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Million Dollar Baby

World Vision
30 June 2015 by Jay McNeill
Million Dollar Baby

Jay with his daughter Sunshine.

I’m not sure what was more frightening, the cacophony of alarms blaring through the ICU like an out of control freight train, or the lifeless bodies of my twin daughters that arrived spectacularly three months too early. The word prematurity never entered my vocabulary until 2005. Now that word fills any unused part of my soggy brain as I ponder what on earth happened ten years ago.

Before long I had numerous bills coming in the mail that would drive any average person to contemplate a life of crime. The adventure with our daughters began during a five year working stint in the USA where the health system and health insurance indiscriminately separated the ‘haves’ from the ‘have nots’. The lucky dip of life had us squarely in the ‘have’ camp.

Both daughters endured long stays in the ICU. My daughter Sunshine was in there for a horrifying six months. Bills began to pile up each week; $15,000, $23,000, $100,000… Fortunately, our exclusive ‘have’ status meant most of it was covered by our health insurance. Before twelve months had clocked over, Sunshine had racked up an impressive one million dollars of bills. Yes, you read that correctly.

I am a typical father; I want the best for my kids, especially when it comes to health. When Sunshine was fighting for her life, my wife and I would have given our own souls and then some. But when does the privilege of being a white middle class male run out of favours? Was a million dollars too much? How far should society go to protect the ones they love when the same money could save thousands of other people? I am not the right person to ask because clearly I will always think Sunshine’s life is priceless and so I should.

Bhoj Kumar's wife died during the Nepal Earthquake, protecting their child. Photo by World Vision

Bhoj Kumar’s wife died protecting their five-year-old daughter during the Nepal Earthquake. Photo by World Vision

As the Nepal Earthquake fades from our news cycles, I am made uncomfortable by the vulnerability of a group of people who don’t have health insurance and live in a country where life might be seen to have less value… but does it? What if the Nepalese father holding his daughter as a surgeon amputated her crushed leg loved his child as much as I do mine? What if the husband who witnessed his wife take her last breath under the earthquake debris loved her as much as I love my wife? Obviously they do. It is subversively random, but the lottery of life had me live in Australia – I am rich and they are not, I have options and they don’t. It’s that simple.

This should be disturbing; it should mess with me. It should make me want equality across the world even if it were for the selfish reason of being able to enjoy my life without battling guilt for my extravagant existence – I would hope it was for better reasons than that.

Love is common to us all, it is potent and it will drive us to extraordinary efforts to conserve those we care about. The trouble is, wealth is the gatekeeper to what determines the extent you can go to preserve life.

I have the privilege of working at World Vision and I get to see hope expressed through generous Australians on a daily basis. I am sure if a Nepalese father or mother could talk to you, they would look you in the eye and offer a deep heartfelt ‘thank you’. Of course the average Aussie would respond by shrugging it off with a dismissive quip, “no worries, it’s nothing, you gotta help your mates right?”

Jay McNeill

Jay is a World Vision Artist manager.


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