It wasn’t long into Dr. Andy McGuire’s medical career when she came face-to-face with the impossible choices parents face in a country with a broken healthcare system. When a younger patient came in for an exam over a bad form of Thyroid disease, the parents stood nervously in the back of the room. Both farmers, they didn’t have insurance through their job and couldn’t afford it on their own.
“I still remember the guy writing a check, and I said, ‘No, that’s taken care of somewhere else,’” McGuire told Starting Line. “But he was so concerned about the money. Most people didn’t ask what things cost since their insurance took care of it. He did, right up front.”
McGuire ran the tests and found the patient needed to have radioiodine treatment.
“The treatment wasn’t real expensive in today’s terms, but it was still expensive,” she explained, and the parents simply couldn’t afford it.
Unsure what to do, and with the father distraught but not wanting to ask for financial help, McGuire told them to stay put while she went and asked a medical question of her staff. She instead went to her chief and got the risk manager to come in and try to figure out the situation.
“Finally, we just all got together and decided they would give the treatment anyhow,” McGuire said. “Our oath is we have to take care of people. So how do we do this? I don’t think people realize, with everything that swirls around nationally and in states, it comes down to if you’re sick, we have to take care of you.”
Of course, that doesn’t happen in every situation in hospitals and clinics around the country, but in this case McGuire’s patient received the care they needed and got better. But the experience stuck with her over the years as a reminder of the grueling fear families go through when a loved one gets sick. And as McGuire has traveled the state for her campaign for governor, she’s kept that in mind as Iowa and nation talk about how many thousands or millions of people may lose their health insurance and end up in the same situation.
“That many people is people,” McGuire said. “I could see it in that dad’s face. Those people, those millions of people – what, 30 million people will be kicked off? That’s 30 million of those faces. It’s very personal to me. Having been in that situation – multiple ones, that one always comes back to me – I thought my father, my father would have done anything to take care of me. We can’t be a state and nation that doesn’t take care of others.”
Her father, Warren Holden, is something else that is often in McGuire’s thoughts when she pitches voters on her plans for Iowa. His actions in World War 2 and community involvement back home was what inspired McGuire to devote her own life to service, both in the medical field and politics later.
A fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps, Holden was in the first round of soldiers called up after the Pearl Harbor attack. He was an unconfirmed ace in North Africa, and would later fly in the Eastern Theater. The United States awarded him the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross for an air battle in 1943 where he fought off six German fighter planes in his P-38. One of his friends’ planes was damaged and fell behind from the rest of the American squadron, so Holden broke off from the formation and went back to protect him.
“I just can’t imagine at that age going overseas and risking your life every day for what you believe in and your buddies,” McGuire said.
Holden returned to Waterloo and became a civic leader, heading up the Jaycees and the local chamber of commerce for a while. He even got back to flying in his late 80’s, re-earning his hours and license with an impressed flight instructor to whom he quipped, “It’s a lot easier to fly when they’re not shooting at you.”
“That’s what always made me feel like I had to get involved and do things,” McGuire noted. “You watch something like that, someone who’s that giving, and you feel like you have to do it yourself.”
So McGuire headed into medicine, having always been interested in science. She practiced nuclear medicine, and treated many veterans like her father when she worked at the VA in St. Louis and Des Moines.
“I feel so strongly about veterans because if you work with them and you have the upbringing of my dad, you can’t get away from the fact that they’re just wonderful people,” McGuire said.
McGuire, who has seven children, was pregnant during many of the years she practiced medicine and recalled one particular interaction with an older veteran. Though the man was dealing with severe thyroid issues, he jumped up with concern when a nine-month-pregnant McGuire entered the room, insisting she sit down and he stand while she conducted the exam.
Her work as a doctor helped fulfill that sense of service that she saw in her parents as she grew up, but also simply made her feel like she was making a difference in people’s lives.
“I could see the incredible power you had to help people,” McGuire explained. “If you’re sick, first of all you’re very vulnerable when you’re sick. You walk in a room and a person has to put a lot of trust in you and have to really trust that you will help them. And you have to do it very quickly. They don’t know you. But you’re the doctor. It’s a sacred thing, a sacred trust you have with a patient … And when you can help a patient, when you help them get well or get through something, there’s no feeling like it in the world.”
Thinking back to the father who was so distraught that he couldn’t pay for his own child’s medical treatment, McGuire emphasized that she knows just how high the stakes are for Iowans in the next election when it comes to their healthcare. And she reiterated that while it’s good to have a discussion over how Iowa addresses that problem, the bottom line needs to be about caring for the people who need help. That’s the biggest lesson she took away from her parents and one that she hopes to bring to Iowa government.
“It’s hard to get away from the gifts your parents give you like that,” she said of her mother and father. “I’m just so glad mine gave me great gifts that I think will help me be governor.”
by Pat Rynard