Category Archives: Amazing coincidences

Powered by interns

When you run a small media company like ours, maintaining a steady stream of capable interns is the difference between muddling through and really moving forward. When you can confidently offload some of the routine tasks involved in creating and editing content for publication (for print and web), you finally find time to tackle the big-picture tasks that hover too long on the “when I can get to it” list.

So it was with a sense of excited anticipation that I returned to Phoenix after a five-day trip to Seattle (where I spent some all-too-rare time with my two brothers) to welcome two summer interns to the RAK family.

Robert Balint. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

One is very familiar. Robert Balint, son of RAK multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, is something of a returning veteran. His first stories appeared in Raising Arizona Kids in 2008, when he was still in high school at Brophy College Preparatory.

“Girls on the Mat” was about a female high school wrestler, “When Your Child Doesn’t Make the Cut” was about young athletes facing rejection and “Physicals Keep Athletes in the Game” explained what doctors look for during sports physicals.

That same year, Robert shared insights on his participation in the Phoenix Sister Cities program and many of us followed his blog posts during that trip. (We look forward to reading the next installments in his “Daily Occurences” travel blog when he leaves in July to spend six months studying in Argentina.)

Robert, who just completed his sophomore year at Boston College, will be with us for about six weeks before he heads to South America. During his internship, he will be writing for our collaborative Sports Roundtable blog, to which my husband Dan, who missed his calling as a sports reporter, periodically contributes. Dan and Robert teamed up in the multimedia department during Robert’s internship last summer, when they produced a great video piece about a high school football lineman competition.

I look forward to working with and getting to know our second summer intern, Sadie Smeck. Sadie is a graduate of Arcadia High School and currently is attending Washington University in St. Louis, where she will be a junior this fall, majoring in international studies and Spanish and minoring in writing. Although Washington University does not have a school of journalism, she is a reporter, writer and editor for the university’s independent newspaper, Student Life.

Sadie Smeck. Photo by Daniel Friedman. I have Vicki to thank for Sadie, too. Vicki introduced me by email  to Sadie, whom she described as “a family friend from our neighborhood, a good student and a hard worker.” While she’s with us this summer, Sadie will be covering community news, education and more.

In the “small world” department, it turns out that Account Executive Catherine Griffiths also knows Sadie. When Catherine showed up at work this morning (with her mom, who’s in town for Hunter Griffiths’ eighth-grade graduation), she immediately rushed over to greet Sadie warmly.

Turns out Catherine, whose older son Harlan has Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes, was once offered some very wise advice by Sadie’s mom, who was also navigating that journey because Sadie’s older sister lives with diabetes.

Read Catherine’s story, “What I Wish I’d Known about Managing My Son’s Diabetes.”


Ethiopia – Yet another coincidence

Many times in the two years since I first met Brian and Keri deGuzman, I’ve been astonished by the connections and coincidences that have sprung from their journey to build a family through international adoption.

I wrote about one of those “Oh, my gosh!” moments yesterday, when I described the surprise that awaited the deGuzmans as they exited the courtroom where their new youngest children’s adoptions had just been finalized.

There has been a new development since I posted yesterday’s blog: I got an email from the deputy county attorney who handled the case, Janina Walters.

“I wanted to write to let you know of an additional interesting tidbit of information about yesterday’s adoptions,” she wrote. “When I came back to the office, I saw the [December] magazine and read the whole article. I had not seen it before. Weird, since it is what I usually pick up at the doctor’s office!

“I knew Dr. deGuzman was at St. Joe’s and something was niggling in the back of my mind. I read the article and the connection with Dr. [Lishan] Aklog and all of a sudden it hit me! My stepfather (who is more like a real dad) had valve-replacement surgery about three years ago. Dr. deGuzman stepped in at the last minute to perform the surgery on my dad and his aftercare was with Dr. Aklog, with whom  I discussed my dad’s recovery.

“At the time, my mom and dad were telling me about the deGuzman story and their adoptions as well as another surgeon’s in the same group. They asked me if I had handled their adoptions because they knew the family had gone through our office.

“My parents were tickled when I told them that I had met the family and handled the adoption hearing. I found your blog and my dad sat and read it with a huge smile on his face. He couldn’t tell me enough about how nice, patient and warm Dr. deGuzman was to him.”

