Editorials

A meeting with Dr. Kevorkian

“I’m Albert Miley and I’m from Warminster, Pa. I want you to contact my attorney Geofrey Fieger.”

So read the note pinned on “Buddy” Miley by his younger brother Jimmy when Buddy was left in the care of a physician. But this was no hospital or medical office. It was Room 146 of the Quality Inn in Livonia, Mich. And there was no insurance co-pay, just the payment of $46. And the physician was Jack Kevorkian.

Buddy Miley, 41, went to Michigan to die. By the time he got to Kevokian, Miley had been suffering for 23 1/2 years, significantly longer than the 17 he had enjoyed while able to move his limbs.

On an overcast Saturday afternoon in September 1973, Miley, a standout quarterback for William Tennent High, was injured while running what had seemed like a routine option play. Miley, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 170 pounds, gained a few yards before sustaining a blow that would leave him incapacitated. He suffered severe damage at C4/C5 of his vertebrae, or, in the vernacular of the time, he broke his neck.

Miley was initially the recipient of an overwhelming outpouring of sympathy. Eagles quarterback Roman Gabriel visited in the hospital. Eagles General Manager Jimmy Murray arranged for a “hug on the telephone” from quarterback Roger Staubach. Joe Namath, whom Miley idolized, sent signed memorabilia. Dallas coach Tom Landry visited the family home. Alan Ameche, a Heisman Trophy winner, sent Miley’s parents on a Caribbean vacation.

But time moved slowly for Miley, who was in constant pain and required full care while living with his parents. His debilitating condition placed his large, tight-knit family under a tremendous burden, particularly his mother, Rosemarie. Nearly two decades after the accident, her frustration was evident in a letter she penned to Sports Illustrated. It began: “My son broke his neck 19 years ago playing high school football. Since then, our home has been hell on earth …”

That’s when Miley’s plight became known to Mark Kram Jr., a reporter at the Philadelphia Daily News, who wrote a newspaper cover story titled “19 Years of Hell.”

Kram now has meticulously charted the entire Miley tragedy in a new book called “Like Any Normal Day.” The result is a poignant account of family love and brotherly devotion. The book also introduces us to Karen Kollmeyer, who would have had a first date with Buddy the night of the accident. While over the years their relationship ebbed and flowed, it was Karen whom Buddy talked to by phone while at the hotel awaiting Kervorkian.

Not long after that telephone farewell, there was a knock on the door, and in walked Dr. Death, wearing a black hat and dark glasses, and accompanied by two associates.

“So you’re the celebrity?” Kevorkian said to Miley in recognition of Kram’s Daily News cover story, which had been sent to him. And then, while his associates prepared Buddy to die, Kevorkian went into the hotel bathroom to prepare his lethal concoction. He emerged minutes later with a homemade device he called the Thanatron, which consisted of three glass bottles on a small frame, with a button that Buddy could use to hasten his own death while lying on the hotel bed.

It was now time for Jimmy to leave his older brother and fly home to Philadelphia.

Later than night, at the Miley family home on Acorn Drive in Warminster, Buddy’s parents and siblings gathered to mourn while fearing the unknown. Would Jimmy get in trouble? Would the cops show up and lead him off in handcuffs? Thankfully, neither occurred.

As for Kevorkian, he died one year ago after having been hospitalized for pneumonia and a kidney-related ailment. He was 83. Published accounts said that the music of Johann Sebastian Bach was played for him at the William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., so he could hear the music he loved as he was dying.

That sounds like health insurance. Hospital linens. Balloon deliveries. The company of loved ones. Skilled practitioners. Familiar walls. Facing death with comfort.

Too bad our laws didn’t, and still would not, permit Buddy Miley that level of dignity instead of a roadside hotel in the company of strangers. At least he had the best of brothers in Jimmy.

Contact Smerconish, a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, at www.smerconish.com.

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