American healthcare could do more for the poor
Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 29, 2013 23:09
Ribcage cracked, chest split open, 12 year old Lolita Cunningham lay sprawled on the operating table, lifeless. On the evening of March 18, 1985, a miracle was in the works at St. Christopher’s Hospital for children in Philadelphia.
Lolita’s chest was empty, she had no heart--the surgeons at St. Christopher’s had removed Lolita’s deformed heart in place for a new one. She was undergoing a major cardiac operation, a heart transplant surgery.
After seven tense hours, the surgeons slowly massaged Lolita’s new heart to life, a new beginning.
“I am looking forward to eating a lot more pizza,” squealed Lolita as she talked to a Gettysburg Times reporter, on her way out of the hospital, a month later. Lolita’s name had become prominent in the news. Not only was she the first inner-city child to undergo a heart transplant, she was also the first to undergo such a procedure with coverage from Medicaid.
Born to a poor family, Lolita grew up in the ghettos of North Philadelphia. Her mother, Cora Cunningham, also had a heart condition rendering her incapable of supporting her daughter, according to the Gettysburg Times.
Lolita was thus transferred to foster care after her procedure.
Medicaid continued to provide coverage after the surgery. She kept up her health as she stuck to an expensive and strict regimen of anti-rejection treatment, heart biopsies and frequent visits to her doctor.
Wanting to move up the socioeconomic ladder, Lolita enrolled at Drexel University as an environmental science major.
However, she encountered major setbacks. When she turned 21 her Medicaid coverage fell through and her student health insurance failed to cover her costly medical expenses.
Distraught, Lolita dropped out of college and worked as a part time toxicologist in a SmithKline Beecham Corp. lab. However, because she was part-time employed, she did not qualify for health insurance through her job, and she made too much for state insurance.
According to the Daily News, Lolita’s medication costed almost $600 a month, which was too expensive for her $300 weekly salary.
She had applied for grants to pay for her medication and had succeeded, however, her supply eventually ran low and she decided to reduce her dose to prolong the supply.
Besieged with medical expenses, Lolita developed depression and eventually gave up hope. She soon ran out of her anti-rejection medication.
On Dec. 11 1994, Lolita Cunningham passed away.
Almost twenty years later, on Nov. 28, 2011, Mark Price died.
Price passed away in Arizona before he could obtain a bone marrow transplant, according to ABC News. A month later, another patient died in Arizona waiting for a new liver. Both patients passed away because they could not afford to have the procedure. This was due to Arizona’s new health care budget which slashed coverage for certain types of transplants.
Twenty years has passed since Lolita’s death and one would expect that as a society we would have learned from such a tragic loss. But instead, numerous lives continue to be taken through America’s fragmented health care system.
America prides itself as the number one nation in rescue medicine. We go out of our way to save those on the brink of death. Yet this same system that can literally bring the lifeless back to life has no consideration for the poor and the unfortunate. Lolita Cunningham, Mark Price and many others deserved better.