Janina closed her email by asking if we had an extra copy of the December magazine story so her parents could see it.

It will be my great pleasure to send her one.

A chance to play Santa

Except for a brief moment of restful regrouping during the Thanksgiving weekend, my staff has been working around the clock for weeks. It’s “that time of year” for us, an annual marathon that tests our energy, our stamina, our resilience and our shared sense of humor.

Double-issue deadline time.

Our 132-page 2011 Schools, etc. book went to the printer last week. Last night, at about 8pm, I signed off on the January magazine and Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams sent the files off to the printer.

Every year we wonder why we pack this double whammy into the weeks leading up to an already hectic holiday season. We talk about scheduling the book at a different time of year but we keep coming back to the same conclusion: Parents need it in January.

January is when many of the Valley’s private schools hold open houses; for the most popular schools, registration may reach capacity soon into the new year. Even public school districts with rolling open-enrollment periods may fill to capacity well before the start of the new school year.

So we bite the bullet, resign ourselves to some late nights (for Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist a lot of late nights) and somehow we always manage to get it done.

After weeks of intense, single focus, I woke up this morning with an almost childlike sense of possibilities. No proofreading today! No frantic, last-minute fact-checking! The excited feeling actually lasted a few seconds before I realized how many other things I’ve let slide the last few weeks. Emails that need responses, articles to be assigned, planning to do.

Before I get mired in all of that, I plan to spend some time playing Santa. We have been running all sorts of promotions on our website lately. Tickets to live events and movie sneak previews, new-release CDs and DVDs. We recently closed five of those contests, whose winners must be notified today.

I like doing that myself. It’s fun to send someone a message that says, “Guess what? You won!” It does my heart good when I get an excited response (“No way — that’s awesome!” or “My kids will be so excited!”).

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Small world stories – hoops, timing and URLs

Thanks to the office flood, it’s been awhile since we’ve had regular editorial meetings. But my team is tightly knit and, not surprisingly, pretty adept at communication.

So while we haven’t had storytime at RAK in weeks, I am still the delighted recipient of “small world” stories I love to share.

Ann Meyers Drysdale with her son D.J. and daughter Drew.

Hoops connection

Our production manager, Tina Gerami, is married to Essex Bennett, a Valley educator who is working with the Phoenix Suns basketball camps at Thunderbird High School this week. Yesterday, he got to hear a presentation from guest speaker Ann Meyers Drysdale, who is featured on our July cover and profiled in “A Conversation with…” multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint.

After her speech, Essex approached her to say his wife works at RAK and that he really enjoyed reading the article about her. “She said she was really pleased with the article,” Essex reported. He then made another connection: Ann’s son D.J. is working at the camp with him!

Timing is everything

I heard from Calendar & Directory Editor Mala Blomquist last Friday, after her appearance on Arizona Midday on 12 News.

“So I am in the green room talking to this really nice lady named Karen when she asks me what I do,” Mala said. “When I tell her, she says, ‘Wait a minute — two people from your magazine were at my house this week!’ Turns out she is the next RAK Mompreneur! Karen said that staff photographer Dan Friedman was a hoot and that editorial intern Brooke Mortensen [who wrote the story], could not have been more lovely!”

A URL by any other name…

Our July magazine has a story about a precautionary step prospective parents in the digital age may want to take before naming their baby. Some experts at a social media conference recommended that you Google the first and last name before wrapping your heart around it.

“Ha!” wrote staff multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint when she saw it. “I had to laugh at that story. Robert [her 19-year-old son] Googled his name before he wrote his first story for Raising Arizona Kids, when he was deciding whether to be Robert Balint or Robert T. Balint. Turns out there is a hungarian PORN STAR named Robert Balint!”

Obviously, Robert put in the T.

Day 8 after the flood – an amazing coincidence

Mackenzie Saunders (11) before her soccer injury.

If there is one thing the last eight days have taught me, it’s that you never know what a day will bring.

And you never truly know how connected you are to others until you are forced — or force yourself — beyond the boundaries of your comfortable, predictable routine.

This is the story of how our Great Office Flood of 2010 converged with the biggest trauma in a young girl’s life — and the magazine article that one of our staff members wrote about her.

