Major Kermit "Kit" Fulton United States Airforce - Retired
Kermit "Kit" Fulton enjoyed excellent health until the Summer
of 1997 when he began to experience difficulty swallowing. He underwent
an endoscopy and was found to have narrowing of the mid esophagus without
any mucosal abnormalities. Because of the appearance of extrinsic compression,
a CT scan was performed, which showed a posterior mediastinal mass that
was pressing against the esophagus. A biopsy was performed at the Madigan
Army Hospital near Seattle on September 2, 1997. The pathologist diagnosed
malignant mesothelioma. The Army Hospital sought a second opinion from
Dr. Samuel P. Hammar, who confirmed the diagnosis.
Kit had fought in the Vietnam War as an air force pilot. He spent his highly
decorated career dodging missiles, bombs, shrapnel and bullets. He wasn't
about to go down in flames. Not without a fight.
Kit would have to fight back, however, without surgical resection as a
defense. After speaking to his doctors, Kit understood that ".....surgery
and radiation were not players in my case." The doctors advised him
that his cancer was surrounding his esophagus, trachea, and vital arteries
and veins. He was advised that surgery would be too dangerous.
The decision to scuttle surgery as an option was not reached lightly. Doctors
at the Madigan Army Base consulted with their colleagues from the University
of Washington in Seattle. They reviewed all the survival and mortality
statistics available. His doctors also consulted their colleagues at the
Brooks Army Medical Center. The collective wisdom was that because of
the proximity of the tumor to vital organs and arteries in and around
the throat, surgery was too risky.
Kermit underwent a round of chemotherapy in early 1998; however, the treatments
proved ineffective. He began experiencing nausea and fatigue as a result
of the illness. The pressure of the tumor caused constant pain and made
it very difficult for him to swallow food. He is currently taking morphine
to control his pain symptoms. Kermit's oncologist from the University
of Washington medical school is Dr. Livingston, who has treated many mesothelioma
patients, especially shipyard workers and naval personnel from the Puget
Sound Naval Shipyard and Todd Shipyards.
Kit had his first round of chemotherapy in November of 1997. The second
session was on December 24, 1997. The doctor gave him a week off and the
following week, week of January 5, 1998, he was scheduled to receive another
round of chemotherapy. But his white blood cell count was too low, so
it was postponed. The next week he went in and the blood count was good,
but his weight was too low.
The doctors could not through medication help Kermit increase his weight.
Moreover, x-ray films showed that, despite chemotherapy, the tumor was
not regressing. Recently, Kermit and his doctors decided to end the chemotherapy
treatments. In mid-January, Kermit's doctors had no choice but to
insert a stem in Kit's esophagus so that he could swallow food. At
the time, Kermit could not swallow liquid and was growing progressively weaker.
To compound the situation, in February, Kit was diagnosed with pneumonia.
At first his doctor tried to treat the bacterial infection at home with
antibiotics. But the pneumonia did not respond. Kit was hospitalized on
February 20, 1998. He recalled that the doctors "pumped me full of
antibiotics". He was hospitalized for 5 days. During his hospital
stay he managed to gain nine (9) pounds, which he welcomed as long awaited
Kit is at home now. He continues to have pneumonia and his weight varies
from week to week. He lost 4 pounds after he got out of the hospital,
but as of two weeks ago he managed to gain 3 pounds back. As you can imagine,
Kit is not anxious to get on a scale.
Traditional Hosing Down after Kit's last sortie in Vietnam
The stem that the doctors put in his throat has helped Kit eat. Two weeks
ago he tried to induce a craving most of us have for red meat. "I
went out and put a big, thick steak on the grill, smothered it with garlic,
salt and pepper. Then I came in and chewed all the flavor out it and gave
the rest to my dog. The dog looked up at me in disgust, like, hey, don't
you know how to cook a steak?" After reliving that moment, Kit developed
a sudden hunger for steak and thought he might skip down to the grocery
store for another T-bone.
After graduating from Oregon State University in June of 1961, Mr. Fulton
worked as a laborer, performing repair work on the furnaces, pipes and
aluminum pots at an Aluminum plant in The Dalles, Oregon. He was heavily
exposed to asbestos at the aluminum plant during successive summer breaks
while he was working his way through college and while waiting to enter
the Air Force Academy. In his deposition, Kit testified about how ironic
it was to be digging out asbestos lined pots after having just earned
a college degree. The plant was under construction at the time he was
exposed and he helped install asbestos insulation beneath the pot lines.
He cut asbestos pipe covering and mixed cement.
In April of 1962, Mr. Fulton joined the United States Air Force where he
trained as a fighter pilot and flew combat missions in Viet Nam and retired
as Major in 1982. Kit is proud of his service in the military. He received
numerous decorations for his wartime service and spent the remainder of
his career training Air Force cadets and serving as an liaison officer
with the Army at Fort Lewis.
Kit and his wife Sandra live in University Place near Puget Sound. Their
daughter Shelly works as a flight attendant for American Airlines. Shelly
recently moved from Dallas, Texas to Gig Harbor, Washington, to be closer
to her father.
POSTED MARCH 24, 1998
Mr. Kermit Fulton passed away on September 25, 1998