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STUDENTS ON A MISSION

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May 18, 2024

For information on admission to Notre Dame Prep, please click here

Notre Dame Prep students on Michigan Youth in Government team go to bat for teacher's husband with lung cancer, craft bill with potential introduction to the state legislature in Lansing.

A bill pending in Lansing that may upend the stranglehold some companies in the pharmaceutical industry have on certain cancer drugs takes cues from legislation passed during a recent MYIG conference thanks to the work of Notre Dame Prep's delegation.


Shortages of important drugs in the treatment of several of the most serious illnesses have been a concern across the U.S. and Michigan in particular. A 2023 report from Michigan Public Radio and other news outlets highlighted the fact that health care providers were especially concerned about the availability of drugs that treat cancer.

The Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA) said the shortage of two key chemotherapy drugs, cisplatin and carboplatin, has become critical across the country and in every region of Michigan. 

Katrina Palushaj, Notre Dame Prep's longtime computer science teacher, is witness to the real-life effects of the situation. Her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2021.

"It has been an up and down road," said Palushaj. "My husband is taking a pill for targeted therapy and in 2023, he needed treatment in addition to the medication he already was taking. But last year, he was denied that treatment because it was only being administered to earlier stage patients with stage 1 or 2 cancer.

This meant that her husband’s scheduled treatments were postponed until further notice, according to Palushaj. At the time, she added, because of the shortage, there was no guarantee when his treatments would be restarted and if there would be any priority for him and others in his situation to receive the rest of their treatments. 

Not enough profit

But the shortages are not from insurance companies reluctant to pay for care. They are not from highly complex, designer drugs that are difficult to produce. The medications are in fact simple and generic and can be produced by any licensed pharmaceutical manufacturer. 

They also are easy to produce in quantity. In fact, a vial of carboplatin costs approximately $15, which therein lies the problem. The purchase price is so low that manufacturers don't make as much money from drugs like carboplatin as they can from maintenance drugs that people have to take regularly for years. 

The consequences are real: cancer patients are increasingly dying from the lack of these simple and inexpensive products.

Clockwise from upper left, students Alessa Atallah, Mary Galle, Brandon Jones, Anna Kafarski, Nella Kaminskas, Michael Kenny, Laura Schmidt and Peyton Von Bernthal, are members of NDP's Michigan Youth in Government team. 


Enter Notre Dame Prep's Michigan Youth in Government team, who have taken up their teacher and her husband's plight in earnest.

After learning from Dr. LeAnne Schmidt, NDP's debate and forensics coach and teacher in the middle school, about Palushaj's ongoing and frustrating fight to get life-saving drugs to her husband, now-2024 NDP graduate Peyton Von Bernthal rallied fellow members of the school's MYIG delegation: freshmen Mary Galle, Brandon Jones, Nella Kaminskas and Anna Kafarski, junior Alessa Atallah, and fellow 2024 graduates Laura Schmidt and Michael Kenny.

Von Bernthal was so steadfast in pursuing a remedy for such an overarching injustice in the healthcare system, this future University of Michigan student decided to write her own bill during a recent MYIG conference in honor of the Palushaj family. 

"As a presiding officer, I was given the opportunity to attend the Michigan Youth In Government conference twice this year," she said. "This meant that I had more than one opportunity to present this important issue to the conference."

Bill passes, medicine becomes available

The bill saw passionate debate in favor of the proposal at the MYIG conference, including from the NDP delegation, and it was passed unanimously throughout all chambers and signed into law by Kenny, who was serving as the youth governor — all on the first day of the conference, which is very rare.

Von Bernthal couldn't wait to relay the news to Palushaj.

"I just wanted to take the time to let you know that not only does our Notre Dame Prep delegation support you and your family, but the youth across the entire state of Michigan do as well," she told Palushaj. "We worked hard and are advocating for you and your husband."

But that wasn't the end of it. Not by far.

     NDP teacher Katrina Palushaj
 

NDP's MYIG team immediately went to work to lobby the actual Michigan legislators in Lansing on their passed MYIG bill in an effort to get it introduced and passed on the "real" Capitol floor. 

As a result, in early June, the packet of passed MYIG legislation will be shared with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Speaker of the House Joe Tate at a legislators’ breakfast in Lansing for consideration as active legislation for the Michigan House and Senate to advance.

Meanwhile, NDP junior Atallah had forwarded to state legislators in her district a website created by Dr. Schmidt that detailed the issues surrounding the drug shortages.

It had the intended effect.

"By God's grace, I received a phone call saying my husband will in fact get his treatment," Palushaj said. “And while we were blessed to receive the medication, we were still concerned about all the other cancer patients in the same boat."

Palushaj said her mission is to get the actual legislation passed in Lansing. 

‘Good chance’ of passing the "real" bill

"It is so great to know that our kids took the lead on this important issue and that it could potentially change thousands of cancer patients' lives," she said. "I am so proud of our students and pray the bill continues and passes in the Michigan government."

According to Schmidt, she believes that Von Bernthal's bill actually has a good chance of making the cut.

"While it certainly is a debatable topic, the preponderance of support lies in the fact that the current situation 'blacklists' stage 3 and stage 4 cancer patients and effectively sentences them to death by withholding treatment because the odds are against them," Schmidt said. "Heaven help us if hospitals start to mirror Las Vegas and its casinos in dispensing care."

She added that whether or not it is fostered in Congress or gets the votes, the more people who know that this is happening, the better. 

"Medical care choices should rest with the patient on advice of a licensed doctor," she said. "Any interference undermines the sanctity of life, which we have already seen happening in Michigan in the past year. The bottom line is that this Catholic and Marist community and students like Von Bernthal and the rest of the MYIG team support life."

For information on admission to Notre Dame Prep, please click here.

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org

About Notre Dame Preparatory School
"At Notre Dame Prep, we inspire our students to become the best versions of themselves. We challenge them through an experience of academic excellence, focused on active, project-based learning. We invite them to explore a world of opportunities beyond the classroom. We guide them as they grow in spirituality within a community strong in its Catholic and Marist identity."

Notre Dame Preparatory School is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School's upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame Prep's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDP is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.