MANCHESTER, NH — For weeks, John Edwards has been invoking the personal stories of three people. Nataline Sarkisyan was a 17-year-old girl whose family fought with their insurance company to get Nataline covered for a critically needed liver transplant, only to have it agree too late to save her life. James Lowe is a man who couldn't speak for the first 50 years of his life because he didn't have the health coverage he needed to fix his cleft palate. And Valerie Lakey is a young girl who was injured on a swimming pool drain that the manufacturer knew was dangerous. Edwards fought the company in court on behalf of the Lakey family, and won.
Today, the families involved in those stories campaigned with Edwards and his wife Elizabeth in New Hampshire. Though they undoubtedly appeared with the best of intentions, they became pawns in a political game of back-and-forth before the day was out.
The emotion in Manchester's Franco-American Centre in the early afternoon was tremendous. The Edwardses tried to describe the effort the Sarkisyans had gone through to save Nataline's life before ceding the microphone to, in order, her mother, her older brother, and her father. Nataline was diagnosed with cancer when she was 14 years old, said Nataline's mother Hilda. Insurance companies sent them to multiple hospitals and were hesitant to cooperate, but eventually her cancer went into remission. After a joyous sweet sixteen party, doctors told the family there was a complication: Nataline needed bone marrow. Her brother could donate, and did. A week after the operation, it looked like everything would be fine. Once again, a complication. Nataline had turned yellow; she had jaundice.
Nataline spent three weeks in ICU, but the insurance company, Cigna, twice declined to pay for a liver transplant. Multiple doctors told Cigna (motto: "A Business of Caring") she needed the operation. Her nurses helped picket Cigna's offices, along with members of the Sarkisyans' church and members of their Armenian community. Nataline's father said he spent Nataline's last day on earth in front of Cigna's offices, pleading.
"She loved Christmas," said Hilda. "I promised her she'd be home for Christmas." Nataline didn't make it. On December 20th of this past year, Cigna agreed to "make an exception" for Nataline, but she died later that day. Her voice breaking, standing next to her family and the Edwardses, Hilda told the crowd, "I feel empty inside. My heart is a hole."
She pointed out that Nataline shouldn't have been "an exception." "We fought them, but what about the other parents that cannot speak, they don't have the community, they don't have the churches to back them up?"