Let me tell you about a great woman named Catherine Wolf


To the editor:

Catherine Wolf, whose opinion piece is republished below, died on Wednesday, Feb. 7, a few weeks after this piece appeared.

She was thrilled to see it in print because it supports the necessity for the New York Health Act, legislation she hoped would not only prolong her life and that of other ALS victims, but would also ensure health care as a right for all her fellow state residents.

The particular story here is one of many battles she waged to accommodate the ravages of a disease from which she suffered for more than 21 years. ALS left her unable to talk, walk or eat without a feeding tube. She breathed only with the help of an implanted heart ventilator. 

Though the immediate cause of her death was sepsis that did too much damage to her body, the medication denial she describes would have left her unable to function as she had been: With the spirit that became an inspiration to all who knew her and read her words.

She would want her readers to hear once more about the New York Health Act which, because it covers prescription drugs, would have authorized the medication she needed without regard to profits for big pharma or insurance companies, and would allow doctors to practice medicine unimpeded by excess paperwork.

In her opinion piece, she describes how the present cruel bureaucracy failed her. But she would have wanted readers to know that the New York Health Act (or improved Medicare-for-all) would save so many, covering preventive and specialty care, hospitalization, mental health, reproductive health, dental, vision, hearing and medical supplies.

As with Medicare, patients have no network constraints. The bill would bypass the new federal tax bill which, even as it eliminates the affordable care mandate, automatically slashes $25 billion from Medicare to give tax breaks to the rich and leaves more than 2 million New Yorkers without any medical coverage.

Catherine was enraged by Paul Ryan’s pledge to deal with budget shortfalls by cutting entitlements. But, throughout her life, she turned her rage into action. Even with ALS, Catherine continued her research, mainly through IBM, on artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction — ironically, the very tools that enabled her to have a voice. 

Over the course of her career, she wrote more than 100 scientific articles and held six patents. Some of her work provided data for researchers on ALS.

A video was just completed of her life and work. Taking its title from her own poetic words, it demonstrates her incredible will to live.  You can watch the video, “Hear Me Now,” at tinyurl.com/CatherineWolf.

Her lifelong fascination with language propelled her to write poetry. Of her struggle to compose, slowly, letter by letter, she wrote, “Like an ancient chiseling words in Aramaic, I will be heard.”

She would want her voice to resonate for the New York Health Act. And she would want the state legislature to agree with a Wallace Stevens line we both liked: “After the final no, there comes a yes. And on that yes, the future world depends.”

We can honor her gift, the jewel of her life, by doing what she urged us to do: Badger our legislators to say “yes” to the New York Health Act.

Barbara L. Estrin