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Marathon fund-raiser goes the extra mile

Dr. Jose Oberholzer Director Chicago Diabetes Project his patient Judith-Rae Ross cell transplant recipient.

Dr. Jose Oberholzer, Director of the Chicago Diabetes Project and his patient, Judith-Rae Ross, a cell transplant recipient.

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Updated: July 6, 2012 8:49AM

Like flashcards, the faces of his patients appeared in Dr. Jose Oberholzer’s mind ­— helping to distract him from pain and finish last year’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

The faces inspired him to raise $126,800 through the marathon’s charity wing, which will help fund research and cell transplant surgery at the Chicago Diabetes Project.

It’s a life mission for Oberholzer, who performs the surgeries.

“He saved my life,” said Judith-Rae Ross, 67. “The look on my endocrinologist’s face said ‘your days are numbered.’ But Dr. Oberholzer performed surgery in 2009 and now I’m not insulin dependent.”

Oberholzer, 44, who works up to 100 hours a week at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Services, remembers patients’ comments like Ross’.

“They are the engine that drives me,” he said.

His largest donation was from Richard Portillo — of Chicago hot dog fame — whose wife, Sharon, received a successful cell transplant.

“He gave a good chunk. The rest came from neighbors, friends, family, colleagues,” said Oberholzer, who would not say how much Portillo gave. “Everyone was very generous.”

Oberholzer was presented with the Richard M. Daley and Maggie Daley Award for top marathon fund-raiser during a ceremony Tuesday at Millennium Park Grill. Former Mayor Daley attended and became choked up while thanking Oberholzer for his service and fund-raising efforts, which equaled $4,876.92 for every mile he ran.

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