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Farewell to a Friend

by Marian Benjamin

The excitement of the 52nd International Respiratory Congress, with the excellent presentations, forums, and exhibits that we have come to expect from AARC, was dampened for me and other attendees by the news of the death of John A. Wolfe, RRT, CPFT. Wolfe, who was clinical specialist at North Colorado Medical Center, Greeley, and a member of RT’s editorial advisory board, died December 5 of acute myelogenous leukemia. During the congress, I talked to two of Wolfe’s oldest friends about what made him special.

John Goodman, BS, RRT, a respiratory care educator from Colorado, first met Wolfe as his instructor at St Anthony’s School for Respiratory Therapy in 1978, when Wolfe began studying respiratory care.

Goodman says, “John was the class intellectual. He was very smart and well educated. He was enamored of the education process.”

What Wolfe hadn’t anticipated, Goodman says laughing, was the “e-w-w! factor” in respiratory care. Little did he know that he would have to be dealing with mucus on a daily basis!

The class was tight-knit, according to Goodman, and the students worked together to earn money so they could attend the AARC congress.

“One project took place during Easter in 1978,” says Goodman. “John was one of 12 students who took turns wearing bunny suits at a local mall. I’ll never forget John: 6 feet tall with pink floppy ears. The class did many other projects that year and raised a total of $1,200. Pretty good money in those days.”

After school, Wolfe went to work at Porter Hospital in Denver, which, according to Goodman, had the best RT department in town.

“As a testament to how much they cared about John, several of the staff at Porter  attended John’s memorial service,” says Goodman, “even though it had been 25 years since he had worked there.”

It was while he was at Porter that Wolfe got the travel bug and went to Saudi Arabia to King Faisal Hospital, which was recruiting RTs and other medical personnel to train its staff. It was there that Wolfe met Hassan Alorainy, BSrc, RRT, then a blood donor recruiter. Alorainy, met Wolfe at the airport, and he reports, “I saw this big tall guy with a cowboy hat carrying a banjo. It was very funny.”

Wolfe shared his passion for respiratory care with Alorainy, who knew nothing about the field.

“He started talking about what he did,” Alorainy recalls, “and said, ‘Why don’t you come study in the United States?’ I wasn’t sure if my family would let me go so far away, and John said, ‘Come, I will be your family.’ ”

And so he was. Wolfe had returned to Colorado, and all during the time that Alorainy was studying at Loma Linda University in California, he continued to stay in touch with Wolfe and spent every Thanksgiving with his family.

Alorainy finished his studies and returned to Saudi Arabia where he became supervisor of the RT department. He called Wolfe and asked him to come to Saudi Arabia. That’s all it took! Wolfe sold his car and house and went. He stayed in the department for approximately 4 years.

“He was loved by the department, by the nurses, doctors, my family. We continued to be friends for 25 years,” says Alorainy. “He was a wonderful human being.”

Wolfe was passionate about his work—especially education and smoking cessation advocacy—and was active in spreading the word about smoking cessation programs, so much so that a representative of the American Lung Association stood up at his memorial service and said, “I don’t know what we are going to do without John, I really don’t!”

I’m sure this echoes the thoughts of all of us whose lives were touched by this great guy.

John Wolfe is survived by his wife, Pam; two children, Martin and Tami; his brothers Roger and Gary; and his sister, Joyce.

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