POLITICS
04/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Discusses Daughter's Hospitalization In Online Town Hall

Thursday's White House's 'Open for Questions' summit was the latest in a line of innovative mediums by which the president has communicated to and with the public. It also was one of the most personal.

At two points during the roughly hour-long session, Barack Obama offered rather intimate autobiographical anecdotes to underscore the need for -- and the administration's commitment to -- massive health care reform.

The first came during a give and take with an SEIU nurse, who discussed (rather than questioned) the need for preventive care and education. After expressing his "bias" in favor of nurses, Obama brought the topic around to his daughter and the sense of dread he felt when she was diagnosed with meningitis.

"When Sasha, our little precious pea, she got meningitis when she was three months old," said Obama. "The doctors did a terrific job, but frankly, it was the nurses that were there with us when she had to get a spinal tap and all sorts of things that were just bringing me to tears. And we've got a problem in this country, which is we have a shortage of nurses."

Later in the session, he was pressed on the need to have insurance companies cover preexisting conditions, and once more dipped into his personal story.

"My mother contracted ovarian cancer when she was 53 and she died six months later," said Obama. "She was, at the time, working as an independent contractor and so she had insurance, but when she was diagnosed and the medical bills started mounting up, this insurance company started saying, well maybe this is a preexisting condition so we don't have to reimburse you. ... We were lucky so eventually we got these costs approved."

The latter anecdote should ring familiar to those who followed the 2008 campaign closely; the former, not so much, though Obama has written to some length about his youngest daughter's early illness. In his second book, "Audacity of Hope," Obama used Sasha's hospitalization as an example of the need for affordable and universal health care.

"I still shudder when I think of those three days; how my world narrowed to a single point, and how I was not interested in anything or anybody outside the four walls of that hospital room -- not my work, not my schedule, not my future," he wrote.