May 1, 2004
Harvey Bernstein is sick.
He has multiple sclerosis. This 50-year-old Vietnam Navy vet is in dire need of stem cell treatment to save his life.
But stem cell research is all but unavailable in the United States, thanks to this Bush administration that yields on this issue to the lunacy of hard-core, right-wing Christian fundamentalists who see stem cell science as the body and fender shop of the Devil.
Which means the law is sick, too.
But out in Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach, Harvey Bernstein's pals don't take no for an answer. The arguments of religious doctrine, medical ethics and election-year politics don't factor into the equation when a buddy is in trouble.
Faced with going to a funeral or a fund-raiser, Harvey Bernstein's pals decided to throw a racket to raise the $35,000 to send their friend to either the East Clinic in Killaloe, County Clare, Ireland, or the Stem Cell Research Clinic in the Ukraine to have the stem cell treatment he needs to save his life.
The fund-raiser will be held at the Tamaqua Club on Ebony Court in Gerritsen Beach on Saturday "from 6 p.m. to whenever," where for $20 at the door you get to eat and dance to music by DJ Mouse with one free beer and pay as you drink thereafter, with raffles and drawings and all proceeds going to help save Harvey Bernstein's life.
"Harvey is one of those well-loved local Brooklyn guys that when you mention his name everybody who knows him smiles," says Kevin Ward, a Local 40 ironworker to whom Bernstein served many a cold one in bars like Brennan's, Buckley's and Waldo's.
"No one dislikes the guy," Ward said. "Here's a guy who just about four years ago rode his bike 10 miles a day. He'd jog 4 to 5 miles a day three times a week."
Harvey also saved all his tip money and opened a little card shop on Avenue U and Coyle St.
Then, one day, Bernstein awakened feeling weak. His muscles began to atrophy. He had trouble walking. After batteries of tests, the good doctors in the Fort Hamilton Veterans Hospital diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis.
"Today, Harvey needs a cane to hobble across the street," Ward said. "He had to sell the card shop for short money because he was strapped." The doctors say that his MS probably can be traced back to the chemicals used on the ships he served on. But that's another issue.
Right now, he's faced with the medical crisis. He needs the stem cells to rejuvenate his central nervous system.
The electrical circuits around the nerve endings are frayed, and tissue needs to be rebuilt. In Ireland and the Ukraine, there are hospitals with 85% success rates for this treatment.
But Bernstein's medical treatment will cost about $25,000, and the travel and after-care therapy will cost $10,000 more for this single man who can no longer tend bar or work at all.
"So far, we've got about 250 or 300 people coming," Ward said. "But we've added a couple of tents, and we can hold up to 500 people. We're asking anyone who finds out to tell people who know Harvey that we're having this fund-raiser. I know if they can they'll show up for Harvey. He's that kind of guy."
Some religious pro-life groups believe that a handful of embryonic stem cells represent a potential human life and therefore must be protected. It doesn't matter that they might be used to save the lives of breathing human beings who are sick, maimed or dying.
According to Time magazine, last month 206 members of Congress signed a letter to President Bush asking him to fund stem cell research on some 400,000 embryos stored in in-vitro freezers. These embryos, "only days old and smaller than the head of a pin," probably will be discarded unless they are donated to science.
The letter noted that stem cells can be used to treat "diseases that affect more than 100 million Americans, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury."
Even Nancy Reagan, who has watched her husband, a former President, retreat into the tangles and plaque of his own Alzheimer's-afflicted brain, has publicly urged Bush to act on stem cell research.
But Bush is not expected to act before the November elections, for fear of alienating the Christian right. If ever.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, Harvey Bernstein, who served his country in a time of war and who now needs a cane to cross a street at age 50, relies on the kindness of old pals in the fight for his life.
Your $20 could sure help.
Copyright © 2004, Daily News, L.P.