Dec. 17, 2007

Two New Lungs:
SMU Student’s Graduation Delayed, Not Denied

Jerrold Dash had a lot to celebrate Saturday night when SMU awarded him a master’s degree in systems engineering. He graduated a year later than planned — interrupted by a double-lung transplant — and almost two years after doctors were ready to label his cancer a death sentence.

See a video of Jerrold Dash (left) receiving his diploma from Geoffrey C. Orsak (right), dean of SMU's School of Engineering.

“Well, I’m a statistic you’ve never run into,” Dash concludes. His graduation marks finishing his coursework, but he says it’s also his way of “sticking his chin up” at the first oncologist he met after his cancer diagnosis — a man who made it clear Dash had no hope.

Dash, 34, is a systems engineer on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. With two master’s degrees from another university under his belt, he joined a cohort of master’s candidates studying systems engineering at the SMU School of Engineering in Spring 2005. But his persistent cough and frequent bronchial illnesses were bringing down the athletic husband and father. It wasn’t until February 2006 that he was properly diagnosed with stage IV bronchioloalveolar carcinoma.

Standard treatment for his late stage cancer usually aims to slow rather than cure his disease. But Dash was ready to fight. He enrolled in a clinical trial at Stanford University Medical Center and eventually made it onto a transplant list. His aggressive pursuit of treatment meant a lonesome separation from his wife and two daughters, who remained behind in Fort Worth, but he got a new set of lungs March 6.

“My cohort graduated last December,” Dash said, almost apologetically. “I got a little distracted with all the treatments.”

Dash has never been a smoker and has become a passionate campaigner against the dangers of second-hand smoke. He says he knows the transplant is not a cure, accepts that his body constantly fights to reject his replacement lungs and that it is possible his cancer will recur. He’s banking on advances in medical care to carry him over the next hurdle, whatever that may be.

Meanwhile, this prodigious student credits the support of family and friends and the SMU School of Engineering with helping him through some of his worst days over the last two years.

“The School of Engineering, it kept my mind busy – something to focus on and something to shoot for, other than the medical goals, “ Dash said.

Visit his blog at and view a video about cancer survivors that features Dash at . Also, see a video of him receiving his SMU diploma on Dec. 15, 2007.

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