By Sarah Gianelli
EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – After seven months of mounting health issues and hospitalization, 74-year-old Dick Allgood is back home and on the mend. Thin, and hooked up to various tubes and equipment, you might not recognize him from the robust, sarcastic fixture of The Country Market, but according to close friends and family, it’s a wonder he is still here at all.
His ordeal began innocuously enough back in December when an aneurism in the iliac artery in his right leg was detected that required an operation to stop the leak. The surgery was conducted at George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City on Dec. 7, and Allgood returned home three days later.
But on Jan. 14, the day before he would accept the 2017 Montana Congressional Veteran Commendation award, Allgood, a U.S. Air Force and helicopter rescue pilot during Vietnam and an active member of the American Legion since he moved to Big Sky 25 years ago, felt the first stab of back pain.
Scans came back inconclusive, but the backache continued until, by early April, he was unable to stand. Within days he was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, a bone infection in Allgood’s spine.
During the next five months Allgood was dealt a succession of health blows that would shuffle him between hospitals in Bozeman, Billings and Salt Lake City. First there was back surgery, then a bloody nose that turned out to be a massive aneurysm landed him in intensive care on a ventilator. One of the three surgeries required to stop the bleeding rendered Allgood blind in his left eye.
Meanwhile, unable to do any rehabilitation after his spinal surgery, his wounds began to break down, and a bed sore developed.
On April 29, Allgood was transferred to Billings Clinic for respiratory distress. Fluid was building up around his lungs. Eventually it was determined that two of Allgood’s heart valves had become infected. Now he needed emergency open heart surgery.
“The bug, or infection, was in my bloodstream and ate up part of the spine, which required surgery,” Allgood explained. “It was later discovered that the bacteria or the bug had landed on two of my heart valves. It was either surgery or wait for the bacteria to eat the valves and die.
“I’m a member of the zipper chest club now.”
In the days following the eight-hour procedure in mid-May, Allgood would be fitted with a feeding tube, undergo a tracheotomy, and a pacemaker implant. In mid-June, still fighting fluid build-up around the lungs, and now the heart, he was transported to a Salt Lake City hospital, where he stayed for nearly a month, weaning off the ventilator and gaining enough strength for his Aug. 1 release.
There has been no way to trace the bacterial infection that wreaked havoc on Allgood’s body back to the initial arterial surgery on his leg, but his family seems to think that’s where it originated.
The glass door to Allgood’s apartment building is scrawled with get well messages and offers of assistance from the Big Sky community. Upstairs, Allgood breathes through oxygen tubes in his nose and is attached to a device that pulls moisture away from a surgical back wound through a large foam bandage—getting that to heal is his top priority.
I met with Allgood on the 26th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew—the 1992 storm that caused so much destruction, he decided to leave Miami and a career in commercial real estate to move to Big Sky, where he had been visiting since the late ‘70s.
In 1993, a few months after arriving in Big Sky, he opened Allgood’s Bar & Grill, which he ran for the next 18 years. After selling the business, now Broken Spoke Bar & Grill, in 2011, Allgood took some time off before taking on some administrative work for Lynne Anderson, owner of The Country Market.
Allgood has also been extremely active with the local American Legion since he moved here—a recent point of pride was raising a significant amount of money to help fund a veterans’ cemetery at Sunset Hills Cemetery in Bozeman. The two-acre plot will be near the Vietnam memorial on the grounds.
Allgood said that he’ll have to be on antibiotics every day for the rest of his life, but he’s grateful to be here at all.
“I think it always makes you appreciate different things, people; I’m very thankful to the community for the support given, granted, thoughts, wishes and prayers along the way,” Allgood said, dropping his gruff persona and choking up a bit.
Allgood said there were times he felt the end was near.
“I don’t know if it was part of the anesthesia or if it was real, but if you’re in danger of leaving the face of this Earth, I think you feel it—or at least I thought I did.”
Allgood has set a goal to be substantially more mobile and stronger by the end of September.
“I kissed the face of the Lord twice and still got to wait awhile to go visit my friends Bernie [Feingold] and Devon [White].”
A GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to help the Allgood family with medical expenses can be found under the name Richard Allgood at gofundme.com.