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Fellow doctors won’t forget O’Neal

November 26, 2018

CHICAGO – A group of doctors who attended medical school with Dr. Tamara O’Neal, the La Porte woman killed in a shooting outside a Chicago hospital last week, want to honor their friend with a memorial scholarship for minority medical students.

And the cause is a popular one. A GoFundMe page set up to create a Tamara E. O’Neal Memorial Fund has taken in over $31,000 in just four days. The goal is $100,000.

“On Nov. 19, 2018, we lost one of our dear friends from medical school, Dr. Tamara O’Neal ... we wanted to do something to honor her memory that would be reflective of how she lived her life,” Dr. Garth Walker wrote on the page – gofundme.com/TamaraEOnealMemorialFund.

“To this end, we, Tamara’s closest friends from medical school are starting the Tamara E. O’Neal Memorial Fund ... at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, where Tamara attended medical school,” he wrote.

The money will be used to fund the Tamara E. O’Neal Memorial Scholarship, which would provide scholarships for young, underrepresented minority medical students and/or residents.

“She was an incredible advocate, particularly for physicians of color or anyone that may have expressed an inkling of doubt, as her disarming nature and warm smile made it easy for even the shyest aspiring doctor to inquire about the amazing job she loved, and in due time lend herself as a resource,” Walker wrote.

According to Chicago Police, the 38-year-old O’Neal was the target of the Nov. 19 attack by Juan Lopez, 32, a Chicago resident and her former fiancé. He confronted her in a parking lot outside Chicago Mercy Hospital, where she worked, and police say he wanted his engagement ring back.

They argued and he shot her twice, then killed Chicago Police officer Samuel Jimenez, who was responding to the shooting; and Dayna Less, a Mercy Hospital pharmacist and 2018 Purdue graduate who just happened to be nearby.

The doctors who started the memorial fund – Breana Taylor, Christopher Hicks, Chisalu Nnchekwube, Victor Nwankwo, Talia Minor, Ameera Haamid, Elizabeth Bonsu, Alexandria Holliday and Walker – are still mourning the loss of O’Neal, who they knew as “TO.”

“November 19 was a true loss,” Walker wrote, calling O’Neal “one of the warmest human beings any person could ever talk to and be fortunate enough to develop a close relationship with. She was filled with empathy, compassion, and a love and loyalty that was unmatched. She was god-fearing and committed as she never worked on Sundays.”

Agreeing with that sentiment was Minister J’kob Lewis of the Christian Fellowship Worship Center in La Porte, where O’Neal was a member.

“Sister O’Neal was an amazing person,” Lewis said. “She loved everyone, even her enemies if she had any. She was the choir director under the leadership of her brother, Pastor La’Shawn O’Neal.

“Her smile lit up the room; her smile made you smile. My family and her family have known each other for quite a while and I was honored to meet her and call her friend. She will be missed by many.”

A 2002 Purdue graduate with a degree in psychology, O’Neal got her medical degree at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. At Purdue, she volunteered as an after-school tutor and mentor for at-risk youth. She also worked for almost a year as an ER physician at Franciscan Health Michigan City.

O’Neal, who Walker called the “brain child,” was part of a medical study crew known as OHQ (One Hitter Quitters, “a mission for excellence to describe that we take a test once, and only once.” It was “10 young black doctors seeking to make our mark in a world that lacked so few, but tied together by a ball of support encouraged and led by Tamara.”

He said O’Neal seemed to be on a mission right from her med school days.

“She wanted to be an emergency medicine doctor and save lives on the south side as soon as she walked into the doors at UIC,” he wrote. “Our quarterly updates post medical school ... were filled with laughter, ambition and conversation centered around family, friends, gossip and other mundane aspects of life.

“Her story is a testament to what happens when someone is lucky enough to have intelligence with persistence, resilience, and an unwavering principle to do right, and look out for others.”

Before starting the scholarship fund, Walker said the doctors asked permission from the O’Neal family, which they feel a part of.

“Her family, just as amazing, God-fearing and in unison, accepted all her closest friends as if they were their own, extending invitations for huge family meals and aware of the challenges that each of us faced,” Walker wrote.

“They loved often, and their commitment to God, community, and respect for brethren only further solidified/explained their ability to raise such a beautiful black physician. Her legacy will never be forgotten.”

Service, memorials for Dr. Tamara O’Neal

Funeral arrangements for Tamara O’Neal have been announced by the family.

“On behalf of my great-uncle Thomas, great-aunt Glenda, cousins Shawn & Sharita, and my entire family, we appreciate the tremendous amount of love shown towards us during this difficult time,” Turrell O’Neal wrote on Facebook. “I am still lost for words, but am grateful I get to honor my cousin during her services through the common bond of music that we shared...”

A wake will be conducted from 4-8 p.m. Friday at Haverstock Funeral Home, 602 Maple Ave. in La Porte.

The funeral will be Saturday, Dec. 1, with viewing at 10 a.m. and service at 11 a.m. at First Church of God, 2020 E. Lincoln Way, La Porte. Interment will follow at Pine Lake Cemetery, 1367 Pine Lake Rd., La Porte.

Cards, flowers and other memorials should be sent to the Christian Fellowship Worship Center, c/o Thomas and Glenda O’Neal, 2468 State Road 39, La Porte, IN, 46350.

Three memorial funds have also been authorized by the family for donations:

• The Tamara E. O’Neal Memorial Scholarship Fund to help minority students at UIC College of Medicine – gofundme.com/TamaraEOnealMemorialFund

• The Dr. Tamara O’Neal Memorial Research Fund to support studies that address gun violence and intimate partner violence, especially as it affects people of color – affirmresearch.org/tamara-oneal-memorial-research-fund/

• The Mercy Hospital & Medical Center Victims’ Fund to benefit the families of the victims of the shooting in Chicago – donate.mercyfoundationchicago.org/VictimsFund

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