IT HELPS TO HAVE A DOCTOR IN THE house—or the Senate. When the Rev. Graeme Sieber, 60, collapsed on the fifth floor of the Dirksen Senate Office Building from an apparent heart attack on Sept. 14, congressional staffers knew what to do: They sent for Tennessee Republican Bill Frist, 43, the Senate’s only doctor.
Frist, a heart surgeon, sprinted the 35 yards from his office to Sieber’s side. For 20 frenzied minutes, Frist turned the marble hallway into a makeshift ER, administering CPR to the unresponsive preacher, who runs a shelter for troubled boys in Cleveland, Tenn., and was in Washington to lobby on children’s issues. “He was working so hard he was perspiring,” says Donna Davis, an aide to Rhode Island Sen. John Chafee. “It was incredible.” Finally, using equipment from the Capitol physician’s office, Frist inserted a tube into Sieber’s mouth to clear his windpipe and applied electric pads that shocked Sieber’s heart back into its normal rhythm. Sieber was rushed to George Washington University Hospital, where he is expected to recover.
Frist views his hallway heroics with detachment. “That’s what I’ve done all my adult life,” he says. A 1978 graduate of Harvard Medical School, Frist left his position as director of Vanderbilt University Hospital’s Multi-Organ Transplant Center last year to run against three-term incumbent Democrat Jim Sasser, whom he unexpectedly defeated. He’s the first practicing physician in the Senate since the 1930s—and the only one to put “Doctor” on his office nameplate.
His medical background is a boon when it comes to legislating, Frist insists. “As a physician, you have to cut through the fluff and get right to the heart of the matter by identifying a problem and making a diagnosis,” he says. Although he has moved into a spacious home in northwest Washington with wife Karyn, 41, and their children, Harrison, 12, Jonathan, 9, and Bryan, 8, he plans on serving no more than two terms. Whatever he does, he’s likely to have gained the support of one voter—Graeme Sieber.