No insurance, but plenty of friends

Music community rallies to the aid of John McKnight

Nov. 24 began as any other Monday morning for drummer John McKnight. He'd performed at the Atlanta Blues Society's "Blues Challenge" the night before and then stopped by Fuzzy's to visit friends. He'd gotten up that morning, had breakfast and washed dishes. He was using the restroom when he felt an intense abdominal pain, he says, "like somebody shot me in the stomach with a shotgun."

McKnight, 38, a full-time musician, waited a while before deciding to get to the hospital. With no health insurance — a situation he shares with 44 million other Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — McKnight typically thought twice before seeking medical care because of the cost. Still, it didn't take long to realize that this seemed serious. It was.

By day's end, McKnight had undergone emergency surgery for a life-threatening ruptured colon, caused by a condition called diverticulitis.

"Basically, part of my colon blew out," he says. "The doctors said that if I'd waited too much longer, I could have been dead."

McKnight is currently resting at home, after a week in the hospital, and should make a full recovery. However, the recuperation process will take two to three months, during which he'll need a second surgery to remove a temporary colostomy bag and reattach his intestine. McKnight will be unable to work while he is on the mend.

With no health or disability insurance, he faces daunting medical expenses — the surgeon's bill alone exceeds $13,000. He also discovered during his hospitalization that he has diabetes and high blood pressure.

Within a day or so of McKnight's surgery, his friend and musical cohort Jon Schwenke organized a benefit concert with a remarkable lineup of local blues and rock talent. The show takes place Sunday at Jake's Toadhouse in Decatur and includes "The Dunhams" live radio broadcast for Z93 FM, a silent auction and raffles for band merchandise, concert tickets and other prizes.

"[The benefit is] about the community pulling together and helping somebody in need," Schwenke says.

Schwenke and McKnight have worked together frequently since meeting at a Northside Tavern jam session in 1998, shortly after McKnight moved to Atlanta from Altoona, Pa. Recently, they were paired in Delta Moon, until McKnight left the band.

Prior to his surgery, McKnight typically performed locally six or seven nights a week and did studio work. McKnight has no day job or spouse (he's divorced) to provide health insurance, and his music income has never enabled him to afford coverage. Prior to his hospitalization, he hadn't seen a doctor in 20 years.

"The music business is a fun thing," McKnight says, "but [financially] it sucks. It makes me proud and brings a tear to my eye that there are that many loving people out there, and it makes me feel good to be part of a society where, when something happens, people are not afraid to step up and say, 'What do you need?'"

Donations to John McKnight's medical fund can be made via mail to John McKnight, c/o Delta Moon, P.O. Box 5352, Atlanta, GA 31107; online through PayPal at www.johnmcknight.org; or in person at any Bank of America location, payable to "The John McKnight Medical Fund." Donation jars are also located at Fuzzy's, Northside Tavern, Blind Willie's, Fat Matt's Rib Shack, Maddy's, Darwin's, Blues Note West and Peckerhead Brewery. For more information, contact Jon Schwenke at mcknightmedfund@bellsouth.net.


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