Children With Special Needs Deserve America's Support

Sunday was a big day for many young boys and girls throughout Greater Boston and across the country. After a depressing winter, all our parks were filled with kids playing baseball and lacrosse. The voices of kids cheering and excited parents smiling, as far as I'm concerned, is as good as it gets. They are playing for the love of the game, not for the love of fame or money. From Braintree to South Boston, I coached and watched kids putting their heart into the game, which brought joy as well as disappoint. Isn't that what life is all about? Isn't that the reason why athletics was invented in the first place? Competition, fun and sportsmanship? I watched kids in wheelchairs hitting a baseball off of a hitting T in Braintree, and in South Boston was amazed to see little girls, who showed more spirit and guts playing lacrosse, than many of the prima donna over paid so called professionals, we watch on television.

After the Angels vs. A's Challenge League opener in Braintree, a father of a child with special needs came up to me and said, "Ray, I know you were recently at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Maryland with your grandson Braeden. I understand that this is the leading medical research center in the world. Do you think that the Federal Government is doing all they can to help these children?" Pointing to some of the children who play in the league sponsored by the Teamsters Union. "In a word, no," I said. And that is not just my opinion. I talk to leading medical experts, scientists and powerful elected officials in Washington, D.C., all the time, who tell me straight out, that too many illnesses and diseases don't receive the attention and resources they need to help find medical cures for children. These experts are good at telling the public how smart and committed they are, but privately they admit that a lot more could be done to help these special needs children. When I returned home from our game, I watched on national TV the head of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, a deeply committed medical doctor, acknowledging that medical research in America is far from satisfactory. Too many kids are medically underserved in America. Very little gets done, but worse, very few people, except parents of sick kids, seem to try to do anything about it. Politicians grandstand in the media in passing out grants, but we never hear about the deserving proposals that get rejected.

Another mother of a sick child, listening to our conversation, asked me what can be done? "It seems we don't have any political power. Nobody is helping us. Are our children a lost cause?" she asked. But, as I frequently say in the media, "No, we are not, but we have to be more engaged. In our country, it's special interest groups who are vocal and active who get all the attention and funding for their causes. They know how to manipulate the media and gain public opinion. We need to be more sophisticated nationally. We have an important and compelling story, let's start telling it," I exclaimed.

Where can we begin? I was asked. How do we get popular support? I told them that just the other day, I suggested to the Boston 2024 Olympic Committee that parents' and advocates' courageous efforts to advance medical research and rehabilitation for children with special needs should be supported by the National Olympic Committee. We can begin today by letting our governor; congress people, mayor and Olympic Committee know how strongly we feel.

I also told them that I also study preventive health care efforts and products, including adult stem cell nutrition. I am convinced that we are about to make great progress in this area of health and that I will continue to help lead this effort. Yes, more needs to be done by government in the area of medical research, but we can all benefit from advances in stem cell nutrition today.

Children and adults with special needs deserve America's best effort. As I said recently on national radio, America can do much better than it's doing in the health care field. How about providing medical research scholarships, instead of giving them to oversized and under-performing athletes. Oh-oh, I think I might have said something unpopular today. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned in believing that a person's health is far more important than a Super Bowl, World Series or even the Olympics.

But the real challenge should be, why can't we utilize the popularity of major sports and the Olympics to help sick and needy children. That's a game everyone wins. Let our professional sports teams hear your opinion. You can start by sending them this column. Special needs and handicapped children deserve our support.