The Watchdog: Friend’s death from MRSA changed how I saw the world

I kept thinking about my old newspaper friend Chris Neely. In recent weeks, every time I drove by the cemetery where he is buried, something tugged at me to find his grave.

First, I asked my youngest son to jog through the cemetery and look for his tombstone. But that didn’t work. Austin couldn’t find it.

My son suggested I use the Internet to find the grave, and he was right. A map on a website pinpointed the location.

I found the stone, but it was faded and hard to read. I rubbed chalk along the stone and the dates popped out along with an image of a typewriter and the words, “Heaven is a funnier place now.”

That tug was a reminder that this week marks the 10th anniversary of his passing.

Chris Neely

Chris Neely

Of all the loons I’ve worked with at newspapers, Chris was the quietest in person, yet the funniest in print. He was a columnist, like me, at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. His wheelhouse was humor, and he was on a roll. In his final year, he won a national award as a humor columnist and also witnessed the birth of his only son.

Then, at 37, after a routine surgical operation, suddenly, he was dead. How and why he died came as a shock. Over the decade since, it changed the way I look at the world.

Simple surgery had led to a fatal infection. Chris was infected with MRSA bacteria in the hospital. Antibiotics couldn’t save him. One week he was making funny in his column; the next week he was gone.

Actually a fan

In my grief, I began to learn about MRSA, and how it’s handled in Texas. I didn’t like what I saw. But first a little about Chris and why the world was robbed when we lost his talent.

The story I love the most was the one where he decided to poke fun at Jerry Lewis before the Labor Day telethon. He wrote that the telethon was “a painful mix of bitterness and mayhem. But there was just no looking away.”

“Quarts of Vitalis, ruffled polyester dress shirts, spreading pools of flop sweat,” Chris wrote. Calling Lewis “puffy,” he added that Lewis “is seldom on stage during the telethon and barely moves when he is.”

A few days later, Chris’ phone at work rang. A voice on the other end stated, “Please hold for Mr. Jerry Lewis.”

Chris figured it was a joke, but he turned on his tape machine.

Then came the famous voice asking Chris why he was so “mean-spirited.”

“This may surprise you, but I’m actually a fan,” Chris answered.

Lewis invited the columnist to be his guest at the next telethon. Only the birth of his son kept Chris from going.

Mixed news

MRSA infections are most often spread in hospitals and nursing homes. In some cases, the infection is immune to antibiotics. Thousands die each year, though accurate statistics are hard to find.

In the decade since Chris’ death, in terms of MRSA, there’s bad news and good news.

Bad news: Texas does not require MRSA cases to be reported. So the extent of infections statewide isn’t known. The year Chris died, the Texas Legislature created a pilot program that measured MRSA cases in three of the state’s 254 counties. When the program ended, its recommendations noted that it would be cost-prohibitive to report statistics statewide.

Lawmakers also created a reporting system to track the infections, but they didn’t fund it, so it never happened.

More bad news: A study released last week shows that MRSA bacteria is not only found in some health care facilities, but also in homes.

Good news: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that MRSA infections in hospitals and the death rate are declining, probably the benefit from a long public campaign reminding health care professionals and the public to take greater precaution. Wash hands with greater frequency. Keep surfaces and objects clean. Cover open wounds properly.

I saw someone I admired die so quickly and surprisingly. Someone with such a bright future as a humorist, husband and new father whose love for retro stars like Jerry Lewis was never forwarded to his baby son.

That’s where I changed. I began to take better notice of what’s happening around me.

When I go to a health care facility, I ask doctors and nurses if they’ve washed their hands. I tell them I’m worried about MRSA.

I know it sounds awkward, but I explain that I had this funny friend Chris Neely, and he’s no longer around to make me laugh.

Follow Dave Lieber on Twitter at @Dave Lieber


How to avoid MRSA:

• Wash hands with soap and water regularly.

• Don’t share personal items such as towels, soaps, razors and ointments.

• Don’t take antibiotics as a preventive measure for avoiding infection.

• Properly cover open wounds.

• When in a hospital, make sure that doctors and nurses clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –




Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites:


Hipster site: