Paid In Full

Kirk and Barbara Johnson were never ones to take friends for granted, so they weren’t surprised when friends rallied round following Kirk’s diagnosis of colon cancer.

Kirk was just 41 years old in 2006. He had a successful remodeling business, and he and Barbara were active in the lives of their four children and other kids in their DeSoto neighborhood.

But after a recurring feeling of pressure in his gut, Kirk decided to see his doctor. When a preliminary exam and hemorrhoid surgery failed to halt the discomfort, Kirk went back for a colonoscopy.

“I wasn’t supposed to get a colonoscopy until I was 50,” Kirk said.

It was a good thing he did. Cancer was discovered during the examination and, at first, chemotherapy and radiation therapy seemed to halt the spread. However, doctors eventually had to remove Kirk’s colon, and all seemed well – until late summer of 2008.

“It came back,” Kirk said. “They told me if I made it six months to a year, I’d beaten the odds.”

Kirk’s treatments at the Olathe Medical Center (OMC) were state-of-the-art. But for a self-employed home remodeler, the costs were high.

“It wiped out all our savings,” Kirk said. “I’ve got kids in school and in sports, and those were costing us as well. “

Still, Kirk and Barb had a holiday ritual, and Christmas 2008 wasn’t going to be any different.

“We always have Christmas Eve at the house,” Kirk said. “My wife, me and the kids have dinner, and we open our gifts on Christmas Eve, because we always go to family on Christmas day. “

But things would be a tad bit different this Christmas. As they gathered for their holiday meal and the opening of gifts, they received a late night phone call.

“A friend called and said someone was coming over,” Kirk recalled, of the rather-nebulous message.

The “someone” turned out to be a group of friends. Among them were two strangers. One of them said he was Chief Elf and he’d brought another Elf with him.

“He sort of described what the Elves were, and then he handed me an envelope,” Kirk said.

Kirk and Barb sat on the couch and opened the envelope. It contained $1,000 in cash. They were astonished. But the surprise wasn’t complete.

I said shortly after that "we have to go, we have other families to visit, but there is one more thing,” Chief Elf said. “I then handed a sealed envelope from Olathe Medical Center to them and told them that we’d been asked to deliver this.

Kirk began reading; Barb nestled against his shoulder reading as well. She’d make a comment later that when she saw the OMC envelope that "I thought it was another bill". She’d seen so many.”

Instead, it was a kind note from OMC management explaining that the hospital was taking care of Kirk’s past medical bills. He was – in essence – paid in full.

“It was just so shocking to us that we broke down and cried right there,” Kirk said.

Almost a year later, Kirk said he has still “beaten the odds,” and he remains perpetually optimistic. Part of that optimism springs from the OMC gift and the efforts of the Elves of Christmas Present. And much is from the circle of friends, who continue to rally round the family.

Those friends – some of whom were present for the events on Christmas Eve 2008 – hosted a blues benefit for him last year, and organized another in November 2009. And as he looks forward to Christmas 2009, Kirk can’t help but recall the events from last year: “It was amazing,” Kirk said. “My wife figured later than it was about $38,000 in medical bills.”