by Mari McKee
An editorial about health care for the rich and famous
|Can Wealth and Prestige Buy Life?
Have you ever wondered why many famous, prominent, privileged and wealthy people seem to have longer life spans than the rest of the population? Is it just coincidence? Or could it be that certain people have access to medical care, treatments, and medicines that are mostly unknown by the average citizen. Rumors abound, so let us deal with the known medical facts. We can begin with published medical research.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the famous retired American basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers, gave his fans, as well as the rest of the world, a shock when he announced that he had been diagnosed with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) in 1991. HIV leads to AIDS, (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), a disease that was virtually unknown until the death of actor, Rock Hudson, in 1985. At that time in medical history, AIDS was a death sentence. There was no known treatment, no vaccine, and no cure. However, “Magic” has lived with HIV for twenty five years, never converting to having AIDS. Everyone who was HIV positive in 1991 developed AIDS and died within a few years. Is “Magic” a walking miracle or did his vast fortune buy him experimental medications? Today, AIDS is no longer a death sentence. With the advent of antiviral medications and approximately thirty other drugs that increase pathogen combating blood cells, AIDS patients can live relatively normal lives. They must, however, take the 30 plus medications daily to combat AIDS. However, none of these drugs were known in the 1990’s. There is still no vaccine or cure for AIDS today. Or is there?
Award winning actor Michael J. Fox (“Family Ties”, “Spin City”, “Back to the Future”) was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991 at the at the age of 30. Parkinson’s disease is a neurological, progressive disease of the brain where a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) dopamine, has stopped being produced. Parkinson’s disease features involuntary tremors, muscle rigidity, slowness of movement, shuffling gait, stooping posture, dementia, speech difficulties, depression and hallucinations. Treatment is medication used to replace dopamine. One such medication is L-dopa, however, there are side effects and it becomes increasingly ineffective with time. L-Dopa often helps relieve symptoms but has no effect on the progression of the disease.
Muhammad Ali is considered to be the most recognized athlete, out of over 800 living or dead athletes, in the world, Heavy weight champion Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay, Jr.), was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984. Thirty two years after his diagnosis, Ali is still alive, but has an extremely poor quality of life. He has greatly diminished motor skills and speech, but is still active as a humanitarian and goodwill ambassador (http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/muhammad-ali).
Is Ali another medical miracle? Or has his fame and fortune bought him medical privileges not available to the public? The newest studies indicate that barely one third of Parkinson’s disease Patients survive six years after diagnosis. There is no cure for this disease. One wonders how Fox has lived twenty five years and Ali has survived thirty two years with this progressive disease. Has money and fame bought them experimental medications and treatments the public doesn’t know exists?
Conspiracy theories have swirled around pharmaceutical giants for a long time. Many speculate that there is a cure or vaccine for cancer. However, this “cure” has not been released because the companies stand to make higher profits selling cancer treatment drugs. High profits are the goals of these companies. Most pharmaceutical companies have more security and secrets than Fort Knox.to keep their research safe. There have been legitimate gains made in a few cancers, particularly in childhood leukemia and lymphomas. Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children. Mortality has decreased in other cancers including breast cancer, prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer with early detection. However, this is insignificant considering the many different types of cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is a cancer that is usually not detectable until the end stages when the patient experiences pain and visits his physician. It is not unusual for people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to live only a few weeks to a few months.
Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple, Inc., was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. In 2009, during a period of silence about his cancer, it was later learned that Jobs had a liver transplant in April, 2009, in Tennessee. Obtaining organs for transplantation is another story in itself and well depicted in the movie, “John Q” starring Denzel Washington. Sometime in 2011, he went to Switzerland to undergo an experimental treatment. Steve Jobs died in October, 2011, from pancreatic cancer, eight years after his diagnosis. Did his wealth and his prestige, allow him to live years longer than other victims of pancreatic cancer?
On August 12, 2015, Former President Jimmy Carter announced that he had pancreatic cancer, at the age of 90. Furthermore, he said that the cancer had metastasized to other organs. His father and three siblings died from pancreatic cancer, and his mother had breast cancer which metastasized to her pancreas. President Carter has been closely monitored for this cancer for many years with regular imaging studies. However, because of his advanced age, he may not tolerate secret cancer drugs that could keep him alive longer than that of the usual prognosis. Time will tell.
An article titled, “Executive Privilege: Presidents Outlive Their Contemporaries” (http://www.livescience.com/17355-presidents-longevity-aging.html), concludes that US Presidents have lengthened life spans because of the privilege of wealth, education, and medical access, all benefits of their socioeconomic status. Gerald Ford lived for 93.5 years, and Ronald Reagan lived 93.3 years. Another study indicates that Presidents are remarkably immune to cancer deaths (without knowing Carter’s prognosis). Could there be a secret cancer vaccine?
Executive privilege appears to be extended to former First Ladies, as well. Betty Ford lived to age of 93, Lady Bird Johnson lived to the age of 94, and Nancy Reagan also lived to the age of 94. Former First Ladies, Rosalyn Carter, is 88 years old, and Barbara Bush is 90 years old.
We may never know if there are currently any vaccines, treatments or cures for privileged, wealthy, or/and famous people with deadly diseases. We can only speculate.