left lung, and the chest wall. The night after surgery, Erik suffered a stroke from the blood clots in his brain. Gravely ill and unable to speak because of the ventilator, Erik was still fighting and writing notes to ask if his family and friends were alright. On February 14, Valentines Day, this young man who touched so many hearts, lost his fight against cancer.
On June 19, on what would have been Erik's 25 birthday, a memorial ceremony was held at Restek. Over 100 family members and friends attended from across the country. Erik's parents and brother were presented with several awards for Erik. Restek presented its highest honor posthumously, "The President's Award," to Erik for his courage and strength, which was an example to us all. Also, Restek dedicated an outdoor memorial and renamed the fitness center "Corazon de Oro," meaning "Heart of Gold" in Spanish, a language Erik had studied for many years in the Air Force and at PSU.
PSU presented Erik's posthumous diploma, awarded because of Erik's fight to continue with his studies in spite of his illness. The Pennsylvania Air National Guard, 112th Air Control Squadron, by order of the President of the United States, awarded Erik the "Air Force Meritorious Service Award." This is the highest award given by the Air Force to a non-combatant servicemen. The members of the squadron also presented Erik's family with a shadow box containing all the awards, rank insignia, and unit emblems Erik had earned during his military service.
To ensure Erik's dedication and spirit lives on, a memorial scholarship fund has been established at Penn State University. This scholarship, the "Erik D. Steindl Spanish Scholarship Fund" is awarded to a student in the Spanish Department who demonstrates outstanding academic excellence and community spirit. If you would like to make a contribution to this fund, please send your tax-deductible donation to:
Erik D. Steindl Spanish Scholarship Fund,
The Pennsylvania State University,
College of Liberal Arts,
101 Sparks Bldg.,
University Park, PA 16802.