A retired Kansas farmer had an extra N95 mask. He gave it to New York
ALBANY – A retired farmer from northeast Kansas found himself with five unused masks from his farming day.
They were N95 respirators, the type that have been in high demand during the coronavirus crisis.
Dennis, the farmer, kept four for his immediately family. He and his wife, Sharon, are both in their 70s; Sharon has one lung among other health problems.
But what to do with the fifth mask?
Dennis chose an unconventional option: He mailed the mask to New York.
"Enclosed find a solitary N-95 mask left over from my farming days. It has never been used," Dennis wrote to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"If you could, would you please give this mask to a nurse or doctor in your state?"
Cuomo reads letter at daily briefing
At his daily coronavirus briefing Friday, Cuomo read a handwritten letter he received from the couple.
The letter, written by Dennis and attributed to him and his wife, asked Cuomo to get the mask to a nurse or doctor on the front lines.
Cuomo used the letter as a heartwarming example of humanity in a time of crisis. New York is the epicenter of the country's coronavirus outbreak, with more than 16,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of March.
"You want to talk about a snapshot of humanity? You have five masks," Cuomo said. "What do you do? Do you keep all five? Do you hide the five masks? Do you keep them for yourselves or others? No, you send one mask to New York to help a nurse or a doctor."
Cuomo continued, clutching the mask: "How beautiful is that? I mean, how selfless is that? How giving is that?"
The governor's office posted an image of the handwritten letter Thursday afternoon.
It did not include the couple's last name, but the USA TODAY Network New York was able to identify the farmer and his wife with the help of a representative from the Kansas Farm Bureau.
Farmer not looking for notoriety
Reached by phone Friday, Dennis asked that his last name not be used in this article.
"I didn't want any notoriety," he said.
The retired farmer, who farmed corn and soybeans until a couple years ago, said he often catches Cuomo's briefings as he flips from across news channels.
But he hadn't happened to catch Cuomo's Friday press conference, which was broadcast on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.
"It was one of the rare mornings where I didn't see it," Dennis said.
"I channel surf, and it seems like him or President Trump — one or the other — are generally talking. I just kind of land on (Cuomo's) channel much of the time."
Sharon, a retired educator, only learned Cuomo had read the letter when her son, who lives in Phoenix, called and asked if his parents wrote it.
Farmer, wife taking precautions
Dennis and Sharon live in northeast Kansas, near the Missouri border.
With only one lung and a number of health conditions that make her particularly susceptible to the coronavirus' effects, Sharon and her husband have been taking significant precautions as the virus continues its spread through the country.
When their granddaughter turned 2 recently, Sharon could only watch as she danced on the patio outside. When it was time to leave, Sharon and her granddaughter both kissed the patio window to say goodbye.
Sharon said her niece is a paramedic in Kansas, which has not yet been hit hard by the coronvirus. She said she made sure her niece had enough personal protective equipment before Dennis sent the N95 mask to New York.
In the March 26 letter, Dennis complimented Cuomo for his response to the outbreak, commending him for "telling the truth, something that has been sorely lacking of late."
He recounted his wife's health issues and admitted he was scared.
"I am a retired farmer hunkered down in N.E. Kansas with my wife, who has but one lung and occasional problems with her remaining lung," the letter reads.
"She also has diabetes. We are in our 70s now, and frankly I am afraid for her."
Mask enclosed with letter
At the end of his letter, the retired farmer made note of the enclosed N95 mask.
He assured Cuomo he kept four for his family and asked the governor to get it to a doctor or nurse.
Cuomo displayed the mask at his daily briefing Friday, marveling at the generosity displayed in the letter.
"Take one mask. I’ll keep four," Cuomo said. "God bless America."
Glenn Brunkow, a Kansas Farm Bureau board member representing the northeast portion of the state, said he wasn't surprised a Kansas farmer acted so selflessly.
"Anything we can do to help a neighbor, whether that neighbor is next to us or in New York," Brunkow said. "Farmers are some of the most generous, giving people I know."
Dennis and Sharon still hadn't seen Cuomo's remarks by Friday afternoon.
When a reporter read Cuomo's quote calling the letter "beautiful" and "selfless," Dennis said it sent "a little chill up my back."
"It was nothing I expected whatsoever," Dennis said.
"I was just looking to help someone out."
Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.
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