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President steeled by cancer victim's letter

Two months ago Mr Obama's efforts to pass comprehensive health reforms seemed to have been wrecked by the loss of Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat. Then the President received a letter from an Ohio cancer sufferer, Natoma Canfield.

He has since read the letter to insurance company executives, referred to it in speeches and posted it on the White House website, to electrifying effect. When the history of his presidency is written, Ms Canfield may turn out to be its saviour.

Without coverage from an employer, she had to shop around for a health insurance policy she could afford. Under its terms she paid out more than $10,000 last year in premiums and fees and was reimbursed for less then one tenth of her outlay. She was then hit with an increase in her premiums of more than 40pc.

With a new diagnosis of leukaemia, Ms Canfield (50) faced not only a deadly illness but also the loss of her home. "Please stay focused in your reform attempts," she wrote, and Mr Obama has done so.

Few doubt his commitment to health reform now, but aides said he came close to giving up on the bill in January.