Since she lost her brother in March, Georgeanne Koehler's vocation has been to tell people how he died: slumped over his steering wheel because his defibrillator battery ran out.
William Koehler, who worked as a pizza deliveryman and would have turned 58 in the spring, couldn't afford to replace the battery because he lost his insurance when he lost his job as an electronics technician in 2003. No insurer wanted anything to do with his arrhythmia. That's why Georgeanne Koehler, a 63-year-old hospital worker in Pittsburgh, found herself standing in front of the Capitol steps on a frigid Thursday in Washington, D.C. -- her third visit in three months.
"I'm here to talk about my brother," she said, holding a small piece of poster board with his photo. "Without health insurance, he couldn't get necessary cardiac care to keep him alive. This is the face of uninsured Americans whom we loved most dearly. Without meaningful reform, there will be many more. We just don't know their names yet."
After her brother died, Koehler started building walls from paper bricks, which she planned to tear down after the president signed reform into law. Then she began attending rallies, to which she always carried a bag filled with her brother's EKG charts. She told the Huffington Post that she'll talk to anyone about health care reform, that she goes door to door in her Pittsburgh neighborhood and even chats up strangers at bus stops.
Koehler first traveled to Washington in October, when she attended a labor-organized rally outside a conference for industry trade group America's Health Insurance Plans. She returned on Dec. 7, to attend a press conference with Senate Democrats.
She visited Washington on Thursday to promote her own "No More Empty Chairs" holiday health care campaign. An empty folding chair at her side, Koehler made a brief speech in front of the Capitol before an audience of just 10 health care and labor activists and one reporter.
"This Christmas we're going to have an empty chair at the dinner table," she said.
Koehler didn't seem to mind that so few people came to her event, or that the Capitol Police wouldn't let her unfold the chair. She focused on telling her story and the stories of people she's met since she became a health reform activist.
"Once this is all done we'll see where I'm at with the grieving," she told HuffPost after personally delivering a bag of letters to the office of Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), where a staffer encouraged her to keep telling her story.
"I'm very appreciative of Mrs. Koehler's visit to Washington to share her family's heartbreaking story and to deliver so many messages from Pennsylvania in support of health care reform," said Schwartz in a statement to HuffPost. "Mrs. Koehler's advocacy, and the advocacy of so many other Pennsylvanians, is invaluable and it is stories like hers that compel us to pass meaningful, affordable health coverage for all Americans."
And Koehler met with Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in his office, dropping off a letters in a bag decorated with a snowman in a green jacket.
"I know what happened to your brother," said Specter, a former Republican just like Koehler. "I'm really sorry. It's a tragedy."