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One Woman's Opinion

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A life-and-death battle—again!

Mary Wakefield Buxton

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.— Most Middlesex County residents are aware of Cold War hero (Ret Col) John McKone’s presence amongst us. He and his amiable wife Norma have lived for many happy years of retirement in their beautiful home nestled in the Chick Cove neighborhood off Healy’s Cove in Hardyville.

John is a charter member of the Middlesex Rotary Club, a devoted Rotarian who served as president of the local chapter and a term as district governor. At 80 years of age, he still attends Rotary’s 7:30 breakfast meeting each Tuesday morning at the Pilot House Restaurant in Topping.

Yet, in earlier times, then Capt. John McKone achieved national fame when he and his crew’s Strategic Air Command’s reconnaissance airplane was shot down by the Russians over the Barents Sea (Arctic Ocean area) on July 1, 1960 while collecting electronic information. Two members of the six-man crew survived, including McKone, after being rescued from the icy waters by the Russians. John spent many months in prison in Moscow, including a stint of solitary confinement and questioning. During this time he endured “unpleasant” treatment.

He was finally released and returned to the United States. The book “The Little Toy Dog” written by William L. White well describes the ordeal John survived. In the book is a photo of President John F. and Mrs. Kennedy greeting him and his wife at the White House, where he and Captain Freeman B. Olmstead were acknowledged as heroes by a grateful nation.

John is once again caught in a life-and-death battle. Of course, we are all caught in a battle for life and death one way or another and we all eventually lose this battle. But it does seem tragic that some people have to experience such battles more than once in their lifetime.

John has come down with a rare lung disease that requires a lung transplant. There is no known drug or treatment today that can save his life. He must have a lung transplant to survive as his disease destroys healthy cells in his lung and will eventually stop the intake of oxygen he needs to survive.

I visited with John and Norma last week. Other than having to be hooked into an oxygen machine at all times, John was looking very well. Other than this insidious disease, he’s in perfect health. He has kept his military figure and bearing and does not look his age. He spoke frankly of his latest challenge.

It seems that growing old in America is now a dangerous occupation because it can prevent access for certain needed surgeries and procedures deemed too expensive for those unfortunate Americans who have reached an age limit. For John, the limit for a lung transplant in the Commonwealth is 65 years. 

He still has a chance for a new lung, however. He is now being treated at Duke University, which as yet has set no arbitrary age limit on approval for lung transplants. Duke operates under the belief that a man’s general health is more important than his age. John has endured many tests, and thus far no other health problem has been uncovered that would terminate his chance for getting a new lung.

His story triggered memory of my own father, who needed kidney dialysis at age 89 to continue living. Dialysis is expensive and I saw his quarterly Medicare statement with charges listed for the 3-times-a-week treatments. They were eye-popping high. But Father lived another 2 years with these life-saving treatments and enjoyed an active, rich and happy life.

What happens to our beloved senior citizens when they reach an age limit when they are turned down for medical treatments they need? Is our society now going to refuse the procedures they need because treatments are deemed too expensive?

This all strikes me as the tragedy of our times. That our nation’s medical services and scientific advances, perhaps the best in the world, have now reached a point where they are too expensive to deliver to all the people and therefore some will be excluded because of age and other factors. 

My purpose in writing this column is to honor John McKone for his past valor and services to the nation and area. But also to bring light of his battle to obtain the medical care he needs. One day his struggles could become ours. We need to be aware of the future that we are creating and one day will all face.

Dear readers of faith, won’t you add his name to your daily prayer list? Who knows? Perhaps Middlesex County’s united prayers can lift our friend and neighbor to the new lung he needs for life. It is one small way that we can say, “Thank you, John, for being there for us.”


posted 03.20.2013

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