Dennis Pollock was in Washington in 2007 for a "Genetics Day on the Hill" when he decided to pay a visit to US Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma -- Pollock's home state.
Pollock wanted the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act passed. GINA provides some basic health insurance and job protections for people with genetic conditions like Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. Alpha-1 caused the lung disease that forced Pollock to have a lung transplant in 2004.
Coburn had placed a hold on the GINA bill. Any senator can keep a bill from a vote on the Senate floor by the unofficial but all-powerful weapon called a "hold." GINA had widespread support, but the bill was never going to make it to a vote as long as Coburn had it on hold.
Pollock had no appointment, and nobody in Coburn's office wanted to see him. Eventually, he met with an aide who told him the senator would keep the hold on the bill. Period.
"I thought that was arrogant," Pollock said. "I was so frustrated."
He left, and from the steps of Coburn's office building, he got on his cell phone. He called about 10 members of his Alpha-1 support group back in Oklahoma, and asked them all to get 10 of their friends to join in calls to the senator's office.
Within 45 minutes he got a call from Coburn's office. "They asked me to tell the Alphas to stop calling. They were getting so many calls, they couldn't get anything done. I said, 'Will you release the hold on the GINA bill?' They said no. I said, 'Then I won't stop the calls.'"
The Oklahoma Alphas kept up the calls and emails for months. Eventually, Coburn released the hold. The Senate passed GINA 95-0. Dennis Pollock was in the room when President Bush signed GINA into law on May 21, 2008.
Coburn said his concerns about GINA had been resolved, and that's why he released the bill. Maybe so.
But I think it's at least as likely that the Oklahoma Alphas changed the senator's mind.
And I'm just saying, Thank you, Dennis.