Bringing a conference back home

In 2010 I attended the annual convention of the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations in Albuquerque on behalf of my then-employer, St. Petersburg College. Rather than simply soak up four days of seminars and conferences, I put together a WordPress blog (a bit like the one you are reading) and reported on each of the conference sessions so my colleagues back in St. Pete could benefit from them. (That blog is still up and you can see it if you want to). The following is one of the stories I produced at that conference. This isn’t an example of great writing, but rather an illustration of how journalism can contribute to institutional knowledge and expand the value of things like conferences and seminars.

Four culprits contribute to stalled growth

This session was presented by Steve McKee, a partner in an Albuquerque-based ad agency, McKee Wallwork Cleveland, and author of “When Growth Stalls,”a book that examines the hows and whys of a business phenomenon that many businesses, even successful ones, run into.

That sudden slowdown is just what happened to McKee’s own business just a few years after launch. The new company went through rapid growth and was even cited by a national magazine as being one of the fastest-growing new companies in America. But just a few years later, much of the air seemed to escape from the balloon, and McKee Wallwork entered a period of the blahs. McKee Wallwork remained busy, but the previously steep growth curve went flat.

As a marketer, McKee was not only worried about the sudden negative turn; he also was curious about the reasons for the sudden change, and he wondered whether other companies experienced the same slowdown after steep initial growth. He decided to do some research.

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Writing in the first person

I think most journalists will tell you that writing in the first person is difficult and even a bit unpleasant. It’s hard to lift the curtain on your own life and let people see you — it’s much easier to write about others. This is the only story I can recall that I ever wrote about myself, except perhaps for things like travel pieces. I wrote it to acknowledge National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and to commemorate the 40th birthday (and day of death) of my first child. Three newspapers — in Salt Lake City, Norfolk, Va. and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — ran this on their op-ed pages.

By Arthur Frederick

Dear Baby Boy:

On a day in the not-to-distant future, I’ll pause to quietly take note of your 40th birthday. It is unimaginable that you, my first-born child, was born so long ago.

Things were different back then, in the early 1970s. For one thing, sonograms were not a regular part of a doctor’s tool kit, as they are today. If they were, your birth defect would have been noted very early in your mom’s pregnancy. As it was, your undeveloped skull and brain were not discovered until a number of hours after your mother went into labor.

“When I examined your wife, I felt soft tissue rather than a hard skull,” the doctor told me as we huddled outside your mother’s hospital room.

Today, because of that ability to diagnose anencephaly at somewhere between the 11th and 14th week, around 95 percent of families elect to terminate such pregnancies. That means that only about 1,000 anencephalic babies are now born in the U.S. each year; back around the time of your birth, that number was more like 20,000.

We didn’t have that option. But, to be honest with you, it’s a decision we probably would have made. Not because we didn’t already love you, but because I believe we would have accepted the inevitability of what was about to happen to you, and to us.

Those who end their pregnancies early avoid the indescribable pain of their child’s certain death. About half of anencephalic babies are stillborn; others, like you, are born alive, but are destined to die in as little as a few minutes or as much as a few days.

No babies born with anencephaly survive.

You died in an incubator in the hospital nursery, surrounded by a half-dozen healthy babies. I stood and watched through the big viewing window during the 20 minutes or so that it took you to go.

I’ll tell you a few things that have happened since then:

Your mom and I didn’t stay together very long after you were born. We were both devastated by what happened to you, and to us. But our parting wasn’t your fault.

You have three half-siblings, all girls. One is a doctor; another is a drug addict. Their lives, as well as your very short one, have taught me that having children, while joyful, is a risky business with unpredictable outcomes.

Both your mom and I are grandparents. Since you would be 40, you might well have had children of your own by now who would be approaching college age. I feel sad at having missed that, and even sadder when I think about all the things you missed.

You may have noticed that I opened this letter by referring to you as Baby Boy. You were going to be Matthew, but under the circumstances, we decided not to name you, and Baby Boy is how you are listed on your birth and death certificates. It was a decision, among many others, that we had to make in a hurry and under great stress. I hope it was the right one, but I don’t know.

