How one man's death symbolizes the need for health care reform

December 5, 2008 

Kevin Palmer knew the situation was bad from the shock in the eyes of girls standing nearby, hands cupped over their mouths.

He pulled over to find a young man laid out on the grass, with another man pumping on his chest.

They were brothers, and the one in trouble was named Charles.

"I said, 'Charles, my name is Kevin. I'm here to help you. Hang in there with me.' I moved his tongue out of the way and he started to get air. I blew some air in his mouth and kept talking to him. He tried to respond. I put my mouth on his and gave him some more air."

Then the ambulance arrived.

"I made sure we prayed before he left," Palmer said.

Charles Edward Watson was taken to Coastal Carolina Hospital in Hardeeville, where he died later that day. It was Oct. 21, a couple of weeks before his 32nd birthday.

Palmer believes he was meant to be there -- near the entrance to The Willows neighborhood in Bluffton, where both families live. He happened on the scene with his two young children in tow, but also with the experience of a former lifeguard and coach.

Both Palmer and Watson's mother, Susan K. Watson, emerged from the trauma with sobering messages for America.

They both say you have to eat right, exercise and take care of yourself.

For Palmer, that's a way of life and a livelihood. He's a ripped 32-year-old personal trainer. He plans to march in the Bluffton Christmas Parade on Saturday in Charles Watson's honor to promote a healthy heart program.

Susan Watson, who now hashad to bury a husband and a son, doesn't want anyone else to experience what she's been through. Her son was a "health freak" in great physical shape, she said, except he had a bad heart. He had four major surgeries at age 15, and got a heart transplant at 17. Only last year did that heart start to reject him.

That leads to her main message: America needs health care reform.

The only insurance Charles could get cost $1,000 per month. He was uninsured. He insisted on working (as a framer), so he was expected to pay full freight. His heart medicine alone cost $800 a month. That left little money for other treatments such as quarterly biopsies.

"The first thing out of their mouth is always, 'How are you going to pay for it?' " said Susan, who works in the deli at the new Publix supermarket in Bluffton. "That's all we heard: 'You make too much money.' But it was costing him $800 a month just to stay alive, and he was working as hard as he could to pay his bills."

"Normal people can't afford to get sick," Susan said. "It's a situation that someone needs to change"

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