After his quintuple bypass surgery in 1987, Larry King got to thinking, “How much would this operation have cost me if I didn’t have insurance to cover it?”
The CNN interviewer immediately founded the Larry King Cardiac Foundation to provide heart bypass operations for people of limited means and inadequate insurance. The fund-raising started small with an event featuring Tommy Lasorda and Johnny Unitas. More recently, the event has gone bicoastal, with a show each year in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and featuring headliners including Celine Dion and Ricky Martin. Featured guests at the events, which bring in about $2 million a year, are the beneficiaries of LKCF. “They come to our galas,” King says. “You see the people we help.”
King estimates his 1987 operation would now cost about $90,000. The King Foundation, however, brings those costs down drastically by getting doctors to donate their services and hospitals to reduce their charges. So far, 140 people have been helped by the foundation.
“The biggest blight on this country is our lack of national health insurance,” King says. “That someone should not have a life saved because of money, it is a (sad) joke to me.”
Tanya Cunningham, a Realtor and mother of three from North Texas, was on the verge of death before she heard of the Larry King Cardiac Foundation.
“I figured I would be sent home to die,” she recalls. Cunningham had a tumor the size of a grapefruit attached to her heart, causing her to pass out.
A previous surgery had left her without insurance and without much hope until the King Foundation approved her application and allowed her to receive the surgery she needed to remove the tumor.
That was a year ago, and ever since then, Cunningham has been able to do the things she loves, like taking care of her three children and even singing “God Bless America” at the foundation’s most recent gala.
“The moment I filled out those papers, everyone in the organization treated me like I was part of the family,” she says.
— Justin Kroll