Sheriff’s deputy faced large bill for hearing aids – until people stepped up to help.
Phil McKeon was out serving an eviction notice in December when he stumbled across a woman amidst a scrum of people, clenching a knife in each hand and swinging them at her brother.
She sliced someone’s hand during the melee.
“She was definitely out for blood,” McKeon said.
McKeon, a 37-year-old Norfolk sheriff’s deputy, jumped into the fray, even though he’d come to the apartment building on an unrelated call. By talking the woman down and calling for backup, he was able to end things without anyone else getting hurt.
It was one of the reasons he was named Norfolk’s deputy of the year in 2017.
If that had happened last week, McKeon might’ve had trouble hearing the woman.
“Could you repeat that?!”
Not great responses for someone trying to de-escalate a situation through communication.
From birth, McKeon has been hard of hearing. He survived more than half his life without hearing aids, mostly when he was cooking in kitchens where everyone yelled anyway. He admits he was stubborn, refusing to wear them because he thought he was no different than anyone else. “I’m not going to allow physical hearing loss to prevent me from being able to enjoy my life.”
He hasn’t, but now McKeon has to have hearing aids.
He roves around Norfolk, serving people with warrants, subpoenas, and jury duty summonses. He also evicts people, an emotional process fraught with tension and danger. Hearing the click of a gun cocking or shuffling of footsteps could mean the difference between holding back and calling for help, and walking right into the line of fire.
“You never know if someone’s waiting in a back room,” said McKeon’s fiancee, LeZandra McGinnis. “When you’re out on the street, you want to have all your ears and eyes.”
Problem is: The hearing aids he finally got in 2011 are dying, leaving him able to hear less and less. Replacements would cost $6,000, and most insurance companies – including the one he has through work – don’t cover them.
“He needs it now. We don’t have the luxury of time,” McGinnis said.
So she launched a GoFundMe campaign three weeks ago to raise the money. Since then, 53 donors have given $3,260.
McGinnis called her fiance “incredible,” “awesome,” and “the greatest human being that I have ever met,” which she did through the online dating app Bumble in December 2016.
The two learned they shared many of the same friends, both having run in Norfolk’s music and art circles for years. They’re also both heavy metal fans.
In fact, McKeon proposed to her in July when the two went up to Baltimore for a Slayer concert. He planned the whole thing out, filming the proposal on Facebook Live so their friends could watch.
They want to get married on Halloween, maybe at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond or some other macabre place that suits their personalities.
McKeon grew up in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Because of his partial deafness, he didn’t start talking until he was 8. His teachers thought he was slow, shoving him in the back of the class hoping he would disappear, McKeon said.
“He lived a life of isolation, unable to communicate with others for years,” McGinnis wrote in her GoFundMe pitch.
McKeon graduated from Deep Creek High School in 1999 and started working in restaurants right away to fund his passion: playing keyboard, bass and singing backup vocals in his heavy metal band, Misura, Italian for “measure” or “gauge.”
“I was trying to be a rock ’n‘ roll star,” he said.
Around 2003, he shifted gears: He started treating cooking as a career, not just a job to pay bills and fund his music. Over the years, he worked at 4-5-6 Fish, 219 Bistro, Mannino’s Italian Bistro in Virginia Beach and Norfolk Seafood Company & Big Easy Oyster Bar.
But in 2011, his dad died when McKeon was 31. Having retired a lieutenant, McKeon’s dad was “a very tall figure” at the Norfolk Police Department, one his son remembered popping up on the TV news to talk about the latest criminal case he was working on. He was the reason his son grew up wanting to be a police officer.
His dad’s death led McKeon to make several big decisions: At 32, he quit the restaurant business, started a career in law enforcement and began wearing hearing aids again for the first time in 16 years.
At 33, he joined the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office because it was the first place to hire him.
“It was filling a void,” McKeon said.
When he’s not on duty for the sheriff’s office, he works private security – including at Old Dominion University football games and Dillard’s – to provide for his 11-year-old daughter, 7-year-old son and McGinnis’ 5-year-old son from a previous relationship.
McKeon is studying criminal justice at Tidewater Community College and plans to transfer to ODU to get his bachelor’s in the same field.
McKeon admits he thought his hearing aids would last forever and was surprised to learn they were wearing out. When they petered out a couple of months ago, he thought his hearing was getting worse, that he might be going completely deaf.
“Things just kept getting quieter and quieter,” he said.
Luckily, it was something replaceable, albeit something expensive. In the future, McKeon added, he plans to save up over time so he can afford a new pair when the time comes.
McGinnis’ GoFundMe appeal led to some welcome news. Even though she’d only raised just over half of the money needed, one of her friends connected McKeon with her father, who owns hearing aid centers in Virginia Beach, Richmond and on the Eastern Shore.
He agreed to sell McKeon the hearing aids for less than what he’d raised on GoFundMe.
On Wednesday afternoon, McKeon picked up his new hearing aids and said they’re working great. He’s particularly impressed with a new feature that wasn’t around in 2011: Volume control via an app on his phone.
His two-word report: “Totally stoked!”
McKeon has $460 left over from the fundraiser and wants to pay it forward to others. He said he’s going to research starting a nonprofit that would keep raising money to buy hearing aids for people who can’t afford them.
For now, he has a message for others who are deaf or hard of hearing, one that’s different from the one he got growing up: You’re not dumb. You’re not inferior. You can do anything anyone else can.
McKeon said he remembers wanting to become a jet fighter pilot and being crushed when he learned the Navy wouldn’t let anyone fly with any history of hearing loss. He thinks that attitude is wrongheaded, and needing to use hearing aids is the same as wearing glasses.
“Society places limits on you and says you’re not capable of doing what they’re capable of,” McKeon said.
This father, fiance, honors student, law enforcement officer, former cook and current guitar shredder sees himself as a rebuke to that idea.
Source: The Virginian Pilot
Image credit: Steve Earley
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