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The Leighis Chronicles

The Leighis Chronicles is written by Richard McDonough and focuses on aspects of medical care. "Leighis" in Irish (Gaelic) translates to "Healing" and "Medical" in English.

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  1. The Leighis Chronicles How One Doctor Gave Life to Many and How One of Those People Made That Life Worth Living A Woman from Chadwicks (Part Five) On the morning after my mother, Alice McDonough, had her second heart surgery – it was a Saturday morning – my father, James McDonough, got a telephone call from Dr. Robert P. Glover. There had been complications following the open-heart surgery. The doctors needed more blood. Alice McDonough had been given a tracheotomy – her throat was cut open while wide awake – with no anesthesia. She needed to breathe and the attending doctor acted quickly to again save her life. Dr. Robert Trout is seen here being honored at Presbyterian–University of Pennsylvania Medical Center (now known as “Penn Presbyterian Medical Center”) in Philadelphia in 1979. (Photograph is provided courtesy of The Presbyterian Medical Center Records of the University of Pennsylvania Archives, 1979.) Both Dr. Robert G. Trout, the person likely to have done that surgical procedure as a member of the team of doctors assembled by Dr. Glover, and my mother each told me that they recall the words the doctor said that morning as he cut her throat: “Hold still little girl.” She did. She understood that her life was in his hands. In the phone conversation with my father in 1958, Dr. Glover explained that Alice McDonough had been immersed in a tank of ice after the tracheotomy. The goal was to lower her body temperature and allow her heart to slow down. She remained immersed in that tank of ice for three days. I’m told that you would not have been able to see her body in the ice. Instead, you would only have seen the tubes connected to her body coming out of the tank. James McDonough rarely showed emotion throughout his life. But on that day, he hung up the telephone and sobbed in the arms of his mother-in-law, Caroline Watson. His wife was slipping away in a tank of ice with a hole in her throat. He knew what he had to do. He wiped his eyes and put on a sports jacket and went in search of blood. On a Saturday morning. In December of 1958. My father was aware that the United States Army Reserve was training that Saturday at the nearby PH-67 Village Green Nike Missile Base in Aston Township in Delaware County in the suburbs of Philadelphia. During the 1950s, the United States Army maintained a series of missile bases and silos throughout the region to protect Philadelphia and surrounding communities from foreign military attack. Aston, located just outside of Chester, was the location of one of these missile bases. Within miles of that base were the Sun Shipyard in Chester, the United States Navy Yard in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia International Airport, and oil refineries in several communities. An aerial view of the PH-67 Village Green Nike Missile Base in Aston, Pennsylvania, in 1958. My father spoke with the commander at the missile base and asked for his assistance. The commander agreed to help. He assembled all of the men and explained that the request that was about to be made was one that each man should consider as a volunteer – not as an order. My father then explained to the men that his wife was in desperate need of blood. That he needed their help. I can only imagine the words he used to beg those men to help save his wife. I am told that every single man assembled that day at that Nike Missile Base agreed to volunteer. They stopped their Army training (and the Army let them stop their training for that day) and all drove into Philadelphia. At The Presbyterian Hospital, the men were individually given blood tests to determine which blood was compatible. Twelve men had the needed blood type. I do not know the names of those twelve men, but I and my family owe them a debt that we will never be able to pay. Their blood helped save my mother again. And soon thereafter, would help provide the nourishment for my mother to carry me and allow me to be born. Part Six of this series will explain how a life, while not perfect, was made worth living. How knowing that life, no matter how short in duration, could be used to confront silence in the face of evil. If you have a question or a suggestion about nursing, please contact Richard McDonough at leighischronicles@gmail.com. Your question or suggestion may be used in a future news column. © 2019 Richard McDonough
