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My View: We must never forget lives hang in the balance

By Denise Dunford

I began writing this column in late 2009, but put it aside after passage of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010. Unfortunately, I now resurrect my original thoughts because seven years later, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

I’m an emergency nurse practitioner, and while some days just blend together this one did not. I looked up and out of the corner of my eye, I saw my next patient rolling by on the stretcher. I overheard his mom tell the nurses that her son had a seizure and she called 911 because he never had one before.

His blond hair was rumpled but his sheepish grin was a mile wide. I will never forget that smile; when he smiled, you just smiled back.

When I entered his room, I found a personality to match. He was 19 and a college sophomore studying to become an architect. He worked part time and was determined to be the first in his family to earn a degree.

The patient reported that his health was excellent and his parents agreed. When I asked about childhood illnesses, his mom said she forgot to mention that when he was 4 years old he was diagnosed with leukemia but after treatments at Roswell Park, he was cured.

I told the patient and his parents what needed to be done, they agreed and the orders were entered. I kept an eye on him and he had no further seizure activity.

The good news is that his labs were perfect; the bad news is that his head CT was not. The radiologist suggested the mass on his scan was likely metastatic.

I called neurosurgery and went into his room to break the news and update the plan. I felt sick.

The patient agreed to take medications to prevent another seizure and to shrink the swelling in his brain. Neurosurgery experts consulted their Roswell Park colleagues, who were very familiar with the patient, and plans were made for transfer later that day.

I asked the discharge planning nurse to see him and begin the process of seeking charity care programs or catastrophic coverage because he required further treatment and possible surgery.

The mother asked to speak with me privately and said that this was the first year her son didn’t follow up with Roswell Park because when he turned 19 he was dropped from his parents’ insurance plan. His medical history made him uninsurable for private plans.

Hours later, as he left for Roswell Park, my young man was smiling and thanking his nurses. His mom hugged me. She was crying and so was I. At the time, I remember feeling outraged that in the United States, doctors could cure cancer but the “system” could deny coverage for follow-up to detect problems earlier.

If Americans can put men on the moon, someone can figure out how to provide health coverage to every citizen in the land. Repealing the ACA and forcing 20 million people who gained insurance coverage to be without it is an unacceptable proposal. The right to health care is not a Democratic issue nor a Republican issue but a human issue.

So here is my request: Ask your congressional representatives where they stand on the ACA. If they support repeal, ask them to consider “gifting” their insurance to someone you know who desperately needs it and see what they say. No response?

One smiling young man’s life changed dramatically seven years ago and so did mine. No one should have to fight for insurance coverage when they’re busy fighting for their life.

Denise Dunford, of Buffalo, is a nurse practitioner at Buffalo General Hospital and a nursing professor at D’Youville College.
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