An Open Letter to President Obama and Congress – Help Bring Paula Home

life-flightBy Denis Campbell

The healthcare debate rages across Capitol Hill with lobbyists fighting against a ‘single payer’ option as if it were the moral equivalent of the anti-Christ. Before you blindly accept any bill, please examine the very real (and ironic) face this debate has taken on for this journalist.

Paula Persichini-Petitti is a woman to whom I once joked, “you would be what would happen if Mother Theresa, Joan Jett and a drug-free Janis Joplin merged.” Paula is one tough, rock and roll loving, hard living, Boston-area born and bred “broahd” with a “haht” (heart) of pure gold. Listening to her thick Boston accent you would start with a first impression that would be one of the absolute biggest mistakes you could ever make.

Paula was born a rebel. She graduated from the nursing program at Blue Hills Regional Institute and became a radiology specialist at a time where technology was evolving and most said she could not do it because she was too young. If you have a death wish or desire physical harm, merely suggest to Paula that she ‘cannot’ do something.

Ironically, she now lays with tubes coming out of her body, a respirator helping her breathe and in a coma in a Rapid City, South Dakota hospital. She has spent nearly every summer of the last several years, working with Russell and Pearl Means helping Native Americans of the Lakota Sioux Nation in Pine Ridge Reservation. There she counsels and teaches indigenous families about the twin health threats of alcohol abuse and diabetes in one of the USA’s poorest communities.

Several years ago Paula visited the island of Jamaica and was involved in an automobile accident. She’d been an emergency room nurse and when she saw the dreadful conditions people in that rural hospital (near the Black River) lived under, she returned home to Massachusetts and started Most appealed to her saying, “that’s just the way it is Paula, nothing can be done about it.” Remember the old Three Stooges short where someone says “Niagara Falls…” and then “slowly I turn…” Step back please, human freight train coming through.

Her leadership has seen her beg, cajole, plead and threaten just about every doctor, medical school, pharmaceutical and medical supplier in Massachusetts and across the globe to help her bring free medical supplies, used machinery, doctors and nurses to some of the most ravaged 3rd world hell-holes on the face of the planet.

Paula and I grew up two blocks from each other in the southern MA town of Avon. I went to school with her big brother Ricky and, as usual, everyone went their separate ways after graduation. My friend Terri said, “hey you’re a journalist, are you aware of Paula’s project?” That began a series of visits, phone calls, Facebook and Twitter exchanges to develop, research and tell this one woman’s story.

And what a story, everything from threatening Cuban prison guards suspicious of why she was there (providing medical help) by saying she was “Raul Castro’s mistress and there would be hell to pay if he found out she was being held there” (it worked, she was set free)… to being dragged from her hotel room at night, convinced she would be shot and flying in Soviet era helicopters across Laos and Cambodia to meet the ruling generals (think “The Killing Fields”) to demand they provide mosquito netting to protect their citizens against malaria.

This woman’s life is bigger than any Hollywood screenplay. And she shrugs it all off with a laugh that would filled any room. Most of us live fractions of a life. Thoreau, another Massachusetts native said, “I wanted to live deliberately, deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.” Paula lives in a way that most dream of doing.

She was driving in a car that was rear-ended at speed by a pickup travelling at 60 mph. The impact severely jarred her brain stem causing damage to the thalamus, the part of the brain which is the centre for speech, body temp., sight, hearing and smell. While she can today squeeze the ICU doctor’s hand on command, the hope is her brain will form connections around the damage and more or less repair itself. The good people in Rapid City have taken her as far as she can go there and she needs now to be med-flighted to Massachusetts General Hospital where she will be under the care of a top neurosurgeon.

Paula has health insurance and… (you know where this is going before I even type it)… it does not cover life-flights. Speaking to the Life-flight despatch office in Rapid City, South Dakota, the flight is 1,600 air miles in length and will cost $30,000 and that’s just for the flight. Then there is tended ambulance service to and from the airplane at both ends which adds even more not to mention the longer term care she will require to heal.

