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Thursday, March 18, 2010

A guest blog: Regina's story

Last week a lot of people were standing up for health care reform. There were marchers in the streets of Washington, D.C. trying to get equal access to insurance. There were congressional hearings on the subject, and 24 health care survivors spoke of their healthcare tragedies. One of those wonderful people was Marcelas. He is 11 years old.

Marcelas' mother, Tifanny Owens, died due to lack of access to continuous care for her medical condition. Wednesday, March 10th was his birthday. Instead of celebrating this wonderful event at his home, he spent the day explaining why his mother died because of her lack of insurance coverage. He is a bright and articulate boy who spoke with great poise. He stood tall and explained to audiences that his mother would be still be alive today if she had coverage.

I remember what it feels like to be a child in an uninsured family. I remember watching Little House on the Prairie. It was the episode where Mary is squinting at the chalkboard and pulling at her eyes because she needs glasses. I turned to my mother and told her that was exactly what I was doing. I begged her to get my eyes checked. As an uninsured family we had no yearly check-ups to determine if our eyesight was failing. We couldn't get the appointment until our tax refund came later that year. I went, and it was determined that I did indeed need glasses.

It seemed normal to me that when you got sick, you just suffered. I vividly remember ear infections and tonsil infections that were suffered through. I remember my mother rubbing my neck and chest with Vic's Vapor Rub in an attempt to deal with my chest colds. I even remember her dosing me with "green drops," an old cure from her childhood. I mean literally from her childhood. The bottle was from the 1930's, and I was sick in 1980. As it was still liquid and green, I must assume it was very high in its alcohol content.

Lack of insurance affects children in other ways. I remember the day I came home from school and asked to be on the soccer team. I was told no. The family could not afford the injuries sports would entail. Even PE class or recess was problematic, as eventually you would be injured. I broke two pairs of glasses, broke my fingers, and badly sprained my wrist at school, only to be berated for hours by an abusive father: "Don't you know how much this will cost us?" he screamed.

I used try to sleep while worrying about broken fingers. Would they always be crooked? Would the other children make fun of me? I remember the day in sixth grade I badly sprained my ankle. I could barely walk. My mother wrapped my ankle in an Ace bandage, and my grandpa loaned me his geriatric walker so I could go to school. I begged my mom for crutches instead. "I am sorry", she said, "We cannot afford it." My face burned with shame as I hobbled down the hall with a walker too big for me to use. As the snickers echoed down the hall, I wanted to die. Why did life have to be this hard?

So that's what it was like for me as a child, and that is how I felt about lack of access to care. If you had asked me then to speak out about a need for reform, I hope I would have been brave enough to act like Marcelas. I hope I could have spoken as clearly about the need for reform. I would like to inform those folks out there that don't believe a child can have their own opinion on heath reform: Yes, they can. Tifanny Owens would be alive today if she had access to care. I thank you, Marcelas, for speaking out. You are brave and wonderful. Your mother would be proud.

 This blog can also be found on Regina Holliday's Medical Advocacy Blog.