SANTA CRUZ -- Irene Tsouprake couldn't find a doctor for her elderly father. And it was starting to freak her out.
"Is he Medicare?" the administrative assistants would ask when she called. "Oh, I'm sorry. Our office doesn't take Medicare."
Never mind that Peter Tsouprake, then 79, was a 29-year Air Force veteran, that he'd flown 100 missions in Vietnam and earned a Silver Star for valor.
Never mind that he'd undergone bypass surgery and angioplasty and blown out five discs in his back. Never mind that he'd just spent a three-month stint in a Massachusetts hospital and urgently needed a referral to a local cardiologist.
Irene thought the voices on the other end of the line sounded sympathetic, but, for several months in 2006, the answer never varied: No new Medicare patients accepted.
Irene hadn't anticipated this problem. She'd just wanted to keep her father healthy. After his hospitalization, she and her sister had insisted he move from his big, drafty house in Cape Cod to live with them in Santa Cruz.
"It was a case of being browbeaten," he said, with a wry smile.
The difficulties he encountered in Santa Cruz caught him unaware -- he'd never had much trouble finding primary care doctors.
"I was flabbergasted," he said.
His daughter, Irene, started out frustrated. Then she grew alarmed.
Her father was stationed at NATO and at the Pentagon, she said the other day, gazing out the living room window of her five-bedroom home a few blocks from the UC Santa
Cruz campus. "And this is his reward? He can't find a doctor who will treat him?"
"It's appalling for any American," she continued. "But for someone who's put themselves in the line of fire, it's absolutely unconscionable."
A former journalist who now runs her own business arranging corporate special events internationally, Irene refused to give up. She called one doctor's office, then another and another.
Eventually, after striking out with at least five doctors' offices, her persistence paid off. A cardiologist tipped her off that doctors in Dr. Jack Watson's small family practice were still accepting new Medicare patients. She called. They said "yes."
"These are people that were part of the Greatest Generation of our society," explained Watson, 39. "They've paid their taxes for years. They really do deserve the benefits of the system they've paid into."
Peter Tsouprake has been happy with Dr. Watson's care -- he's landed in the emergency room four times in recent months and, each time, Dr. Watson was there.
But the experience has left his daughter wondering -- what happens to the elderly who don't have daughters or sons who will advocate for them?
"The truth, as any doctor will tell you," she said, "they die."