A Father's Story
by Bruce Kasper
(page 2 of 4)
Since Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has a large Star of David over its portico, it's reasonable to assume it's a Jewish hospital. Since I too am Jewish, I contacted Rabbi Eli Hecht of the Chabad of the South Bay. Rabbi Hecht is not only an eminent Judaic scholar, but had given Anique, and her sister Jaye, my daughter with Mara, their Hebrew names as well.
When I called Rabbi Hecht, I told him what had happened, and inquired if what I asked of Cedars was addressed in the Talmud or Torah. "Yes, the Torah is very specific about providing charity," he told me. "What is more important," he went on, "is that you have an obligation, as a Jew, when you see an injustice such as this, to speak out, and try to right the wrong."
In early 1992, I went to Anique, and asked her if she would be interested in writing a letter to the hospital to let them know how she felt. She replied, "Daddy, they'll never read it." I promised her that if she wrote the letter I would get it read. And so, on January 5, 1992 she did just that, and I mailed it certified the next day. The cold impersonal reply to a dying child by the president, Sheldon King of January 28, 1992 made me sick! But, you can read both letters for yourself in the "Letter and Legal Documents" section of this site.
On January 23, 1992, we met with Dr. Church, at his request. Since this meeting was apart from Anique's regular visit, I knew something was up. Anique's weight was dropping, her eardrums were pierced, and her condition was steadily worsening. Joe gave us the final prognosis: Anique had four to six months to live, at the most. He told us it was time to let go.
You're never ready to hear this, but it's impossible to postpone the inevitable. The only assurance I sought from him was that Anique feel no pain. Later that day Joe started her on Roxonol, a liquid morphine solution.
From Children's Hospital, I went directly to Anique. Holding her, I asked, "Anique, if I could arrange for you to tell your story on television, in newspapers and magazines, is that something you are up to? That you would want to do? Take your time. You don't have to answer this second. Tell me tomorrow, next week, whenever you decide."
It took this brave little girl all of five minutes before she looked up at me and said, "Yes, Daddy."
This was my inspiration and all I needed. I started making phone calls, and writing letters to newspapers, TV stations, talk shows, anyone I could think of that could be of help, or that would listen. Ultimately, articles appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Jewish Journal and The Daily Breeze. Television segments aired on CNN, "A Current Affair" and "Extra."
The Hollywood community opened its arms and showed the compassion that Cedars-Sinai was grossly lacking. Jon Voight came to visit. And the morning of the Academy Awards of 1992, so did Paul Newman carrying Anique in his arms, and with a huge basket of Oscar goodies. Sharon Stone showed Anique how to do her hair, and Luke Perry talked about his favorite pet: a Vietnamese pot belly pig. Ben and Fred Savage, and their mother Joanne became friends. These were a few of the rare humane moments this beautiful, precious little girl had.
On July 1, 1992, the end finally came. Near Dallas, on the way home from her third summer visit to Paul Newman's "The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp," in Ashford, Connecticut, which she loved dearly, Anique died peacefully in her mother's arms.
At Anique's funeral two days later, July 3, 1992, the chapel at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, California was overflowing with people who came to pay their last respects to my brave, courageous daughter.
Shortly thereafter, I received a call from Ron Wise, Vice-President of Public Relations for Cedars; the hospital's President; Sheldon King had finally deigned to grant me a personal meeting.
On my way into the executive offices of Cedars on August 12, 1992, I ran into Rabbi Levi Meir, the hospital's Jewish chaplain whom I had met and spoken with that past May. He offered his condolences on Anique's passing, and I thanked him. I then inquired if he had gotten a response to the question I had asked him at our earlier meeting: "Was the offer made to me by Sheldon King (regarding Cedars offer to provide care for nine AIDS related illnesses) made to all the families?" I believed that it would have been immoral for me to accept anything that was not being offered to all. Rabbi Meir said "Yes." He had spoken with Tom Priselac, Executive Vice-President, who had given him that answer.
"Well, it might just interest you to know that you're being lied to by your own staff. I have a notarized statement in my briefcase, if you'd care to see it, from another family that says no such offer was ever made to them."
Taken aback by this Rabbi Meir declined, and I proceeded to my appointment with Sheldon King.
After listening to what I had to say, particularly the retelling of the conversation with Elaine Auerbach, King said, "You'll be happy to know that the hospital has had a radical change in its policy." "How so?" I asked. "We are now prepared to provide continuing medical care for all of the surviving children that we gave HIV infected transfusions to" (Anique had been the oldest of the 22 still living) he said.
"That's wonderful news. When did that come about?" I asked.
"It came about, in large part, because of your own personal efforts," replied King.
"Well, I know that Anique would be very proud and I feel a great sense of accomplishment. When did you notify the families?" I asked.
"We didn't. If someone comes forward and asks for help, we'll give it." replied King.
I was floored! "Wait a minute," I said. "Don't you think that it's incumbent upon you as the health care provider to notify these families that this care is available? You turned me and another family down for that specific request five years ago. Why would anyone think to come and ask for it now?
"Well, be that as it may that's how it is" was King's reply.
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