A Dec. 3 article said an ABC camera crew at Humana Hospital-Audubon in Louisville saw beer being delivered there for artificial-heart recipient William J. Schroeder and "true to form, asked the truck driver to carry it in one more time so they could capture the moment for millions to see." ABC officials said last week that the event was not "staged" and that the truck driver was not asked to carry the beer out. One of the ABC officials and a Humana spokesman said the television crew had asked hospital officials for permission to film the beer but since the crew was not allowed inside the building, the hospital arranged for it to be carried outside for filming.
A television technician wanders through Room 116 of the Commonwealth Convention Center, command central for press coverage of Humana's artificial heart implant. On the front of his T-shirt is a picture of the Jarvik-7 heart and the words "Schroeder Heart Implant, Louisville, Nov. 25." On the back, the shirt proclaims: "And the beat goes on . . . . "
The room is quiet, except for the husky voice of Jeanne King, a chain-smoking correspondent from the West German weekly magazine Quick. She is singing along, once again, to her tape recording of the latest tune playing here on WKJJ FM -- "Plastic Heart," a local group's version of Bruce Springsteen's hit song "Hungry Heart."
"Everybody needs a plastic heart,
"Everybody needs a plastic heart,
"Replace the old one with some Teflon parts,
"Everybody needs a plastic heart."
It is a far cry from the hectic scene after experimental surgery on William J. Schroeder.
Then there was uncertainty as to whether he would even survive. Now he is doing so well that most of the 200-plus reporters have gone home and others are soon to follow. In the days in between, the story of Bill Schroeder has fluctuated between life-and-death drama and silly statements that have acquired lives of their own.
Little did the heavy-set Indiana patient from the small town of Jasper know that the first words to his surgeon, "I'd like a can of beer," would capture the country's imagination.
After Humana heart chief Allan Lansing told the story Tuesday morning, he was surprised to find a local radio reporter pressing him about whether and when Schroeder would get that beer. Lansing, a suave Canadian cardiovascular surgeon, made an"offhand comment that the man with the artificial heart had already been promised a case of beer by a "Milwaukee brewery."
That afternoon, an ABC camera crew staked out at the Humana Hospital-Audubon, 10 miles away, happened to see the beer being delivered by a local distributor. But rather than Milwaukee beer it was Colorado Coors. True to form, they asked the truck driver to carry it in one more time so they could capture the moment for millions to see. It turned out that the beer had been sent by a Milwaukee radio station.
Ironically, family members afterward confided to hospital staff that Schroeder really wasn't much of a beer drinker and preferred chocolate milkshakes.
It is not only beer, however. The frequent news conferences abound with highly technical medical questions about the patient's condition, the prognosis, the complications doctors are watching out for. Medical reporters and general assignment reporters who cut their teeth on the Barney Clark case -- the first artificial-heart implant a year ago -- act like first-year medical students, dutifully recording data on Schroeder's vital signs, his blood pressure, pulse, temperature, cardiac output, BUN (a test of kidney function) and the readings on the two sides of the mechanical heart. It is far more than most of their readers, viewers or listeners could possibly want to know, but nobody wants to miss a thing.
Somehow one medical question gets repeated frequently by one or another newcomer -- and is greeted with patience by Lansing and snickers by the assembled press. Question: Is Schroeder rejecting his new heart? Answer: Unlike human (or animal) heart transplants, there is no danger of rejection because the plastic and metal mechanical heart is made of inactive synthetic materials and not living tissue.
The most critical and chaotic moment for those covering the Schroeder case was the Nov. 25 crisis when he unexpectedly returned to surgery at 8:30 p.m., six hours after getting his new heart.
After 15 hours on the job, most reporters had already filed their stories and had headed for a quick dinner before the late-evening medical update. The stories told of the successful implant of the mechanical heart and the patient waking up afterward to squeeze his surgeons' hands.
The initial impression had been one of optimism. Suddenly, things had changed.
At the adjacent Hyatt Hotel's Trellis cafe, an Associated Press science writer who had flown in from New York was just sitting down to order when a breathless waitress said he was wanted at the press room. A quick call and he ran back to his colleagues with the dread news, "He's back in surgery." The table cleared out.
Lansing finally met with reporters after 11 p.m. with the news that the source of the excessive bleeding had apparently been found and stopped. Long after midnight, reporters went back to their hotels, crossing their fingers for the patient's sake (and their own).
Another such crisis has not occurred. But when a group of reporters wished a colleague goodbye, one remarked that the next get-together would probably be when Bill Schroeder took a turn for the worse.