UNION — With pen in hand and heart on his sleeve, Jim Arnott is helping the state step up its campaign to convince more Oregonians to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Arnott has lost three friends to COVID-19 over the past 16 months, a trauma he has written about in a piece now part of the Vaccine Voices series the Oregon Health Authority is carrying on its COVID-19 blog. The piece was written based on answers to a questionnaire Arnott completed for the Vaccine Voices series.
All three of the friends Arnott writes about contracted COVID-19 before vaccinations were available.
“Losing friends is so painful,” Arnott said.
The Union resident focuses on the closest of the friends he lost in the blog, a Colorado man he knew for five decades whom he identifies as “KP.”
“I miss him so much,” Arnott said.
He wrote about KP to honor him and found the process heart-wrenching.
“I do not want to write any more obituaries,” he said.
Arnott said his friend was a self-employed engineer and was blessed with a mind that was as curious as it was innovative.
“One of the things he was trying to do was develop a helicopter which could run on autopilot,” Arnott said.
KP was also a woodworker who coveted the wood from the stump of a walnut tree Arnott had. Today Arnott still has this wood from the stump KP had dug out and had hoped to pick up.
Arnott, 70, says KP led a healthy life. He ate little red meat, plenty of vegetables, never drank alcohol, smoked or used drugs and exercised often.
“He did everything right. His idea of a good time was to ride a motorcycle up to Pikes Peak,” Arnott said.
Such rides put the skills of motorcyclists to the test, for 14,115-foot Pikes Peak in Colorado is filled with hairpin curves and stretches of narrow road with no guardrails.
The good health that helped KP ascend Pikes Peak did not prevent COVID-19 from bringing him to his knees.
“He was as weak as a kitten. Going from his living room to the kitchen was an accomplishment,” Arnott said.
KP got COVID-19 just before vaccines for it became available to the public. He called Arnott not long after his diagnosis.
“The first thing he told me was ‘The vaccine came too late for me,’” Arnott said.
KP appeared to be recovering in late 2020 until he was found unconscious in his home. Doctors soon determined that there was a malignant tumor on his brain. KP was told that with brain cancer people often live about a year, news that he was buoyed by.
“I get a year! Some folks I’ve known have strokes or heart attacks and just keel over. I’m really lucky,” he told Arnott, in a quote that appears in the piece Arnott wrote for the OHA blog.
Arnott said that for KP to put a positive spin on news that would devastate others was not uncharacteristic.
“It was typical KP,” Arnott said.
Unfortunately, KP was denied the year he expected. He died in April of 2021 not long after his cancer diagnosis.
“I talked to him on the phone on a Tuesday evening and by Thursday he had died,” Arnott said.
Arnott believes COVID-19, not the brain tumor, robbed his friend of the remaining year he thought he had. Arnott noted that KP was on a ventilator at the end of his life, which he believes indicates that COVID was the cause of his death. Many who die of COVID-19 do so because of the pneumonia it often causes.
Later Arnott learned that two other good friends he had known for decades, individuals he identifies as John and Maz, also died of COVID-19. John died in March of 2020 and Maz in October of 2020. He described John and Maz, a couple who lived in Arizona, as touchstones of his life history.
Arnott, who previously was an aerospace engineer who worked on NASA, the Department of Defense and commercial defense projects, moved to Union 27 years ago with his wife and three children.
He hopes that sharing his story about the friends he has lost to COVID-19 will encourage more people, especially those in Northeastern Oregon, to get vaccinated.
He believes people have a responsibility to get vaccinated, not just for themselves but those they care about.
“Do everything you can to make it so your friends and loved ones don’t have to write stuff like what I did here,” Arnott said in his piece for the blog.
Arnott is mystified why many are not getting immunized for COVID-19 when vaccinations for it are readily available and free. He added that the side effects of the vaccines are typically minimal.
Arnott, who received the two-shot Moderna vaccine, said with the first one he had a sore shoulder for several days and after the second a shoulder was again sore.
“I have had a lot worse reactions when I got my flu shot,” he said.