Eric De La Cruz was a gifted musician, producer, artist and person who lived in Nevada. He was loved by his family and friends, was kind and supportive of others and lived a remarkable life filled with ups and downs He loved hockey, especially the Anaheim Ducks.
But Eric also suffered from severe dilated cardiomyopathy and his heart could not function normally. And since being diagnosed more than five years ago, his condition got progressively worse. But as a Nevada resident covered only under Medicaid, Eric found himself seriously ill and tangled in health care red tape at a Las Vegas hospital in May 2009.
As a popular television journalist and former CNN internet correspondent, Eric’s older sister, Veronica De La Cruz, enjoyed a platform for free speech that few can imagine. Yet, when it came to her brother’s health, she found herself just as powerless as thousands of other Americans unable to get critical medical treatment for a loved one, primarily due to holes in the country’s health care system.
When it became clear that Eric would likely need a heart transplant, Veronica was shocked to learn that, although covered under state Medicaid, Eric’s residence in a state with no transplant programs basically meant he could not get the treatment he needed. His application for federal Medicare was rejected twice and his final appeal would not be heard for a year, time he almost certainly did not have.
Veronica turned to social media network Twitter for help. It is an arena she knows well – she specialized in reporting on social media throughout her tenure at CNN. Though the decision to go public with her brother’s condition was not one made lightly, she knew that the power and speed of the medium to communicate news and mobilize its community of activists was likely her best chance of getting results. In a matter of days, Veronica had marshalled thousands of online supporters to use Twitter to create awareness, raise donations and generate media pressure that ultimately gave Eric the glimmer of hope that he would soon be receiving the care he so badly needed.
But after getting a favorable – and accelerated – ruling from a judge granting Eric his much sought-after disability status on federal Medicare, De La Cruz was stunned when administrators at transplant hospitals were reluctant to admit Eric, requiring supplemental insurance in addition to Medicare coverage.
So, online fund-raising continued in earnest, drawing the attention of singer Trent Reznor and popular rock band Nine Inch Nails – and thousands of their ardent fans – who stepped forward along with other Twitter faithful to raise several hundred thousand dollars toward the anticipated medical costs in less than two weeks.
Finally, through the support and generosity of thousands of friends and strangers alike, Eric was moved to California hospital with a transplant program, accepted for treatment and evaluated for a possible heart transplant. After his admission, he was unfortunately forced to undergo emergency surgery to implant a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) delaying his potential heart transplant further.
Sadly, Eric De La Cruz never made it to the transplant, passing away on July 4, 2009 from complications resulting from his weakened heart and post-surgery recovery. Much of Eric’s story, his struggle and the amazing support he attracted, as told in real-time updates, can be found on websites created by supporters, such as www.tweet4eric.com, or on many Facebook or Twitter pages dedicated to him.
The plight of Eric De La Cruz – and his sister Veronica’s inspiring response to it – has cast a national spotlight on two popular issues: health care reform and the role of social media. In turning to this public medium to solve a very personal crisis, Veronica not only found an abundance of goodwill and support online, but also discovered similar stories of those left out of the health care system.
“It was so uplifting to find so many people willing to support Eric – financially, spiritually, politically – people he didn’t even know,” says Veronica. “But at the same time, it was truly sobering to hear others’ stories of red tape and health care nightmares similar to Eric’s. I think that’s one reason Eric’s story has resonated with so many people on Twitter. Unfortunately, it is a very common – and very big – problem in this country right now.”
She does hope that the lessons learned through this experience will help others stuck in the same situation. That is why Veronica started the Eric De La Cruz Hope for Hearts Foundation in her brother’s name and plans to continue personally advocating for better, more affordable health care and organ donation long into the future.