On December 21, 2011 my son Patrick died of complications related to a rare degenerative muscle disease that was untreatable. He was only 36 years old. Many of you who are reading this were aware of Patrick’s epic struggle with this disease and supported him with your prayers. However, few knew who Patrick really was.
He was a brilliant young man with an IQ that was off the charts and that sometimes caused him problems. He didn’t fit in with his fellow students in high school and the teachers had trouble dealing with someone who could read an entire textbook in a few days and often got bored in class as a result. He actually dropped out of high school at one point and then got his GED, but decided to go back to high school and get his diploma because he didn’t want to leave anything unfinished.
Patrick was an Eagle Scout and was very proud of that fact. He was also a member of the elite scout honor society, the Order of the Arrow. He loved the outdoors and spent several summers as a camp counselor teaching young people about the beauty of nature. At the same time he was a black belt in karate and an accomplished kick boxer.
Patrick always wanted to help other people so he decided to go to nursing school and was determined to pay his own way by starting several small and successful businesses. He was also a patriot and joined the Louisiana Army National Guard and became a combat medic. When he graduated from nursing school he became a traveling nurse working in one of the most challenging and stressful areas of medicine, Emergency room care. However, Patrick felt that this was where he could do the most good.
In 2004 while he was working in Connecticut he volunteered to go to Iraq as a combat medic to join his older brother Sean who was a combat engineer officer. However, since he was a registered nurse the army decided to commission him as an officer and send him overseas as a nurse. Unfortunately, he failed his physical because of an irregular heart beat that was ironically the first indication of the emerging health problems. He received an honorable discharge from the military, but I learned just a few years ago that he felt guilty because he had not been able to serve his country overseas as his brothers Sean and Tim had done.
Yet, Patrick soon found another way to serve his fellow Americans. In August of 2005 he and his wife had moved back to our home town, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which is just 60 miles north of New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina roared through New Orleans and caused massive devastation and loss of life, many of the refugees and injured ended up in Baton Rouge. The hospitals were soon overwhelmed so many of the injured and homeless were housed on the Louisiana State University campus.
Pat was working his regular eight hour shift at the hospital and then going on from there directly to the LSU campus where he worked another eight to ten hours a day as a volunteer nurse. This went on for weeks and I later learned that he and his wife Sarah gave away virtually all of their clothes to the people of New Orleans who had lost everything. For a long time Patrick had nothing to wear but his nursing scrubs.
In 2006 my wife Kay, who was Patrick’s stepmother, was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer. Patrick and Sarah came to visit us in Dallas and wanted to know where Kay would like to go on a trip. Kay decided on Disney World where we had spent so many wonderful times with our six children. Pat and Sarah gave us $1,000 to get things started and then our other children, our many friends, and my fellow veterans jumped in to help raise enough money to give us a remarkable final trip together.
Shortly after Kay died in June 2008 Patrick made a special trip to stay with me for three days in Dallas. We cried together over our loss and then he went on his way to continue his ER nursing career. I knew he was having health problems, but it was not until early 2011 that it was determined that he had a terminal illness. Patrick continued to fight the disease and to work doing what he loved, helping others as an ER nurse. We talked often and I marveled at his courage. Then, about six months ago all communications between Patrick and I ceased.
He stopped talking to me. He wouldn’t respond to my emails or telephone messages. Then, I learned that he had died while in California, still working as an ER nurse. He had continued to work despite being in severe pain. I then heard from Pat’s sister, my oldest daughter that he had talked to her and told her that he knew I had watched my wife die and he didn’t want to put me through that again so he was determined to go it alone. In the midst of all his suffering Pat was still watching out for those he loved.
So, who was Patrick Connelly? He was brilliant man, an athlete, an Eagle Scout, a dedicated nurse, a patriot, and a soldier; yet most of all he was my son and I am grateful that for 36 years God allowed me to have this remarkable individual in my life. Our country needs more men like him. I miss you Patrick and I love you.