His other gig? Bill Clinton's travel doc When the former president goes abroad, HUP physician Roger Band packs his bags.

Posted: March 24, 2008

He's not the Clinton we hear most about these days, but to Roger Band, the former president - and his ticker - win by a landslide.

As Bill Clinton's traveling physician, Band traverses the world in a private jet, goes on safari with heads of state, hobnobs with Bono and Brad.

As an ER doctor at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, he treats up to five gunshot victims a week and pedals to work on a used, one-speed clunker with a bell that reads "I love my bike."

It's been a long, strange ride for the man closest to Bill Cinton's heart. Literally.

When Clinton underwent a quadruple bypass in September 2004, his doctors insisted that an M.D. accompany him on his postoperative trips. Douglas Band, one of his most trusted aides, pitched his big brother.

Enter the presidential Band of brothers.

Douglas Band, known for avoiding the spotlight, was mentioned last fall in the Wall Street Journal for his role in brokering a $100 million real estate deal involving an Italian businessman and one of Clinton's investor friends in California.

For Roger Band, working as Clinton's traveling physician was supposed to be a short-term deal. But Clinton felt so comfortable with Band - described by his boss at HUP as "an easygoing mensch" - that he asked him to stay on.

The mensch is soft-spoken, self-effacing. His famous patient thrives on attention. On some level, Band had no idea what he was committing to.

"It wasn't until the first or second trip, when I was standing there and the president said, 'Hello, doc,' that it hit home," he says. "I think it's amazingly cool, but I try to keep it in perspective."

For almost three years, Band, 37, has looked after Clinton - and his staff and his Secret Service detail - on twice-yearly international trips for the former president's charitable foundation.

Penn provides much of Band's medication and medical supplies, which he carries in two large medical bags. Secret Service agents tote a defibrillator and oxygen canister.

He's been to more than 20 countries, including Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, India (four times), and sub-Saharan Africa. He's met the prime minister of India and the president of Rwanda. He's helped Nelson Mandela celebrate his birthday in South Africa.

Next destination, set for late May, is Hong Kong. Then it's back to Africa in June.

The long plane rides can be tedious. Ditto for the diversions. Band, like everyone in Clinton's airborne entourage, is required to play in marathons of oh hell, his card game of choice.

In an e-mail, Clinton says Band is a good traveling companion, "although I am confident his future lies in medicine and not in cards."

Band receives no salary and has no contract. He's never brought it up and insists it doesn't matter "because the opportunities and privileges are huge. I'm happy to donate my time, for now, while it's doable."

"Roger doesn't care about the trappings of wealth or fame," says brother Douglas, 35, Clinton's shadow since 1998. "In politics, it's all about self-promotion. He's a simple, self-deprecating dude."

The brothers are close. Sometimes they're mistaken for each other. At the opening of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock in 2004, Barbra Streisand planted a wet one on Roger's cheek. She thought he was Doug.

Neither Band brother finds it easy to keep up with the indefatigable Clinton, 61.

"He goes from sunup to sundown," Roger Band says. "He gets so inspired on these trips, I can just see it in his face. He can't wait to get to the next place. . . . He stays up late, gets up early. I'm not sure he sleeps much in between."

Still, he pronounces Clinton "in good shape. He walks regularly, maintains a pretty good routine, and makes a concerted effort to eat healthfully."

Band first met Clinton in 1995 in the Oval Office, courtesy of his brother. He's not embarrassed to admit he was overwhelmed.

"You can feel the history in the room. It's a really powerful, powerful place." With the president, "you're speechless. His charisma fills up the room."

Band overcame his rookie jitters long ago. He avoids being starstruck "by reminding myself it's a job."

It's a familiar mantra. When you work in a big-city ER, you're trained to maintain an inner calm amid constant chaos. That goes double on the overnight shift.

"One night, Roger could be taking care of some drunk homeless guy who's spitting on him. The next night, he could be taking care of Bill Clinton," says Elizabeth Datner, medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine.

Many of Band's colleagues don't know he moonlights as Clinton's traveling practitioner.

"When people ask, I usually say I do some traveling for the government," he says during a recent interview at a cafe on campus. "I'm not a huge self-promoter. I don't need a lot of attention to feel good."

Much to the chagrin of HUP pals, Band never reveals details of his exotic journeys. "We want to know the inside scoop, but he's very discreet," Datner says. They teasingly refer to Clinton in code as "the big guy."

When Clinton came to campus Feb. 28 for a speech on racial inequality 40 years after the Kerner Commission report, he gave a shout-out to Band.

Thanks to Band, Datner and several coworkers and their children were invited to the reception, where they all met Clinton.

Several years ago, again due to Band, Clinton signed a copy of his memoirs for Datner's mother as a 70th birthday present. Her mother was so worried about messing up the book, Datner says, she immediately bought another copy to actually read.

Trite as it sounds, Band has always liked helping people. He knew he wanted to be a doctor at the age of 5, when, to the great amusement of his three brothers, he began performing "pretend" operations in the family home in Sarasota, Fla.

After graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in microbiology, he earned his M.D. at Thomas Jefferson Medical College in 2001. He did his internship and residency at HUP, joining the staff in 2005.

As a medical student, he learned how to instantly fall asleep in any position. Once, while assisting in surgery at the end of a 24-hour shift, he dozed off and almost hit the operating table. Fortunately, the attending resident made a joke of it.

His parents are big Hillary Clinton supporters and hosted a fund-raiser at their Sarasota home in January. Band has offered to put up a campaign worker until the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.

It's hard to escape either Clinton these days, but for Band, it's always been about Bill. The former president even played a tangential role in his marriage.

Band and Dana Diorio, now 36 and a manager for Xerox, met cute four years ago at a Clinton book-signing at the National Constitution Center.

Band had shown up to hang with his kid brother. Diorio was a volunteer for the event. Her sister, Denise, a member of Clinton's advance staff, introduced her to her colleague's brother.

They married in October - at the Constitution Center, of course. Doug was best man; Clinton wasn't invited. "We tried to keep it just family and close friends," the groom says.

Clearly, the couple have an abundance of both. Their guest list numbered 260.

Contact staff writer Gail Shister at 215-854-2224 or gshister@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/gailshister.

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