By Wendy Sarubbi | April 11, 2024 1:27 am

Nicholas Diebel was 2 when his physician father died while helping others. Today, the son works to create more doctors like Don Diebel Jr., and those efforts have helped UCF College of Medicine students care for patients in need.

Dr. Don Diebel, Jr., left, and his father Dr. Don Diebel, Sr. practiced together as OB-GYNs before the son’s death in 2002.

The Diebel Legacy Fund at the Central Florida Foundation supports the free KNIGHTS (Keeping Neighbors In Good Health Through Service) clinic at Grace Medical Home, where medical students work with community physicians to care for the underserved. This year marks the 10th anniversary the student-run clinic has helped care for Grace Medical’s 3,600 patients. Over the years and with the Diebel’s support, KNIGHTS has expanded to include pediatric as well as adult care, and has transitioned from solely providing primary care to offering 10+ specialties, including procedures.

“We’re amazed at the work the students have done,” said Nicholas, who now runs the Diebel foundation. “We have created a very special program that allows them to learn patient care in real time and help people who have run out of options when it comes to healthcare. Through the KNIGHTS Clinic, we hope we can train future doctors like my dad, who have an emotional relationship with their patients and don’t just treat them as a business transaction.”

The Diebels are proud that KNIGHTS is unique nationally because it is partnered with an established community free clinic and because students at KNIGHTS are so focused on expanding and improving the care they provide. UCF medical students have received national recognition for their quality improvement initiatives and research on improving clinic operations. The College of Medicine holds yearly lunches with the Diebels to give updates on the clinic that Dr. Magdalena Pasarica, it’s medical director,  calls “a beacon of hope for our community.”

The family patriarch, Dr. Donald Diebel Sr., was an Orlando OB-GYN who practiced for more than 40 years. He says he first saw his son’s ability to connect with people when the two went to Honduras on medical mission trips. Don Jr. was in college. He didn’t speak Spanish. “Even so, he had such a way with people and such a connection, especially with the children,” the father said. “What was special about Donnie wasn’t just his approach to medicine but his approach to life and humanity in general. I was so delighted he went into medicine and then became an OB-GYN and joined me. It was the best five years of my practice.”

When the work day ended, Dr. Diebel Jr. offered his care to people at their homes when they couldn’t afford a doctor’s office visit. He volunteered with programs that helped the needy and homeless. On June 8, 2002, he stopped as a Good Samaritan to help a couple in an accident on the Florida Turnpike and was hit and killed by an oncoming vehicle. The Diebel Legacy Fund is committed to helping create more Good Samaritans in his name. As Dr. Diebel Sr. explains, “Anything you give to others comes back to you many-fold.”

Nicholas Diebel talks about being in high school and meeting classmates his father had delivered as an obstetrician. He says people still come up to him – and to his father – at restaurants and other public gatherings and talk about how both physicians cared for them, not just as patients but as people.

“Every time I hear those stories, I realize that people are not just talking about my dad as their doctor, but as their friend,” he said. “ Looking back on 22 years, I wonder how many more people he would have helped and wasn’t able to.”

The Diebel’s support of KNIGHTS Clinic is designed to carry on Dr. Don Deibel Jr.’s spirit. To instill in UCF’s physicians-in-training a heart to connect with patients despite the challenges of today’s profit-driven healthcare system. To inspire them to be community volunteers and Good Samaritans. To serve others, as “Donnie” did.

“My years of practice have taught me that if you just take that extra 15 minutes to listen to a patient, they’ll tell you their diagnosis,” said Dr. Diebel Sr. “But as doctors we tend to interrupt. Donnie and I both knew that sometimes patients didn’t need a prescription or a treatment. They just needed someone to talk to.”

To learn more about the Diebel Legacy Fund, visit Diebel Legacy Fund at the Central Florida Foundation

Thursday, April 11 is Day of Giving, a celebration of all things UCF. If you would like to support the medical school, including programs like KNIGHTS Clinic that help our community, please visit

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