By Shelley Grieshop
Local physician Dr. Tom Schwieterman believes President Bush is a simple, no-frills kind of guy, even in his appearance.
On Friday, "Dr. Tom" got close enough to notice the president's simple gold wedding band and flat analog dial watch -- even the Sharpie pen he carries in his pocket for autographs -- during a private 25-minute meeting with the commander in chief in Canton to discuss healthcare issues.
"It was an experience of a lifetime," said Schwieterman who practices medicine in the Maria Stein area. "I was amazed more than anything at his warmness, how genuine and wholesome he seemed. He spoke to us like anyone you'd meet from Mercer County."
Bush was in Canton at the Palace Theater on the campaign trail to publicly discuss, among other topics, the medical liability reform issue, a subject that Schwieterman is passionate about.
Schwieterman attended the event with his family, including his parents, retired Dr. Don and Marilyn Schwieterman. He and three others in the medical field had the opportunity to speak to Bush immediately before the president took the stage in the afternoon.
"I walked into this 12 (foot) by 10 (foot) room in the basement of the theater and there were just six chairs in a circle," he explained. "Secret Service guys were standing outside the door with Uzis in their hands. Guys in black suits walked by with black suitcases. It was quite intimidating."
Schwieterman was invited to the event as a representative of the Ohio State Medical Board. He and the others -- an obstetric/gynecologist, a pregnant woman and a businessman whose company offers health savings accounts to its employees -- were nervous as the president entered the room.
"I sat directly next to Bush, within three to four feet," Dr. Tom said. "I knew I would relive this moment for a long, long time."
Bush spoke of his new health savings account plan, saying patients can have control of their healthcare dollars and market forces can prevail.
Bush told the group that lawsuit caps are definitely needed but admitted "we haven't quite figured out how to put caps on pain and suffering." He agreed Ohio is one of the worst states to practice medicine in, in terms of high malpractice insurance rates.
The meeting was like the icing on the cake to a whirlwind of publicity Schwieterman and his brother, Dr. Jim Schwieterman, have received since a story was published in The Daily Standard in March. Following a four-generation family history of delivering babies in Mercer County, the duo quit the obstetrics field last month due to the high cost of medical malpractice insurance. Ironically, they've never been sued.
On Sept. 23, the doctors were interviewed live on remote from Mercer County Community Hospital, Coldwater, for a segment on the "Good Morning America" television show.
Following the private basement meeting with the president, Schwieterman made his way up the theater stairs where he met and shook hands with Laura Bush and daughters, Jenna and Barbara. Barbara Bush gave his children, Robert and Katherine, pictures of the White House dog and Air Force One, and shook their hands.
Schwieterman said he felt "like a rock star," but more importantly is excited the healthcare issue is getting this much attention, even though it's due to the election year and the fact that Ohio is a pivotal state for both Bush and presidential candidate John Kerry.
"The experience has just changed me. I kind of relate it to the doctor/patient experience. You see and get to know the 'real' person when you're alone, one on one." Schwieterman said. "I think Bush is the real deal."