Profiles of Progress: Members of Congress Fighting for Cures

Released: 2010

Representative Dave Reichert

Regrettably, every American has been touched by a loved one’s disease. For Rep. Dave Reichert, disease has not just touched his life once, but has instead affected multiple family members and friends.

Nearly 14 years ago, his 18-month-old godson, Kyle, was diagnosed with a rare cancer, and the toddler’s parents were told their son wouldn’t live for more than 2 years.

Kyle has survived many painful treatments and medical procedures thanks to his strong will and positive attitude, as well as support from family, friends and teams of medical doctors and therapists. Rep. Reichert calls Kyle: “a champion and a great inspiration to us all.”

Two other inspirations in Rep. Reichert’s life are his mother, who is a pancreatic cancer patient, and his former colleague, who lost his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It’s no wonder, then, that these stories and experiences have steered Rep. Reichert into his role as a champion for biomedical research. As he sees it, a strong, sustained commitment to biomedical research is fundamental to improving treatments for the diseases that have affected him through the experiences of his family and friends. He said, “There are so many stories that I could share, personal stories that I could share, that inspired me to really focus on pushing NIH funding in this job.”

But for Rep. Reichert, being a biomedical research champion isn’t just about words – it’s about actions. For example, he has strongly encouraged the National Cancer Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health, to focus on cancers that have lower success rates in finding cures, such as pancreatic cancer.

“The goal is not just to reduce the risk of death with some cancers,” he explained. “The goal is to eliminate cancer. We can do that with the science and the research and development that goes on and on and on until we find cures for these diseases.”

With researchers working all across the country and making significant strides toward discovering cures, survival rates for many diseases have increased dramatically. For example, the 5 year relative survival rate for all cancers discovered between 1999-2005 is 68 percent, up from 50 percent in 1975-1977.1 However, Rep. Reichert believes that continued investment in research is needed.

“I think the frustrating part is that we can make some progress, but there are still people out there suffering from these diseases. We haven’t found the cures yet, and I really believe we’re right on the verge of finding a cure for cancer. And you can see over the years how much progress we’ve made. But we need to make more progress.”

Aside from the health and well-being that stem from medical research, Rep. Reichert also sees economic benefits to investing in research, including reductions in medical costs, a more productive workforce and financially stable families.

As he said, when you discover better treatments for disease, “Medical care cost is reduced. And then, of course, it gives people this hope and the opportunity to enter back into the work force and become productive members of society.”

He also highlighted the “tremendous amount of stress that is placed upon the families that have to be home caregivers. Or even more stress if they have to move into a facility where the family decides I can’t take care of my loved any longer at home.” He detailed scenarios where a sick patient has to keep his or her job just to help pay medical bills, or a family member has to take on extra work just to help pay for medical treatment of a loved one. These are all-too-familiar experiences across the country.

With the average total annual cost of care-giving reaching between $5,331 and $12,348, it’s clear that families and patients nationwide are under financial and emotional stress to pay for treatments.2 In fact, a study published last summer in the American Journal of Medicine showed that in 2007, medical bills were the cause of nearly two-thirds of all bankruptcies for people, most of whom had health insurance.3

The solution – from Rep. Reichert’s perspective – is to invest in our nation’s research institutions to find better, more affordable treatments for patients. Without adequate funds for continued research, Rep. Reichert fears that he may hear more stories of suffering from his constituents and loved ones – and fewer success stories like that of his godson, Kyle.

He said, “It’s about life and death for people. And we need to be committed to saving lives. And the government has a role to play in providing funds for research and development of these diseases.

“There are so many benefits that you can’t shut the door on. It has to be done. Must be done.”