A father of one who died of lymphoma left more than a legacy after dedicating his final days to ensuring his surviving wife and daughter would be taken care of upon his death.
It all started when Jeff McKnight, a 36-year-old molecular biologist at the University of Oregon, launched a GoFundMe campaign early October to raise funds for his wife Laura and their 8-year-old daughter, Katherine.
Knowing that he only had days to live, McKnight explained on the fundraiser's page that his "biggest fear" was that his family would not have enough resources when he died.
"I am dying of lymphoma," McKnight wrote. "My wife, Laura, has been nothing but a hero during this time. She is about to lose two incomes (mine and hers) as she manages and does research in a lab we shared together."
"My life insurance is tiny thanks to academia and our savings are nearly nonexistent," he continued. "Please consider supporting her through my absence."
McKnight also shared the GoFundMe on his Twitter, writing, "Doc said maybe a week or so left. In ER for comfort care. Thank you all for battling with me."
Since then, the page has raised over $400,000, leaving his family surprised at how the devoted dad planned for life after his death.
"I did not know about the GoFundMe he set up until I saw it on Twitter … I cried, a lot," Laura told TODAY. "He was relieved and thankful that people contributed, and it made him feel better to be doing something to take care of us, but it broke my heart a little that he was worried about that, and to see the inevitability of his death written out in black and white just hit me really hard."
McKnight died on Oct. 4, just days after launching the GoFundMe campaign for his family, according to University of Oregon.
"It is so sad that we have lost Jeff, who did so much to sustain that spirit here, and will continue to do so even in his absence," Bruce Bowerman, head of the UO’s Department of Biology, said in a statement. "Jeff was remarkable for being both an outstanding scientist and a remarkably gracious and compassionate colleague."
McKnight's wife works as manager of his research lab at the school. However, according to Laura, her husband made sure she had other opportunities lined up for her after his death.
"I found out recently that he had reached out to at least a few other scientists about the possibility of me finding jobs at other institutions, when I'm ready," she told TODAY. "He was always looking out for people, though I couldn't have predicted the extent to which he tried to make plans for me and Katherine. I am grateful, and amazed, and not even really surprised because it's the kind of person he was, but at the same time it hurts to think about because it shows how much I've lost."
In an Oct. 12 update shared on the GoFundMe page McKnight created, Laura said that she "will not be unemployed, at least not right away."
"There are some financial logistics considering I can't work full time while school is virtual, so your donations are still appreciated and are giving me time and space to figure things out," she wrote. "Thank you for caring about my family. It meant so much to Jeff to be able to raise this money, you gave him the gift of peace of mind in his last days and I will be forever grateful for that."
Another GoFundMe campaign initially created by loved ones to raise funds for McKnight's medical bills described him as "one of the most genuine people you will ever meet, who always goes out of his way to help others first."
According to the UO, the school's Institute of Molecular Biology will be establishing a fund to honor McKnight and give recognition to his life and work.
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