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"All I have is a story and an experience"

3:27 PM, Jul 22, 2009 • By C.J. CIARAMELLA
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Tomorrow Shona Holmes will testify before Congress about Obama's proposed health care plan, but unlike most of the people debating health care on the Hill, Holmes is not a lobbyist, a doctor, a policy wonk or even an American.

Shona Holmes is a Canadian who almost went blind waiting for vital brain surgery in her country's nationalized health care system, and who owes her sight to the quick care of American doctors.

When Holmes went to a doctor complaining of headaches and fuzzy vision, an MRI revealed a brain tumor. Unfortunately, she was told she would have to wait four to six months to see a specialist.

"I never truly understood that little inner voice--that gut feeling--until that time," Holmes told me during an interview at THE WEEKLY STANDARD's offices today. "And I thought, ‘I better figure out what's going on.'"

So Holmes flew to the Mayo Clinic, where, within in a week, she was seen and diagnosed as having a Rathke's cleft cyst. The cyst was growing and putting pressure on her optical nerves, slowly blinding her.

However, when she returned to Canada for surgery, Holmes had trouble finding a doctor. And when she did, she only ran into more trouble, thanks to laws and regulations against purchasing private health care.

"The one doctor I did see wouldn't even open my American medical files and look at them," she said.

When specialists from the Mayo Clinic tried to talk to the doctor, he wouldn't even answer the phone.

"I was always told that if you were sick enough, you would be treated," Holmes said. "And there I was, standing in the doctor's office, and he wouldn't take the call."

So Holmes flew back to the Mayo Clinic, where neurosurgeons removed the cyst. Her vision has been 100 percent restored.

Her tribulations have spurred Holmes to action. In Canada, she has been fighting an ongoing legal battle with the province of Ontario to repeal the ban on purchasing private health care.

Holmes decided to come talk in the U.S. after hearing Canadian politician Jack Layton offer support for Obama's health care plan (all the while touting the wonders of the Canadian system).

She calls Obama's plan a "slippery slope," but she doesn't like to think of herself as an activist or advocate.

"All I have is a story and an experience from both sides of the border," she said.