Lobbying lawmakers: Summerville boy with cancer pushes to save funding for children's hospitals
Seven-year-old Chase Ringler and his family are in Washington, D.C., today and Wednesday in the hopes of capturing the hearts and attention of the people who hold the fate of Medicaid funding and other pediatric funding in their hands.
Chase of Summerville is surviving neuroblastoma, a rare but aggressive pediatric cancer, in part because he was able to see pediatric oncologists in Charleston quickly. The treatments were partly funded by Medicaid, says his mother, Whitney Ringler.
"He was admitted to the hospital on a Friday. On Monday, they found a tumor on his adrenal gland. On Thursday, the tumor was out, but it had spread to his skull and in his bone marrow. He was covered in the cancer. Immediately after surgery, he started chemo," she says.
"If all that didn't happen, I don't know what would have happened," she says.
The Ringlers are joining forces with the Medical University of South Carolina Children's Hospital to persuade lawmakers -- namely the delegation from South Carolina and anyone else they may "bump into" -- not to cut Medicaid funding for children's hospitals.
The group is going to Washington as part of Family Advocacy Day organized by the National
Association of Children's Hospitals. Last year, MUSC took 7-year-old Joey "Peanut" Benton, who has cystic fibrosis, and his family and managed to meet with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The new family will underscore the same message: Don't slash funding for pediatric care.
MUSC already has dealt with a Medicaid cut of $20 million, of which $13 million was cut from the Children's Hospital.
"This is a really important year given everything that's gone on on a state and federal level," says Pat Votava, director of grants for MUSC Children's Hospital. "This is a wonderful opportunity to take this family to emphasize what kinds of care children can receive and deserve from children's hospitals."
Chase's doctor, pediatric oncologist Dr. Jacqueline Kraveka, says Medicaid funding is critical for MUSC Children's Hospital, where 56 percent of the children it treats are Medicaid patients.
"MUSC is the only pediatric bone marrow transplant center in the state," says Kraveka, noting that children with leukemia, lymphoma, solid tumor and neuroblastoma often need bone marrow transplants. "For some, it's their last hope."
Medicaid funding affects MUSC directly and indirectly, Kraveka says.
"It trickles down to other providers as well," she says. "Hospitals won't be able to recruit people because they don't have funding. There is a shortage of pediatric subspecialists unfortunately due to the length of training and then to reimbursement."
Funding for pediatric cancer already is relatively small.
In 2008, the federal government allocated $4.9 billion for cancer research. Of that, $190 million was for pediatric cancer, and of that, $18.6 million was for neuroblastoma. To put those figures in perspective, a C-17 cargo plane costs $237 million, and the salaries paid to the 2010 New York Yankees totaled $206 million.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.