On this anniversary of my brother Eric’s death, I feel the usual lump form in my throat. It’s a feeling that starts there then moves to my eyes, where I can feel the corners get wet and well up with tears.
It’s the same feeling I get when I pick up the phone to call him, only to remember I can’t because the only thing I’ll hear is a message telling me that his number has been disconnected.
It’s the feeling I get when I land in Las Vegas for a visit with Mom, bleary-eyed from working all night, only to realize that I won’t be able to see him because he is gone.
The old adage is absolutely true – it never gets easier. And, regardless of how much time passes, I know that the pain of my brother’s death will never subside.
On this July 4th, I find myself questioning why a holiday marked by fireworks, flags and barbecues also happens to be the same day Eric’s life came to an end. It is a day uniquely American, a day in which we honor our nation’s independence by wrapping ourselves in patriotism, the red-white-and-blue celebration of American exceptionalism standing in stark contrast with memories of my brother’s struggle.
But Eric’s story is also uniquely American. Only in America, the richest nation in the world, could someone fall victim to a broken health care system the way in which he did. We are a nation of game-changing medical advances with a widely touted claim of having the “best health care in the world,” all while allowing special interests and corporations to keep a tight grip on the very technology that could save the lives for which it was intended, all while coming in 37th on the World Health Organization’s global rankings. All in the name of the bottom line.
So much has happened since Eric’s death on July 4, 2009. I left the TV news business for a while and instead found myself speaking at health care rallies across the country. Soon after, I found myself in Washington, D.C, crisscrossing the halls of Congress in a quest to share Eric’s story with each and every member on Capitol Hill. My journey even took me to France, where I found myself researching international health care policy in the very country the WHO ranked as having the best health care in the world – 36 countries ahead of ours.
In Eric’s memory, I created a non-profit organization – the Eric De La Cruz Hope For Hearts Foundation – to help others in need a heart transplant who are tangled up in the same insurance red tape Eric was, or who face the same astronomical expenses he did.
I found myself witnessing not one – but two – watershed moments in our nation’s history: the passage of health care reform in March 2010 and the Supreme Court?s ruling to uphold of the law last week.
So many things have happened over the last three years, and even though Eric wasn’t by my side, he still played the biggest role in each of them. My brother was my inspiration. Through his public struggle, he also inspired thousands of others to lend their voice to the health care debate, his voice echoing above all others.
Before Eric died, he made me promise that what happened to him would never happen to anyone else ever again. So, I have worked long and fought hard to make good on my promise, making it my mission to ensure his dream comes true and his voice continues to echo for years to come.
In the end, of course, it was his ultimate sacrifice which led us here. As the face of a broken health care system, Eric inspired a nation to change and reminded so many of us that if we wanted equality in our ability to protect not just our health, but our lives, we must stand up and say something. For that reason, I will always feel my brother Eric is a true American hero.
Eric, I miss you. Because of you, we have been able to strengthen the fabric of the United States, giving our nation even more in the end to be proud of.
Not only do we love you, but on this day we salute you.
Veronica De La Cruz
Founder, The Eric De La Cruz Hope For Hearts Foundation