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The Fight of Her Life

Washington, DC, Woman Crusades for Medical Records Access

When Fred Holliday was diagnosed with stage III kidney cancer last winter, his wife Regina knew their family was in for a harrowing ordeal.

Little did she realize Fred's cancer was only the tip of the iceberg.

Over the next several months, Regina watched in horror as multiple doctors and hospitals refused proper care or access to medical records as Fred's condition worsened. Regina believes that poor communication between health care workers contributed to her husband's suffering.

Months later, Regina is working to raise awareness-not only of what she believes to be inconsistencies and injustices in health insurance, but for people who want timely, readily available access to their own and their loved ones' health records.

"I'm hoping to change the entire system," admitted Regina, "one person at a time."

When Fred Holliday was hired full-time at American University last fall, he was elated to realize he'd finally be able to afford full health care insurance for his family. Fred, who'd suffered from a urinary stricture all his life, was diagnosed with hypertension at his first doctor's appointment.

"We chalked [the hypertension] up to starting a new job, and we justified his other health problems-blood in the urine, for example-to the urinary stricture," recalled Regina.

But by January, Fred was also experiencing pain in his sternum, back pain and a particularly bad cough. After several misdiagnoses, including one as relatively simple as a broken rib-and repeatedly being turned away by doctors and emergency rooms with nothing more than pain medications-on March 27, Fred was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

"I couldn't get any answers from the doctors about Fred's test results," lamented Regina. "One doctor took me over to a computer screen and told me that although he wasn't supposed to, he'd let me see the result of one test. I was able to read about one paragraph before I was turned away."

With Fred's condition worsening and answers becoming more elusive, Regina finally approached the hospital asking for her husband's complete medical record. "They told me it would cost 73 cents per page, and require a 21-day waiting period," she recalled.

According to the hospital, this was standard procedure-but with Fred now in the grips of stage IV cancer, Regina didn't have 21 days to wait. But it wasn't until the next day that she reached her breaking point.

"The doctor came into our room, and told us, 'We have decided to send you home on a PCA pump'," she remembered. "We both just burst into tears-we knew this meant Fred was just being sent home on hospice."

Any thoughts of trying surgery, chemotherapy or other forms were abandoned. The plan was to treat Fred exclusively with pain medication until the disease ultimately ran its course. Fred decided enough was enough.

"He looked at me and said, 'You go after them, Regina,'" his wife remembered.

The Good Fight

Fred's Holliday succumbed to kidney cancer on June 17-the same day the United States Senate took up the issue of health care reform. But in his final days, his wife Regina began her crusade against the existing health care system by firing Fred's general practitioner and finding an oncologist willing to treat her husband. Unfortunately, this meant further complications in record transfers and poor communication between facilities.

"When I finally got my hands on Fred's records, I found so many example of areas where if someone had just taken the time to read carefully, he would have received much better care," lamented Regina. "Nobody was talking to anybody else, despite the fact that we were constantly seeing the same people."

Regina, an accomplished artist, is currently creating a mural depicting her struggle titled "73 Cents"-an homage to the price she was quoted per sheet of her husband's medical record. Many central figures are depicted in the work, from Regina's embattled family to apathetic hospital workers and sympathetic onlookers.

"The main theme is the lack of communication," said Regina. "Nobody in the picture is making eye contact with anyone else."

Her work has received worldwide attention already, with CNN, BBC and National Public Radio all coming out to interview, profile or at least talk with Regina. Recently, she had a chance to meet First Lady Michelle Obama and share her thoughts.

"She was an amazing speaker," Regina said of Mrs. Obama. I feel like they [Obama's administration] are doing everything they can to put health care reform through," she said. "I just want to act as someone who encourages people to talk, to discuss the idea of reform. There are a lot of really good people trying to fix things."

Regina Holliday is just one of the many. While legislative reform is a great starting point, Regina concluded by saying she has no ultimate goal-just an ongoing mission to honor her husband's memory and make sure others do not meet a similar fate.

"I'm going to be doing this for the rest of my life," she said.

For more information on Regina Holliday, her mural and health care reform, visit

Rob Senior is managing editor at ADVANCE and can be reached at

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