03 May, 2017

Letter to Rep. Claudia Tenney Regarding the AHCA Bill

I am writing on behalf of myself and many other concerned pediatricians in Central New York. We are deeply distressed regarding reports suggesting that you may be considering voting in favor of the revised AHCA.

This would be a grave mistake for the health of our community and the people in this area.

I would like to share a personal story. I am the daughter of Thomas G. Brown, the former vice-president, dean and later president of Utica College, who died in 2014. As you may know, since this is not my first attempt at outreach, I grew up in New Hartford. In fact, I grew up on Graffenburg Road, not far from your family, in a house that my father built himself, during his first years on the Utica College faculty.

During those years, my father gradually lost the use of his left arm. He was a survivor of Hodgkin disease, diagnosed when he was 20 years old. He was lucky - his educated, affluent parents had good health insurance and he received truly state-of-the-art treatment. He received radiation therapy from one of the first linear accelerators in the country, at the University of Virginia. He belonged to the first cohort of children, adolescents and young adults who survived cancer in meaningful numbers.

His treatment cured him of cancer but left him with a lifetime of medical complications. After he lost function in his arm, he nearly died from septic shock, a consequence of the removal of his spleen as part of his therapy. I was eight years old. A few years later, he had a massive heart attack, a consequence of radiation exposure to the chest that is now well-known. The physicians in this area saved his life, over and over again.

When he died of heart failure - yes, another consequence of radiation - he was 65 years and he had been a cancer survivor for more than 45 years. He was in his last semester of teaching at UC before his planned retirement.

I am proud of him beyond measure. I became a pediatric oncologist because of him - because, through him, I saw what medicine could be and could do, and also where it needed to go. But I also know that we were incredibly, incredibly lucky. He had extraordinarily good health insurance, without concern for his numerous preexisting conditions. He had a job that was still waiting for him, after each and every illness. He had a job that adapted to his physical limitations.

If not nearly enough Americans have that kind of privilege...even fewer will if a bill like the AHCA ever becomes law. I cannot imagine what my life would be like without ready access to good healthcare. Almost certainly I would not now be raising in my son in the house his grandfather built, because my parents would have lost it to foreclosure long ago. Perhaps I would not have been able to attend a prestigious university and medical school. Likely I would not have returned to this community to practice and give back.

I was disappointed to note the following written on your website: "Under Obamacare, American families are spending a larger share of their income on premiums and deductibles than ever before. Patients have been hurt, doctors have been burdened, and families and taxpayers are being crushed by this terrible law and its thousands of pages of onerous regulations."

As a practicing physician and medical educator with experience teaching healthcare finance, I can personally attest that this is false. Obamacare, while it leaves much room for improvement, represented a substantial advance for American healthcare. Rising healthcare costs predated the passage of the ACA; the only problem is that the ACA did little to halt the rise. In addition to myself, there are many others in this area, particularly faculty at Utica College, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University who would be more than willing to meet with you and educate your staff on the issues.

Please do not hesitate to contact me. I - and my friends and colleagues - want to build bridges. We want to share our knowledge, both intellectual and intimate, of the devastating impact that a bill like the AHCA will have on the health of our community.


Amy Caruso Brown, MD, MSc, MSCS

20 December, 2016

Repost: It's a Wonderful Bike - 19 December 2013

Note: From now on, I will try to re-post one of my favorites of my dad's writing every month or two. Here is "It's A Wonderful Bike", first published on 19 December, 2013

Sure, I know lots of adults don't, and if the truth be told, lots of children don't either. Nevertheless, I do - always have and always will. Please don't try to make something of it.

And it's not that people haven't tried to dissuade me from believing - even my parents, by the way.

Consider Christmas of 1960. We had moved into our new home in Virginia Beach in October of 1958, and this was our third Christmas in that home. I was 12 and was asking Santa for a new bicycle. Full size for this soon to be teen. Blue. Schwinn. Black Panther model.

My nearest neighbor - a year or two younger than I – had that bike, and I wanted one too. My friend's father, however, was a local TV celebrity - which is to say they had more money than we did and could easily afford to spend a little more. Santa brought a Schwinn Jaguar III model, the next “class” down.

I don’t really recall if I had been told to expect that model or not. I don't remember any discussion of the Black Panther vs. Jaguar III issue at all, but since I wasn't disappointed with the Jaguar III, I’m assuming I already knew. That can mean only that I had previously agreed with my parents on what I should ask Santa for.

Anyway, I was already in bed on Christmas Eve, but around 11:00 my parents called me to come downstairs. It seems they had begun to a uncrate the bike Santa had brought so that my father could assemble it. Unfortunately it was not blue, but red - not the kind of mistake Santa typically makes. They didn’t want me to be disappointed in the morning, and at the same time, showing me now might encourage me to begin to accept there was no Santa.

This had never really been discussed in our home, and although I knew my parents were skeptical, I never pushed it. So at the age of 12, I received my first suggestion of what most my age already believed, but I wasn't buying it. For me, Santa existed then and still does.

That bike is in my garage right now; I just went out and looked at it. It will be 53 years old in a few weeks and has a little rust, but I saw one just like it (without rust) for sale online at $2900. It doesn't matter; I'm keeping mine. It has come to symbolize far too much. For example, knowing that Santa sometimes makes mistakes has made it a lot easier to forgive myself when I do. That's a useful skill I recommend regardless of how you come by it.

And those Christmas bells. They "still ring for me, as they do for all who truly believe." I feel sad for you if you don't know that reference, but it's not too late. Go watch or, better yet, read The Polar Express. It might just turn you back into a believer, and how wonderful it would be to hear those bells again. BELIEVE. And just as important - tell a child you believe. It won't hurt you a bit, and in fact, watching that child's reaction might just begin to convince you it is so. Happy Christmas.