Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: But I'm Only a Pediatrician

Category: Inspiration

Dr. Joseph Zanga started his speech with this phrase, "But I'm only a pediatrician, a doctor, a nurse, a health care worker, a teacher, or whatever job I might have." He said these lines should have no place in our thoughts or our speech; yet he hears this type phrase from everyone around the country as he travels. It is like the old saying, you can't fight City Hall. He made an impassioned plea that all of us, no matter what our job description, can and should strive to make a difference for the safety and future welfare of all children, born and unborn, in our society. Dr. Zanga said the world is an increasingly child-unfriendly place. The tobacco companies manufacture a legal product and say they never meant to market it to children; yet, over the past ten years tobacco use by kids has increased by one-third. Similarly, the same pattern has occurred with alcohol manufacturers. Recently, a young child on her mother's lap was asked, "What does a cow say? Moo. What does a sheep say? Baa. What does a frog say? Bud." This was a light moment in his speech and reflected how bombarding kids from infancy on with advertisements for alcohol probably plays a role in their misuse of this legal product. Human lives are increasingly cheap. Seventeen-year-olds in towns like Littleton, CO, Jonesboro, AK, etc. are killing each other and visions of these children are left indelibly in our minds. Many young children in inner cities are so surrounded by violence that they don't care that they kill each other in response to what they consider harm to themselves or their family or friends. Our children have graduated to knives and guns and so an argument frequently ends up with a gunshot rather than a fist fight. Murphy Brown and dozens of other sitcoms say that self-control, fidelity, commitment, etc. are not important. "These things bother me", said Dr. Zanga.

Dr. Joseph Zanga was born in 1944 in the Bronx. His father was a butcher by trade and a medic in WWII. When his father returned from the war, he was a changed man after liberating the concentration camps in Germany and Poland. He was a good man. He believed in God, but his faith was shaken after he returned from witnessing that horrible tragedy of the concentration camps. He spent lots of time at home watching the kids while the mother was out working. His father died when Joe was in the sixth grade but he taught Joe that "life does mean something." Joe said despite that, "my childhood was very happy and I felt like I had a large family (both immediate and extended and even my neighborhood). In my neighborhood, everyone acted like we were related. There was nothing that you could do within a 3 to 4 block area that wouldn't get back to your parents by the time you returned home. We truly were a village and that village nurtured my childhood and growth." One city block from his house was the St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church where the nuns taught him what it meant to be a Catholic Christian. After growing up, he traveled to Chicago to become a MD and New Jersey to become a pediatrician. "Working my way up in the American Academy of Pediatrics, I have had the opportunity to travel to every state in America and almost every country in the world representing kids," Dr. Zanga said. "I visited with pediatricians around the world and it has been a grueling journey; but in a way, it was a pilgrimage (a journey of faith). I was not supposed to be president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. I am too outspoken on things which I believe in, such as the sanctity. I oppose abortion."

Children form about 1/3 of our population. They are the largest minority group and they are 100% of our nation's future. We need to have adults speaking for them from their moment of conception. "Life does mean something." This was a message that some in the organization of the American Academy of Pediatrics didn't want to hear. As president of the AAP, Dr. Zanga taught some and certainly learned a lot. Robert Fulgum wrote in 1986 "share everything, play fair, clean up after yourself," and many other simple but critical phrases. "I believe that these match the words of Jesus when he said that you should 'love the Lord your God with your heart, and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself', said Dr. Zanga. "Last year an African physician told me, 'The wealth of a nation should be judged by the health of it's children.' He said it boldly and clearly and I think America is not doing such a good job." The United States is the richest nation in the world yet we spend more money for prisons than for child care centers. Our athletes make more than an army of teachers. The elderly can access health care but millions of children cannot. Jesus said, "Suffer the children to come unto me for of such is the kingdom of God." When a person is considered a "thing", then violence becomes inevitable. Billy Andrews, a great pediatrician from Kentucky, wrote A Children's Bill of Rights 30 years ago and among the words were: Each newborn has the inalienable right to be born, loved, and protected, and while growing in the womb they deserve the best environment and nutrition for growth and development.

How often do we speak? How many problems occur because of our failure to speak? How many of our children, born and preborn never have a chance to speak? When a person is considered a thing then violence is not only likely but inevitable. Jesus Christ was giving us a model for family life when he said, "Mary, Behold your son and John behold your mother." He was stressing the important role that parents have in a family. When he remained in the temple at age twelve and the parents returned to get him, he went down to them and advanced in wisdom and growth. Each year it becomes obvious that children of a two-parent family do better in school, and they are generally happier. Yet each year, less and less children are growing up in a two-parent family. We can provide the tools for these struggling parents, we can be an advocate to insure the rights of all, we are our brothers' and our sisters' keepers. The African proverb "it takes a village to raise a child" is important. It does take a village, not a gang. Unfortunately, the village is ruled by gangs that don't know that they are a village and the children are no longer children. Daniel was a 12-year-old in the inner city and all of his friends were affected by violence. His parents were too busy doing their own thing; the village wasn't there. He joined a gang. They brutalized him; they taught him to kill. We found him in a juvenile facility. Finally, he was released and went home but it wasn't the same. It wasn't a village. "The village doesn't know it's a village," Dr. Zanga repeated. "Our nation is not kind to children." Audrey was a three-year-old with a thin dress in a day care center. She was cold; she was feeling very alone. The village is strung out on drugs. Audrey's mother spends the little money she has on cocaine so Audrey is neglected and is left in an unregulated, unsafe day care. The village isn't a village. "Haven't you seen these children on streets?" Dr. Zanga implored. "They don't go to school. There are so many boys and girls who are children but yet not children growing up in our country. But these kids are real, we see them in Lafayette and New York City and throughout our country. These children are all our problem. So we must welcome the challenge of these children." The nation is a village and we must be our brothers' and sisters' keepers and provide better for these children. A society without access to health care is what we see for 11 million children uninsured in our country. Title 21 was passed by Congress a few years ago providing $24 billion to states around the country over 5 years time to provide health services for these needy children. Louisiana developed LA Chip to help the working poor get a Medicaid card to provide needed health services. Unfortunately, we can't even find people to fill out the forms to get the children registered and 18 months later there are more children uninsured than there were before the legislation. At Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Dr. Zanga is the director of the pediatric emergency room. They see 65 thousand pediatric visits a year and only 1/3 of the children have any form of insurance. The vast majority have Medicaid. About another 1/3 are employed but uninsured and another 1/3 are unemployed and uninsured. No one is interested in registering these kids for LA Chip. Can you imagine if 11 million elderly were uninsured and couldn't access medical care? There would be an outcry by the AARP and other lobby groups for the elderly.

Why aren't children afforded this right? Last year, it became clear that the tobacco companies lied to us; that children were targeted by multi-million dollar ad campaigns to hook them on tobacco knowing that 90% or more would never get off once hooked. Congress was determined to make tobacco companies pay, yet the tobacco companies spent more millions to convince the people of the village, Congress and the people, that they, the tobacco companies, were the victims and Congress bowed out and the children continue to suffer. Every day children are killed intentionally and unintentionally. In the past kids said words, "Sticks and stones might break my bones but words will never hurt me." Today, unfortunately, it is not sticks and stones but it's guns, and a fight ends up with gunshots on the school ground.

Dr. Zanga's sister teaches in Littleton, CO and knows many of the kids involved in the tragedy on April 20. His niece is also friends with many of these children but goes to a different school. These tragedies affect all of us. The American Academy of Pediatrics says we must work to keep guns out of the environment in which children drive and play. What more example do we need than what happened in Littleton? Last year the mayor of New Orleans took a bold step to hold gun manufacturers responsible for the ever increasing murders by handguns because there are no available safety clips, which can be added to all guns for an extra $10. Everyone in our state congress all the way up to the governor decided to oppose this. They even brought in Moses (Charlton Heston) to speak for the NRA against this proposed legislation to tell us how good guns and gun manufacturers are. How many of us have written our legislators to protect our children and to demand that the technology that is already present be used to protect them? Our children can't speak on their behalf; we have to speak for them. Mother Theresa said, "One of the worst diseases is to be nobody to nobody." Because of the plight of children in our society, we must work and enable children to be children again. "Our Job is Still Incomplete" is the title of a speech given by Paul Houston lecturing to school administrators. He described a vision and invited them on a journey into and out of the heart of darkness. He said, "We are living in a pivotal moment; we can chart a course to our future. Right at this moment, we can travel to a new world that is a better world for children where all children are loved in a way that we want our children to be loved, where every child has the resources to grow and prosper, and where the world sees beyond the differences in races and religions and sees the possibilities and potential in each child. Where children are viewed as assets not as liabilities." And he closed, "Let the light shine forth now and let's give our kids values and let them know they are valued. Let's help our children to reach their full potential."

Dr. Zanga closed, "Children in Lafayette, Louisiana need you to represent them; to help them strengthen their families; to be a true village. Let's pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on us. Let's help the children in Lafayette, in Louisiana, and throughout America and the world."