From the Archives
Wounded Marine Grateful for Crawford’s Persistence
John King (r) greets Alvin Crawford, MD, director, Orthopaedic Surgery, for the first time in 38 years.
On Valentine's Day, we celebrate love. This is a love story, although it's a little different from the kind you expect on this holiday. But it's a love story all the same, and we first told it back in 2005 in an issue of 'Round the Center, our employee newsletter. It involves Alvin Crawford, MD, the retired director of Orthopaedic Surgery at Cincinnati Children's and a former Marine, John King.
At 61 years of age, John King can look back on his life as a husband, a father and grandfather, whose days have been filled with the simple joys of going to work every morning and loving his family 24/7. With his handsome smile and ready laugh, you almost don’t notice the limp when he walks, a constant reminder of that day 38 years ago when his grueling yet remarkable ordeal began.
It was March 8, 1967. King was a platoon sergeant with the first Marine regiment in Vietnam. He and his men were doing a battalion sweep and catching heavy fire. One of his men went into the bush after two Viet Cong soldiers. King followed as backup.
King’s buddy raised his rifle to shoot, but he hesitated. In that instant, one of the Viet Cong soldiers lobbed a grenade at them. It exploded just a few feet away.
“I blacked out for about 10 seconds,” recalls King, “and when I came to, the Viet Cong were coming to finish us off. Not knowing how badly I was hurt, I returned fire. That’s all I remember.”
King and his fellow Marine were airlifted to a field hospital. Three days later, his friend died. Meanwhile, King was transferred from one hospital to another—in the Philippines, Seattle and finally to Chelsea Naval Hospital just outside Boston.
King had sustained massive injuries, including extensive damage to his legs and arm, his right eye, his teeth and his kidneys. Along with that, his body was racked with infection. The chief of surgery at Chelsea advised amputation for King’s left leg, but a young resident and Navy lieutenant commander, Alvin Crawford, pleaded to be allowed to try to salvage it.
Says Crawford, who today is director of Cincinnati Children’s Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, “I was a pretty aggressive surgeon then. The chief would say, ‘Alvin, give it up. You’re wasting our time and everybody else’s.’ But I said, ‘Give me a shot.’”
In fact, he got more than 20 shots. That’s how many surgeries he performed on King in just six months to save his mangled limb.
Recalls King, “Dr. Crawford would sneak up on me late at night to change my dressings. It was so painful. I didn’t realize then what it meant to have a doctor attend you personally like that. He was just so dedicated.”
Says Crawford, “Well, John, you had to be willing to go through it, too.”
Crawford photographs King's leg. King uses an Ace bandage to stabilize it. "It works better for me than any brace they have on the market," he says.
About Alvin Crawford, MD
Alvin Crawford, MD, graduated cum laude with undergraduate degrees in chemistry and music from Tennessee State University in 1960. In 1964, he became the first African-American to graduate from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine (UTCOM). He began his residency at Boston (Chelsea) Naval Hospital and completed training at the Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Residency Program. His postgraduate fellowships included the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation Carl-Berg International Fellowship; Otto E. Aufranc Fellowship in Adult Reconstructive Surgery; pediatric orthopaedics at Children’s Hospital, Boston; the Alfred I. DuPont Institute, Wilmington, DE.; and the Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) Asian Traveling Fellowship.
In 1977, Crawford became director of orthopaedic surgery at Cincinnati Children’s , where he remained for 29 years. He had a huge impact on the Cincinnati community and received many prestigious awards, including the Daniel Drake Award from the University of Cincinnati (its highest academic honor), and the Lifetime Achievement Award in Medicine from Closing the Health Gap in Cincinnati.
In 2014, the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce presented Crawford with the Great Living Cincinnatian Award for his medical and civic contributions. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award as a Health Care Hero from the Cincinnati "Business Courier" in February 2015.
Crawford retired from Cincinnati Children's in December 2018.
A Heartfelt Reunion
On Thursday, June 23, 2005, King and Crawford came face-to-face for the first time in 38 years at Cincinnati Children’s. King, accompanied by his wife, Lorraine, and their two sons, was traveling from his Florida home to Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH. Lorraine had looked up Crawford on the internet and found him on the Cincinnati Children’s website. She called to arrange a meeting.
“I had to come see him again,” says King. “Guys like me usually don’t live to tell about what they’ve been through. We’re usually a statistic. I just want to say, if you’re injured like I was, you want a doctor like Dr. Crawford. He didn’t give up on me.”
After a round of hugs, introductions and reminiscing, Crawford surprised King and his family by showing them photos of King’s injured leg before and after surgery. Says Crawford, “I always went for the challenging cases. Being stationed at Chelsea, I was exposed to things that people in civilian residency would never see.”
Following his discharge, King worked for 10 years at the US Treasury, then did a 20-year stint as a landscape gardener. He’s retired now and enjoys golf, fishing and biking. Despite an early bout with addiction to pain killers and chronic problems related to other internal injuries from the blast, King has emerged from the experience with a positive attitude and a profound sense of gratitude. As he and Crawford parted, he said, “I’ve had a great life, thanks to you. You really went above and beyond the call. God has blessed us with your being.”
Replied Crawford, “And I am blessed to be here.”