Family of Nataline Sarkisyan Joins Edwards on Campaign Trail

NatalineNaline Sarkisyan is unfortunately a name that many of us are familiar with for the wrong reasons. Cigna had denied her request for a liver transplant and many people were outraged by their denial, multiple denials in fact. It became a much more public issue when The California Nurses Association urged people to call Cigna on her behalf. There was a post at the Daily Kos and other liberal blogs which urged people to call Cigna and let them know that they were being watched. After one day of badgering by the blogosphere, Cigna decided to approve the transplant, sadly it was too late and on the very same day, Nataline passed away.

John Edwards started to talk about Nataline’s case as an example of what is currently wrong with our system of health care. Why are large corporations deciding who lives and dies rather than leaving that decision up to the patient and their doctors. And when do you decide that the cost is too much to bear for a few extra precious months of life? It’s not cut and dry and of course it never should be.

During John’s speech after the Iowa Caucuses, he also spoke of Nataline’s story and it grabbed her mother’s attention. Was that right? Was a politician running for President talking about her child? He was.

But I want all of us to remember tonight while we’re having all these political celebrations, that just a few weeks ago in America, Nataline Sarkisian (ph), a 17- year-old girl who had a — needed a liver transplant, and whose insurance company decided they wouldn’t pay for her liver transplant operation.

Finally, her nurses spoke up on her behalf. Her doctors spoke up on her behalf. Ultimately, the American people spoke up on her behalf by marching and picketing in front of her health insurance carrier. And, finally, the insurance carrier caved in and agreed to pay for her operation. And when they notified the family just a few hours later, she died. She lost her life. Why? Why?

It was then that the family called the campaign and asked how they could help Edwards and his campaign in New Hampshire. Below are the comments that Nataline’s brother, mother and father made at a John Edwards event on the trail this Sunday during his health care forum.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NmJx-uE0qM[/youtube]

Nataline’s mother Hilda Sarkisyan said that the family’s fight goes beyond that on behalf of her daughter.

“We yelled and screamed and finally they [CIGNA] told us they would make an exception,” said Mrs. Sarkisyan. “What does that mean? Only Nataline can live and not you guys? It’s not right. What about the other parents that cannot speak?”

“For every mom and dad out there, we have to make a change. We have to vote for the perfect president,” she said. “No one can help us. This is it. We have to vote for Mr. Edwards. We have to.”

snip

Nataline’s father Grigor said that he promised buy his daughter a car when she’d get better.

“You guys know what I got for her after she passed away? I bought a coffin for her,” he said fighting through his grief. “Because CIGNA… they killed my daughter.”

CBS News

Nataline's family with Edwards

It’s heartbreaking to hear from Nataline’s family first hand, but you can tell that hey were genuinely touched by Edwards mentioning their daughter when he was given a few precious moments to speak after the caucus. He did not concede, because John knew it was his chance to speak about what he wants to do for us. Cynically the Clinton campaign assumed Edwards was playing politics and had contacted Nataline’s family merely for the spotlight and that he didn’t talk about real people he had helped. (Um, we know that’s not true). I had to include the following to clarify.

Mr. Edwards was responding to a comment from Jay Carson, Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, who suggested that “the references in Senator Clinton’s speeches are about people she has actually helped and changes she has actually made, not stories she’s pulled from the newspaper and included in her stump,” Mr. Carson wrote in an E-mail message.

Mr. Carson’s comment was in reference to an emotional town hall event Mr. Edwards held in Manchester early Sunday afternoon, featuring an appearance by the parents of Nataline Sarkisyan, a 17-year-old leukemia patient who died in December after her insurance company denied her a liver transplant. Mr. Edwards had recently incorporated the story into his stump speech as a criticism of insurance companies.

Speaking at a news conference after the Manchester event, Mr. Edwards responded to Mr. Carson’s comment when a reporter read it to him.

“The Sarkisyans contacted me because they believe I’m the kind of president who will actually fight for their daughter,” Mr. Edwards said. “People who have been through these difficult times against entrenched, powerful moneyed interests – they get it. They get it in a serious way. They’re not looking for somebody who’ll make deals.”

New York Times

Why is it that something this awful has to happen to illustrate an important part of what John Edwards is talking about when he says you cannot negotiate with these people? Nataline’s family negotiated and fought and it took the voices of many to get the go ahead to save or at least, lengthen her life. I believe this is what Edwards means when he says he needs us. He needs our voices to speak for those who have no voice. It won’t just be him fighting, he needs us to help him fight, by going to polls, by holding our elected officials accountable and by showing just where the priorities are of large corporations like Cigna. This is the kind of fight he’s talking about.

