Sunday, September 13, 2009

International Children's Heart Foundation

I love HBO's "The Wire." I watched the entire series on DVD, each episode back-to-back. I fell for the drama's cinematic grittiness, pop of violence and Dickensian dialogue. One of my favorite scenes, my favorite line, came in the final season, delivered by Gus Haynes, the city editor for The Baltimore Sun played by Clark Johnson, when he simplified a newspaperman's drive in one sentence: I just want to see something different every day, maybe write a story about it.

I'm not a lifelong journalist. I come from a family of newspapermen reaching back to the earliest part of last century, though I was never encouraged to follow their footsteps to the Fourth Estate. Indeed, I was discouraged.

I've always loved newspapers, though, and storytelling and the storytellers. Listening to people and getting the essence of who they are and what they do and why, and then putting that down on paper, whether it's for the world to read or just yourself, is a gift to be worked at and not taken for granted. A truly compelling story, as well, is a gift not to be treated lightly.

I met Dr. Bill Novick several years ago when he would come into my cigar shop as a customer. We had sons in the same class at Downtown Elementary as well. He graciously gave me a copy of his first book, "Healing the Heart of Croatia," written with Father Joe Kerrigan. I read the book a little at a time, overcome with emotion at the thought of going through the struggles his patients' families were dealing with and the selflessness of the doctors and volunteers that comprise the International Children's Heart Foundation.

Dr. Novick's and the Foundation's story is one I've been fortunate enough to hear and to tell in today's Commercial Appeal as part of the celebration of its 15th anniversary.

The ICHF is a hometown organization, overshadowed by others and flying mostly under the radar to countries around the world; impoverished, fractured and transitioning countries where they perform surgeries, train local medical staff and so much more.

It's a good story and one I am honored to tell, my only regret being limited space to cover all that I've been told, such as the entire Abu Bakr story which ends with Novick in a meeting with the then-Undersecretary of Defense for the United States, in which Novick is lauded for all the work of the foundation and asked if there is anything he needs. "I need you to stop bombing my kids," he says, barely containing his ire. It was the last such meeting he was invited to.

There is the whole story of Novick's friend and facilitator in Pakistan, that country's surgeon general, who was assassinated in the shadow of the Children's Hospital by a suicide bomber. When told a matter of weeks later that it was too dangerous for the ICHF's next medical trip, Novick persisted, saying it was the only way he knew to honor his friend's memory.

There are awards presented, heads of state denied, foreign and domestic corporations called upon and globetrotting for a cause. There are funny stories and heartbreaking ones, hopeful stories and, through it and above it all, the stories of children who get more time on this planet to make a difference thanks to Novick and his teams.

The story of the International Children's Heart Foundation is as good as any novel, film or HBO series. It's one I am thrilled to tell.