I woke up at about 1:00 AM this morning. I had a terrible coughing fit, thanks to this cold I’ve been fighting for the past few days. After a couple of trips to the bathroom to deal with the cough and the inevitable call of nature, I was pretty wide awake. I went on Facebook and saw a news article by The New York Times about 1984 Olympic gold medalist, Mary Lou Retton.
I realize that I may have some readers who weren’t around in 1984 and may not know much about the legendary Mary Lou. In 1984, after she became the first American to win Olympic gold in the women’s gymnastics all around competition, Retton was everywhere. She was the first female athlete to grace a box of Wheaties, a cereal famously promoted as the “breakfast of champions”. After the Olympics, she got in tight with Republican politics, appeared in a couple of films, had her own kiddie exercise show, and was in lots of commercials. I distinctly remember her as the pitchwoman for the now defunct drug store chain, Revco, in the 1980s. She was also on Energizer battery ads and wrote at least one book, which I read about twenty years ago. More recently, she was on Dancing With The Stars, although I didn’t see her perform.
In 1990, she married Shannon Kelley, a football player, had four daughters, and made her home in Houston, Texas, where she reportedly purchased a huge home. The marriage broke up in 2018, and Mary Lou reportedly suffered from some health problems. A former professor of mine recently commented that she’d seen the famous gymnast on an ad for Colonial Penn life insurance and didn’t think Mary Lou was aging well. I remembered reading about her having total hip replacement surgery on account of hip dysplasia exacerbated from many years of demanding gymnastics training. I mentioned the surgery to my old professor, thinking maybe that was part of the reason why she might have seemed poorly.
I was still surprised when I read about Mary Lou’s most recent health issues that landed her in the ICU (intensive care unit) with a “rare” form of pneumonia. Her daughter, McKenna Kelley, also a gymnast, posted a Spotfund campaign for her “amazing mom”. Below is a screenshot.
Now… far be it for me to want to know the minute details of Mary Lou’s medical condition. It’s none of my business. And God knows, I understand that medical care is very expensive in the United States. What I don’t understand is why Mary Lou doesn’t have medical insurance. I can only make assumptions, which I will now proceed to do, realizing that I don’t know what her personal circumstances are. Based on this May 2022 article by homedit, Mary Lou has had nice digs, at least in the past. To be fair, I’m not sure if she still owns the house mentioned in the article, since I did see that it was listed on the market at one point. Hell, she has actual streets named after her in at least two states– Texas and her home state of West Virginia. And yet her daughter needs to crowdfund her medical care.
People are heeding the call for funds, though. When I woke up again at about 5:00 AM, I noticed the original goal of $50K had already been surpassed by about $60K. About three hours later, I see that people have donated about $134K. Every time I refresh, the total increases. It’s good that Mary Lou Retton has so many fans and friends.
I don’t know why Mary Lou isn’t insured, but sadly, I do know that the money collected so far is probably going to be a drop in the bucket for what the final costs will be. She’s already been in the ICU for at least a week. And because she doesn’t have insurance, she will pay the “list price” for her medical care, rather than the negotiated price health insurance would have gotten her. Mary Lou Retton is famously Republican. I don’t want to get too far into it for the purposes of this post, but I’ve also seen people mention that in 2017, Retton spoke to Congress against a bill presented by the late Dianne Feinstein that would have made it mandatory for national governing bodies of Olympic sports to report sexual assault to the police. According to the link:
The [US Gymnastics] federation has had no shame, either. When the sex abuse bill was introduced, Penny and others from U.S.A. Gymnastics met with Feinstein about the federation’s sexual assault policies. How about this for a public-relations stunt: Tagging along was Mary Lou Retton, the smiling, bubbly sweetheart from the 1984 Games, as they said that the federation’s policies were solid and that gymnastics was a happy, safe place.
You would think that Mary Lou, as a gymnast and a mother of four daughters, would have some empathy for the hopeful girls in the sport, dying to achieve what she and a few other Americans have in gymnastics. After all, it was Mary Lou’s big victory in the Soviet Union boycotted 1984 Olympics that enticed so many girls to the sport. But instead of trying to protect girls in gymnastics and other sports and showing respect to the many gymnasts who have already been victimized, Mary Lou chose to side with the conservative establishment. And, it appears that she may have done it again by not having health insurance. Maybe it’s because of a reason other than not wanting to participate in “Obamacare”, but I’m hard pressed to determine what that reason might be.
As I sit here reading about Mary Lou’s troubles, I’m reminded of the last communication I ever had with one of my very conservative cousins, who was a big time Trump supporter. I’ve written about the conversation in the original OH blog, and on this blog. But for those who don’t want to read the posts about that conversation, here’s a brief rundown. I was discussing high drug prices on Facebook with my friends. My cousin, who was then a Facebook friend, but rarely commented on my posts, came along and basically chastised us for lamenting the high cost of medical care in the United States. She wrote:
So success is defined by having cheap drugs? Those 35 million Americans that take these drugs don’t realize they are dying quicker by taking them than by doing without. We’re enslaved by Big Pharma whether the price is small or great. BTW, I’m a Republican. I am 62 and don’t take any medicine.
