Dear Senator Harris,
I want to thank you for your robust response in regard to Health Care. I believe you when you say you will fight to protect and improve health care for Americans via improving the ACA as well as other efforts.
One thing you wrote caught my eye. "I’ll also continue to fight for robust federal funding of scientific research to cure our rarest and most complex diseases." I'd like to address a disease that is not terribly rare, but it is complex and contributes to homelessness and the criminal justice system in Los Angeles and other urban areas. That disease is schizophrenia.
My son, Josh, had his first break when he was a senior in high school. He had been on a high success trajectory--most valuable player on his swim team, co-captain, AP and honors student with a high GPA, active socially, and so on. However, he gradually started retreating and acting bizarrely until one day I got a call from the police saying he was trespassing, defecating in someone's back yard, and I should come immediately to see the wounds on his arms and legs.
You can imagine the terror I felt, and have been feeling ever since that fateful call in 2009. Because his first hospitalization was a short two weeks, and every subsequent hospitalization has been shorter; because his poor judgement has led to a series of stays in Twin Towers (LA County Jail Medical Unit); and because even court mandated treatment has been insufficient, today he is out of treatment, off medication, and wandering the streets in search of cigarette butts he can smoke the ends of.
Schizophrenia has been a puzzling disease for centuries. It's been noted in many cultures, and it's been responded to in a myriad of ways. Some cultures elevate a person with schizophrenia to visionary shaman. Others provide hospitalization and supervision until the patient has stabilized and can realize a reasonably rewarding life. Our culture has been sorely lacking in our response.
There is still not a cure, and I believe it is time that we work for a cure. We've managed to make great strides in treating cancer, heart disease, and AIDS -- three fearsome human diseases. But we haven't yet found a cure for schizophrenia. There are hundreds of people with schizophrenia living on the streets because they cannot function independently, whether treatment is offered or not. These people resist treatment, and their resistance is certainly frustrating, but it is built in to the disease as a symptom called anosognosia, in which the brain does not understand that its function is compromised.
Great strides are being made in understanding the disease, thanks to President Obama's push towards researching the brain and its functions. Light is being shed on possible causes and information about how the brain works is slowly being disseminated through the culture to anyone who wants to learn about it.
I hope you and your staff will become champions of curing schizophrenia. So many of our citizens are affected by it. A cure represents a triumph over a centuries-old, and possibly a millenniums-old scourge of mankind.
Thank you for your concern.