COMMUNITY GEMS: Kettering man, at age 70, gives hope to others with cystic fibrosis

John O’Neill meets life’s challenges.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

When John O’Neill was born with cystic fibrosis in 1954, his parents were told his life expectancy was about five years.

But the Kettering man celebrated his 70th birthday in March and continues to give hope to others.

“I’m just an ordinary guy who went through abnormal things and found good friends along the way,” he said.

O’Neill – who was born in Florida, grew up in upstate New York and moved to Dayton in 1977 to work at NCR – underwent a double lung transplant in 1995. The surgery was successful, but an unknown cause resulted in him waking up blind. He was 41, with two young daughters.

Since that time, he also has had multiple forms of cancer – he is currently battling ampullary cancer – as well as kidney failure. In 2003, his wife, Carol, donated to him a kidney.

“He’s really the poster child for hope when you get sick or have a child who’s sick,” said Tom Coffing, a friend of O’Neill’s for more than three decades since becoming cubemates at NCR.

He takes his health issues seriously, but he meets the challenges with positivity and humor, said Coffing, a longtime Dayton resident who now lives in Pittsburgh. O’Neill also makes a concerted effort to speak with those who have cystic fibrosis or other medical issues, as well as their families.

“I think the greatest gift he has is his ability to influence others positively through his own example,” Coffing said.

O’Neill, who has been named a Dayton Daily News Community Gem, also served on the local board of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and he was on the committee for the Celebrity Concert for Charity, which raised about $1 million for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and for Dayton Children’s Hospital.

His friend, John Condit, was the founder and volunteer executive director of the concert, which featured artists over the course of about 20 years like KC & the Sunshine Band, Randy Travis, Smokey Robinson and Ronnie Milsap, who was born blind.

O’Neill helped to raise money through the concert, in addition to the other ways he has donated his time and talents throughout the community, Condit said.

“He’s really made his mark instead of sitting on his hands and feeling sorry for himself,” he said.

Whatever challenges has friend has faced, he has always found a way to move forward, said Condit, a Springboro resident who also is the director of sales at Cox Media Group.

O’Neill said he was angry at God after he became blind. Carol, with whom he celebrates his 25th wedding anniversary this month, was a firm believer, however, and his own faith has gotten stronger year by year.

“I believe there’s a purpose in life and God has a purpose for me,” he said.

Someone born today with cystic fibrosis likely will have a normal life, he said, and milestones like celebrating a 70thbirthday help others. He acknowledges getting down and upset at times, but his path and perspective is different.

“You don’t really have a choice,” O’Neill said. “Your choice is how you react to things.”

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