Joe Westrich of Wiscasset, director of Lincoln County 911, and his wife, Kim, met former first lady Barbara Bush briefly in 2014, on one of many visits to the children’s hospital with their young daughter, Madison. On that occasion, Mrs. Bush learned of Westrich’s plan to help raise funds for the Portland hospital that bears her name and that saved his daughter’s life.
In 2008, when Madison was just 2, Westrich said, she underwent surgery at the hospital to remove a tumor from her brain. Complications arose after she was discharged, requiring a stressful nine-day return hospitalization.
“The nurses and the doctors there are just incredible,” Westrich said.
For several years after that, Madison and her parents made multiple trips to the hospital for CAT scans, MRIs and other procedures to track her progress. Then in 2014, Madison was admitted again to remove scar tissue that was blocking the circulation of her cerebral-spinal fluid, and that’s when the family encountered Mrs. Bush.
“We were invited to meet Mrs. Bush, who was coming to read to the children,” Westrich said. At that meeting, he told her about Madison’s experience and the idea he had for developing a specialty license plate to fundraise for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.
“She laughed and said, ‘Oh, you’re going to make me famous,’” he recalled. “What a warm, funny person.’”
Since then, with the hospital’s support, the license plate proposal has moved forward. It was endorsed last fall in the Legislature’s transportation committee and on Wednesday won the unanimous endorsement of the Senate. Gov. Paul LePage signed the bill on Thursday.
Westrich hopes the specialty plates will be available by late summer. They will cost more to purchase than standard plates, but each purchase, and each annual renewal, will generate a $10 donation to the hospital.
“Hopefully, people will see this as a way of continuing Barbara Bush’s legacy of supporting children’s health and literacy in Maine,” Westrich said.
His daughter is now 13 years old and has “a 100 percent clean bill of health,” he said.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.