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Five-Year-Old Texan Confronts Lawmakers About Healthcare Funding

Laurie Holloway
Children's Medical Center

A five-year old North Texas child with leukemia recently visited Capitol Hill. His family and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas wanted to put a face on healthcare funding for kids.

Carter Townes is just five, but to combat leukemia he’s been through more procedures and taken more medication than most of us will in a lifetime. The treatments are working and he’s now a lively, smiling little tyke, who gets a little antsy as his parents move from office to office, talking to Texas lawmakers about the importance of pediatric care.

Timberley: “What do you want to go do?”

Carter: “Chase squirrels.”

Carter’s mother Timberley Townes says good medical care is the reason Carter is now well enough to chase a few squirrels. But the cancer treatments he’ll need for at least two more years can sap his energy.

Children's Medical Center of Dallas Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Timberely: “He takes some days up to 18 pills a day. He goes to the hospital once a month to get a lumbar puncture, to do anesthesia, to have chemo and then they do chemo in his spine as well. It’s a long day when we’re there but he’s a trooper.”

The Townes’ travel about 140 miles from Clarkesville in Northeast Texas for Carter’s treatment at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.

Timberely: “It’s not just solely based on treating him for Leukemia, it’s also based on when he has complications due to not understanding when his hair fell out, to having nutritional needs, to having respiratory. There are so many different aspects that they work with him that they provide phenomenal care.”

But the care isn’t cheap. And it requires specially trained doctors. Which is why Children’s asked Carter’s parents to travel with them to Washington and tell their son’s story to Senator John Cornyn and other Texas lawmakers.

Children’s Medical is helping train the next generation of pediatricians …around 250 a year. It currently receives some ten million federal dollars a year for the program. But Matt Moore, the director of government relations for Children’s Medical, says President Obama and some lawmakers have proposed reducing that funding. Moore says that could force Children’s Medical to cut the number of doctors it trains.

Moore: “We are basically funding $8,600 per physician, per year out of our own pocket and it’s a mission that we’re dedicated to.”

With Carter’s help Moore and Children’s Medical also warned lawmakers about the consequences of proposed cuts in Medicaid and Medicare. Some lawmakers have proposed cutting four hundred billion dollars from the programs over a decade. A majority of the tiny patients at Children’s Medical rely on some government help. Moore says losing a chunk of that money would jeopardize children’s health care.

Moore: “Looking at cuts on the state level and we’re looking at cuts on the federal level. Things that make it harder for patients to access care, things that cut back reimbursements to doctors and hospitals when they do provide the care.”

One in 11 children in the United States lives in Texas, so cuts to pediatric programs would hit Texas hard. Carter’s mom Timberley Townes is grateful for the care available to her son.

Timberely: “We went from being very sick and a child who completely shut down, who quit talking and Children’s has done everything to bring him into remission, and just bring him back to where you want to see your kid – where you want to see your kid happy and running and things like that.

Townes worries a leaner federal budget may mean many children will never get the help Carter received. And Children’s Medical Center knows when the election’s over and lawmakers begin whacking away at the national debt children’s healthcare will be pitted against every other special interest trying to preserve its slice of the federal pie.