Buddy Persichini, 78, is Paula’s very proud Dad. He has numerous health issues of his own and Paula has been his rock since her Mom died when she was in high school. Buddy is resigned to taking out a second mortgage on his paid off house to get her home. Were the same to happen to me under the right’s very publicly maligned UK ‘socialised’ NHS medical programme plus my out-of-pocket add-on, I’d already be ‘home’ in the UK in a local hospital with family by my side.

And there, Mr. President and Congress lays the rub. Why should a 78-year old man, who clearly loves his daughter, be forced to bury his fierce New England pride and go deep into debt to bring her home? Why too should Paula now risk losing her home to pay for long-term care when she returns?

This is what needs fixing in the health care system. Not providing the same profit margins for those who can most efficiently lobby but inefficiently leave a broken system essentially intact with some window dressing tweaking around the edges and then everyone calling that “ground breaking change.” For Paula and many like her, I urge you to bring in a public option to bring true competition and transparency into this opaque nightmare of a scenario.

Mr. President, you were quoted two days ago in the New York Times as saying: “What we’ve been doing over the last six months is getting people back into fighting trim. This is a town where there was just a belief that nothing could get done… I’ll use just the workout metaphor, and that is… when you start training again and you’re pushing your body a little bit harder, sometimes it hurts. But if you keep on at it, after a while your body adjusts. And I think that’s what’s happening to politics in Washington.”

Well sir, it’s time to end the training and start the marathon. It’s time Congress to put some real political capital and action behind those words on everything from this issue to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. You came into office promising change we could believe in and this is important not just to the nation, but to every one of us who sees a true Mother Theresa in need. Please consider it for all the irony-filled Paula’s out there, not just the ones who tell the best story at your town hall meeting and help bring her home without bankrupting her or her Dad in the process.

My own deep regret is that during my most recent visit to the USA in May, I cancelled our scheduled meeting because of my time considerations. I now have to live with that. I promised to come back and see her in the fall. Now I must pray she will be home, solvent, conscious and well enough to recognise me.

(Please contribute to “The Fund for Paula Persichini-Pettiti” by following the tipjoy micro-finance/contribution link and sending money to the e-mail address:, at the website: or via Twitter @BringPaulaHome. The family and her friends are moving very quickly to establish all accounts to life-flight transport her home and provide for her long term care needs.)

Denis G Campbell View more

Denis G Campbell
Denis G. Campbell is founder and editor of UK Progressive magazine and co-host of The Three Muckrakers podcast. He is the author of 7 books and provides Americas, EU and Middle Eastern commentary to the BBC, itv, Al Jazeera English, CNN, CRI, MSNBC and others. He is CEO of Monknash Media and a principal with B2E Consulting in London. You can follow him on Twitter @UKProgressive and on Facebook.


  1. Thank you for this beautifully written piece on our friend, Paula.
    Her spirit is so mission driven that even in her hour of personal survival, she continues to bring people together and make things happen.
    I am so lucky to have known her though we just became acquainted not terribly long ago. I have posted this piece on FB.
    Thanks Denis,
    Noah G. Hoffman

  2. Thank you, Denis. Paula has always been modest about her accomplishments. It is nice to finally get the word out about all she has done for so many others. She has touched thousands of lives with the projects she has started. It’s time to do all we can to help her now. This was a wonderful article, and I hope it is read by millions. Something must be done in the healthcare system so that people aren’t forced to deal with the agony of financial hardship on top of the stress, anxiety and heartache that comes from someone being seriously ill. Thank you for helping get the word out.

  3. Denis,
    Thanks much for posting this significant news article, regarding your seriously injured, yet amazingly courageous friend,Paula’s, ongoing, difficult medical and health insurance issues to the forefront.

    Paula has dedicated her life to helping others;and now, her painful battle to recover; and fight to secure vital coverage for a Life-Flight;will hopefully inspire others, to petition our President and Congress, for vital U.S. health care reform SOON.

