McKnight family struggles after brain surgery |

McKnight family struggles after brain surgery

Renee ShadforthThe McKnight family - Mary, Christopher and Ron (from left) - sit in their home in Reno. Ron was diagnosed with benign brain tumors in the fall, and now the family faces a barrage of medical bills.

The McKnight family knows a tumor the size of a small grapefruit can do more than take over the brain – it can control the lives of an entire family.

In mid-October, 2003, Ron McKnight was at the post office when he felt numbness in his fingers and lips. On his way home, he stopped by the doctor’s office to check it out. A couple weeks and several tests later, Ron, a former Truckee resident now living in Reno, was diagnosed with olfactory groove meningioma, a benign tumor that was growing slowly inside his brain.

It has drastically changed the lives of Ron and Mary McKnight and their 15-year-old son Christopher, a family that has continued to be active in the Truckee community despite their move to Reno one year ago.

Ron’s condition has been both an emotional and financial strain, Mary says; the McKnights’ health insurance scarcely pays the medical bills.

“You think it’s over and you get another bill and then you get another bill. It just keeps coming,” Mary said, shaking her head.

Ron underwent a 16-hour neurosurgery on Dec. 22, 2003, at UC San Francisco and has had a relatively successful recovery (“I’m not quite as sharp as I used to be,” Ron joked). However, regular visits to doctors and specialists have become part of his life.

The McKnights estimate they owe $175,000 from Ron’s brain surgery and the cost of radiation treatment on a small piece of the tumor surgeons had to leave in Ron’s brain. In April or May, Ron will go under the knife again to remove a smaller tumor above his ear, so the bills are going to keep on coming.

“I’m just getting better now, and now I have to go through it again,” Ron said, adding that he wants to be back at work as soon as possible after his second surgery this spring.

Ron has maintained his construction business in Truckee to keep steady income, but he has remained on the sidelines.

“People see my truck around there, and they think I’m back to work but really I’m doing the easy stuff,” he said.

Mary, a retired nurse, has taken on a job at a local pharmacy. However, throughout Ron’s recovery, she has spent most of her time by his side, helping him get well.

A strong Truckee connection

Although the McKnights no longer live in Truckee, the people who know them remember them as active community members. In her nearly 20 years as a nurse, Mary worked in just about every doctor’s office in town. After retirement, she started Mountain Ministries, a nonprofit food bank “for anyone of any kind,” she said. With a strong base of volunteers, Mountain Ministries still operates today.

Ron, a general contractor, is still building houses in Truckee. He helped support his wife’s nonprofit organization by carting around food and clothing in his company truck for people in need. Ron was a member of The Ducks softball team – one of the first teams in the Old Buddies softball tournament – and he volunteered with youth sports programs.

Now, a group of people in Truckee are asking people to step up now that the McKnights are in need.

Melinda Baumann-Fisher, the founder of Truckee-based nonprofit Helping Hands, has donated $2,000 through her organization to the Ron McKnight Benefit Fund.

“These people (the McKnights) have given so much, and now they find themselves in a time of need,” Baumann-Fisher said.

A few of the McKnights’ friends started the fund at Plumas Bank to give the family the financial aid they will need for the next six months – to help pay the doctor bills, the mortgage and the day-to-day necessities.

What could have been

Ron claims he isn’t too worried about his next surgery, although Mary says she thinks it’s Ron’s defense mechanism to deny anything could go wrong.

However, Ron said he realizes what could have happened if he didn’t go to the doctor right after feeling symptoms.

“Right now, I could have had a severe stroke. I could have been driving. I could have killed myself or someone else,” he said. “You never know what the next day’s going to bring anyhow.”

Despite the hardship the McKnights have faced in the last few months, they said they’re trying to remain positive.

Mary said Ron’s recovery has been nothing short of a miracle.

“I have experienced two miracles in my life,” she said. “Christopher coming into our lives 15 years ago and experiencing the successful first chapter in Ron’s surgery. Most people don’t get to experience one miracle; God has blessed me.”

The Ron McKnight Benefit Fund has been set up at Plumas Bank in Truckee, 11429 Donner Pass Road.

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