Liberally Conservative

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free....... ~Ronald Reagan~

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Immigration - A Medical X-File

Dr. Katrina S. Firlik, a neurosurgeon in Greenwich, Connecticut writes an interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal (subcription) concerning the spread and dread of diseases uncommon in the United States, yet brought in by illegal immigrants. Dr. Firlik also brings up the high cost of medical care for illegal immigrants and how one hospital went bankrupt.
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Here is the story of one Guatemalan immigrant working in the U.S. illegally.
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He'd been doing landscaping work until he was admitted to Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut, with an excruciating headache. The medical team discovered that he had active tuberculosis, so fulminant that it had even invaded his spinal fluid. Thus, the headache. Needless to say, tuberculosis meningitis is not the type of thing we're used to seeing in Greenwich, or anywhere in the U.S., for that matter. He'd been in the hospital for a month by the time my surgical services were called upon. He was staying in a private isolation room. His strain of TB was proving to be multi-drug-resistant, and the medical team just couldn't clear it. I was paged by an intern on a Sunday morning. An MRI revealed a large mass that was compressing his spinal cord to an impossibly thin strand. The mass spanned an incredibly lengthy 10 vertebral segments, nearly from the base of his neck to the top of his low back. I'd never seen anything like it. Neither had the internist, the infectious disease specialist, the neurologist or the radiologist. I took the patient to the operating room and spent the rest of my Sunday in the hospital. I wore a special mask designed to hug the face tighter than most OR masks, but the thought crossed my mind that I was putting myself and the entire OR staff at risk. I made the longest incision I'd ever made in my surgical career, carefully opened 10 segments of spine, and worked away at the inflammatory mass that was plastered to his spinal cord. I called a pathologist in to examine the pieces of specimen I was removing. He heard the full story, refused to contaminate his equipment, and left. It wasn't possible to get more than half the mass out without risking even more damage to his spinal cord, so I stopped, forcing myself to settle for the less-than-satisfying achievement of having at least decompressed the spinal cord by removing the bony elements from behind (unroofing the spinal canal to allow for more room). The patient spent an additional six weeks in the hospital after surgery, not because of surgical concerns, but because the medical team still couldn't clear his infection. His sputum samples kept coming back positive. After 2½ months on multiple antibiotics, he was finally clear to leave the hospital. He left in a wheelchair. I knew I'd never see him again.
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Not an isolated case:
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How many other diseases are being brought in by how many other undocumented and unexamined workers? Somehow, here, a social worker was able to track down the friends and relatives who came to the U.S. with this patient. They all tested positive for TB, and were all working behind the scenes in local restaurants.
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The Cost:
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Why should our hospitals have to eat the cost of disease brought in by undocumented workers? I found out that his bill totaled $200,000. This excludes professional fees, meaning everything that would have been billed separately by the many physicians treating him over 10 weeks (including what I'd have charged for surgery). We all worked for him free.
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Six months later the patient did, in fact, return to Dr. Firlik's office. He walked in and stated he was looking for another job. Normally people return with paperwork for disability. In this instance Dr. Firlik felt admiration and her previous resentment had washed away.
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It is admirable that someone with a genuine work ethic will go at any lengths to earn a living. However, laws are laws and they should be fully enforced. Illegal aliens place a huge burden on our economy, well beyond the services they provide as we demonstrated here.
xxx Admiration is one thing, the dangerous instance described in this medical case was unusual and appeared to be an alien disease viewed only on the X-Files. However, it was documented that relatives and co-workers of this one patient had the same disease and worked in public places.
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It may be dangerous to cross the border and risk one's life for American freedoms but how dangerous is it to unsuspecting citizens who come into contact with diseases that are life threatening and not common in our medical community.
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As a society we must demand more from our political leadership all the way to the White House. It is unacceptable to allow a free pass to illegal immigrants now residing in the United States. Forget the "threats" to our economy. The real threat is well beyond economics; it threatens the health and well being of everyone.

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