By DANA LARSEN, Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune Editor
(Editors Note) This story was submitted by a reader who lives in the same town in Iowa as the affected family. This tragic story illustrates how Obama was willing to say and promise anything to get elected, but is unwilling to follow through on those promises. Our thoughts and prayers are with Alex and the rest of the Hermstad family. President Obama, when campaigning in Iowa in December of 2007, made a promise to be a liaison for a critically ill girl who is paralyzed and on a ventilator he has done nothing since, and never responded to the family again. Here is her story.
Obama with Alex and Jaci Hermstad
Dana Larsen, the Editor of the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune, wrote in an editorial on August 23, 2008
“I did a local story on the local Hermstad family’s situation, feeling the a presidential candidate had turned his back on them after promising to serve as a liasion to get help for their mysteriously ill daughter.
The next day I saw a movie “Swing Vote,” which in part features a race where candidates turn away from their core values and adopt whatever stance on issues they think will swing the election their way-to the point where one remarks, “I don’t even recognize myself anymore.”
Dear Mr. Barack Obama,
We know you can’t do everything for everyone, and we even realize that we the public have allowed to be created an environment where we don’t even expect campaign promises to be honored any more, but consider this-why did you decide to run in the first place? I doubt if it was to make empty promises while getting your picture taken with a desperately ill child.
I’m guessing that you ran because then, you genuinely wanted to reach out and help people, to make life better for those who are struggling.
A fellow Democrat and Senator, a guy who has been around a little longer than you, can show you how it is done if you let him. Hours after Tom Harkin met Alex Hermstad, he had been on the phone, and had almost instantly been accepted into a national program for children for undiagnosed diseases.
Mr. Obama, you could have made that call. You promised. And it isn’t too late to help the girl and others like her. But if has come to the point where even for you, campaigning, winning is more important than the people you are suppose to serve, goodness help us. There is no Change in that, sir. I hope when it is all said and done, the candidates still recognize themselves.”
Here is the full story By DANA LARSEN, Pilot-Tribune Editor
Every politician will tell you they will be there when you are desperate for help – at least they will while they are on the campaign trail.
But who will keep that promise when a crisis comes? Apparently not the governor of Iowa, or the Democratic candidate for the presidency, according to a Storm Lake family facing a critical, undiagnosed illness of a teenager daughter.
“It has been one long frustration,” said Lori Hermstad, who has watched her previously healthy, athletic 15-year-old daughter Alexandria – Alex – slowly lose all movement of her body since 2005, in a mysterious illness that doctors have been unable to explain.
After exhausting all other avenues for help in trying to gain the attention of medical experts, Lori began to write all of her Political leaders. “I was trying to get some support anywhere and everywhere.”
There was little response from the state leaders, so shortly before the Iowa Caucuses, she started to appeal to various presidential candidates.
Only one, Barack Obama, responded at all. The Hermstads were encouraged, and invited Obama to visit their home while he was in town to campaign at Storm Lake High School.
“His staff was very nice. I pushed a little bit to see if he would be willing to come visit Alex so that he would have an idea of what she is living with every day. This was right before Christmas,” Lori recalls.
Obama’s staff said that wouldn’t be possible, but that the candidate would meet representatives of the family at his campaign event.
“At least we would have some one-on-one time. And when Obama came in he was smiling and shook my hand and gave me a hug and said that he was coming to see Alex after all – that they just hadn’t been able to tell us because of security reasons,” Lori said.
Obama talked to Alex for a few moments, and had his picture taken with her. He was kind to her twin sister Jaci, and listened to Lori’s concerns. He said he would like to be our liaison with the federal government.”
Lori had previously spoken with John Edwards, who never took any action on their behalf.
“After that kind of letdown, finally, with Obama, it was the first time that it seemed that someone had heard us,” Lori said.
She tried to share the story of Obama’s visit to Alex with the media, but no one in the metropolitan media would do it, she said.
The family tried to be patient, realizing that Obama would be tied up with campaign events during the caucus season, but finally, Lorri started calling his staff.
“Okay, when is Senator Obama going to start helping?” she asked. No one would follow through on the promises.
Lori asked the Obama campaign to use his pull to get her story on the Oprah Winfrey show in hopes of getting the word out to specialists around the world who might have seen a case similar to Alex’s. They even drove to Chicago to try to get into the studio to meet with Oprah’s people.
They could not get access, but Obama’s staff said they had five people working on it and that they would call the Hermstads back within 30 minutes.
“Five hours later we were still standing there, and they never did call back. Here we were in winter weather standing outside these locked doors. It really takes away your dignity. We went to Chicago with no expectations, but we were desperate,” Lori said.
Oprah’s chief of staff eventually got back to her, but by then, the show had stopped taping for the season.
“I realize now that the Obama people and the people from the show thought that Alex would die over the summer and the issue would go away,” the Storm Lake mother said.
All she really wanted from Obama, she says, is a phone call. “We needed to get through to doctors who might be able to give us some answers. I don’t think it was a lot to ask. He has pull – he could have made one call.”
Alex’s relatives were losing patience rapidly. Despite a barrage of messages, Obama’s staff was no longer responding.
“He talked about empathy, about why he had wanted to be a president, about the lessons he had learned from his mother about empathy, and about his concern for young people as a parent himself,”
Lori said. “Our family understands that a person like him can’t help every person who may ask, but how can you stand at the bedside of a girl like this and not be moved to do something? I guess that they feel that he came, so he’s done his part.”
They have not spoken to Republican candidate John McCain and his staff yet.
Alex will be undergoing some preliminary testing with the help of doctors in Storm Lake, as the specialist hope to rule out a few possibilities before Alex has to be taken to the east coast, an arduous process for a girl that can no longer move, eat or speak.
Because of the seriousness of Alex’s condition, it appears that Johns Hopkins Medical Center will need to partner with the NIH – the hospital providing inpatient care while the research institute studies her.
One blood test must be sent to Germany to be studied. An a world renowned neuro-geneticist has offered to come to Storm Lake himself to see Alex.
Finally, it seems to the family, there is some hope, although the celebration of Alex and Jaci’s birthday Friday was certainly not what they might have anticipated.
“It is sad that anyone has to go through a crisis like this to get help,” Lori reflects. “A lot of times it seems that our politicians Say they are here to help, but when it comes down to it, they are not. People should know that.”