  2. The Leighis Chronicles How One Doctor Gave Life to Many and How One of Those People Made That Life Worth Living A Woman from Chadwicks (Part Four) Many people worked together for a common goal – the life of one woman, my mother, Alice McDonough. People living in Chester, Norristown, Coatesville, Lima, Trainer, Prospect Park, Philadelphia, and other communities in Pennsylvania helped save my mother. James McDonough, my father, coordinated efforts with the doctors to secure blood donors. You see, at that time in the 1950’s, in many cases, patients had to supply their own sources of blood for surgeries or patients had to guarantee that they would re-supply the hospitals with blood to replace the amount that was used in their surgical procedures. “Fresh” blood was needed for use in the heart/lung machines. Donors who had been tested to determine that their blood would be compatible with the patient would arrive at the hospital shortly before the actual surgery to donate their blood. Dr. Robert P. Glover and others on his team spent weekends in Chester testing people to see if they had the correct blood type – A. Rh. positive. James McDonough secured support from both labor and management at his place of employment, Sun Shipyard in Chester. Members of the local union at Sun Shipyard, neighbors, and others lined up to be tested to provide the blood needed for my mother to have her second heart surgery. My father explained that Sun Shipyard provided a guarantee that any additional blood needed, beyond the blood raised, would be paid for by the company. (I’m told that the guarantee was not used because my father and the doctors were able to secure all of the needed blood.) In the cabinet near my mother’s bed were notes listing the people who gave blood to sustain her life. Some of the names were recognizable to me from photos of Chester in the 1950’s. But I did not recognize most of the names. While I was never able to personally say “Thank You” to all of them, I did have the opportunity to personally thank four of them. Two of the men listed introduced themselves at my father’s funeral in 1993. One came up to me and poked me in the chest. He said “You’re here because of me.” I knew what he meant. I was able to say “Thank You” to both of those men at that funeral. Shortly after my mother’s funeral in 2009, I was able to locate two other men who had donated blood in 1958. Both wished to remain anonymous but both hail from the suburbs of Philadelphia – one in West Norriton, one in Lower Providence. Both men gave blood through the request that my father had made to Local 428 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry in Norristown. My father and both of these men were plumber steamfitters. (This union local is now part of a larger local that includes ten counties in eastern and southeastern Pennsylvania.) I expressed my deep thanks to both of those men for what they did in 1958. One of the men explained that he remembered seeing my mother at The Presbyterian Hospital. She was in a room there, he explained, and looked in bad shape. Both men were proud that they could help. Among others listed in the notes were two employees of Lukens Steel in Coatesville. I was proud to see that companies like Sun and Lukens Steel worked together with their local unions to help one family. Recall that I don’t believe in coincidences. In 1990, I was able to personally thank the leader of Sun at a function in Orlando, Florida. We were both there to attend a meeting of the American National Red Cross. I treasured the fact that I could express my family’s appreciation to Sun for its leadership in 1958. The likelihood that we would both be in the same place at the same time was more than a coincidence. I did not know of the involvement of the Lukens Steel employees until seeing those notes in my mother’s cabinet in 2009. The family that had run Lukens Steel during the 1950s is now among leaders in philanthropy in Chester County, Pennsylvania. In recent years, I was able to thank that family – the Huston family – for their leadership. You see, the Huston family helped with a community project in recent years. In 2007, we worked together to provide 20,000 diapers for families of the Pennsylvania National Guard in six counties in southeastern Pennsylvania. Part Five of this series will detail the involvement of the United States Army in saving my mother’s life. If you have a question or a suggestion about nursing, please contact Richard McDonough at leighischronicles@gmail.com. Your question or suggestion may be used in a future news column. © 2019 Richard McDonough
  3. The Leighis Chronicles

    Life-Saving Surgeries : A Woman from Chadwicks - Part Two

