“Mr. Michael needs a knife!  Mr. Michael needs a knife to cut off the snake’s head!”  Those were the words we heard from 6 year-old Cooper as he ran into the kitchen of our North Carolina cabin.  His mother and I were busy making lunch when he ran in insisting that my husband needed a weapon.  The women immediately thought, these knives are too dull to cut tomatoes, they are not going to cut off a snake’s head.  “What snake?” I asked.  “The same snake we saw yesterday!”  Oh, that snake.  That snake!  The poisonous Copperhead I almost ran into the day before.  Beautiful, but dangerous and Michael gingerly picked it up and put it back into the creek on the property where we were staying.  Shoes have never been real popular in our family and so when I came across the snake the day before I was slightly panicked as I backed up the kids and tried to keep them from wanting to look at the beautiful creature.  But now, here I was running down the back steps with some dull knife in my hand hoping my husband hadn’t done something stupid.  Sure enough, when I reached the back yard here comes Michael, kids in tow carrying a almost dead but still slithering Copperhead.  Our 3-year-old Livia had been just inches away.  She had made a weird, “Oh…Oh…Oh… ” sound and Michael knew something was wrong.  He had decided to kill the snake because it kept coming back to the same open space in which the kids had been playing.  Like most men he took his time.  First using bow and arrow that the kids had been using practicing archery.  When he couldn’t get him, he resorted to a big ole stick!  Now he held the poor snake, head dangling as we opened up it’s mouth to expose the fangs.  A reminder that our daughter could have been bitten and severely injured.  Now I’m a mom who doesn’t allow the killing of bees or spiders.  I feel pretty strongly about letting nature do its thing even when it scares you a little.  So I was sad to see this beautiful Copperhead die.  But I was gratified to see that my 3-year-old was sadder than me.  She broke into tears, “but Mama what if it’s a baby!?”  She was inconsolable.  And I was happy.  My kids were safe, my husband had saved the day, and my daughter had shown me what I respected most, the respect and love for even the most dangerous of creatures.  Good girl.  Now put on your shoes!

 Image

It’s the only, large, red lettering with exclamation points in  the 86 page report I found from the Florida Department of Health.  The document is called, “Nursing Guidelines for the Delegation of Care for Students with Asthma in Florida Schools.”  It was adopted by Governor Bush in 2005.  It is a very thorough handbook for any school nurse or trained personnel (most schools don’t have real R.N.’s) teaching the origins, complications and treatment protocols for children with Asthma.  Like many chronic illnesses, children with Asthma are protected by Federal and State disability and anti-discrimination laws.  Schools are required by law to not only provide medicine to those children in need, they must also adapt their school surroundings to accommodate their disabilities.  That is why I was shocked by the story of 17-year-old Michael Rudi who was denied his inhaler during an asthma attack at Deltona High School this week.  Apparently, the inhaler had been confiscated by a Dean earlier in the day, and when Michael had an asthma attack, the school nurse allegedly refused to give him the medicine and watched from behind a closed, locked door as he collapsed on the floor unable to breathe.  Michael’s mother was called and said she found him that way.

ASTHMA CAN BE FATAL!!! WHEN IN DOUBT CALL 9-1-1

Let’s take a look at this state protocol again, because Michael could have died and they all would have been to blame.  According to the guidelines, the school nurse is supposed to arrange for a meeting with parents to make sure that there is an IHCP (Individual Health Care Plan) in place.  And the parents are supposed to provide documentation from a doctor and the medicine and supplies a child will need.  The Plan is agreed upon by all parties under the direction of the school principal.  

Mom messed up.  The plan must be adapted and SIGNED each year.  How do you NOT make sure that your child (with a potentially deadly condition) not have in place every bit of support and legal power he needs to stay safe at school. 

Michael messed up.  This 17-year-old is looking at a lifetime of rules, protocols and bureaucracy.  It’s time for him to learn how to take care of his own medical needs.  He needs to be aware of the rules so he can make sure he can have access to his lifesaving medicine at all times.

