A little more than six months ago, in the early morning hours of June 21, I came within five minutes of dying. One half of my heart's mitral valve had torn away and was hanging by a thread, and although my heart continued to beat, it was unable to circulate enough oxygenated blood to my brain and other organs. Since my lungs had experienced what is called "flash edema" and quickly filled with fluid, there really wasn't any oxygen to circulate anyway.
The fact that I not only lived but went on to make a full recovery has been called a miracle by several people, including the cardiologist who oversaw my treatment. But I know better.
It was not a miracle that saved my life. It was the Affordable Care Act. It is because of this law, commonly called Obamacare, that I had health insurance. And because I had insurance, I did not hesitate to go to the emergency room, complaining of a weakness so great and so strange it was as if I was trying, as I told the ER staff, "to walk through a swimming pool."
In the emergency room I initially received a diagnosis of pneumonia. But because I had health insurance, I was not sent home with a prescription for antibiotics and told to rest. Rather, I was admitted to the hospital and put through tests that determined that the fluid in my lungs was not from pneumonia, but from my heart valve failing. And because I had insurance, I was in that hospital room when, less than 12 hours later, the valve suffered the catastrophic failure that put me within minutes of dying.
Between my two jobs, I sometimes work as many as 55 hours a week, but neither job — one in the restaurant industry and the other in the ride-share industry — provides any insurance benefits. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I had insurance. When my heart valve gave out, when I was rushed to the ICU and placed on life support, and when my chest was cut open, my heart stopped, and the valve was repaired, I was covered.
I realize that were I uninsured it is possible I would have received that the life-saving surgery anyway. That is, if I'd been admitted to the hospital, and if I had gone to the ER in the first place knowing that I had no way to pay for the visit.
But even if I had received the surgery, without insurance I never would have received the wonderful follow-up care of physical and occupational therapy and cardiac rehab that allowed me to return to my jobs only three months after I nearly died. And after I'd been dunned by collection agencies, the cost of my surgery would have ultimately been passed on to those who do have health insurance, in the form of higher hospital costs and higher premiums.
As Donald Trump and the Republican Congress prepare to repeal the Affordable Care Act without an adequate replacement, consider that the millions of people who will lose their health care coverage are not merely numbers in a news story. They are the people you encounter every day. They are the people you summon with your smartphone to drive you to a restaurant. They are the people who prepare and bring you your meals in that restaurant. They are quite possibly your friends, your family, your neighbors.
Daniel Welch lives in Glen Ellyn.