The Washington Post

That time Rand Paul met Larry, from Florida

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) checks the eyes of Larry Shipman, 71, of Bonita Springs, Fla., in Salama, Guatemala on Aug. 20. Shipman owns a retirement home in Guatemala and learned about Paul's medical mission in a local newspaper. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

SALAMÁ, GUATEMALA – Larry Shipman came here all the way here from Bonita Springs, Fla. for cataract surgery. Little did he know that his surgeon would be a U.S. senator and possible presidential contender.

A 71-year old retiree, Shipman keeps a home near Lake Atitlan, in southern Guatemala. He’s been blind in his right eye for three years. The other day, using his left eye, he read in the newspaper about a medical mission trip up here, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The prospect of free eye surgery from Paul and a team of world-renowned surgeons was too good to pass up. With the help of a neighbor, Shipman traveled by bus from the town of Panajachel, transferred in Guatemala City and and made it to Salama on Tuesday – a seven hour journey.

When he walked into the operating room, Paul and other surgeons began speaking to him in broken Spanish. Witnesses say Shipman shouted back: “No need to speak Spanish, I speak English. I’m from Florida!”

Shipman says that he tried seeking care through a Lions Club in Bonita Springs, Fla., but they declined to give him care. He said he has Medicare Part A, but they told him he needed Medicare Part B. There is no easy way to verify Shipman’s case from here, but it’s no surprise that his struggles with the American health care system intrigued Paul.

“I’ve had this for three years,” he said pointing at his now-fixed right eye. “You don’t know what it’s like to be able to see again after three years.”

Asked whether he was familiar with Paul’s background, Shipman said: “Kinda. A senator, oh yeah. A senator from Kentucky? Really? Hell no. I’ll be darned.”

“I’ll vote for him. He’s got my vote,” he added.

If helping a partially blind man see can’t win Paul a vote, what can?

“Thank you, Mr. Future President!” Shipman shouted across the waiting room. Paul, busy reviewing medical charts, didn’t look up.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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