Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation
SiCKO turned five this week. The Michael Moore film that exposed the brutalities of the U.S. healthcare system and what that system has done to injure real, insured Americans turned five. And along with that anniversary came both sober realities and the healing support that only one SiCKO can give to another.
We met as an extended family in Philadelphia this weekend – all who were subjects in SiCKO had been invited. Dawnelle Keys, mother of little 2 year old Mychelle who died when she was denied care in an out-of-network hospital; Julie and Tracy Pierce, Jr., widow and son of the late Tracy Pierce who died when denied a bone marrow transplant by his insurance carrier; Reggie Cervantes and Billy Maher, 9/11 first responders who have suffered terrible health and life consequences because they had no health coverage at the time when SiCKO was filmed in 2007; Adrian Campbell Mongomery, who has faced cancer three times and financial ruin though she is only 30 years old; Larry and Donna Smith (me), who went bankrupt and who still face crushing medical debt and denied care for Donna’s current recurrence of cancer; and Lee Einer, SiCKO’s own health insurance industry whistleblower who called foul on an industry that profits off the death and suffering of its insured.
As we each arrived to our hotel, we embraced each of our own with unmitigated joy. Other SiCKOs who wanted to be there but could not sent their regrets: Dr. Linda Peeno, who had been the medical director for Humana and who finally had a crisis of conscience that led her to tell her story was unable to attend, and John Graham, 9/11 rescue worker, also couldn’t make the trip.
Michael Moore joined us, as did his wonderful sister and SiCKO’s co-producer, Anne Moore, and her daughter, Molly Hardesty-Moore, and the incredibly talented coordinating producer and web guru, Eric Weinrib. We spent hours privately catching up on one another’s lives and just resting in the love and support that has embraced us as an extended family since June 2007 when the film first premiered. Few others in our lives understand where we have been and how it has felt to be simultaneously famous and forgettable. The trauma in our lives has continued but has been mitigated by the deep reservoir of love from one another and from our Academy Award winning fearless leader and filmmaker, Michael Moore. Though we were documentary subjects and not paid actors, none of us has ever doubted Michael’s support or his sincerity.
After our private time together, we proceeded to more public venues – and to our more public faces and personas. But for that few hours together, we could just be who we are and where we are without worry. And those moments in life are so very rare. We all soaked up the energy and the passion to store away for the future when the roads will grow too weary and the nights will grow too long.
During the formal program at Plays and Players Theater, when the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and we had no air-conditioning, we all had a secret. We love one another and we are ready to fight on. We may have struggled mightily since SiCKO was released to keep our heads above water, but we are bonded by a love and dignity that is deep and so powerful. We know we will reach the point when our stories will be historical tomes, and that because of our work and our sacrifice, we will someday stand victorious when the U.S. joins the rest of the industrialized world and provides healthcare to all.
But even in light of all the programmed moments and for all the good and dear people who wanted to spend just a bit of time with Michael Moore, and for all of the reasons we all support moving well beyond the Affordable Care Act just held to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court this week, I looked over and caught the reasons why I fight on.
During our public program when Michael was talking about Finland’s educational system and how they do not ask their kids to do homework, I saw a wide and easy smile on Tracy Pierce, Jr., and I knew we will fight on to the day when healthcare in America will match the resilience of our young people like Tracy, Jr., who in the face of the incredible trauma of losing his dad to insurance company greed are still strong enough and loving enough to smile broadly when they think of life without homework. Clearly, being a SiCKO has helped heal us all.
But as we told Michael and as we told health insurance industry whistleblower Wendell Potter on stage in Philly on Saturday night, it isn’t the experts and the film producers or the pundits who will say when we have reached healthcare justice in America. It’s the SiCKOs. And we’re not there yet – a single standard of high quality care for all without financial barrier. We want it and will stand shoulder-to-shoulder until we get it.
We cannot bring back little Mychelle and we cannot bring Tracy, Sr., back. But we can love one another and fight on. We’re still SiCKO after all these years, and we’ll be SiCKO until we win. We’ll be a family until we die. And Tracy, Jr., your dad would be so very proud. Thank you for being there with us. For you, we fight on.
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