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After losing his daughter and wife months apart, Dr. Jon LaPlante to talk about luck, suicide and friends who care

Dr. Jon LaPlante used to shake his head and wonder at the marvel of it all.

“I was the luckiest guy in the world,” the Morgantown native and former radiologist said, “and I knew it.”

He was married to Elizabeth, his best friend.

He was dad to Claire, a WVU engineering major who genuinely enjoyed being around her parents, even as she was beginning to craft the chapters of her adult life.

Luck, however, can take a horrible turn.

On Feb. 26, 2020, Jon and Elizabeth could only watch as their only child, tethered to tubes and shrunken in a hospital bed, finally slipped away.

She was 18 when she died of an overwhelming adenovirus infection that eventually led to total organ failure.

On June 19, 2020, Jon could only stand there as authorities wheeled Elizabeth’s body away on a gurney, covered with a sheet.

In the ordeal of Claire’s sudden illness and wrenching death, Elizabeth became bowed under by depression and grief.

She took her life at their family’s farmhouse in Taylor County that June day.

Jon was going to do the same — “But they wouldn’t leave.”

He was referring to the family and friends who intuitively hovered around him in the hours after Elizabeth’s funeral. A collection of people — his best friend, Sam Merandi, in particular — who talked him back from the abyss and eventually got him into therapy.

That doesn’t mean he still wasn’t thinking about it, however. Suicide.

He mulled it over. Planned it. Mulled it over again.

Merandi was mulling over some things too, and voiced them to his friend who was — all at once — no longer the luckiest guy in the world.

“Jon, do you want to see anyone else go through what you’ve been through?”

“No. God, no.”

“If you don’t do this,” Merandi said, “that means two beautiful women died in vain.”

Thus, the foundation

He was referring to a reaching effort that would take on both suicide prevention and adenovirus research, as it would draw on both Jon’s medical background and personal tragedies.

You can see, in part how it turned out, today at Kegler’s II on Chestnut Ridge Road. And, you can see where the effort is going.

LaPlante, in his role as medical director of the Elizabeth & Claire LaPlante Foundation, will speak from 1-3 p.m. at the sports venue, sharing both his story and the day-to-day job description at the outreach organization named for his wife and daughter.

Visit https://laplantefoundation.com/ for a full look at the foundation and its mission and the engineering scholarship named in Claire’s honor.

Mainly, though, LaPlante will discuss the shadow of suicide: In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, 46,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide — that’s one death every 11 minutes.

There were 1.2 million suicide attempts that year, according to the CDC, with 3.2 million people admitting they had made a plan for the act.

Luck (and other chronic conditions)

Suicide prevention and awareness is a main component of the foundation, said its medical director, who wants to work with halfway houses, the corrections system, VA hospitals and everywhere else, he stressed, where people are in need.

Where people are hurting.

Suicide doesn’t mean you’re weak or selfish, he said. It just means you’ve run out of fight.

“Suicide is something you arrive at,” he said.

So are changing definitions, he said.

He knows now that “luck” can be a chronic condition, as he puts it, with its own photo album and dictionary.

“I was lucky because I had people watching out for me. I’m not gonna waste that. My mission in life is this foundation.”

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