John R. Buoniconti II did not receive much mail when he was 9, so the image of the $1 million hospital bill he received shortly after his father and mother died of cancer has been burned in his mind.
“I remember getting the letter in the mail, opening it and giving it to my aunt,” said the 29-year-old from Colorado. “I don’t remember the amount as much as my aunt’s expression. I gave it to her, and she started laughing hysterically when she saw the amount and turning bright red with anger that they would send it to me, a minor.”
As a way to honor his parents, Mr. Buoniconti is walking through 48 states and the District to raise at least $5 million and public awareness about the plight of under-insured cancer patients. Mr. Buoniconti estimates that it will take him three years to walk across the country.
Mr. Buoniconti began his walk March 26 in Augusta, Maine, and has gone through 11 states, including Maryland. He walked through the District yesterday. He is expected to walk through Richmond on Monday.
He has walked an estimated 1,200 of the nearly 16,000 miles he is scheduled to cover. His final destination is San Diego on April 27, 2008.
“I’ve been doing charity walks my entire life,” Mr. Buoniconti said before he started walking through the District early yesterday. “Since walking seemed to be my forte, I figured: ‘What if I actually walked through all 48 states?’ Walking across the U.S. has been done before, but never walking through all the states.”
Before taking up walking and fundraising as a full-time job, Mr. Buoniconti worked as a general manager for a courier and logistical company in Fort Collins, Colo. He co-founded a nonprofit organization, Big John’s Team, in 2001, and began getting ready for the cross-country walk in 2002.
Donations to Big John’s Team are unique because they can be filtered directly to a patient’s doctor to help cover medical costs, Mr. Buoniconti said.
Mr. Buoniconti’s mother, Gayle, died of leukemia when she was 33. His father, John, died of small-cell lung cancer at age 37. His mother’s battle with cancer lasted six years. His father found out he had cancer six months before Mrs. Buoniconti died, but he told no one of the diagnosis until after her funeral. He died less than two years later.
Mr. Buoniconti is not alone on his trek. His fiancee, Heather Hughes, drives five miles ahead of him to help map out the route and coordinate fundraising events.
The couple met at the Denver office of the American Cancer Society, where Miss Hughes, 31, worked for seven years and Mr. Buoniconti volunteered.
“It was sort of an icebreaker on the second or third date that he had this three-year walking road trip he wanted to take,” Miss Hughes said. “This is definitely his dream, but it’s my cause, too.”