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Fifty Ways to Love Your Liver

November 20, 2011

David CrosbyNovember 20, 1994, rock singer/songwriter David Crosby went under the knife for a seven-hour surgery at L.A.’s UCLA Medical Center. The procedure? Replace his failing liver.

Now I’m all for the business of saving lives. Heal the sick and feed the hungry should be the mantra for us all. Getting a liver in 1994 was much like getting a liver today. You have to meet certain standards. You have to be clean and sober for awhile. And you can’t have a cancerous liver.

Supposedly, Crosby met all the standards and got his liver. The question many people asked at the time was how did the rock star/ex-con go from a new name on the list to a transplant recipient virtually overnight?

I think the answer is simple. Celebrity status and a “For-Profit” health care system. That was true then and apparently the status quo still applies. Your status and pocketbook can (and does) improve your slot on the list.

Steve Jobs was 48 years-old when he was diagnosed with a rare pancreatic cancer in 2003.

According to data from the United Network for Organ Sharing, the agency responsible for distributing donated organs to those on waiting lists around the nation, there were roughly 16,000 people on the national liver waiting list when Jobs got his transplant. He was one of 1,581 people who got livers in the United States in the first quarter of 2009. Almost none of those people had any form of cancer.

In fact, if Jobs’ tumor spread from his pancreas into his liver, as is likely, most transplant surgeons say that they would not recommend a liver transplant because there is no data that shows a transplant will stop or even slow the spread of the cancer. So the question is: Was this the best use of a liver?

I know a guy that will likely be dead soon. He’s been told by doctors he has to be clean and sober for a year before they will add his name to the transplant list. Twelve months added to the time before his transplant number would even start inching it’s way up the stack of names hoping to live long enough to make their way to the top. It’s a crap shoot at best.

This friend is basically unemployable and hardly a candidate for a big donation to a hospital charity. It’s a raw deal but it’s the hand he’s been dealt. It’s a symptom of the class inequity in health care. The World Health Care organization ranks the U.S. 37th on the system ranking list, hardly world-class.

From the middle class on down people are struggling and dying every day for one reason only. They can’t afford health care. In a country where health care system should be second to none, access is limited to those who can afford it.

If your name isn’t Jobs, Crosby, or Mickey Mantle, pray that you don’t need a transplant someday. Mantle may well be the worst case of blatant celebrity transplant list abuse of all time. The former Yankee was on the list for all of one day. Dispute receiving a healthy liver, Mickey Mantle died two months later of liver cancer anyway.

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One Comment
  1. November 20, 2011 3:13 pm

    Bravo. Thank you for calling it like it is. Decent health care in this country is reserved for the wealthy. If the poor get sick, the best they can hope for is symptom management at the hands of a disorderly public health system. The best the middle class can hope for is a quick death.

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