Heather Pritchard

I'm new to political blogging but have been writing most of my life about different things. I campaigned for President Clinton when he was just Governor Clinton in Orange County. I graduated from Smith College with a BA in English and a minor in Film. I work full time, have a lovely four year old daughter named Charlotte, my husband teaches full time at Cerritos College in Norwalk in the Music Department. Gary has a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology from UCI. I hope to go back to school in some form or another, maybe sociology or economics. I've even thought of Law school. Our newest edition to the household is our Weimaraner Sophie. 

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  9 comments for “Family of Nataline Sarkisyan Joins Edwards on Campaign Trail

  1. January 7, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    This kind of thing really pisses me off, Heather.
    Is anyone else disapponted that Senator Edwards is using this dead girl and her grieving family to further his political aspirations?
    Where was John Edwards when Nataline was alive? Did he place a call to Cigna asking that they re-evaluate their decision? Did he appeal to supporters to call on Nataline’s behalf? What did he to to PREVENT this tragedy?
    Edwards seems all to willing now to use this sad case to his own election benefit.
    He was in my list of possible candidates, but no more.
    This sets him apart from the others, but not in a good way. For me it clearly shows that for Senator Edwards, it’s all about him.
    This kind of action makes me sick. I’m thoroughly disgusted.
    If Edwards becomes the Democratic nominee, I’ll have to look elsewhere.

  2. January 7, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    LC, the family approached Edwards. Not the other way around.

  3. January 7, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    It doesn’t matter.
    Senator Edwards started using Nataline’s story last week in Iowa. That was distasteful. An honorable man (and campaign) would politely decline the family’s offer in order to give them time to grieve.

  4. January 7, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    He’s using them? They called him and Nataline is a sad example of what happens when profit comes before ethics. What they did was unethical and the more attention it gets, the better.

    You think it’s about him, it’s not, it’s about their story. There is nothing I can say to make you believe otherwise, I have a feeling you assume the worst here, just as Hillary’s campaign did.

    This did not become national news until her DEATH, the day she died was the very day it became national news. AND, Edwards did try to help her, when he was a co-sponsor of the patients bill of rights, the bill that Bush vetoed. It could have saved Nataline’s life because it demanded that these decisions be placed with the family and the doctor.

    I’m sorry to tell you, I find your indignation to be feigned at worse and at least superficial at best. It’s really easy to say why didn’t he do something before she died, a lot of people didn’t. But he’s attempting to share her story so that maybe more people won’t have to lose their children because their heath care provider feels the cost is just to high.

  5. January 7, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    “Time to grieve”? They’ve had way too much time to grieve, Cigna gave her a death sentence by denying their request to cover a liver transplant. Just because they use their grief in order to bring a very serious issue to the national spotlight does not mean it is not heartfelt and important.

    Did you ever think that this is how they are grieving. The family promised their daughter the would speak out. They told her that, it’s not here in any of my quotes, but her family said they would fight for her and others even after she was gone.

    Not only do you insult Edwards by questioning his sincerity, you call into question this families right to grieve in the manner of their choosing.

    And this is why we’ve failed against Republicans, because we quiver in the fear of being called insincere when we have to fight for people and show exactly why we are fighting. We have to talk about the personal struggles of everyday people, it’s the whole thing we are fighting for, for families like Nataline.

    I’m sorry you find it distasteful, but I think it’s stories like this that will slap the American people out of their stupor and make people realize that just because you have health insurance doesn’t mean you are covered when you face life and death situations.

  6. January 7, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    My indignation is real. I have been through the HMO/transplant experience twice with a parent – once with a great outcome, and once without.
    A decent human would refuse to use Nataline’s story to further his own political career. The “win at all costs” mentality is what drives so many away from political involvement.
    If Edwards had done ANYTHING to help Nataline and her family I would feel differently.

  7. January 7, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve dealt with this firsthand. Sincerely, sorry.

    But I don’t know how else to explain it. Just because he didn’t help someone before there is something that brings it to his attention does not make it off limits in my mind.

    The Lakey family were helped by Edwards over fifteen years ago and they are campaigning on his behalf, does that make them wrong or him?

    I don’t feel this is for his career, I think it’s for the cause of universal health care. I believe that Edwards is not in it to win, but in it to change the priorities.

  8. January 7, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    I do not place a statute of limitations on this.
    But if someone at the Edwards campaign added it to his talking points after reading about the case (as I suspect), that’s bad enough. Accepting the family’s help after not lifting a finger to save their daughter’s life is immoral to me.
    As I see it he is exploiting them and their daughter – for his own PERSONAL gain.
    I remain ashamed of the Edwards campaign.

  9. January 8, 2008 at 6:03 am

    If it were my child, I would want justice. I would want her story shouted from the rooftops. I would want the soulless greedy deciders to tremble in their Gucci loafers. I wouldn’t want to her story to be shut away, so other people don’t have to be uncomfortable.

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