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Give thanks by giving to Children's Hospital

By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 10:33 PM

I received a panicked call the other day from my daughter who's away at college. She'd received a bill for some medical scans her doctor had ordered. Thankfully, the scans were negative - she's fine - but now she held in her hands a not-insubstantial bill that I will have to resubmit to our insurance company in the hopes that we can knock a few digits off it.

I thought about how lucky I am.

I thought about how lucky I am to have a job.

I thought about how lucky I am to have a job that provides insurance.

I thought about how lucky I am to be able to say yes when the doctor says, "I think we should get some scans."

Then I thought about the parents in our area who aren't so lucky.

Sometimes you don't need a scan. Sometimes that curious fever or persistent cough turns out to be nothing. But sometimes it turns out to be something. If you're a parent with a low-paying job and no health insurance you might have to do some awful calculus in your head: Can I afford this?

I wouldn't ever want my child's health to be determined by whether I had to make a rent payment that month, by whether I'd been laid off. But that is the reality for too many families in our area.

But not at Children's Hospital. Time and time again I've spoken to parents who told me the doctors there said the same thing: "Let's worry first about fixing your child, not about how you're going to pay for it."

Last year Children's Hospital provided $57 million in uncompensated care. That money paid the bills of families who had no insurance at all. It made up the shortfall between what a family's meager insurance would cover and what the treatment cost.

Last year readers of this column donated $373,000 to that fund. That might seem like a drop in the bucket, but with a bucket that big, every drop helps. This year our goal is $400,000. As of Wednesday afternoon we've raised $277,932.39.

I don't have room to thank everyone who has donated so far, but I did want to highlight a few, people such as Norma Meyer, who calculates her donation by adding up the ages of her two grown children and her three "precious, healthy grandchildren."

And Sally and Ron Yates, whose grandson spent three days at Children's and is now a healthy 20-month-old.

And Elvin Willcock, whose granddaughter celebrated the 20th anniversary of her open heart surgery in November and is now at law school in New York City.

And Phyllis Carpenter who wrote, "I thank God that I am able to give to Children's Hospital again this year."

And Wendy Leibowitz who wrote, "I've been meaning to give for years, but finally realized that if I waited until I could afford it, I'd never give."

And Betty Kennedy who 41 years ago gave birth to a 2-pound, 2-ounce son. He was treated at Children's and "today he is in perfect health," she wrote.

Not every child can be saved, of course. One of the most touching stories I heard was from Leanne Omland of South Riding. Last year her daughter Caroline was successfully treated for a cyst. But 15 years ago, Leanne's 8-year-old son, Matthew, died of cancer despite the best of efforts of Children's doctors.

Wrote Leanne: "During the time my son was being treated at Children's, I talked to people who admitted this was the nicest environment in which their child had ever been. The rest of us sometimes complained about 'living' in the hospital for days at a time; they were cherishing their time of luxury. I never forgot those remarks that made me so much more grateful for the best-in-the-world care we have in our own backyard."

With your help, that care will continue to be available to anyone. Our campaign ends Friday. Please send a check or money order (payable to Children's Hospital) to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390. To donate online with a credit card, go to www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital or call 301-565-8501.

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