But most of all, the school messed up.  Let me put that in capital letters with exclamation points.  THE SCHOOL MESSED UP!  It is unconscionable that a school nurse would sit by and watch a child in a life threatening situation and not call for qualified help.  The school says they didn’t have the right signature on the right form.  I know people who have lost their loved ones to asthma.  Was there really NO doubt in her mind that he was O.K.?

Maybe they all should read this again, “WHEN IN DOUBT, CALL 9-1-1.” 

I know this because my own child has an Individual Health Care Plan for Type I Diabetes.  If she loses consciousness, 9-1-1 should be called immediately.  It’s in the paperwork, it’s protocol, it has been agreed upon in meetings with everyone involved and it has the weight of the law behind it.

If you are a parent with a sick child, don’t mess up.  If you are a teacher or a principal or even more important, a nurse. don’t mess up.  Our kids are depending on you.

 

 

     I just can’t help it.  I can’t step inside the NICU at Winnie Palmer Hospital without getting emotional.  I’m a reporter and I’m not supposed to tear up every time I interview a mom and dad standing over a premature baby.  But I’ve given up trying to hold back the tears.  The stories are too scary, too emotional, too powerful and too inspirational all at one time.  So many of these mothers arrive at the hospital in labor knowing that if the baby comes, the baby will not live.  They have to hold on, day to day, hour to hour, hoping they can keep their baby inside of them long enough to give them life.  The scenario is almost too much to bear, and many times I stand there with a camera and microphone and ask these moms and dads to relive it. And They don’t hesistate.  They are so thankful for the people who saved the baby who is now larger, and pinker and opening his eyes.  They’ll do just about anything to show their gratitude for the man who continues to make Winnie Palmer Hosptial for Women and Babies and Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children the world class facilities that they are.  The doctors at Winnie Palmer are so good they can save a baby born at 26 weeks.  They can save a baby who weighs less than a pound.  And when you discover your baby has a defect in the womb, you can feel more confident that when he is born at Winnie Palmer he has a better chance at a normal life.

That’s what the parents of Chance were facing.  In fact, that’s why they gave him that name.  They found out pretty early in the pregnancy that their baby boy had spina bifida.  They decided to give him a “chance” and so that is why I found them standing over their newborn a year ago at Winnie Palmer Hospital. 

Chance had already had several surgeries and I could tell his mom Amanda was concerned.  But Amanda had been in the NICU before.  She is a photographer who takes pictures for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an organization that takes pictures for parents whose babies don’t survive.  Knowing that the doctors at Winnie Palmer had her son’s treatment under control was a Godsend.  Amanda and I keep in touch, two mothers crusading for different causes (mine JDRF, hers Spina Bifida).  And I am so excited that the week we bring you another Arnold Palmer special I received Chance’s birthday invitation.  One year old and Gorgeous!

             Support the hospitals that Golf built.  You never know when someone you love will have a baby who needs a chance.

I really don’t like to have my picture taken. 

I know, it sounds crazy coming from someone who is on television, but it’s true.  So when I was asked if I would have my portrait taken for charity I immediately felt a little panicked.  I would be one of 25 community leaders captured in their element to be auctioned off in a special gallery showing.  Jeesh. I spent some time as a docent in an art museum and I immediately pictured an uppity aristocrat in a formal gown surrounded by gilded treasures and a lap dog.

  But I have a hard time saying no to good causes and Give Kids the World is one of my favorites.  Soooo… there I was on a Monday morning seriously sweating a sitting with a photographer who has flown in just for the occassion.  I was still agonzing over the location.  At the studio?  In the Control Room? On a Satellite Dish? (yes, I considered sitting inside a big dish, I was losing it)  Nah… a portrait is supposed to tell people something about me.  And really, news is my job, not my life. 

So where, then? I love my downtown neighborhood and the fountain in Thornton Park is beautiful.  But what would I do?  Play in the water?  I don’t really play.  I love nature and I have an almost uncontrollable environmental wacko feeling about the massive, old oak tree on Constitution Green.  Even better, I would have my children climbing the tree (as they do in real life) in huge symbolism to what I really care about.  To this idea my husband said, “are you overthinking this?”  He’s right, and what would I wear?  I can’t climb a tree in Stilettos.  And it was raining outside.  

