Denied because of a pre-existing condition

February 13, 2010

Edward Brown, my best friend, with whom I have been friends since we were young children, is dying of heart failure. He's in his last stages and needs a heart transplant. He's in otherwise excellent health. This condition is not of his doing. It's congenital. It's a pre-existing condition -- for which the cost of insurance is astronomical.

He is a good father to his two children, and although they are from different mothers, he spends a great deal of time with both together. He is putting his daughter through private school and his younger son is planned to be transferring into a similar situation soon.

Edward Brown Jr. is a contractor and has been working in this field and running his own business for over 15 years. He is an artist, a perfectionist, and is always improving and growing his craft. His business partner got hooked on drugs and bankrupted them, lost all their heavy equipment and put him into serious debt over five years ago. He has since been able to finally pay that all off but still lives with his father and doesn't have a vehicle of his own. He rents what he needs and works wherever he can -- often underselling himself and his skills, just to continue working and making ends meet.

Eddie did get into trouble with the law and has a felony conviction on his record (over two decades ago) that has all prevented him from obtaining any job that would offer insurance.

He is the son of two very good parents. His deceased mother was a minister, and after his mother's death, which helped put an end to his troubled youth, he also delved deeply into religious studies of all faiths and has ministered to many. Many people still call on him for his wisdom and his calm demeanor for grassroots marriage counseling and to pray for children and other loved ones. He is a very good man and good friend. No, when it comes to matters of love, he hasn't always made the best decisions in life, but he has led with his heart and passions.

My friend is dying because he's poor. He's not dying because he wouldn't be a good candidate for a transplant. He's not a candidate because he can't pay for the procedure. Why the rich hospitals or wealthy surgeons won't perform his surgery pro bono and take it as a tax writeoff, I don't know. However it would be accomplished, how is it that we are allowing a good American to die, leaving his children fatherless, solely because he can not afford the bill?

I pray that, even if it's too late for Edward Brown and his children, friends, and all those whose lives he's touched and made better, that the passing of the health care bill will not be too late to help countless others. I pray that if he has to die, that his story may mean something to those in places of power, who could make a difference, and who could have made a difference for him.

It's time for this to end. I cannot believe that we have allowed this in America. It saddens me more than you could possibly know. I am sad for us as a nation, not just for my friend or my personal loss. This is a disgrace for us all, and it's only a matter of time before this touches each of us personally. This story is playing out in so many variations every week, and we are too comfortable in our precarious peace to think about it or how scary it is that we are but but an accident, heart attack or cancer cell away from being in a very similar position.

Leonard Briscoe Jr., Baltimore

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