Later, when some of my friends (even one of the conservative ones) were writing WTF comments, my cousin came back and posted this:
Don’t mind me, I’m just Jenny’s off the grid organic farmer cousin. I don’t mean to be insensitive to those who really need medicine but there are drug companies and doctors who push all sorts of medicine unnecessarily. For the most part if folks would just take responsibility for their diet 3/4ths of the medicine now prescribed would not be necessary. But Medicine is big business. I live on the edge with no health care and use a lot of essential oils. I would rather pay a penalty than pump $6K a year or more into the healthcare insurance business. Call me crazy. (Indeed I will)
You know where my cousin is now? Six feet underground. My cousin died of colon cancer at age 67. She had no health insurance, and when she developed stomach pains, she decided to write it off as a potential ulcer and wait until she was eligible for Medicare (horrors, more socialism!) to see a doctor… which she never actually did until it was far too late and her cancer was well advanced. In January 2021, a couple of months after her death, I wrote this:
Last night, I read about how my cousin had let her disease go unchecked for at least six months because she didn’t have health insurance and was waiting for Medicare to kick in. The dramatic event that led her to her sick role had occurred in May of 2019, but she’d had Medicare coverage since late October 2018. As of May of 2019, she’d experienced severe abdominal pain for over six months. Still, she’d ignored it, dismissing the pain as a potential ulcer until she was passing bright red blood rectally in the wee hours of the morning.
I’m actually surprised that my cousin agreed with using Medicare, since she was a proud Republican and a Trump supporter, and a lot of Republicans seem to think Medicare is a socialist idea. If she had seen a doctor right when the pain started, would she have survived 2020? Would she have had another Christmas and New Year’s with her family? Would she have made it to her 70s and been there to see her grandchildren come of age? We’ll never know, but I suspect that she would have had a much better quality of life and a more favorable outcome if she’d been able to see, and pay for, a doctor much sooner than she did.
To be fair to my cousin, both of her parents died of different forms of cancer. She watched them go through the treatments of that era and probably really feared them. And she probably avoided doctors for much the same reason I do. But she had children and grandchildren, many friends and doting family members, as well as a couple of businesses she ran with her loving husband. If she’d done something about that pain sooner, maybe she’d still be with us. On the other hand, given my cousin’s loudly proclaimed love for Jesus, maybe she’s better off dead. She believed in Heaven, after all… and being in Heaven would mean being with her parents and our beloved Granny and Pappy, as well as the many aunts and uncles who have also passed.
I guess what really pissed me off about her situation was, she intruded on a conversation I was having with my friends, on my space, lectured us about desiring more affordable drugs and health care, pushed “essential oils” as an elixir for health, and then promptly got very sick with cancer and passed away. It was sheer stupidity, hypocrisy, and stubbornness on her part. And, aside from that, she was very publicly a Christian, even though she voted for people who were not very Christian at all.
I should mention that I don’t think this cousin liked me very much. I, in turn, returned the sentiment, especially after that exchange. She used to get offended when I cursed, and would chastise me for enjoying alcohol (which– sorry– I come by honestly. Our family is full of alcoholics). I suspect she also didn’t like that I sing, because before I came along, she was the family troubadour. I am sorry she got cancer and died. I didn’t wish death on her. But I couldn’t help but see the irony… she chastises us about hoping for more affordable healthcare, refuses to pay for health insurance, and pays a huge price. Or, rather, her family is paying… because in spite of my less charitable feelings toward her, I know they loved her very much.
I don’t actually know why Mary Lou Retton isn’t insured. I just think there’s no real good excuse for it. Moreover, it always BLOWS my mind when Republicans want to crowdfund things like medical care and funeral expenses as they lament people who access welfare, that if the recipients have ever had a job, their tax dollars actually went to help fund. Why is crowdfunding better than accepting welfare? Frankly, I think crowdfunding is worse than welfare, since you’re essentially begging, and relying on other people’s pity and compassion to pay your necessary bills. We all die, and we all have a need for healthcare. And if everybody pays for health insurance, that means there’s less bad debt for the rest of us to pay in the form of higher healthcare costs… and less need for crowdfunding.
By the way… as I finish this post, the results of Mary Lou’s crowdfund appeal is now up to $138K (as of less than six hours later, it’s at $174 K). That’s great for her, but most people don’t have Mary Lou Retton’s ability to make people want to reach into their wallets to help pay for healthcare expenses. And again… I strongly (and sadly) suspect that Mary Lou’s bills will be a hell of a lot higher than just six figures. I do wish her well, and I hope she will make a full recovery. I just wish she’d done the responsible thing and been insured. I’m pretty sure she’s one who could have afforded it.
Featured photo is from the current crowdfund Mary Lou’s daughter is running in support of her mom’s medical expenses. You can donate to it by clicking here.
Edited to add: Yesterday, Mary Lou got a $50,000 donation from the wife of a Texas tycoon. Her crowdfund is now at over $332K… Most people commenting have been very kind, but one person wrote this: