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Dying Iowa voter grills candidates on health care

  • Story Highlights
  • Iowan Kathy Stangl, dying of incurable lung disease, seeks health care changes
  • She has been pressing presidential hopefuls about their stances
  • She wants her daughters to remember "that one person can make a difference"
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By Randi Kaye
CNN
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(CNN) -- Kathy Stangl should have been dead last April. The mother of two has incurable and untreatable lung disease. Her doctors gave her just months to live after being diagnosed.

Making the most of her gift of extra time on Earth, 56-year-old Stangl of Des Moines, Iowa, is on the campaign trail grilling presidential hopefuls.

"I want to see what they said about health care, what they said about research," Stangl said.

One day, her lung disease will kill her. It's called lymphangioleiomyomatosis, commonly known as LAM. It's estimated about 250,000 women may have LAM and not know it, according to the LAM Foundation. These women were either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

LAM affects women in the prime of their lives, most often during child-bearing years. Breathing becomes a daily battle, with symptoms ranging from shortness of breath to chest pain.

Before LAM takes her life, Stangl is working to change U.S. health care, an issue that is especially important to women. They, more often than not, are the caregivers. Video Watch one woman's mission »

Stangl has gone head-to-head with all but two presidential contenders and has attended nearly 70 campaign events as the candidates stumped across Iowa ahead of Thursday's caucuses.

It is her only chance to push candidates to direct more health care dollars toward research, early intervention, and prevention.

"I wear my uniform -- the T-shirt which says the name of my disease, all 24 letters of it. I ask them if they can say it," she said. "I thought it would kill me before I could spell it since I was supposed to be dead last April. Then, I ask about the need for specific research. We need research for intervention; research needs to drive the model forward."

Research shows nearly 50 million people in the United States don't have health insurance. Presidential contenders on both sides of the aisle are promising to change that. The Democrats are offering broader and more immediate changes, including subsidies and mandated insurance. The Republicans generally oppose any mandate but favor making insurance affordable through tax credits.

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Stangl says she's been disappointed by many of the Republican ideas on this issue. In fact, she says Rudy Guiliani and Mitt Romney "blew her off" when she approached them about it.

"Guiliani said to me that health care is good, everybody likes good health and health care is good -- some variation of that I've played over and over again in my mind, without giving me any specifics," she told CNN.

Stangl wants a universal health plan. She's decided to vote for Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, who plans to create a pool of private health plans similar to the ones federal workers have.

"I know who my preference is," she says. "My preference is for Senator Biden and has been for a while. I feel like he's ready to take action on Iran and Pakistan, and he has specific things to say about health care."

So while she continues her campaign, the candidates, especially the Democrats, continue to hash it out on health care. All Stangl wants is to be heard so she can make a difference.

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Through tears, she said, "The legacy I want to leave is for my daughters -- that one person can make a difference; every decision you make in your life is important, every day you can make a difference, and I don't know how long I have, no one knows how long they have."

If Stangl isn't here to hold candidates accountable for what they've promised, she hopes someone else will be. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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