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July 10th, 2011 4:13 PM

On Nataline Sarkisyan's 21st Birthday

Last night in Los Angeles, while the Prince and Princess (William and Kate) – or is it now the Duke and Duchess? – were gathering all the media attention for their glamorous evening among the stars, a very different yet equally glamorous night was unfolding just a few miles away.  On the sales floor of the Calabasas, CA, Mercedes dealership, the 4th Annual Nataline Sarkisyan Foundation’s Fashion Legacy was held in celebration of Nataline’s 21st birthday, which would have been today.  She likely would have been 21 today if she had the chance to have the liver transplant denied her by her insurance company, CIGNA.  Instead, she died, and her parents carry on by fighting to make sure other families do not lose their children to insurance company greed.
Wendell Potter wrote all about the event in his column published on this site a few days ago. Potter was honored last year at the event.
This year, the Sarkisyan Foundation honored Donna Smith, American SiCKO, with an award for her courage in fighting for healthcare reform and for standing with the Sarkisyan family in their quest to make meaningful change.  Donna now works for the same nurses – National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association – that fought with the Sarkisyan’s to force CIGNA to overturn its denial of the liver transplant for Nataline in 2007.  Though the reversal of the denial came too late to save Nataline, a bond between the nurses and the Sarkisyan family was forged and has grown ever stronger.
Donna and Hilda Sarkisyan have become close friends as each has followed her path to pursuing healthcare justice for all.  Together with the nurses’ help, they have walked the Golden Gate Bridge together, visited the halls of Congress, challenged powerful insurance interests and cried many tears of sorrow, strength and resolve together.
Because Donna’s husband, Larry, is still recovering from major surgery, she was not able to attend the event in Los Angeles.  Once again, the nurses stepped up to support both families during this important moment.  DeAnn McEwen, RN. Co-president of CNA; Geri Jenkins, RN; and Kathy Carder, RN, all attended and accepted Donna’s award.   It seemed so fitting if these two women could not share this evening that they would be lifted by the nurses who have helped both families turn their the loss and suffering in their lives into advocacy.
DeAnn read the following statement last night to Hilda from Donna:

One of the most important gifts the nurses have given me in my work is in meeting the Sarkisyan family years ago and building the bond of our friendship.  Neither of us knew how important we would become to one another – or how much our friendship would reach to Wendell Potter and to even the offices of NBC’s Dateline to help millions more people know about Nataline’s story and begin moving the hearts and minds it will take to finally change the laws of this nation to help prevent other families from losing their children to greed and corporate profits.
In 2007, my family’s story and our financial collapse due to health crisis played out for all the world to see in SiCKO.  In 2007, you lost your only daughter, 17-year old Nataline.  Both of us were victims of a for-profit health insurance system that cares little about damage done to people like the Smith’s or the Sarkisyan’s.  My husband and I lost our home, our money, our security – our “stuff”  -- we were lucky.  You lost so much more.  Yet from that place of tremendous loss comes this night of our shared admiration and this glorious celebration of Nataline’s life and of the work we both have ahead.
Not only do I love and admire you Hilda as a friend and an advocate, I know that because of your love and devotion to the memory of your angel and your advocacy work now, my daughters and my granddaughters will have a much better and just chance to be treated appropriately when health problems occur.  Thank you, Hilda.  Thank you, Koko.  Thousands of mothers and fathers and daughters and sons who may never know your name will have their lives saved because you were courageous enough to stand up and change this system.  Thank you for allowing me to share in a part of that journey – and for honoring me tonight, on the eve of Nataline’s 21st birthday.
For more than a year, I had been planning to bring my granddaughter Kaitlyn to this evening’s event.  But as fate would have it, Larry’s health declined and his surgery had to be done.  We are both with you in our hearts tonight – loving you and awaiting the day when we can celebrate with you the victory I know will come to pass Nataline’s law and even to go beyond to a place where healthcare is a human right for all of us and not controlled by any insurance company.  God bless you both.  God bless and hold Nataline in his loving hands.  Thank you so much.  I hope whoever is reading this to you hugs you and tells you how much I love you.


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