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Prominent Seats For 2 Guests

Many people, glued to their televisions, saw President Bush's State of the Union on Tuesday night. But two Americans - seated prominently next to the First Lady - experienced the speech up close.

The White House honored Dr. Denise Baker, a Florida obstetrician/gynecologist who stopped delivering babies last fall because her insurance expenses exceeded her salary, and Air Force Reservist Capt. Maureen Allen, who served in Afghanistan. Both visited The Early Show Wednesday to discuss their night in the spotlight and their reactions to Mr. Bush's speech.

Reservist Capt. Maureen Allen is a flight nurse based at the 908th Airlift Wing in Alabama. She, and many like her, volunteered for a 90-day overseas deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Allen says she found herself in combat during her stay there. "It was amazing. But in the end, we were so well trained and qualified to do our job. It felt good to do the mission we were always trained to do."

A native of the upstate New York town of Tomawanda, she was selected for the State of the Union honor because of her service in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia, according to Maj. Jerry Lobb, public affairs officer for the 908th Airlift Wing. Her name was submitted as a person the White House might call on to represent the Air Force during an autumn presidential function. She was passed up for the October event, but her name was picked for the State of the Union, to sit next to the First Lady.

"It was the most wonderful experience," says Allen. "He was very eloquent. I'm so grateful and blessed that I was able to do that."

Part of Mr. Bush's address touched on modernizing health care in the U.S.
He said to improve the health care system, the government must address the threat that physicians and hospitals will be being unfairly sued. He urged Congress to pass medical liability reform.

Dr. Baker says Mr. Bush's State of the Union message to help regulate the price of medical professionals' insurance was important. "It does not only impact the obstetrician patients, it impacts the gyn patients because we decrease the number of services and we stop doing a lot of the intricate, delicate, riskier surgeries," says Dr. Baker.

The Bradenton, Fla., ob/gyn says her medical malpractice insurance expenses exceeded her salary and forced her to stop delivering babies. "[The insurance expense] went from $58,000 a year to $320,000 a year," says Dr. Baker. Because of the higher cost of insurance, she says she had to drop her 97 pregnant patients and help them find other doctors.

"The reason why I became a doctor was to deliver babies and it broke my heart and crushed my dreams," says Dr. Baker. "But the accountant said, 'You can not do this and stay open.'"

Dr. Baker says she felt honored to be a White House guest at the State of the Union. "We had the most phenomenal experience of our life," says Dr. Baker. "To be able to feel the power of our legislators and see the faces that we've seen on television and still feel the graciousness and kindness of Mrs. Bush, it was an experience of a lifetime."