Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's a Small Town, Hollywood

In writing a story on Thanksgiving traditions for The Commercial Appeal (Away from Thanksgiving table, families, friends have fun, serve others in unique ways; Nov. 25), I interviewed Linda Goodwin-Parkinson about her family's tradition.

Thanksgiving of last year, she and her husband, John, hosted their family for a "breakfast dinner." The Parkinsons are vegans and the menu consisted of salad, vegan French toast casserole, potato spinach artichoke heart squares, tempeh sausage pastry puffs and an apple Bavarian torte. The kicker, though, is that all the guests had to dress in their pajamas.

In the course of speaking with Mrs. Goodwin-Parkinson, she mentioned her "daughters in L.A." several times and when it finally hit me, when I put two and two together, I asked what her daughter does. She asked me not to use it in the story, because she didn't want it to be about that, but that her daughter is the actress, Ginnifer Goodwin, known for her work in Walk the Line, Mona Lisa Smile, A Single Man and Big Love, among others.

It was a pleasure to speak with Mrs. Goodwin-Parkinson and to hear about her tradition and her family, just as it was with all of the families I interviewed. You never know just who you're speaking with or what the connection is in this town.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Urf! Redux

I've been toying for some time now with starting a new blog. I thought I'd like a place to talk about, well, me. Not what I'm wearing or might be eating for lunch, but about what I'm working on and thinking.

I talk to a lot of people during the course of a day, and write a fair amount of stories for various publications, and there are bits that won't fit into those stories - details and conversations and back stories. These bits are, invariably, what I tell friends when I'm discussing what I did that day. These bits need a home.

I'm also writing a lot of fiction and I'd like to discuss some of it, if not for you, then for posterity's sake for me. I won't talk specifically about plot or character, because those things shouldn't be discussed, rather, I'd like a place to talk about the process and how it works (or doesn't).

The main impediment to starting a new blog, it seems, has been the naming of that blog. There is a lot in a name, or should be. Urf! has been a great package, the perfect masthead under which to write about raising a family of four kids, and it has served me very well for many years. Urf! has been the place to document the fun and frustrations of fatherhood. But what to call a blog about the frustrations of writing and attempting to be published, all while still raising a family with four children in a house with three adults and six kids; the long-shot dreams of a career made in solitary among so much ... distraction?

And then it came to me: Urf! It's a word my daughter used to say when she was first attempting the childhood hurdles of shoe tying, sweater buttoning or toothpaste tube squeezing. At those times, when the want and need became more than she could bear, it was all she could muster. And it has become part of the lexicon around our home and, especially, at my desk. How often do I find myself searching for the perfect lede to a story or a metaphor or, simply, the right word, only to come up with urf.

So Urf! it has been and Urf! it shall remain. But be warned, Urf! has grown up. The themes here, the topics and the very language will be different. There will still be stories about the kids, I hope, but there will also be those bits from outside these walls, bits I bring in from the real world. If you've read in the past solely for funny stories about C, JP, S and GK, then I thank you. With all my heart I thank you. And if you don't think you want to hang around for what's next, then I understand. If you do, then I thank you even more, and promise to try and be as entertaining as possible.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dr. H. Edward Garrett Jr.

In a recent story for The Commercial Appeal (Baptist's heart, lung transplant program marks 25 years of saving, improving lives; Nov. 21), I wrote about the heart and lung transplant program celebrating its 25th year at Baptist Memorial Hospital, the people involved in making these miracles happen and those who benefit from it all.

For the piece I interviewed Teresa Dawson, cardiovascular line director for the program, and Renee Hatcher, nurse manager, at length. I also had the opportunity to speak with Brad Bradshaw, a patient who had a heart transplant in 2006. Mr. Bradshaw actually died three times and hearing his story will put all of our lives in perspective.

On a Tuesday afternoon, I was shown into an office in the Baptist Hospital doctor’s building to interview Dr. H. Edward Garrett Jr., head of the transplant program. The first thing that struck me was the size of the office. It wasn’t large and it certainly wasn’t opulent, stacked with papers on the credenza, a model of a heart and the requisite diplomas hung on the walls. I thought at the time that if I was responsible for taking a heart out of one human and putting it into another, I’d at least ask for a larger office.

We spoke about his past – born in Texas and moved at an early age to Memphis – his schooling and his father, Dr. Garrett the elder, a cardiovascular surgeon for Baptist who performed the world’s first successful coronary bypass. Dr. Garrett senior also assisted Junior on his first transplant at Baptist.

During the interview, one in which I got to hold a pump that can be inserted next to the heart to help do the work of the heart and prolong life until a suitable donor can be found (this pump looked like something I once installed in a malfunctioned dishwasher), Dr. Garrett told me a story that, unfortunately, didn't have a place in the final draft for the paper, of a transplant he worked on while he was doing his residency at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“We had done a transplant in St. Louis and there had been a mistake at the hospital where the donor was and they had gotten the wrong blood type. We didn’t find out we had transplanted the wrong type into this patient until it was already done, so we had a very short time to try to find another heart. We found a heart in Montana, which was way away from where we could normally go to get a heart, so we got the Air Force to agree to fly it back for us. I went up and harvested the heart and handed it to this 18-year-old fighter pilot and he wouldn’t let me fly back with him, but he took off in front of us and we took off in a Lear Jet right behind him. That (Air Force) jet was so fast that he had gotten back to St. Louis, they had done the second transplant and the patient was already in the ICU before our Lear Jet landed. I think they got back in 20 minutes.”

It was a pleasure meeting Dr. Garrett and some of the people he works with daily as well as Mr. Bradshaw and hearing about his new lease on life and his outlook on life, on this second life he’s been given.

I hope I, nor any of my friends or family ever require this team’s services, but if the need does arise, it’s good to know that Memphis has such a program.

Terry Dunn (left), who got a new heart six years ago, was among 48 heart transplant recipients who attended the program's annual picnic at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis. Here, Dunn thanks program director Dr. H. Edward Garrett Jr. (Photo by Ben Fant)