TORONTO – QMI Agency readers, you're the best.
Your outrage Friday over little Mackenzie Graham, the one-year-old baby turned down for out-of-province healthcare hit the government where it hurts.
As hundreds of readers signed an online petition asking OHIP to cover his care, Health Minister Deb Matthews caved. Her office called the family late Friday afternoon, telling them they'll get coverage in the U.S. going forward.
It wasn't the only call they got from the province.
Ombudsman Andre Marin's office called them to say he'd take up their case.
"It's been overwhelming," Mackenzie's dad Matt told me Friday. "It is a huge relief."
Matt, a web developer and his wife Heather, a teacher, just found out their youngest son, Mackenzie, has Norrie's disease -- a genetic disorder affecting the eyes that, if not treated, causes blindness.
There's no effective treatment in this province and Mackenzie's best chance of sight is with Michigan eye doctor, Dr. Michael Trease, who specializes in treating kids with Norrie's.
There are two other children in this province with Norrie's -- and both have their treatment paid for by OHIP, but Mackenzie was turned down.
Mackenzie has already had three surgeries in Michigan.
Friends kicked in -- fundraising $40,000 to help save the baby's sight.
Their church helped. Others simply handed them money. Friends put on a concert.
Why? Because it's the right thing to do. Because we are a civilized society and we care about each other. We care especially about babies with horrific illnesses that may cause them to go blind.
That's why we have OHIP -- because as a society, we have decided that we will not allow a child to suffer because their healthcare costs are unaffordable.
"I was speechless," Matt told me after he got the good news. "It's a huge relief."
Both Matt and Heather work full time, so the prospect of doing more fundraising to foot the bills was daunting.
"My blood pressure just dropped a whole lot," he told me.
Each treatment in the U.S. costs them $5,000.
He expects the bill will come to about $60,000 by the time Mackenzie turns 7.
The Health Services Appeal and Review Board (HSARB) had recently rejected the family's request for out-of-province funding.
This is the same government body that recently approved OHIP coverage for two former migrant workers whose work permits have expired but who have not returned to their native Jamaica. They're either here illegally or here on visitors' visas. Either way, they don't qualify for medical benefits -- but they're getting them.
Matthews called me personally Friday to confirm the health ministry will be paying for Mackenzie's care going forward through a program at the Hospital for Sick Children. She also told me the health ministry is appealing the migrant worker ruling.
Matthews read my story Friday and asked the ministry to take another look at Mackenzie's case.
"They can access the program through Sick Kids and that will cover their procedure in Michigan," she told me.
She said Mackenzie's case, "doesn't appear to be eligible for out-of-country coverage because we do treat Norrie's here. Sick Kids does treat Norrie's," she said. "In this case, given that the child was already getting care that the family was happy with, they can access that program through Sick Kids."
Matthews called Mackenzie's case, "heartbreaking."
"If I had a private vault of money, where we could do lots of things without any parameters around programs, that vault would be empty pretty quickly," she told me. "At the same time we have a great health care system here. We've got great doctors and great health care professions and there's not a lot we cant do here."
So, QMI Agency readers -- thanks for caring. The number of people who signed the online petition more than doubled from the time my column was posted on Thursday night to the time the ministry phoned to give the family the good news. You made a difference.
You spoke with one voice and you sent a message the health ministry couldn't ignore.
We care about each other. We care about our children. We care about everyone's children -- and we want them to have the best possible future.
Sometimes, good people can move mountains.
Sometimes, they can get the health ministry to have a heart -- and give a damn about the most precious and vulnerable children in our midst.
God bless you. And God bless little Mackenzie in his fight for sight.