Every year for the past four years around this time, Nataline Sarkisyan’s parents build toward an unimaginable anniversary filled with sorrow and pain. On December 20, 2007, they lost their only daughter, 17-year-old Nataline, to corporate greed and insurance company cruelty. Nataline died after the insurance giant CIGNA initially denied coverage for a liver transplant then reversed the decision when protest pressure (from the family’s extended Armenian community, the California Nurses Association and an on-line firestorm of outrage) and the potential for public relations damage grew too much. But the reversal came too late. Nataline was dead.
Wendell Potter, who was a high-level CIGNA employee at the time of Nataline’s death and who became a whistleblower about the health insurance industry following that time, wrote about Nataline in his award winning book Deadly Spin. The first time Nataline’s family came face-to-face with Potter was shown on Dateline NBC in December 2009.
The family’s struggle to make sense of this atrocity and to make sure other families do not have to bury their children due to these sorts of insurance company decisions led to the formation of the Nataline Sarkisyan Foundation. Rather than sinking into the despair that could easily have come from such a loss, Nataline’s mother, Hilda, has almost single-handedly lifted Nataline up as her “angel” guiding the advocacy for the changes that might have saved her daughter.
But every year, that anniversary day – that horrible day – just keeps coming back to open the scars and tear at the heart. Nataline is dead. She is not coming back, and the memory of her beautiful smile, her stunning eyes (just like her mother’s) and her dreams of giving beauty to the world must wash over the hurt and comfort those for whom no comfort without her can ever be enough.
So, on this anniversary, Nataline’s mom will be as she has been for the past four years on December 20th – quiet and alone with her thoughts and her memories. She grieves for her daughter.
But in the fashion that has become Hilda’s style since then, she will turn tragedy into action again just two days prior to that anniversary with a toy drive for other children who are hospitalized. We can all help with that. We can use these moments to pause with the Sarkisyan family and remember why we all fight against corporate greed, and we can help.
I borrowed the occupy tag for the title of this essay because it is my hope more people will read it and understand that rising up for what is just and “occupying” those other spaces and moments in our lives that will build a better world is just as critical as occupying public parks. We are so much stronger when we stand together in the face of the corporate onslaught that has stolen so many precious lives from us.
The fight for guaranteed healthcare for all under a single-payer model goes on. The nurses fight on. The Sarkisyan family fights on.
Let’s Occupy Love and Occupy Joy with this family. For Nataline, for Hilda and Koko, and for all of our children.
To learn more about how you can help: Nataline Sarkisyan Foundation.