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Dear John, Rest in Peace

"Your name is a part of history now."

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John Knudsen wrote to the Idaho Legislature in Feb. 2015: "I was given the death sentence five years ago. - GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
  • John Knudsen wrote to the Idaho Legislature in Feb. 2015: "I was given the death sentence five years ago.

I first met John Knudsen and Dr. James Quinn, both of Boise, in 2016. For the better part of two decades, Knudsen had been a backcountry bush pilot and Alaska State Police Trooper. Meanwhile, Quinn had a distinguished medical career, serving as an orthopedic surgeon and emergency care physician. But in 2016, Quinn was semi-retired and was studying new medications at Advanced Clinical Research in Meridian, while Knudsen had been robbed of most of his speech and motor skills by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—also known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. A story I wrote chronicling Knudsen's struggle, called "Dear John" (BW, News, Feb. 10, 2016), garnered as much reader attention as nearly anything I had written before.

"I was given a death sentence," Knudsen told me at the time.

Knudsen and Quinn didn't meet until 2016 when, in separate efforts, they each tried to contact the Idaho Legislature and prompt it to consider so-called Right to Try legislation, which would allow terminally-ill patients to access trial medications that had not yet been given full FDA approval.

"It's too late for me," Knudsen told me. "But it's not too late for someone else."

GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice

Eventually, they caught the attention of Rep. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise), who championed their cause, pushing Right to Try legislation through House and Senate committees, getting full approval from the Legislature and obtaining a signature from Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, making Right to Try the law of the land in Idaho.

"You've got an amazingly sharp mind. It's a shame that your body isn't paying attention. Here, I've got something for you," Wintrow told Knudsen four months later, tucking a pen into his clenched fist. That same pen had been used by the governor to sign the legislation into law. "Your name is a part of history now."

Knudsen died on May 14 of this year. Quinn passed away two weeks later. They'll never be forgotten by their family, friends, Rep. Wintrow or more than a few BW readers. My sincerest hope is that they'll be also be remembered by the many Idahoans who will have them to thank for easing their own struggles to find peace.

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