By John Manzi
MONTICELLO February 6, 2007 Don Karkos received an inordinate amount of media attention back in December when it was learned that a bump on the head from a trotter named My Buddy Chimo restored sight to his right eye, which had been, for all intents and purposes, blind since 1942.
Pegged “The Monticello Miracle” by an area daily newspaper, Don Karkos’ name had been spoken and his story told by countless media outlets not only in the United States and Canada, but in the United Kingdom and Japan.
And along with the newsprint went television videos and radio transcripts of the miraculous occurrence. Organizations like CNN, CBS and NBC, along with countless syndicated radio stations throughout the United States and Canada and even the BBC in England and radio outlets in Japan, told of Karkos’ miraculous story.
But now the story has ended. Karkos died Monday afternoon, January 29, at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla at the age of 82.
“He had a stroke about 10 days ago and was taken to Westchester [Medical Center] and was being treated by a top hospital staff,” said April Karkos, Don’s wife of 18 years.
“He was making good progress and even came out of intensive care and was placed in a private room. But just when we thought he was on the way to recovery his heart gave out,” she added tearfully.
Karkos, a longtime paddock security guard and horse owner, was reluctant to gain celebrity and hid his gained eyesight from all but a few close friends. But once the word got out the story was too big to keep hidden anymore.
And a wonderful story it was a Monticello Miracle.
Seaman Don Karkos, 17, lost his sight in the summer of 1942 while serving on the USS Rapadan in the North Atlantic. The Rapadan was a merchant marine ship that fueled battleships and cruisers at sea.
He was on deck of the Rapadan when there was a loud explosion. Twisted metal flew everywhere and something heavy hit him above his right eye.
When Karkos awakened, he found himself in a military hospital in Iceland and was told by the doctors that he’d never again see out of his right eye. But for cosmetic purposes Karkos chose to leave that eye in place rather than remove it as the doctors suggested.
For about 60 years, Karkos got by without sight in his right eye.
“Oh, it wasn’t all that bad, but I got embarrassed from time to time when I’d run into objects or people on my right side,” he told one newspaper reporter back in mid-December when his story broke.
But Karkos was a trooper and he continued to live life to the fullest.
Back in November, however, he was preparing a horse named My Buddy Chimo for an early morning workout at Monticello Raceway. Karkos, who helped John Gilmour with the barn work daily before he would go to his post in the race paddock, was adjusting some equipment when the horse threw his head and bopped Karkos on the noggin, above his right eye.
Karkos said that the hit by the horse’s head made him see stars and he was woozy for a while, but he went on about his work and to his post in the paddock. But when he got home that evening and was rubbing his left or “good” eye, he was stunned and called April right away.
“I can see out of my right eye,” he shouted to his wife incredulously.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Karkos. He was a consummate gentleman, well liked by all who had the pleasure of knowing him,” Monticello Raceway General Manager Shawn Wiles said. “Our prayers go out to his family.
“Monticello Raceway will hold a Don Karkos Memorial Race later this season and it will be an annual event,” Wiles added. “How could we, or anyone else for that matter, ever forget ‘The Monticello Miracle’?”