June 19, 2008
I spent Father’s Day resting after my latest unfortunate, misguided attempt to run 13.1 miles in a row. Suffice it to say that I finished the race – and the race almost finished me.
I would be wise to pick a different hobby. Maybe one that requires intense sitting.
So my Father’s Day weekend really started yesterday. Cooper, my 12-year-old son, and I headed out to New Mexico for a whitewater rafting trip.
It’ll be a phenomenal time, I’m sure. But even more, it marks in my mind the beginning of a terrific new chapter in our relationship.
Cooper turns 13 next month, on the 4th of July. And his brother, Preston, started college at the University of Texas this week. So Coop, who’s almost a teenager and six years younger than his big brother, gets to start being an “only child.”
Cooper’s a smart, fun, creative kid with a wicked sense of humor. I’m really looking forward to this next stage in his life and our life together. We’re officially starting that stage this weekend.
In that little stretch of the state between Galveston and Downtown Houston, you can find everything that’s great – and everything that’s, well, not as great – about health care in Texas.
On the top end of the strip, we have the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. At the other is the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to get a tour of these two deservedly world-famous institutions – both of which owe their existence to the devotion and creativity of the people of this state.
They’re also bearing the fruit of investments that our parents and grandparents made in facilities, technologies and people, all of which have combined to save countless lives around the world and fuel a booming state economy.
The medical advances on display at both facilities are almost miraculous.
At M.D. Anderson, among a ton of specialty units, there’s a clinical trial unit that represents the front lines in our fight against cancer. This is where some of the best researchers in the world invent new treatments and strategies that literally save lives.
M.D. Anderson is also building a new facility where doctors are using imaging technologies to learn how specific cancer cells respond to specific types of treatment. These technologies will allow doctors to provide personal, targeted treatment to go after cancer cell-by-cell.
It’s a quantum leap from approaches such as chemotherapy or surgery.
What M.D. Anderson is to cancer research, the UT Medical Branch in Galveston is getting ready to be to infectious diseases. Right now, they’re building what will be one of the nation’s premier infectious disease research labs. There, doctors will seek out cures to diseases such as Ebola, the West Nile virus, and Dengue Fever.
This is not only a health issue. It’s a security one, given the public health risks that these diseases represent. Researchers’ precautions indicate how dangerous their jobs are – they take repeated showers, with and without their protective suits, when they’re coming and going from their labs. And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a building as thoroughly hurricane-proof as that one.
The Shriners also run a hospital at UTMB, treating kids from across Texas and other states and countries. It has the only burn unit in Southeast Texas.
And another UTMB hospital treats premature infants. It’s both inspiring and heartbreaking. Some of the kids in the unit are as much as 17 weeks premature, measuring just nine inches long. Yet while they might never have survived just a few years ago, many now have a chance to grow into healthy children.
There’s a doctor in the unit named Joan Richardson, and she embodies what people love about Texans. She’s tough, compassionate, and dedicated – she’s been at the hospital for about 35 years.
She showed us around the unit and demonstrated the machines that help these kids to breathe. The experience crystallized everything that’s good about health care in Texas – the big hearts of the people, and the innovation on display in the technology.
The most depressing part of the tour, oddly enough, came a long way from sick adults and kids. It was in the state budgets that support these institutions.
For those most concerned about these assets, the goal right now is to restore state funding to a level that begins to reflect both the service these facilities were able to provide nearly a decade ago and the increasing demands and costs they’ve dealt with ever since. The truth is that the state’s budget writers haven’t begun to keep up with the growth that we’ve seen – and that our children will grapple with – in recent years.
It’s extraordinary, and aggravating, that these life-saving institutions are trying to get just to where they were a few years back. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only area in which Texas’ legislative leadership has fallen behind.
The leadership has starved education funding and forced school district after school district to raise property taxes to make up for it.
It’s refused to fund universities, but chastised those who raise tuition so the quality of education doesn’t suffer.
It’s allowed roads to deteriorate and traffic to increase, diverting money from transportation and trumpeting privatization.
And it’s turned its back on nearly a billion dollars in federal funding for children’s health insurance, leaving Texas with the terrible standing as the state with the most uninsured kids.
It’s incomprehensible to me that our generation – which has prospered so much from the investments of our parents and grandparents – has so stubbornly refused to take steps that would ensure opportunity for our children and grandchildren.
Well, there’s an election coming up. I hope Texans of all stripes will come together to elect candidates who care as much about our children as they do about themselves, or as much about future prosperity as about the benefits of the moment.