That reminded me, I was borrowing clothes from a friend’s boutique.  A dress, pants, jeans?  Would It be just a head shot or would they (Please No!) take a picture of my entire body?  

Time was ticking, and I had agreed to professional hair and make-up mostly because I had some unfortunate zits and needed my roots done.  So I sat in the chair  talking to my “up and coming,” “mover and shaker” serious professional woman friend about where she would have her picture taken?  The Mayor?  The Professional Athlete?

Tick… Tick… Tick… Hair almost done, make-up looking good.  Kids still need picking up.  Texting husband.  Have to be at work in an hour. 

Tick… Tick… Tick… Who am I?  What do I want people to know about me?  What am I most proud of?  Where am I happiest?

Got it.  I’d be heading home.

I told my husband to grab the girls and bring them to me in our bedroom!  The scene would be a Sunday morning.  The one day where the craziness and laziness of a working mom and her family converge in a mess of newspapers, laptops, stuffed animals and tutus. 

There would be no gilded treasures, just the newspapers still there from the Sunday morning before.   There would be no lap dog.  We have a cat but she beat it the moment the kids came running in.  The only thing missing is my husband who would be beautiful but scruffy sitting in the corner of the bed surrounded by the travel section (he hates having his picture taken worse than me).   I did wear the borrowed shirt (thank you Be Boutique in Thornton Park).  And I had talk down the 3-year-old from the Native American garb into the tutu.  But the chaos was so cute that it took the photographer just 10 minutes to capture this shot. 

And who would go home with the large canvas print… proceeds going to Give Kids the World?  Me, of course, the expressions on my daughter’s faces… priceless.

 


My daughter has special needs.  After years of interviews, news stories, charity events and friends with special children, I don’t think I truly understood what that meant.  Or at least how it felt.  But Leah has Juvenile Diabetes, and this week, reality sunk in.  Many people don’t know that Juvenile Diabetes (TYPE I) is an autoimmune disease.  Her genetics set her up to be a diabetic and at some point in her short life she got a virus.  It could have been any little virus, but her genetically flawed body responded by killing off her beta cells.  Those are the cells in the pancreas that create insulin, and without it, a body cannot turn food into energy.  Her body will now kill the beta cells until they are gone.  After that, Leah will never produce insulin and it will need to be injected into her for the rest of her life.  Most diabetic children are diagnosed in their pre-teen years.  The autoimmune response takes that long to turn into a full-blown disease.  Even Leah, at age 5, is still in what they call the “Honeymoon” phase.  She gets one injection in the morning and one at dinner.  And in between, she pricks her finger 5-7 times a day and checks her blood glucose level to make sure the insulin is doing its job.  This week, the first week of Kindergarten, the honeymoon was over.  My husband and I had taken the precautions necessary.  Knowing our rights as parents with a child with special needs we met with her Principal, teachers, district nurse and various staff at her new school, Hillcrest Elementary.  We filled out the necessary paperwork to allow her to check her blood in class, give her extra time to eat, request medical attention (extremely low blood glucose levels can lead to a coma) and special supervision.  The staff at Hillcrest went above and beyond, and for that I am incredibly thankful.  But on the first day, Leah’s numbers were off the charts.  The stress, or just an untimely transition of her disease, had me in and out of her classroom several times a day this week.  Blood glucose affects her emotions, her ability to concentrate and her ability to learn.  It was clear, every time I walked into the classroom with her blood glucose levels out of whack, she was not all there.  The teachers and other parents would pass me in the hallway with concerned, caring looks on their faces.  I was the one with a daughter with diabetes.  It felt uncomfortable but comforting at the same time.  By the end of the week, we adjusted the insulin and by Friday I believe she was able to experience Kindergarten like a normal kid.  I cannot express enough the appreciation and compassion I feel now for the mothers, fathers and other family members of children with challenges.  And I cannot say with enough passion how much I will champion those teachers and schools who go out of their way to help them live normal lives.  To learn more about Juvenile Diabetes please go to the local chapter’s website www.jdrf.org/centralflorida

