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The Woman Who Inspired Perry’s HPV Stance

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has taken flak from his Republican opponents about his controversial HPV vaccine policy, but there’s a deeply personal story behind his initiative. At Thursday’s Republican debate, Perry said he came up with his vaccination policy after being lobbied by a young woman. That woman is Heather Burcham, a schoolteacher from Houston, whose cervical cancer was first misdiagnosed when she was 26 and eventually became fatal, leading to her death five years later in 2007. Burcham became an activist for the vaccine, which prevents HPV, the sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer. Perry and Burcham became unlikely friends due to her activism, and Perry even left the campaign trail to visit her on her death bed. At her memorial service, Perry credited her life as having a purpose: “To shine a light on a groundbreaking vaccine that can protect our wives, sisters, and daughters from a deadly cancer.”