When I was in Washington, after I had been released from jail. I met Lindsey Graham in a crosswalk as I was going to the Metro.
I introduced myself and showed him a photo of my son. We spoke briefly and it was very cordial, and as we parted, I begged him not to vote to strip away access to health care for 33 million people.
Last week, he introduced a bill to do just that.
Here’s the letter I faxed to him this morning:
You might remember me. I stopped you in a crosswalk in Washington a few weeks ago and introduced myself. I told you I’m from North Carolina, and you smiled and called me your neighbor.
I showed you a photo of my beloved son, who died because he couldn’t get access to health care and ended our conversation with, “I beg you, sir, please don’t vote to take away access to health care from 33 million Americans,” and you said you would consider it. You actually went back into the Senate Chamber and voted against that first bill.
This is my son, Mike Danforth. I miss him every moment of every day.
Real people die when they lose access to care. Each year before the Affordable Care Act became law, 45,000 Americans died prematurely because of lack of access to health care. That’s one every 12 minutes.
At 4:48 p.m. on April 1, 2008, it was my precious son whose heart stopped beating. I would rather it had been me, but I didn’t have that choice because I couldn’t make any insurance company sell him coverage and without that coverage, I couldn’t get any doctor to give him the care he needed. Yes, he went to the emergency room, but as I’m sure you know, they were only required to stabilize him, so instead of a diagnosis and treatment for the cancer that by that time was blocking his colon, he got a laxative and a bill.
My son worked 30 hours a week in a restaurant and attended college full-time, majoring in history with a minor in philosophy. He was also a volunteer, helping people get and stay sober. With all this, he still maintained a 3.75 GPA.
I know you like to call yourself pro-life, so I’ll tell you that when I was first pregnant with him, I had a rare virus that my doctor said could cause birth defects. She advised me to have an abortion and try again, but that child was real to me already. I chose to continue the pregnancy, and I never regretted that decision because he was such a remarkable human being.
My son was brilliant, kind and wickedly funny. His work saved lives. I know this because so many people told me their stories after he died. One mother came up and hugged me and said, “Had it not been for Mike, my son would have died. Mike literally picked him up out of the gutter and saved his life.”
Mike needed a colonoscopy every year, but no doctor in Savannah, Ga., would do one for him, even though he had a one-in-four chance of developing an aggressive form of colon cancer. It would have cost us about $60,000 over the course of his lifetime to do the screenings and remove any polyps, but we said no, and instead shelled out nearly $1 million for his care and he died anyway. So don’t tell me we can’t afford it because I know it’s a lot cheaper to take care of people before they get really sick.
I tell you this about my son because you appear to believe that people who can’t get a job with insurance coverage, or who were born with a “pre-existing condition” are morally inferior. They are not lazy. They are not worthless. They are not looking for a handout, and even if they were, they don’t deserve to suffer and die the way my son did. No one does.
I have been doing health care advocacy work since my son died and I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t deserve health care. Not one, although I have questioned whether the selfish, greedy people responsible for my son’s death deserve anything.
You see, I consider the people who withheld care from my son to be murderers. Their inaction killed my son as surely as if they had put a bullet through his heart. Actually, putting a bullet through his heart would have been more humane than the three years of suffering he endured.
To be eligible for Medicaid, my son had to leave his wife because she had a late-model car and some student loan money for tuition in the bank. My son applied for disability and waited 37 months for approval. He was dead nine days before his first check came. He applied for food stamps, and with no income and no wife he was offered $10 a month. He refused the offer.
If so many people hadn’t loved him so and been willing to care for him, my son would have died on the street.
Life without my son borders on the unbearable every moment of every day. All I can do is beg for you and your colleagues to care enough about human life to shore up the Affordable Care Act, or to pass Medicare for all.
Consider the words of Jesus (I believe you consider yourself to be a follower of Jesus) in Matthew 25 (paraphrased here for modern times):
“For I was hungry and you voted to cut Food Stamps, Meals on Wheels and school lunches.
“I was thirsty and you voted to allow polluters to poison my water.
“I was sick and you voted to strip me of my access to health care.
“I was in prison and you allowed corporations to profit off of my misery.
“I was naked and you told me to get a job, but you wouldn’t ensure I could make enough to buy clothes.
“Whatsoever you did unto the least of these, you did also unto me.”
I beg you to think about this and then withdraw the bill, or at least your support for it.
Oh, and the day I met you I had just been released from jail for disrupting the Senate. I was one of the people who chanted, “Kill the bill!”
I had been hauled from the gallery a few minutes before the chanting began because in my hand was a 5×7 photo of my son – the same one I showed you in the crosswalk. The guard called it a poster.
When the chanting began, I joined in and was arrested, along with 31 other people who are truly pro-life.
I didn’t have to join the protesters.
I could have not been arrested. I could have stayed home and been alone in my grief, but I do this in his memory and because no one should die the way my son did. No one. And I will fight with every breath left to me to make sure no one does – not even those who would take access to care away from 33 million of their fellow human beings.