The greatness of a society is demonstrated by the way it treats the least of its citizens. Perhaps nothing expresses how far America has fallen from its once lofty heights than the tragic story of Sal Padovano, a 54 year old resident of Harrison, New Jersey.
Once a union carpenter who was involved in the construction of many commercial structures in New Jersey, Sal is now homebound as a result of congestive heart failure of such an advanced state that even moving around his small apartment is a breath-draining chore. According to his doctors, the only option permitting Sal to continue living is a heart transplant. And medically, Padovano qualifies for a transplant according to the guidelines established by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the private, non-profit organization that manages the nation’s organ transplant system – including its waiting list – under contract with the federal government.
But, here’s the problem. Sal has no medical insurance, and his wife Cecilia, who was providing medical insurance coverage through her job with the municipality of Harrison, lost her job due to budget cuts three years ago and has been unable to secure full-time employment with benefits since then. And, the UNOS guidelines stipulate that those who receive transplants have “adequate insurance coverage that affords the patient all the life-long medications and treatments necessary to maintain the transplanted organ and avoid financial hardship.”
While provisions do exist to address insurance gaps and seek funding alternatives, it appears that, in Mr. Padovano’s case, no assistance is forthcoming. Yet, should he receive a heart transplant, Sal would likely resume a largely normal life as a fully functioning, productive member of society.
Unlike Mickey Mantle who, despite being diagnosed with end-stage liver disease caused by hepatitis, liver cancer, and years of alcohol abuse, received a liver transplant and died two months later from the cancer, Sal has been told that his prognosis is good. In 1995, the year in which Mantle received his transplant, 804 people on the waiting list behind him died.
The cases of Mickey Mantle and that of Sal Padovano, although dissimilar in many respects, serve as a stark reminder that, regardless of the public perception, our medical establishment rations its care – giving preference to the celebrated and wealthy over the poor and largely nameless. And, the story of Sal Padovano is yet another cry for a national health insurance program that will ensure all of our nation’s citizens equal access to vital, life-saving care. Only when America chooses to offer equal opportunity (including access to healthcare) to the least of its citizens will its greatness return.