Friday, October 19, 2012

Dr Bruce Dalton

On Thursday Sept 13, 2012 my next door neighbor and his friend were killed in a plane crash in Colorado.  They were on their way to the Reno Air show to fullfill a bucket list item.

The neighborhood looks out for each other, is friendly when out and about, and is supportive in any needs but most of use live in the county for the privacy so even after more than 5 years, I never really got to know Dr Dalton all that well. 

Dr Dalton (I never got comfortable calling him Bruce since I am the same as his kids and I refuse to grow up enough to address my parent's peers with anything other than titles) was a fun guy.  He always had a smile and big wave.  Even after several years I was always amazed and inspired each time I went out in the morning and saw his canes leaning against the mounting block and realized he was out riding with his wife.

It only takes a few minutes of interaction to realize the spirit and strength he had.  Nine years ago - a few years before I met him - he crashed his ultralight MONI-1 and crushed both ankles among other injuries which eventually resulted in amputation at the knee on one leg. [Based on another conversation we had, I think a partial hip replacement on the other leg was also related to injuries from that accident and also occurred before I met him.]  I remember one of the first times I talked to him he was so excited about finally being able to walk - with his new prosthetic and a pair of walking sticks - all the way to the mailbox. He had a cell phone in his pocket in case he needed a ride home.  The mailbox is 0.8 miles downhill from the house and after the accident he was told he may not ever walk again.  He had been gradually walking further and further and now he could finally turn that exercise into a an errand of getting the mail. He also returned to horseback riding and snow skiing and of course flying.

Just a couple of weeks before he died, we had a long conversation.  He had just returned from a trip to Switzerland and I asked how the trip went.  They had wonderful weather and he got to go in a glider over the alps.  I learned that through family connections they had a regular place they went to and I was encouraged to come see pictures some time.  Somehow the conversation moved from summer activities to skiing and I heard the the story of when he first went skiing after the hip replacement (this is also when I learned about the hip replacement that was a partial instead of a full so he could get back to riding sooner).  On the first attempt his right leg went right and his left leg went straight and he fell.  This was repeated a few times.  The person with him was a physical therapist and looked at him and said "Wow, your doctor is good.  Those falls should have dislocated that hip by now."  Apparently with a hip replacement they rotate the leg out a bit to help keep it in the socket. Not to be deterred, Dr Dalton took the skis down to the shop and had them adjust the bindings askew so that with his new "natural" position that ski stayed straight.

An abbreviated version of that story made its way into the memorial service. Along with a few other stories of similar determination and character.  I learned that he taught his wife to ski when they were dating and laughed since I grew up hearing about my Dad teaching my Mom to ski when they were dating.  I learned that he snores - particularly when camping under a plane wing at Oshkosh. I heard stories of his life as a retired Army colonel, a pediatrician and occupational health consultant, a Joint Master with Red Mountain Hounds, and a volunteer with Angel Flight. He was very active with his family, friends, church, and community.

His wife walks a lot and we pass each other in opposite directions regularly but in the past three weeks we have walked together and talked more (about horses mostly) than all the years since I moved to the neighborhood.

Love and appreciate your friends and family.  You never know when your life will suddenly change and someone will be gone.

Here are a couple of the articles about the accident:
Daily Tar Heel, Sept 20, 2012
Durham Herald Sun Sept 2012

Photo from Red Mountain Hounds site.


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