I received a phone call one day from a man who said in a deep voice, “This is C. Everett Koop. Will you consider hosting a chat on autism for my new website?” [drkoop.com] Yeah, sure I replied…this is like getting an email from Bill Gates, you really are Dr. Koop. Like I believe that!” Shocked me when he kept calling after I hung up on him! Persistence…something he and I shared.
This was back in 1999 when we had chat rooms. Does anyone remember the Parent Soup Chat Room on AOL? How about the one for Autism? We would gather with the likes of Temple Grandin, Stephen Shore, Donna Williams, Raun Kaufmann, and then some of the parents who made headway, like Barbara Kirby and Judy Barron. Well, turns out Dr. Koop was in there too. He was in the chat room listening to what I had to say and asking me questions using a screen name that certainly didn’t give any clues as to his real identity.
Of course, I was honored after the initial shock wore off. He was so humble and someone that I could ask questions to about my own child’s development. Imagine!
He was one of the first children advocates and if it weren’t for him there would be no Children’s Hospitals, no speciality of ‘pediatrics’ and during the Reagan Administration this deeply christian man who vehemently opposed abortion became one of the most celebrated, honored Surgeon Generals of our time. He had no public administration experience, yet he fulfilled his duties of office that had never been seen before. He created an awareness of AIDS and even more so, pediatric AIDS. During the 1980’s he was a staunch educator who taught people that you cannot ‘catch’ AIDS simply by shaking hands or sitting next to a gay man. This was earth-shattering to most Americans at a time when five of my personal best friends died from AIDS. I was a fan then, but didn’t know our paths would cross in the future.
He was the first to uncover how smoking cigarettes was as addictive as heroin and that a person can’t just quit ‘cold-turkey’ but that the addiction needed to be treated medically in order to overcome it. Thank you again Dr. Koop for helping the FDA to create the nicotine patch, another part of my life where he made a personal impact.
Fast forward from there to the time when there was an epidemic of autism…numbers that we had not seen anywhere in the world before. We were swept up and didn’t know it and we still don’t know what has ahold of us. At the time I met Dr. Koop personally autism was 4 in every 10,000 and now it’s 1 in every 88 children. He tried to understand these numbers. We would correspond over the years about these numbers and how “Very horrible it must be parents to endure and to not give up looking for the answer.”
Rest now Dr. Koop and know that this world for the special needs parents is not so horrible because you made a difference. Thank you and goodnight.