Getting Priorities Straight

If you watched the State of the Union  address last night, you couldn’t help but be moved by the response when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords entered the chamber. She received a long-standing ovation and cheers from her colleagues in the House, the Senate, and in the gallery.

Giffords-Obama hugAt that moment, it didn’t matter what party anyone belonged to. What mattered was that she was there. Walking in under her own power. Shaking hands. Smiling. Chatting. Receiving a huge hug from the president when he entered several minutes later.

It was heartwarming. So was the media’s coverage of those moments. Every major (and most secondary) news organizations – print, web, TV – made a point of sharing photos or video. It was talked about on Facebook and Twitter. Blogged about. And I suspect many of us watching last night felt a lump in our throats or gave a silent  “Go Gabby!” cheer when we saw her. It was one of those moments we could all share, regardless of how we feel about politics, the economy, or even the Superbowl matchup.

The story of Rep. Giffords is one about the triumph of the human spirit over unspeakable tragedy. Fractions of inches, nanoseconds, made all the difference in living or dying on that horrible day. Six other people were not so fortunate, and a dozen more suffered a range of debilitating injuries. There are real psychological reasons we root for people like Gabby, and others who manage to succeed in spite of incredible odds, according to researchers at the University of Florida.

The bullet that tore through Giffords’ brain should have killed her. It severely damaged the part of the brain responsible for vision, the ability to move the right side of the body, and language. The Charlotte Observer’s interview with one of Giffords’ speech therapists does an excellent job of explaining the damage to language, and what still lies ahead.

Giffords is very fortunate that she has tremendous government health benefits, as does her husband, a former astronaut. She is resigning from Congress to work full-time on her rehab. Of course, that’s a priority that makes sense.

How many others can afford to leave a full-time job to tend to their health needs, even if they have insurance? And how many might have to forego top-notch treatment, or extended rehab, or maybe would have never even made it in the first place, because they lacked insurance all together? Or because some administrator made a “denial of treatment” decision?

Not much was mentioned about health reform in last night’s speech. Yet when you look at Gabby Giffords and the remarkable progress she has made – much of it through sheer determination – you can’t help but wonder: instead of all this go-nowhere partisanship, can’t members of Congress beth their priorities straight too? Instead of trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, how about coming together to support a plan that cares for the other “Gabbys” out there? Even if they don’t get standing ovations or a hug from the President.

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