  4. Harold "Butch" Frick

    I am saddend by anyones pain and by your story. I must point out however that International Insurance including evacuation is readily available, provides evacuation coverage for limits from $25,000 to as high as $500,000 and can be purchased either individually or as a group policy. Just google international coverage including evacuation and you will be surprized how many sites exist. This part of health care is not broken. We simply need to be informed before traveling abroad. Paula sounds like a wonderful person and I wish the best for her and her family.

  5. Thanks for all of your comments and please do note “Butch” that although we have, as a nation, treated the Native American community poorly and separated them from their lands, Paula is trying to get from the US state of South Dakota to the US state of Massachusetts so that type of cover would not apply. As the writer, I am located in the UK which could have caused the confusion.


  6. Thanks Denis for writing about Paula Persechini-Petitti’s incredible spirit, good work and serious accident that has quieted her inspiring voice for the moment.
    Our son Sage and I were blessed to spend much of the last two weeks with Paula in the Black Hills and to hear her stories, laughter and plans for future good work the night before her car accident as she graciously let Sage wash and dry his photo negatives on a clothesline in her sun porch.
    All night, Paula talked with an urgency, telling stories that are just now beginning to make sense.
    Paula embodies love, generosity and inspires everyone who meets her to be more of who they are meant to be. That night, Paula told us that when she was a teenager waiting in line to dance at Studio 54, an eleven year old boy begged her for help. Paula said she was frightened and chased the child away. Later that night, Paula still in her teens, had second-thoughts. She described how she rushed through the NYC streets searching for the young boy, then to shelters and hospitals, but she never was able to find him. I asked her if she ever regretted it. Paula looked deep into my eyes with those amazing violet-hued orbs of hers, and said, “I never, ever said no to anyone who asked for my help after that night.”
    That’s Paula, the biggest heart and the best example of love, generosity and sharing in a world that needs her example so much. That night, Paula spoke nearly non-stop, telling us stories about her childhood, adventures in Cambodia, Africa, Jamaica, Pine Ridge and a helicopter ride into Havasupai Canyon with Russ and Pearl Means. Paula wanted to return to the Havasupai people and bring her diabetes clinics and medical supplies to the Chief and his tribe. She made me and Sage promise to meet her in Navajo and go down to the Canyon floor in a few months. Just before we parted near dawn, Paula said to me, “I want to inspire people to volunteer, especially young people.” She said she tells youth to notice opportunities to help others. “Little things. Start with little things. I tell them, ‘Maybe the grandmother down the street needs help bringing her garbage can to the curb, or someone else needs help weeding their garden.'” Paula is about the big things like bringing medical care, diabetes clinics and education and refugee camps to those in need around the world, but Paula is also about little things that change people’s lives like giving a quiet teenager a journal because Paula just knew the observant girl will be a writer, and planning to buy a young boy a drum and signing lessons since she saw the joy on his face when he sang at the Sun Dance. Send prayers and healing energy to Paula Persechini-Petitti, so she will wake up and get to read that girl’s stories, listen to the young boy’s singing and drumming and get back down to visit the Chief in Havasupai before the end of the year.
    Thanks, Mercis, Wopila, Migwetch, Todah Rabah, Gracias to everyone who prays for Paula Persechini-Petitti and helps another in Paula’s honor.

  7. I most certainly agree whatever should be done to get Paula back home so she can receive the necessary medical care.

    As an FYI (and this is not a commercial, nor do I work for this firm) there IS insurance for this sort of traumatic thing. Go to They will transport you if you are more than 150 miles from home, regardless of whether it’s inside or outside the country. (I quote: ” Domestic air medical evacuation averages $10,000 to $20,000, and internationally, it can exceed $75,000. But not with the medical evacuation service of MedjetAssist. As a member, if you are ever hospitalized more than 150 miles away from home, MedjetAssist will send a medically equipped and staffed aircraft to pick you up and fly you to the hospital of your choice — at no additional charge. No transportation cost limitations. No pre-existing condition exclusions. Just peace of mind each and every time you travel.”

  8. I have been recently contacted by a Donna Young about this situation. I am a Managing Director of a company that markets private jets to the people. We can help raise the money for Paula through our philanthropic program. If anyone has any questions, then please give me a call at 888-544-8353.

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