     This morning I couldn’t find the Teddy Bear.  This is not the first time it’s happened.  My daughter’s first bear, “Rah Rah,” (you know, like the sound a bear makes) was lost years ago.  Left at a local Walmart I think.  This morning, I couldn’t find Rah Rah’s replacement, her beloved “cherry on the nose bear.”  With some drying of tears and a “pinky promise,” I vowed to find her bear or take her to Build-A-Bear to get a new one.  Not a great consolation for an almost 5-year-old who still misses the “soft but scratchy” feel of her first bear, but enough to calm her down so I could get her and her sister to the babysitter in time to get myself to the courthouse to cover the 1st day of the defense’s case in the Casey Anthony trail.  And it was there today that the parallels between my life and this story would remain in my thoughts. 

My first day in the courtroom was fascinating but very sad.  I observed a detached jury watching attorneys fight over evidence rattled off as a list of numbered exhibits.  An FBI analyst on the stand rifled through reports as if she couldn’t remember the details of the items without reading them from a file.  But the items struck a cord with me.  A pair of little girl’s shorts, a little pink t-shirt, a doll found in the carseat… a blanket.  Was she talking about the Winnie the Pooh blanket found wrapped around Caylee’s bones?  That blanket has haunted me since the beginning of this trial.  I keep asking myself, was Caylee wrapped up in it while she was still alive, did she feel the warm comfort of her favorite blankie before she died? Or was it wrapped around her after she was killed? Did the poor baby suffer?  I know these are morbid questions, but if the prosecution is right, the reality is gruesome.  And many people I’ve talked to don’t even want to watch this trial at all.  But ignoring this case would be denying Caylee and other children who have died way too young the attention they deserve.  According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2008, 201 children died as a result of child abuse.  61 were homicides. 6 children were killed by their mother.

As I listened to the talk of blood and DNA testing on a little girl’s doll, I kept thinking about my own daughter’s Teddy Bear.  How easy it is to comfort a child.  They don’t need much.  Just love… and a favorite cuddly thing.  Would Caylee be dancing around to pop music like my oldest daughter who was almost the same age.  And as I look at my younger daughter singing “The Wheels on the Bus” tonight, I can’t help seeing the last video of Caylee alive singing “you are my sunshine.”

Today, a handful of people came to the Orange County Courthouse to pay tribute to Caylee on the 3rd anniversary of her death.  they released some balloons in the air.  I thought the gesture was important and wished others had joined them.  But then it occurred to me that we can all pay tribute in our own way.  Donate to an agency that helps young mothers at risk, give to a domestic abuse shelter, or simply shower your own children with love.  And no matter you faith, pray for comfort for that precious little girl.

I spend my days now with an ear piece in my ear connected to my phone streaming the trial.  It’s my job and I can’t avoid it.  Except for tomorrow.  I will have to read the transcripts later because I’m turning off the trial for a few hours.  Enough time to take my daughter to buy a new Teddy Bear.  All children deserve the comfort of cuddly things.  And we should all do what we can to make sure the children of our community have the security to live a long and happy life.

Tony Pipitone has a corner office.  Nothing fancy.  No picture windows. Just four walls and a door that locks.  There are awards on the shelves. A lot of them.  Emmys, Edward R. Murrows, AP Awards and a recent addition, A Silver Circle Award given to him by his peers for 25 years of journalistic excellence.  There’s a picture of him and his wife Myriam on a rare vacation (at least that is what I suspect, seeing Tony in a Hawaiian-type shirt).  There are pictures of his sons and some of his friends like long-time partner, photojournalist Darran Caudle who calls him “Pip.”  A private office is a rare thing in a newsroom.  Most of us sit at adjoining desks where you look up and give a shout and reach just about anyone you need.  But more times than I can count I have made the small trek back to the Problem Solvers Unit and into the door of Tony Pipitone’s office, which is always open.  He’ll be sitting at his computer pecking away at a story (Tony doesn’t know how to type, he’s old school) or he’ll be hunched over his phone talking to a source.  He’ll pull up a chair for me and await my question.  It may be about a politician, a law, an old investigation or I may show him a story I’ve written to make sure I’m not off base.  I know that I will get the answer I need or he’ll point me in the right direction.  Most of all, I know that I can trust whatever answer I get.  Tony Pipitone is practically a dinosaur.  Not because he’s one of the oldest in the news room, but because reporters like him are almost extinct.  An investigative reporter is only as good as the facts they gather. And one look at Tony Pipitone’s files scattered around his office you can see how seriously he takes his job.  But what makes Tony the best I’ve ever worked with is more about gravity.  I’m not talking about what keeps us firmly on the ground (although I believe he does that too) I’m talking about the dignity of manner in which he works.  It’s always amazing to us that Tony will walk into our afternoon meeting and sit calmly as he relays some major tip he’s received that will most likely lead to a blockbuster story.  We might say, “Wow Tony, that’s definitely the lead!”  And he’ll shrug his shoulders, nod his head, like “yeah, if you think so.”  And walk back to his corner office to carefully craft the story fact by fact.  It’s not that Tony doesn’t recognize the importance of the “big story” of ratings and revenue, it’s that he understands the gravity of his job no matter what the story is.