    The Leighis Chronicles How One Doctor Gave Life to Many and How One of Those People Made That Life Worth Living A Woman from Chadwicks (Part Two) As a young person, my mother, Alice Marie McDonough did not let the risk of death stop her from marrying her childhood sweetheart, James Walter McDonough. Both grew up in towns near Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania. She in Taylor, he in Minooka. (I would be remiss if I did not note that residents of Minooka are quick to let you know that while Minooka is legally part of Scranton, Minooka has its own culture as a distinct town.) Neither my mother nor father grew up in what would be called a normal childhood. Both were raised during the Great Depression without their natural fathers. My mother’s father died in a traffic accident when she was a little girl. My father’s father died when my father was a baby. My mother was raised by a very good man who married her mother years after the death of my mother’s natural father. My father was raised alongside his two brothers by the Roman Catholic priest that was the pastor at their parish. Both of my parents moved to towns in Delaware County in suburban Philadelphia during the World War II time period. My mother graduated from Glen-Nor High School in Glenolden in 1943; she started working at Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone in 1944. My father joined the United States Army and was stationed in Curacao. After the war, they married in 1946. Eventually, they moved to Chester, Pennsylvania, and began to raise two children. In 1952, Alice McDonough underwent her first major heart surgery. The closed-heart surgery was performed at Hanhemann Hospital in Philadelphia. (The hospital is now known as “Hanhemann University Hospital”.) Dr. Robert P. Glover inserted his finger into the hole in her heart and stitched a thread around his finger. He did this without the ability to visually see his stitching. (Yes, you read correctly. The surgeon did not have the ability to see the stitches as he strived to repair the hole because the heart was not fully opened during closed-heart surgery.) Both Alice and James McDonough thought that this surgery solved her problem. They went back home to Chester to get on with life. But the surgery in 1952 was, in reality, a medical procedure to keep her alive long enough for a new procedure to be developed more fully – open-heart surgery. She underwent that open-heart surgery at The Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia in 1958. (The hospital is now known as “Penn Presbyterian Medical Center”.) In both surgeries, she knew what the odds were for success. Limited. More than likely, the odds were for possible death. But she also knew what the guaranteed result would be if there was no surgery. Certain death. Dr. Glover and his team gave Alice McDonough the opportunity to live. In 1990, my father told me what he had thought of the doctors at that time in the 1950’s – that the doctors were “butchers”. That’s the specific term he called them. Many others during that time period, including leaders within the medical community, had similar views. Many people died on the operating table. Doctors were accused of trying to be God while operating on the heart. At the time of the surgeries, my father was vehemently opposed to my mother proceeding with these experimental operations. He did not want to lose his wife and the mother of their two children. When I asked my mother why she went forward with the second surgery given both my father’s view and her knowledge of what had happened during the first surgery, her answer was very simple: “I wanted to live.” How did two completely different viewpoints get resolved? Simple. My mother prevailed. So even in the 1950’s, when most wives not only listened to the advice of their husbands but also followed that advice, there were times when husbands listened to the advice of their wives and then followed that advice. Her willingness to risk life was helped through compassion from so many people. So many individuals worked together to try to beat the odds so that my mother would be able to live. A team of doctors, nurses, and other technical people. The community overall. Several hospitals. Major corporations. Blood donors. An extended family. The United States Army. So many individuals, many of whom first met my mother as she lay on an operating table, in a tank of ice, or in a recovery room in a hospital. But one specific man stands out among all those that helped. A doctor who led the efforts for life. His own life, though, was cut short by disease. While his time here on Earth was limited, he helped give life to so many others. Part Three of this series will detail the leadership of Dr. Glover and how he saved my mother’s life. To read Part 1, go to How One Doctor Gave Life to Many and How One of Those People Made That Life Worth Living - Part One If you have a question or a suggestion about nursing, please contact Richard McDonough at leighischronicles@gmail.com. Your question or suggestion may be used in a future news column. © 2019 Richard McDonough
