I’m fighting my heart out this week to pass a clean Dream Act – to keep our country’s promise to 800,000 young people who have grown up herein America and who want to stay in the only home most of them have ever known. And I’m fighting my heart out in a zillion other ways to level the playing field for working families in Massachusetts and across the country.
But I did take a little time this weekend – while watching Pittsfield’s own Chris Mazdzer win the silver medal in men’s luge (WOO-HOO!) – to bake a heart-shaped cake.
My mother was born on February 14, 1912 – 106 years ago today. She loved her special connection to Valentine’s Day, and when I was a little girl, I bought some heart-shaped pans at the dime store to bake her birthday cake.
Many years later, when my mother was in her 80s, she had some surgery for a cancerous polyp – nothing serious. The day before she was scheduled to go home, the whole family came to the hospital, had wheelchair races in the hallways, and laughed and joked and had good fun.
Later that night after Daddy sent all of us home, she was watching TV in bed with Daddy holding her hand. She sat up and said, “Don, there’s that gas pain again.” Then she fell back dead.
The autopsy showed that my mother had advanced heart disease – never diagnosed and never treated. My daddy had a heart attack when I was 12, and my mother and I had spent our whole lives worrying about him. No one had any idea we should worry about my mother.
Too often we think of heart disease as a “man’s disease,” but it’s the #1 killer of women – causing 1 in 3 deaths every year. 90% of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke. But because heart disease can often go undiagnosed, and because the symptoms of a heart attack can be different for men and women, fewer women than men survive their first heart attack. African American and Latina women are especially at risk.
Access to good medical care – regular check-ups and preventative care – is the first step to fighting heart disease. That’s why I fight so hard for community health centers. They provide the best possible basic health care at lower costs to anyone who walks through their doors.
Part of what makes community health centers special is that each one adapts to their community’s needs. In Brockton, Massachusetts, for example, the community health center partners with a local, family-owned Cape Verdean supermarket to teach residents about healthy cooking and active lifestyles. In East Boston, which is geographically isolated from the rest of the city, the community health center operates a 24/7 emergency room. And community health centers like the one in New Bedford have a pharmacy right on-site, so patients can pick up their medications right away with less chance that they’ll go unfilled.
For more than four months, the Republicans let federal funding for our community health centers expire. They were so focused on stripping health care coverage from many of the people who rely on community health centers that they ran right past the funding deadline. The community health center professionals that I spoke to from Massachusetts and across the country were horrified that they’d have to lay off doctors and nurses, cut services, or reduce hours.
We fought tooth and nail for that funding for more than 100 days, and I have some good news: as part of last week’s budget deal, we secured $7 billion for community health centers over the next two years. That was a $600 million bump in funding to support their powerfully important work.
I still have my heart-shaped pans – and even though my mother is gone now, I still bake a heart-shaped cake every Valentine’s Day to remember her. But now I’m doing something more: I’m fighting to make sure everyone’s mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, wife, partner, friend and neighbor can get the basic health care they need to live long, healthy lives with the people they love.