In the past couple of years Tony’s love of investigations has taken a back seat to what could be one of the biggest stories of his career.  But he still says his approach is the same. He is treating it just like any other investigation.  Saying only this case is “one with widespread interest that at the heart is really a family tragedy.”  So he has covered it as meticulously as every other story.  Every development, from every angle,  in every newscast.  He has patiently  relayed the facts over and over again for the viewers and for those of us in the newsroom looking for guidance.  On the wall of his office he has scribbled a timeline on a dry erase board of of every crucial moment in this case.  And instead of his computer, he is now pecking away at an I-Pad (not bad for a dinosaur) in the front row of a courtroom.  He has transported his files on this case to a small makeshift office out at the Casey Compound and instead of the dry erase board, a print out of the timeline is taped to the wall.  He knows this case inside and out.  But more importantly, he cares about every word said and every word typed.  He is who I go to each night for balance.  For gravity.  Even if I didn’t work for Channel 6, if I wanted the best coverage of such an important story, I wouldn’t watch anyone else.

And if you are questioning whether this story is really as important as we in the media think it is, let me relay what Tony Pipitone continues to remind us.  Through the motions, the evidence, the drama and the analysis, this story is really about one important thing:  the death of an innocent little girl.

See Tony and the crew behind the scenes tour at the Casey Compound  here:

http://www.clickorlando.com/video/28152924/index.html

  I’ve always felt a connection to Katie Couric.  Not that I’m headed to network news anytime soon, but we were both hired by the same man.  In 1984 Al Buch saw a 27-year-old woman who he thought was a “natural communicator.”  She wanted to be a national correspondent so he hired her as a reporter at WTVJ in Miami.  Katie had done some work at CNN, but local news in the incredibly competitive Miami market is a different beast.  Al says some days the news crews would “tease her unmercifully, driving her to tears.”  Al says, ” I had to remind her to live her dream and not let the petty newroom stuff distract her.”  And that is what Katie Couric did.  To the very end, she has not let the negative talk surrounding her historic 5 years at the CBS Evening News deter her from her love of Journalism.  She was the first “super star” anchor to sit in the chair, but the ratings never materialized.  And the finger pointing has at times been harsh.  I have heard her called everything from chatty to giddy to a failed experiment.  Really?  A failure?  She is the first female, solo anchor of a network newscast.  Most people don’t realize that the network anchor is also the managing editor of the evening news, arguably the most important journalism product in the world. 

In the world of You Tube and Twitter you can find all kinds of videos of Katie.  From her stand-in for Jay Leno to the infamous live colonoscopy and the controversial interview with Sarah Palin.  But when I look at the video of the 27-year-old reporter with bad 80′s hair doing a live shot down in miami… that is where I can relate.  I was 26-years-old when Al Buch hired me in Wichita, Kansas.  I feel honored he saw the same ability to communicate in me.  I had never been the main anchor of a newscast before and there would be alot for me to learn.  And what I learned from Al surely was learned in part from him watching Katie Couric.  Find a role where you can be yourself.  Al says as a host, Katie was perfect.  “What you see is what you get with katie in that roll.”  But when he put Katie on the news desk as an anchor, “he felt the natural Katie disappear.”  I even experienced the same thing doing live “talk-backs” with her in New York.  She would show up on the satellite and we would have a nice chat, “Hi Lauren how are you today?” she would say. “I’m great Katie, what are you working on?”  And so it would go, comfortably and casually until it was time to tape.  Then in our real conversation for the news that night she would stiffen, and lose some of that spark that made her such a star.  She would often stop and ask the producers for clarification on a story even when I knew she knew the answer.  It wasn’t that she didn’t have skill, it was as if she felt the incredible gravity of her job each night and she let that concern show. 