  4. The Leighis Chronicles A Woman From Chadwicks (Part I) Ten years ago, a woman died in Norristown, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She had lived in an adjacent municipality, Plymouth Township, for more than 46 years. Beyond an obituary notice, there wasn’t much attention to the death at that time. Fifty-eight years ago, a man died in Lower Merion Township, also in suburban Philadelphia. Obituaries of his death appeared in newspapers from Omaha to the City of New York and from Winnipeg to Tucson. But few remember that man today. Alice Marie McDonough, at the far right in this photograph, and James Walter McDonough, at the far left, husband and wife, are seen here at the Glen-Nor High School Class of 1943 Reunion in Chester, Pennsylvania, in June of 1956. On this Mother’s Day, perhaps you’d join with me in reflecting – not on those deaths, but on the lives of those two people: A woman who helped make a tremendous difference not only in the lives of her family, but in the lives of countless others who are alive today because of sacrifices by her and others like her. And a man who sacrificed much to give life to that woman and to others like her who had previously been destined to die young. My mother, Alice Marie (Swift) McDonough, was laid to rest in September of 2009. Her funeral was similar to what you would see with other families raised in Irish traditions. Tears flowed, but the real tears were reserved for the privacy of our homes. While sad in some respects, an Irish funeral is more a celebration of a life rather than the mourning of a death. This was even more so for my mother. Her death was a blessing. She was able to go home. We know that she is no longer suffering physically. She no longer cries out to God in her sleep. By all accounts, she should have died many years earlier – in 1952 or in 1958. Not in 2009. You see, Alice McDonough was likely one of the oldest survivors of the pioneering heart surgeries of the 1950’s. She was 26 years old at the time of the first surgery; 32 years old at the time of the second surgery. She was 83 years old when she died in 2009. She had explained to us that she was in a tunnel of light in 1958. The voices of her relatives were calling her to come forward. But she was pulled back. By Dr. Robert P. Glover and a team of doctors, nurses, and technical people who put their lives on the line to save Alice McDonough and people like her. The life of Alice McDonough was a testament to life itself. She was one of the “guinea pigs” (that was the term she used to describe herself) for medical science in the 1950’s. Philadelphia was a center of medical research and experimental surgical procedures for cardiac care at that time. Born with a heart that had a hole that was about the size of a half-dollar coin, Alice Swift knew her life was likely limited. As a young girl in Chadwicks, New York, and later, in Taylor, Pennsylvania, she was excused from physical education classes in school. Her body could not withstand the physical risks of participating in gym class. At that time in America, people like her typically died at young ages. She – and her family – lived with that prospect every day. But while she was one of the weakest people you would likely ever meet, she was also likely one of the strongest people you would ever encounter. Weak – very weak – physically. Strong – extremely strong – spiritually and mentally. She was a stubborn woman. And proud of it. Vindictive at times. Opinionated always. Without any doubt, it was that strong will of hers that kept her alive all those years. She was willing to learn and educate herself about whatever issue on which she wanted to focus. Her stubborn streak would, on occasion, give her the knowledge of facts even if those facts were not exactly correct. For much of her life, she was able to will herself to achieve her goals. In the last few years of her life, though, it became more difficult for her. The physical toll on her body was relentless. In those last few years, she needed help to breathe and she needed help to walk. She was stubborn. Though she needed oxygen to breathe, she initially did not want to wear the oxygen tubing. We had to remind her to put the tubing in her nose. We eventually did not have to remind her. She would remind us. She was stubborn. Though she had trouble walking, she initially did not want to use a walker. She would hang clothing on the walker placed next to her bed. After a time, she would use the walker every so often. Near the end, she used the walker all of the time. We eventually did not have to remind her. She would remind us. I know through the years that as doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals would examine my mother, a number of them would express surprise that I and others in the family would not be alarmed when they would tell us how bad her heart sounded or that her lungs were in bad shape. They would then listen to her stories and realize that this was our normal. That she – and we – lived with the possibilities of death every day. Not dwelling on those possibilities, but instead, living with the potential for life. Part Two of this series of news columns will detail the life-saving surgeries that made my mother’s life possible. If you have a question or a suggestion for a news column on nursing, please contact Richard McDonough at leighischronicles@gmail.com. Your question or suggestion may be used in a future news column. EDITED TO ADD: To read the continuing story go to: Life-Saving Surgeries: A Woman from Chadwicks - Part Two © 2019 Richard McDonough
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