OU Doctoral Candidate Defies Disease To Earn Ph.D.


Monday, March 28th 2016, 10:28 pm
By: News On 6


A Tulsa man is receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma while fighting to survive.

Monday, Michael Surbaugh had a unique graduation ceremony from a Broken Arrow assisted living center.

"I finished my dissertation when I was in my hospital bed," he said.

Tuesday, Surbaugh will be put in palliative care. But Monday, he reveled in his new title – Dr. Michael Surbaugh.

"I would say that this is, grand. It feels grand," he laughed.

Professor of educational leadership, and Surbaugh’s advisor, Susan Laird said, "The quality of Michael's work is just so outstanding. I mean, this is work that deserves to be published."

Laird led Surbaugh in studying Helen Keller's writings. He interpreted a concept of capability consciousness - studying the abilities of people with disabilities - until he discovered a disability of his own, a disease.

"He submitted his dissertation to me to read the day he was admitted to the hospital," Laird said.

Doctors diagnosed Surbaugh with pancreatic cancer in February.

Pancreatic cancer has now surpassed breast cancer to become the third leading cause of deaths in the U.S. The average life expectancy after being diagnosed is three to six months.

Removing the tumor through surgery is possible in less than 20 percent of cases.

"I don't know how much time I have and I want to make the best use of my time that I do have," he said.

Laird said, "Besides being a very remarkable scholar, he's a saintly man."

He’s a man passionate about helping people with disabilities, and not letting disease defeat his dream. Now, Surbaugh hopes his 200-page dissertation will be published.

The Pancreatic Action Network is hosting the Purple Light Event in Oklahoma City this Sunday. You can find more information here.