By Victor Ray Montoya
Published in the Santa Fe New Mexican
Several years ago, my wife was cutting our 8-year-old son Colton’s hair when she nicked the top of his forehead and neck. We quickly noticed a small red bump appeared — about the size of a mosquito bite — on his forehead. After several days, the bump was still there, but since it wasn’t bothering Colton, we didn’t rush to the doctor.
A few months later, the school called me in a panic — Colton was complaining of severe pain in his neck and head. That mosquito-sized bump had grown to the size of a lemon, and, when I picked him up, I found two new bumps on his left cheek and neck. For the next two nights, I stayed up, watching my son in excruciating pain. I felt powerless and scared holding him, knowing that I couldn’t do anything to help him as he suffered.
As soon as I could take the time off work, we loaded up our car and drove more than 300 miles from our home in Anthony to get a biopsy. When the results came back, we received the news all parents dread — our son had cancer. Thankfully, since it was Stage 2 non-Hodgkin lymphoma, it was treatable, and Colton started chemotherapy immediately. With the assistance of the medical team at UNM Children’s Hospital, Colton finished his treatment in February 2013, and today he is healthy and cancer free.
When Colton was diagnosed, we were enrolled in Medicaid, which covered the total cost of the cancer treatment. The medication he needed would have cost $400 a month without coverage — that would have been like adding another mortgage payment to our already stretched budget.
With limited economic opportunities in my small town, there was no way we could afford the medicine or treatment. Watching my son battle for his life was almost more than I could bear. I couldn’t imagine dealing with the stress of scraping together everything we had to cover the medical bills if we didn’t have coverage. Having Medicaid allowed us to focus on what was truly important — Colton’s future and being there for my family as we went through this life-changing experience.
Our family has closely followed the recent conversation around the expansion of Medicaid, knowing the positive effect the program has had on our friends, family and community. I have seen firsthand the empowerment people feel when they are able to take control of their own health. For those (estimated) 220,000 people in New Mexico who finally have secured health coverage through the Medicaid expansion, they don’t have to worry about financial ruin because of an unexpected health calamity. Instead, they can focus on their jobs, families and communities.
Thanks to the expansion of Medicaid, even more people in New Mexico can get the care they need. That’s why we can’t stand by should the state walk back on its commitment to fully fund the expansion. We can’t undo all the progress we’ve made and strip people of the health care coverage they need. We must maintain and improve the range of services that the program currently makes available if we want to see its true promise. I hope, as they are considering the future of the Medicaid expansion, the New Mexico Legislature thinks about those people — like my family — whose lives have been saved by Medicaid.
Victor Ray Montoya is a father, husband and revolutionary organizer who loves his community, and co-founder of the incorporation of Anthony. His son, Colton, came up with the idea to incorporate Anthony.