Katie Couric’s replacement Scott Pelley is one of the most accomplished Journalists of his generation.  CBS News will likely be better than ever.  And Katie Couric is far from over.  It’s time for a new role more like her old role.  One where she can still make an impact on the world, and other young women with dreams of historic careers.

       As if the death of a little girl, allegedly at the hands of her mother, isn’t sad enough.  Watching person after person take the stand to get grilled about their financial hardships just adds another layer of sadness to this trial.  Prospective jurors must be willing to give up everything, including their jobs, for at least 8 weeks.  Imagine that.  Could you leave your job for 8 weeks and live on $30 a day pay.  That is what the court will be paying the jurors.  And even if your employer were to pay you your wages for that long, what kind of impact would a two month absence really have on your job?  Florida law requires that your employer not penalize you for attending jury duty.  Employers who fire or threaten to fire employees because of jury service may be fined up to $500 or imprisoned up to thirty days or both if convicted of this charge.  Employers aren’t suppose to penalize mothers who take maternity leave either, but I’ve heard too many stories about women who lose ground professionally because they take a break to have a baby.  The truth is, anyone who leaves a job in this economy for two months takes a risk.  And that raises the question: just WHO can afford to serve?  And what affect does that have on a jury panel?

Out of the prospective jurors so far, there are more over the age of 40 than under.  No woman is even close to Casey’s age.  A 32-year-old woman is a nursing student, and another 35 year old woman is unemployed.  There’s a 33-year-old man who works as a chef and a 22-year-old man who is also a student.  Casey anthony was barely employeed. So who’s to say the jury isn’t shaping up to be a panel of her peers.  But the hardships of an 8-week trial clearly takes young mothers out of the mix and a lot of people in their 30′s who are living paycheck to paycheck.

I was happy to find that Central Florida’s largest employers, Disney, Orlando Health, Florida Hospital and Orange County Public Schools all pay full wages for full-time employees while serving on jury duty. 

And so does Post Newsweek, my parent company.  But by law, my employer could ask the judge to dismiss me if they could prove my 8 week absence would “impair departemental operations.”  But I have never tried to get out of jury duty and never will.  Especially now that I’ve seen first hand what these jurors are willing to give up in order to do their duty.

  I am still overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I have received over the past week.  I have heard by phone, by e-mail, by blog and in person from so many people the only word I can use to desribe it is awe.  As you’ve read here, it has been a trying time for my family as well and I want to first thank the staff at The Weekday School where my 4-year-old daughter attends.  They have held my hands in prayer and gone out of their way to support Leah and her mommy more than I could have ever imagined.  Those people who know me personally know I am a bit of a crier.  And so a giant card from her class was enough to keep me mushy for days.

     I have received so many well wishes from my colleagues in journalism.  Even fellow tv newscasters I’d never met before took time to sign a card over at Fox 35 and send it my way.  How cool is that. 

    And viewers that have stayed in touch and kept on sending me encouraging notes… I can’t tell you how important you have been to me.  I will not forget how wonderful you’ve been.

I’ve had the smell of flowers around me since the surgery and they have been a constant reminder from so many friends in the community that I am loved and supported.  It has been a special thing to see so many people tell me they care. 

But perhaps the most touching moment of all was a gift from people with whom we share a community garden.  They gave to us what is so dear to them.  They shared their vegetables that they had grown with care.  And so my family was able to spend a few moments Easter Sunday walking through the garden and plucking delicious food wherever the owner had tied a yellow ribbon.  What a wonderful gift.  And what a wonderful lesson in caring for my little girls. 

Thank you all.

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