Few people can say that they have been able to go on a John Deere “Gold Key” tour; even fewer can say that they have overcome an inoperable brain tumor. But 13 year-old Derek Doran can say he has done both.
Last summer, Derek Doran of Pine Grove, PA, had the life of a typical 12-year-old. He enjoyed playing his video games, going to the New Jersey shore, boogey-boarding and collecting coins. Normal life came to a halt, however, when Derek became sick in June.
“Derek had flu-like symptoms for about a week. When we took him to the doctors we expected to get him some medication and be out of there. What happened was something I would never wish on anybody,” said Derek’s father, Darrin.
A pediatrician noticed swelling behind Derek’s eyes and recommended a CAT scan. After the CAT scan, Derek had to undergo a series of tests, including a biopsy cut from the pineal gland in the center of his brain. The tests enabled the doctors to diagnose Derek with a Germinoma tumor.
According to the UCLA Neuro-oncology Web site, Germinoma tumors are prevalent in young males of Derek’s age. It reported that, “Males are up to 30 times more likely to develop Germinomas, and the tumors are most commonly found in patients between 10 and 30 years old.” Derek’s tumor, because it was located in the center of his brain, was diagnosed inoperable.
Derek was ordered to undergo radiation therapy. In August, he underwent 28 radiation treatments at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which forced Derek and his mother to stay at the Ronald McDonald House every week, returning home only on the weekends.
Meanwhile, something special was surreptitiously being planned for him. The management of Plasterer Equipment Co., a John Deere dealer, where Darrin had worked for 18 years as a service road technician, went to work organizing a tailor-made “Gold Key Tour” of two John Deere factories and a behind-the-scenes tour of the John Deere World Headquarters in Moline, IL, for Darrin and his son. (Usually “Gold-Key” tours are designed for special customers who are purchasing equipment from John Deere and want to see their machine’s creation step-by-step on the assembly line.)
Susan Ansel, head of marketing at Plasterer, contacted Cameo Robeson at John Deere Guest Services. Robeson worked with Ansel to setup the visit. Once the tour was set up, Dennis Ford, the Union assembler United Auto Workers departmental facilitator of the loader line at John Deere Davenport Works, contacted Ansel and told her the employees of the assembly line were going to contribute money to get Derek a gift.
Ford organized a fundraiser for Derek, to which every one of the 100 assembly-line employees contributed. A yellow John Deere sweatshirt was purchased for Derek, so that he would stand out and be recognized when he walked through the factories. The remainder of the funds bought a gift certificate for Derek that could be used at the factory gift shop, along with an employee discount of 20 percent.
The last week of October 2005, Derek and his father, as well as a friend of his family, Stanley Fidler, Fidler Brothers Construction, were told about the tour, and they were soon on their way to Illinois. Tim Hauser, president of Plasterer Equipment and his son, Quinn, accompanied them on the trip. They started their day by visiting the John Deere World Headquarters, which included a tour of the corporate boardroom.
“You have to be an extra special VIP to get into the Deere boardroom,” said Ansel.
From Moline they traveled to Dubuque, IA, where they toured the Dubuque Works Factory backhoe loader line and then to Davenport to see the Davenport Works Factory 4-wheel drive loader line.
“They made Derek feel like a star. There were posters welcoming Derek, and even a neon sign welcoming him to Davenport,” Darrin said. “All of the employees talked to him and treated him like a celebrity. It really made him feel good. They were great to us.”
Ford said, “The workers on the line were just as blessed as he was.”
The “Gold-Key” ceremony at Davenport was the highlight of the tour. At the end of the assembly line tour, there was a 544 J model 4-wheel drive loader with a gold plaque that read, “Built with pride for Derek Doran, John Deere Davenport Works,” and the date that the machine was built.
Derek was given a gold key on a gold chain to start the loader for the first time, which he did with the help of his father, and drove it off the assembly line (with cameras flashing).
Although Derek could not keep the loader, the gold key and gold chain were his to keep as well as a wooden version of the plaque that is hanging on a wall at home. The loader was shipped to Plasterer where it can now be rented.
The tour ended with a pizza, hamburger and french-fry lunch – Derek’s favorite.
“I was truly touched by all the Deere employees who went out of their way to create a once in a lifetime experience for Derek,” said Ansel. “After the tour, Dennis has called several times to check on Derek, that shows me how much the Deere employees were moved by Derek’s visit.”
Now that Derek is finished with treatments, his physicians have a more positive outlook and say that he has a good chance of survival. While his cancer is in remission, he is required to visit the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia every three months for MRIs and other tests. Still, the physicians have given Derek no restrictions; he can play contact sports, and enjoy his boogey-boarding at the shore.
Derek will have a scar on his head, but now that radiation therapy has concluded, his hair has grown over it and he looks like he did before anything happened.
His father is both relieved with his son’s positive prognosis and impressed with his son’s spirit.
“Through everything he went through,” Darrin said, “Derek maintains a positive outlook on life.” CEG