By Herb Kolodny
For those who do not know me, I have been a right leg above knee amputee for 5½ years.
What brought me here today was my effort to improve the rights of amputees in Connecticut. Although, I started this quest alone, I didn’t finish it alone. And I hope to share with you tonight names of many of the people who joined me on this journey and made our success a reality.
It began in January of 2017. A flyer was being handed out at an amputee support group meeting. It was from Partners in Policymaking. Their seven month long program trains individuals with disabilities, or whose children are, to become legislative advocates. It sounded too much like work to me and too far from my main interest, which was working only with amputees.
Tara, would you please stand up and give a wave to everybody? She had already submitted her application to attend. Talk about busy, Tara has two full time jobs. The first is as a single mom raising two active boys. Her second job helps pay the bills as an occupational therapist, specifically for children ages 0 to 3 with developmental disabilities; and did I mention she is also an amputee? She said to me, “You would be good at this because of this, that and the other.” In 10 seconds flat, she had taken away all my excuses. My wife, Yvonne, of 46 years and truly the wind beneath my wings, supported me on my decision.
The program required attendees to complete a project. I decided mine was to introduce new legislation in Hartford. It would mandate that prosthetic limbs be covered by private insurers at least equal to Medicare and Medicaid. I didn’t have a clue how I would do it, but for me it was a commitment.
You know, sometimes help comes from the least expected direction. Brenda Novak and I met at an adaptive rock climbing event in May of 2017. Brenda, would you please stand up and give a wave to everybody? Brenda is a left leg above knee amputee who lost her limb to a collapsing water tower while working in Africa. Together we formed the Connecticut Amputee Network (CAN), and she deserves to claim a major chunk of this award. Together, we began pursuing our respective state senators.
Senator Logan, would you please stand up and give a wave to everybody? Last year he was awarded the Legislative Champion award from the Connecticut Alliance of YMCAs. And this year, he received the Legislator of the Year Awards from three separate organizations. The Connecticut State Firefighters Association, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Connecticut and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
In late June 2017, Sen. Logan agreed to meet me at the Three Brothers Diner on Dixwell Ave. I asked for his support and he immediately said, “yes”. The first legislator to say, “yes”. It was very important to our success to gain support from both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Kennedy, a man who needs no introduction, is not here tonight. Brenda, who is one of his constituents, secured a meeting with him in August of 2017 and we asked for his support. Both Senators became true champions of our bill to the end.
At the public hearing in March of 2018, six amputees, a physical therapist from Gaylord, Dr. Kim Eisen, and the CEO of one of Connecticut’s larger prosthetist groups, David Mahler, gave testimony. Other groups we didn’t even know or ever contacted also wrote the committee in support. The committee’s vote to advance the bill to the Senate Calendar was unanimous (!).
Support was coming from other quarters of the state, too. Our meagerly mailing list of amputees and family was not quite 200, but they were energized. One of them was an Oncologist, Dr. Carolyn Ray, of Smilow Cancer Center’s wing attached to Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford. Her daughter is an amputee. She mounted a fierce writing campaign and successfully energized a major part of the medical community and they started writing letters of support to their legislators, too.
Another of her recruits was Mary Ann Hanley, the chief government relations consultant for St. Francis Hospital who commanded a troop of professional lobbyists.
The New Haven Register published three articles over a short six week period. The Hartford Courant published an upbeat editorial in support of our bill. Mark Davis of WTNH-TV, channel 8, prepared an excellent piece, too. But we must not forget Paul Bass of radio station WNHH in New Haven and journalist for the online newspaper, The New Haven Independent. He was the first to cover our story in January of 2018. It wasn’t their over the air broadcast that made the impact. It was their over the Internet and social media that generated explosive coverage for us.
With only 4 days left, the Senate finally scheduled a vote on our bill. And the vote was unanimous!
With less than 4 hours left on the LAST day of the session, the debate on our bill began in the House. And the vote again was unanimous! Every member of the Connecticut Legislature voted “yes” for our bill.
As the now PUBLIC ACT headed to the Governor’s desk, I realized that our support, inside and outside the legislature, had grown to the size of a village, a loud and determined village. And the Governor [Malloy] signed our PUBLIC ACT into law on May 25th.
In closing, I want to ask for your help. CAN’s challenge for 2019 is to educate the medical community about amputees’ new rights. We have materials we have to get into their hands so they can, in turn, educate their patients facing limb loss. If you have ties to medical institutions anywhere in this state, please help us to open their doors to us. Including hospitals, rehabilitative centers, skilled nursing facilities, orthopedic and vascular surgeons, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, prosthetists, social workers, doctors specializing in diabetes care and so on.
Help us grow our village into a thriving metropolis! Thank you all for listening to our story.
Herb Kolodny, co-founder of Connecticut Amputee Network (CAN), won the Hamden Regional Chamber of Commerce Community Advocate Award for his work passing legislation that protects insurance coverage for prosthetics. These comments were delivered during the Chamber of Commerce awards ceremony last fall. He helped create grassroots support for the legislation and worked with CAN co-founder Brenda Novak to drive bi-partisan support for the legislation took effect last month.