Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Behind the Scenes of the Today Show segment on Haitian Hearts

Widnerlande and Haitian Hearts were profiled on the Today Show on February 22, 2011. Here is a link to the segment.

I thought it would be fun to let you know some of the behind-the-scenes stuff regarding our appearance on the Today Show. When we were in Sacramento at the Ronald McDonald House awaiting surgery for Widnerlande, the family that is hosting Widnerlande contacted their daily newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, and the paper did a story about her, which you can read here. Pam Adams of the Peoria Journal Star also reported on Widnerlande when she was in Peoria, prior to going to California.

NBC producer Dana Roecker saw the story in the Sacramento Bee, and he emailed me about the possibility of doing a story. Dana wrote:

"I was struck by your amazing organization, Haitian Hearts, your focused persistence on bringing care to an impoverished country and the chaotic trek of a little 7 year old girl. Your efforts, I am sure, are probably often overlooked, and I am also sure that for you, the focus is on the children."

So, right away I liked Dana! He went on to say that he works with reporter Jenna Wolfe, who was raised in Haiti. Dana emailed me the morning that Luke and I were leaving Sacramento to return home. We exchanged a few more emails, notified the hospital, Sutter Children's Center, about the Today Show's interest, and then Dana talked with John. The next day, Dana flew from New York to Sacramento. He filmed at the hospital and got some footage of Widnerlande, John, and the host father.

A week later, on January 31, Dana and Jenna Wolfe flew from New York to Peoria. They were in town for about a total of 4 hours. They pulled up at 11 am in front of the house in a rental van loaded with all of Dana's sound and light equipment. While he set up everything in the living room, John and I chatted with Jenna.

Jenna was born in Jamaica, but lived in Haiti until she was 14. Her father runs a factory there and, he splits his time between Haiti and New York. Jenna went back to Haiti, shortly after the earthquake to do some reporting. After much searching, Jenna found the woman who served as her nanny when she was a child. This woman survived the earthquake, but was living in a tent, and Jenna said it was a very emotional moment to see her again.

Jenna interviewed John on camera for about 10 minutes and then me for about five minutes. There are two cameras set up, so that both Jenna and whomever she is interviewing can be filmed. They then took some shots around the house: of us at the computer, John looking at Widnerlande's medical notes with Jenna.

Jenna told us that she had received a 3 am wake up call, and a driver had picked her up to go to the airport around 4:45. They flew from NYC to Chicago and Chicago to Peoria. Jenna was traveling on to Dallas to do some reporting about the Super Bowl, and then after that she was going to Florida. Ooh, these kinds of national reporting jobs seem grueling, and I told Jenna it is good that she is young! Dana was returning to New York to put together the story.

On top of this, we were all bracing for the Blizzard of 2011. Jenna and Dana finished at our home at about 12:45 pm and they needed to be at the airport at 1:30. But they wanted to do some filming in front of a Peoria landmark or population sign. The closest sign I could think of was on the lovely Farmington Rd. For those of you not familiar with Peoria, Farmington Rd. is a main thoroughfare through the western part of town that has a rather unincorporated feel about it. It boasts lots of bars, a speedway, comedy club, strip joint, tattoo parlor, etc. But we were pressed for time and so Grandview, which overlooks a beautiful river view, or downtown were out.

Dana packed up his equipment, and we went trucking the half mile to Farmington Rd. The Peoria sign is not far from one of the aforementioned bars, I believe it was The Dormitory, and we parked in their parking lot. Poor Jenna--she is tiny--had to climb up on this snow mound for the filming. And of course, while the camera was rolling, every loud truck in Peoria decided to roar up the road. Thankfully, I think they could edit out the background noise. They did several takes; Jenna recited her copy from memory, or maybe she was just making it up as she went along. But it was good. Both she and Dana are real pros; they were exceedingly gracious.

From there, we led them to the airport and off they went, thankfully, before the big snow hit. After their trip to Peoria, we exchanged several emails with Dana to provide additional info. And then it was just the wait for the air date.

A few observations about this experience: it is mindboggling how much travel, work, and expense goes into what turned out to be a 4 1/2 minute report. I will remember that as I watch news programs in the future. We are grateful to Dana and Jenna for spending their valuable time and talent letting people know about Haitian Hearts and to NBC for broadcasting the report.

It is also humbling, the nice things that people have said about us and the work that we do at Haitian Hearts. All credit to John. Without him, these children who've needed heart surgery would not have made it to the United States. As I indicated in my prior post, he personifies perseverance. John is in Haiti now, and I don't even know if he's had the opportunity to see the Today Show report. As he would tell you, a lot of people help with Haitian Hearts. But he is the one indispensable person.

Good publicity is nice for its own sake, but what do we hope is accomplished by the report on the Today Show? More than contributions, which are always helpful, we need hospitals that are willing to accept a Haitian child for surgery. We are hoping that this media attention will allow us to make some connections with hospitals. Please go to our website at to learn more about how to help.

Beyond that, I hope that the segment on Widnerlande helps put a face on the problems that exist in Haiti. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the huge difficulties that the poverty and the earthquake, on top of that, have created in Haiti. Learning about one person's challenges and story can be an entree to getting involved in some way.

Thanks for reading.

Pictured above, the Peoria sign on Farmington Rd. that appeared in the Today Show segment.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

This Is Perseverance

The virtue of the month at my son's school was perseverence. The accompanying handout had these words: "Remember the story of the little engine? Let that be our motto: 'I think I can. I think I can. I know I can!' With God's help, all things are possible. Never give up!" And also, Look at the examples of the saints. How many of them were quitters? None!"

Living and working in Haiti requires perseverance. The family of the woman in the picture above displayed much perseverance in getting her to the hospital. She has persevered to stay alive long enough to have grey hair.

John has made six trips to Haiti in the last 10 months. Last month, he arranged for the 143rd Haitian Hearts patient to travel to California for surgery. He found the patient pictured below in Cite Soleil. He's a three-year-old boy with a heart defect, an atrial septal defect (ASD) and John has been contacting people trying to find a hospital. Could this little guy be patient 144?