Must Angelina Jolie’s Surgeon Blog About Her House Call?

According to a column in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, veteran reporter Robin Abcarian wrote an interesting Perspective column in which she reported Ms. Jolie’s surgeon, Dr. Kristi Funk (of the Pink Lotus Breast Center in Beverly Hills) paid Angelina a home visit just days after her April 27th breast reconstruction.  This was Ms. Jolie’s third and last surgery in her quest to greatly reduce her odds of developing breast cancer due to her positive testing for the defective genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.

I don’t feel comfortable writing any more than this, due to my being from the old school where writing about any woman’s breasts is not something I’m the least bit comfortable doing.  Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll be 101 on July 4th, and if you think I’m able to change now, I’m afraid you haven’t been around too many centenarians.  Lisa will take over now because she believes this story is so important (for obvious as well as some not so obvious reasons.)

Hello, readers.  It’s Lisa.  I never thought I’d get my blog back from Henry again so soon, but it appears I’ve discovered his modesty is his Achilles heel.  Finally, I have a strategy to voice my opinion, which I feel is relevant given my years as a healthcare advocate.  Embarrass Henry!  But just a little.

As I wrote in the last blog, Angelina Jolie’s courage is nothing any reasonable person can doubt.  Many people find life’s difficulties easier to deal with by denying those challenges even exist.  To face a life-or-death situation head-on is admirable, whether you happen to be famous or not.  Add children to the equation, and I believe Angelina’s behavior is nothing less than heroic.

When I read Ms. Abcarian’s column today, the obvious stood out immediately:  A brave and heroic patient, preserving a healthy life for the sake of her children.  Call me cynical when it comes to the entertainment industry, but living in Southern California since 1985 has resulted in my looking beyond the highlighted story behind every celebrity.

As I suspected, the genetic testing Ms. Jolie underwent reportedly costs “about $3,000” and is solely owned by Myriad Genetics.  The company developed the “BRCAnalysis” test that, Ms. Abcarian wrote, determines whether a woman has the nightmare gene mutation that Ms. Jolie found out she carries.  The reporter continued “No other company may develop such a test as long as Myriad owns the patent on the genes . . . No wonder the test costs so much.”  As you can imagine, Myriad has responded to in the public relations manner I’ve come to expect in every situation where profits trump lives in healthcare.  Bottom line:  If a woman doesn’t have insurance, the co-pay, or the ability to private pay if she’s uninsured, she finds herself in an extremely bad way.  And quite possibly dead.

Pink Lotus Breast Center and Ms. Jolie are apparently working together on a public relations campaign to raise awareness and consequently reduce avoidable incidents of breast and ovarian cancer resulting from the presence of BRCA1 and BRCA2.  Bravo, but I wonder who will benefit the most?  A famous woman who is able to self-pay and expect a house call from her surgeon, and allow that surgeon to blog about her as follows:  “All the while she (Angelina) spoke, six drains dangled from her chest, three on each side, fastened to an elastic belt around her waist.”  Despite this inconvenience, the patient’s energy was “bountiful.”

When I read this, I thought “Too much information.  Why all this information?”  Will the major beneficiary be the surgeon and her practice?  Any chance it will be the unknown, uninsured, scraping to pay the rent Jane Doe unlucky enough to carry BRCA1 and BRCA2?  Hardly.

My business has shown me the lives of the famous and wealthy are remarkably different than the lives of the ordinary, average income individual who usually cherishes living privately and anonymously.  Which group has a surgeon who visits you at home and blogs about you?  Is this the only way to make a real difference in the education and delivery of quality healthcare?   I think not.

An outreach campaign costs a tremendous amount of money and creates rock stars out of the players involved.  The overhead cost to maintain this type of education campaign is huge, usually with a good part of its funding being directed away from the anonymous patient in need and toward maintaining “overhead” (media specialists, personal assistants for the rock stars, personal assistants whose job it is to order special food for the rock stars, etc.)

To Ms. Jolie, Dr. Funk, Dr. Funk’s husband Andy Funk (co-founder and executive chairman of Pink Lotus Breast Center,) Myriad Genetics and all of their attorneys and publicists, may I suggest you go about your noble work keeping the unknown patient front and center.  We don’t need to hear any of your names any more.  We need to hear about your work.  Allow more unknown patients, successfully treated, continue the story, as Angelina beautifully told hers.

Self-promotion has no home in a place where the true intent is to help those with serious health disadvantages.  Allow these people to carry on in place of Ms. Jolie, whose six children undoubtedly require much of her time and attention.  And not to worry, we already know where to find Dr. Funk and her blog.

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