Peers mourn loss of USF student

When USF student Kayoko “Kay” Ishizuka was killed by a hit-and-run driver Saturday, she left behind a legacy of more than just years of cancer research.

Ishizuka was riding her bicycle on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in the bike lane by University Square Drive when she was hit by a “dark red Ford Explorer with right front-end damage,” according to the Tampa Tribune. She died later that morning.

As a member of the USF community, Ishizuka was involved in many groups and organizations and leaves behind friendships left unfinished.

Robert Deschenes, chair of the department of molecular medicine, said he has known Kay for seven years and that she followed him from Iowa to Wisconsin and finally USF to complete her Ph.D.

“I happened to pass her driving to school, riding her bike in the snow,” Deschenes said. “Then, she appeared in my office and said, ‘I’d like to work in your lab.’ I told her that anyone who’s tough enough to (ride their bike in the snow,) I’d love to have in my office.”

With a dedication and love for science, Ishizuka would never quit until the work she had started was finished, he said.

“Kay was towards the end of finishing a paper,” Deschenes said. “As a lab, we will have to figure out how to finish the paper. In this situation, the paper will probably end up being dedicated to her – it will be the culmination of the projects that she’s been working on for the last few weeks or so.”

He said it takes a lot of “tenacity and commitment” to get through a Ph.D. program, the same passion that she showed for her biking.

“The typical way you’d see Kay either coming or going was helmet, glasses, and elbow pads on and she had lights on her bikes,” he said. “She was a real bicyclist enthusiast, and she understood what the real safety part of it was. But nothing is going to protect you from this kind of accident.”

Kay went to a lesson in Aikido, a type of Japanese martial art, went back to the lab and was on her way home when the accident occurred Saturday, Deschenes said.

David Mitchell, assistant professor of molecular medicine, worked with Kay in the lab and said she was an “all around good person.”

“She loved to do everything from scratch,” Mitchell said. “You didn’t go out and buy stuff (pre-made,) you made it yourself. She loved to feel the accomplishment of having made something yourself, with your own hands.”

He said Kay was a private person who didn’t publicize her life, but that if you had to define passion, hers would be biking.

“In 2007, she rode a bike from Milwaukee, Michigan to Muskegon, Michigan,” Mitchell said. “And then, she took a ferry back across Lake Michigan. She did this as a vacation for herself.”

Vladimir Valdez, a graduate student majoring in molecular medicine, said Kay was one of the sweetest people anyone could ever meet.

“She would always take the time to explain things to you,” Valdez said. “She was knowledgeable in all things, and she was always fixing the equipment in the lab when it would break down.”

He said he could come to Kay with any problem that he had – science related or not.

“Once, I lost my dog and when I came in and told Kay about it, she asked me if I had tried Craig’s list,” he said. “Two minutes later, she sent me a link to the picture of my dog on (, and another 30 minutes later my dog was back at my house.”

Deschenes said a date for Ishizuka’s memorial service has not yet been set, but her family is flying in from Japan to make the necessary arrangements.