The Jeremiah G. Mills Endowed Scholarships
In 2001, Dr. John G. Mills, a professor at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, and his family suffered one of the most emotionally wrenching experiences a parent or sibling can go through — the loss of a child.
Jeremiah G. Mills was just 16 years old when he was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma — a rare form of cancer found in bones or the soft tissue around the bones. After five hard-fought years, he lost his battle to cancer at 21 years old.
“I was very young when he passed, so I didn’t get to spend much time with him,” said Heather Mills, Jeremiah’s younger sister. “But I know he wanted to be a pastor and he had a heart for serving others.”
After he passed, Dr. Mills and his wife, Kaylene, wanted to find a way to continue his legacy of service, leading to the creation of the first Jeremiah G. Mills Memorial Endowed Scholarship in 2006. This fund was created to honor Jeremiah and advocate for medical care in rural areas. Now in 2023, that single endowed scholarship has expanded to five.
Students from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine are eligible to apply for this scholarship, but they must be on the rural medicine track.
The passion for rural medicine embedded itself in Heather from an early age while listening to her father tell stories about his time practicing in rural Texas. Fast forward 20 years, and while she isn’t practicing medicine, she is actively working to make sure those in rural areas get the care they need.
“After listening to my dad talk, I knew the people in those areas needed care, they needed medical education and they needed people from the Health Science Center,” Heather said.
Handing over the reins
Dr. Mills has overseen these scholarships since their inception. This year, he officially handed over the reins to Heather. She will oversee the funding, operations and growth of all five scholarships and the scholarship program as a whole.
“Heather will continue our family’s tradition of support for rural medicine and a veterans’ preference for the PA scholarship,” he said. “I know she will take great care of these scholarships and continue to grow them.”
Heather will continue to fund and support the five current scholarships in their entirety and hopes to add more soon.
One of the first ways she plans to grow the scholarships is by making sure the students who get Jeremiah’s scholarships are taken care of. Choosing rural medicine means choosing to care for the underserved over a big paycheck. It also means being away from home for extended periods of time — for those students with young families, this can add an extra set of challenges. Heather intends to carry out Jeremiah’s legacy by being the solution to those challenges.
“For example, if a father of two is away on rotation and his wife calls because they can’t afford their baby’s formula, I want to be his first call,” she said. “These students are sacrificing a lot to provide care to those who need it most.
“I know Jeremiah would want me to make sure they are taken care of so they can continue to serve those communities.”
Living his legacy
In addition to taking over the scholarships, Heather recently joined the Willed Body Program at HSC as part of the decedent care removal team — a passion she found thanks to Jeremiah.
After experiencing loss and grief as a young child, Heather realized she shared a similar calling to Jeremiah — serving others through being a part of end-of-life experiences. Now that she’s at HSC, she gets to pick up the decedents and bring them to campus so students can train to be the doctor who hopefully finds a cure for Ewing Sarcoma.
“I’m honored to get to do this for HSC,” Heather said. “My hope is that one day what I’m doing with the Willed Body Program and the scholarships will lead to the doctor who treats someone like Jeremiah, or even finds a cure for cancer.”