Citizen Times column

When it’s your own flesh and blood, you’ll ‘get’ America’s health care disgrace

When my 33-year-old son dies sometime in the next few weeks, the official reason will be metastatic colon cancer.

But in reality, my son is dying from lack of health insurance. His cancer could have — and should have — been caught in its early stages. He was at very high risk of colon cancer and he was supposed to have colonoscopies every six months.

But he couldn’t afford them that often. He had one in 2003 that showed an abnormality, but the doctors told him it was scar tissue from a previous surgery.

He moved from New York to Savannah, Ga., and waited another year. He had some symptoms, but the doctor he saw told him it was nothing to worry about and sent him home.

Betrayed by system

Finally, he became really sick. He couldn’t keep food down and he had severe abdominal pain. For three weeks, the doctor took a wait-and-see attitude. Finally, he did a colonoscopy and sent Michael home. It wasn’t until months later that we found out the mass was so large it was blocking his colon. They never said a word to him.

He was in renal failure and near death when he was admitted through the emergency room three weeks after that colonoscopy. By then his cancer was stage 3.

He almost died two more times in the next year, once from another blockage caused by radiation damage and then from an infection that his doctor didn’t treat. If we had not gotten him an appointment at Duke University Medical Center when we did, he would have died from that infection.

Dr. Herb Hurwitz at Duke adopted Michael and fought as hard as Michael did to save his life. But it was too late to save him by the time the cancer was found.

A recurring story

My son’s case is no aberration. People die in this country every day because they don’t have insurance. A study by the Institute of Medicine and the Urban Institute last year showed that between 2000 and 2006, 167,000 Americans died prematurely because they didn’t have insurance. That’s 50 times the number who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001. Fifty times.

So, where is the war on this terror? Where is the outrage over these deaths?

In the last couple of weeks, I wrote about a 3-year-old boy, Paxten Mitchell, whose father’s insurance denied coverage of the child’s leukemia treatments. The response was amazing.

But how many other people don’t get that kind of attention? No one should have to be on the front page of the newspaper before they get the care they need.

People have told me not having insurance is the result of poor choices made at college age, that if kids stay in school, they’ll get jobs that offer good insurance.

That’s just not true and it’s blaming the victim.

No level playing field

Not everyone — even those who go to the best colleges — gets a job with a company that offers insurance. People go into business for themselves or work for small companies. People lose insurance when their companies ship jobs overseas, or if they divorce or go back to school. We have 47 million people in this country who have no health insurance.

So, who’s to blame? We all are for not insisting Congress do something. But then, they all have amazing health coverage. I think if their access to the health system were limited to the emergency room, we might see some movement toward improving access for everyone.

This is not just a poor people’s issue. It has moved into the middle class. Insurance at even the best of companies is more expensive and it covers less every year.

This is an issue for all Americans, and we need to demand something be done. My son is more than a statistic. He and his brother are my heart and soul, and I will never, ever get over losing him.

Originially published March 23, 2008 in the Asheville Citizen Times


  1. Posted by The 47 Percent Responds - Campaign for America's Future | Blog | October 23, 2012, 10:13 pm

    [...] gets even more personal for Boyd, when she writes about her son, Mike — who became one of the 47 percent when he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. Mike was [...]

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Visit our new web site

It's official! We are WNC Health Advocates.
Please visit our new web site, Visit WNC Health Advocates
The new name reflects what we do -- advocate for health care for everyone and help people access and navigate our current health care system.
While we still hold onto the memory and the generous spirit of Mike Danforth, we need people to be able to see our name and understand who we are.

Help Life o’ Mike

We need your help now more than ever. Your tax-deductible donation will help us get Patient Pals and Family Friends to more people in need of peer support. Please consider a gift in honor or in memory of a loved one.
Donate here or mail your donation to Life o' Mike, PO Box 1213, Asheville, NC 28802.

Patient Pals & Family Friends

Life o' Mike has a peer support program for people with one or more serious or chronic medical issues or disabilities.

We aim to reduce isolation and fear among people who have conditions, including psychiatric illness, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, mild dementia or other cognitive disorder or disability, thereby reducing depression and complications as people learn to improve self-management of their medical conditions.

Patient Pals help alleviate feelings of isolation and frustration. They can help people develop a list of questions to ask the doctor and then accompany the person to the doctor to make sure all the questions are answered, taking notes to be sure the person understands the doctor’s answers.

Our trained volunteers also accompany their “Pals” to art exhibits, movies and walks outdoors, meet for coffee, call to check in and more.

Our Pals have experienced weight loss, improvement in diabetes, HIV, psoriasis, depression and more, just because they have someone who cares about them. Some relationships develop into longer-term friendships; other Pals move on to more independent lives.

Family Friends are there to help caregivers and other family members grow into their new role.

We need volunteers, who are asked to donate a minimum of one hour a week. Training is free and includes information on active listening, ways to help and when to know more help is needed.

And of course, we need funding.

To learn more, call Leslie Boyd at 828-243-6712 or e-mail

Life o’ Mike honors Joe Eblen

Life o' Mike presented its first Michael T. Danforth Community Service Award to Joe Eblen at a luncheon on June 8, in the Friendship Hall of First Congregational Church, 20 Oak St., Asheville.
Joe, seen here with Leslie Boyd, left, and his wife, Bobbie, has spent his life helping children and families, both as a coach and game official for more than 60 years, and as founder of Eblen Charities.

Start From Seed

Life o' Mike has a new program- Start from Seed (SFS).
SFS is a volunteer doula program aimed at providing non-medical, comprehensive support to low income, high-risk women and families of Buncombe County focusing on three areas:

1. We help new doulas with certification and training in return for their participation as a volunteer doula for SFS

2. We mentor volunteer doulas with their first few clients

3. Our volunteer doulas provide birth and postpartum doula services to low income, high risk moms, providing support and tools to empower them as a new parent.

A birth doula is a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; a postpartum doula provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

Start from Seed clients are referred to us from the Buncombe County Department of Health’s Nurse-Family Partnership Program, Western North Carolina Community Health Services, and Mission Hospital. The Program is intended and designed for growing clients’ inner strength and helping them gain empowerment to help them cope with the emotional, physical and mental challenges of childbirth, labor, and motherhood.

Our new moms and their infants have many needs. If you would like to help them get off to a good start, please visit our Start from Seed web site: Start from Seed, or call Program Director Chelsea Kouns at 804-814-9946.

Events in the community

Free birth and labor classes

Peaceful Beginning Doula Services holds free birth forums, Peaceful Birth, 6:30-8 p.m. the last Thursday of every month (except November) at Spa Materna, 640 Merrimon Ave., above The Hop, in Asheville.
All are welcome, expectant women and their partners are encouraged to attend anytime during their pregnancy. We also encourage doulas and other maternal/child professionals to attend and share in the discussions. The forums are "birth circle" style, focusing on normal birth which follows the Lamaze Six Care Practices for Healthy Birth. The forums are led by certified and experienced educators.

NAMI Family-to-Family Class

NAMI of Western Carolina holds 12-week classes for families and caregivers of individuals with a severe mental illness 6-8:30 p.m. Mondays at Charles George VA Medical Center, 1100 Tunnel Road in Asheville. The course covers major mental illnesses and self-care. Registration required. Info at 828-299-9596 or

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