Not naming you may leave the impression that we simply hoped to avoid the pain of your death by not acknowledging your life. That was not the case. Not at all.

Forty years after your brief time here, your dad still loves you very much.

Arthur Frederick is a journalist and a public relations consultant. He lives in Palm Harbor, Fla.

An obituary that touched me

This is the only obit I ever wrote that made me cry. There was something about this young woman’s early death, and the things that she accomplished in such a short time, that got to me. People always say nice things about the dead, but the comments I heard about this person were different, very sincere and meaningful. Also, the flight suit hanging in her closet, awaiting her death, was a powerful metaphor for me.

Illness had kept Elizabeth “Beth” Rogers from her job as a Bayfront Medical Center flight nurse since last fall, but the helicopter crews would fly over her home whenever they got the chance to let her know they were thinking of her.

Mrs. Rogers lost her long battle with cancer Wednesday at Mease Hospital Dunedin. She was 25.

“She could always hear the helicopter before the rest of us,” her husband, Ted Rogers, said Thursday. “She would say, `Here they come.’ It always brought her pleasure to hear them going over.”

Although illness forced an end to her career before her 25th birthday, Mrs. Rogers had accomplished a great deal, according to her co-workers. She was a trained paramedic, a registered nurse and a certified flight nurse, and worked on the BayFlight crews for more than a year.

“Beth had geared her whole life toward becoming a flight nurse,” said Maurice Brazil, BayFlight’s chief flight nurse. “She was the only nurse I know who had every certification known, and at her age that was extremely unusual. She was very energetic and very focused on patient care.”

Brazil said the Florida Flight Nurses Association, meeting recently at a national emergency care conference in Orlando, voted to name its new annual award the Beth Rogers Award and to make her its first recipient. In addition, he said, the Florida Emergency Nurses Association has established a scholarship in her name.

“Some of us old dogs have been in this business for 20 years, and Beth had been flying for only two or three years,” Brazil said. “That’s the kind of impact she had. Our whole industry is just devastated.”

Mrs. Rogers knew she wanted to be involved in emergency medicine when she was in her teens, her husband said. Her interest in flight nursing happened later.

“Beth was always interested in emergency medicine,” he said. “In 1985, she became involved with the Young Explorers, which allowed young people to participate in various fields. She worked as a volunteer in the emergency room in a hospital in Panama City.”

Mrs. Rogers earned her EMT license in a program in Panama City, Fla., taught by her future husband, and then began working in Walton County. Later, he said, she returned to school and earned registered nurse and paramedic licenses.

“In 1991, we went on vacation and rode in a sightseeing helicopter, and then she did an internship with Life Flight Helicopters in Tallahassee,” Rogers said. “She thought it was the best of both worlds, doing the work of both a paramedic and a nurse. She always wanted to do both.”

Mrs. Rogers went through several surgeries and underwent long radiation and chemotherapy sessions in her battle with cancer, her husband said. Through it all, she expected to recover and to return to work.

“She always treated it as another challenge; she never gave in to it,” her husband said. “She wanted very much to be able to go back to work. She had a brand-new flight suit hanging in her closet that she had never worn, and she had every intention of wearing it some day.”

Rogers said his wife will be buried in the new flight suit.

Mrs. Rogers was born in Nashville, Tenn., and came here in 1991 from Panama City, Fla.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her parents, Roger and Laura Draffin, Palm Harbor, and a brother, Wally A. Draffin, Auburndale.

Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park is in charge of arrangements. Visitation is planned from 6 to 8 p.m. today at Moss-Feaster Sylvan Abbey Chapel, Sunset Point Road, Clearwater. The funeral service will be 10 a.m. Saturday at Curlew Baptist Church, 2276 Curlew Road, Palm Harbor. Burial will be in Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park, Clearwater. The family suggested donations to the American Cancer Society.