As I listened to 14-month-old Analeigha Rivera's tiny heart in the Reliant Center in Houston, I could hear the murmur interrupting her regular rhythm as blood swished through a hole between the main chambers of the heart. An echocardiogram confirmed the diagnosis, so I could show her mother Victoria exactly where the problem was and explained to her that if little Analeigha didn't get supervised care by a pediatric cardiologist, we might miss our window to prevent life-threatening damage. I looked in her mother's tear-stained eyes and heard the same story that hundreds of others have recounted to me -- Victoria had a job but had lost her insurance. So Analeigha had nowhere to go. After I explained to her that we had resources on-site to help plan the next steps, one of my staff took me aside and told me we had just broken the record for the most people seen in a free clinic in one day. That's when my spirit sank a little.
I have always had a competitive personality. I have always tried to inspire those around me to win. But when I found myself on CNN on Saturday afternoon announcing that we had made history, I didn't feel an ounce of pride. Instead, I felt the underlying frustration that has slowly boiled every time I look into the face of a person on whom I am about to perform surgery who has no means of affording the care they need because they lack health insurance. I wanted to channel this outrage and use my new show as a way to put a face to these people.
The "uninsured" - that word we keep hearing as our elected officials grapple with a reform initiative that dominates headlines, talk shows, and political rhetoric. But the "uninsured" is a word that refers to people in the abstract. I wanted to show America who these people were, their struggles, their fears, their true challenges. I had spent time at free clinics before, and wanted to shine a spotlight on this remarkable movement for all Americans, so we partnered with the National Association of Free Clinics to hold the free clinic in Houston's 3-football field size Reliant Center. This was an essential teaching opportunity as our nation finds itself in a time that tries our very soul.