During a soccer game in December, 11-year-old Mackenzie Saunders sustained a devastating, extremely rare injury during a soccer game and was left partially paralyzed. Health Matters writer Vicki Louk Balint, who was researching a story about preventing soccer injuries, found out about Mackenzie and wrote about her experience in our April 2010 magazine.

On March 11, while that issue was still at the printer, I was sitting at the kitchen table eating my breakfast when I looked up to see Mackenzie and her family on NBC’s Today Show.

Then, last week, I picked up the phone to find that it was Mackenzie’s mom, Liz, on the other line. She works with J&M Restoration, Inc., the company that has spearheaded disaster-recovery efforts at our flooded office.

“I was hoping I’d get to talk with you!” she said. “When I heard that our crew was out at Raising Arizona Kids I couldn’t believe it. Thank you so much for the wonderful story you did about Mackenzie!”

I asked how Mackenzie is doing now. Liz told me she’s been out of her wheelchair since March 25. She has physical therapy three times a week, focusing largely on regaining control of her right foot and leg. Mackenzie has “plateaus and then advances,” Liz says. Her most recent victory was being able to “run” four small steps.

Mackenzie’s spinal cord injury “pinched off oxygen to her nerves for three days,” Liz says. “The nerves are like a phone cord. Once they get damaged, they regenerate very, very slowly. When you think of bones, they heal in about six weeks. We’re looking at 12 to 16 months.”

This summer, Mackenzie will do a lot of swimming (something she’s done every year since before she could walk). She’s also exploring non-soccer interests. Her plans include a three-week arts academy and a three-week speech and debate camp.

“Besides soccer, she didn’t skip a beat,” Liz said. “This never has been devastating for her. She thinks that come December she’ll be trying out for the soccer team.”

What are the odds?

Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist calls it the “Six Degrees of Mary Holden.” Almost any time one of us mentions the name of someone we’ve talked to, Mary’s got some sort of connection.

Assistant Editor Mary L. Holden.

Mary is Six Degrees of Separation personified — packed into a tiny frame with a fierce intellect, a compassionate heart and the networking skills of a politician.

It doesn’t hurt that she was born and raised in Phoenix, so her institutional memory goes deep.

Last weekend, Mary took her daughter Annie, a freshman at the University of Washington (who was home for spring break) to San Diego to visit her godmother, Margaret McLaughlin, and some friends from UW who also live there.

In the middle of one visit, Mary happened to mention the story she wrote for this month’s magazine: “Casting a Light on the Shadow of Abuse.” She mentioned the name of the physician/researcher who had done groundbreaking work that is helping medical professionals understand and respond to the long-term implications of child abuse.

At that moment, Mary felt Annie’s godmother’s hand on her shoulder.

“Dr. Felitti? Dr. Vincent Felitti?” McLaughlin asked.

It turns out that Felitti had diagnosed McLaughlin with hemochromatosis (a disorder that interferes with the body’s ability to break down iron) in the early 1990s. He treated her condition and she even participated in one of the studies Felitti did on genetic indicators for the disease.

“She spoke very highly of Dr. Felliti and in fact credited him for saving her life,” Mary said. “Some might say that it’s a small world. Some might say that this is just an interesting coincidence. But I think this connection is truly fascinating, and I love it when things like this happen.”

Mary sent a copy of our April issue to Dr. Felliti with a personal letter recounting the coincidence. “I am very honored to have helped spread the news of the ACE study,” she wrote, ” and I deeply thank you for saving the life of my daughter’s godmother.” — Karen

Haiti tragedy hits close to home

If you read our December story about the Juntunen family of Scottsdale, you are following the news from Haiti with special concern.

I got an email this morning from Sue Breding, who wrote our story about Craig and Kathi Juntunen, who adopted three children from Haiti. The couple’s ties to the island remain strong and their support (financial and otherwise) for the orphanage Crèche de l’Enfant has become a lifetime commitment.

Sue got an update from the Juntunens yesterday that I wanted to share with all of you:

“Due to the recent developments with the earthquake in Haiti today we wanted to update you on what we know. First of all, thanks to all of you for your thoughts and concerns during this tragedy — the number of people who have reached out to us is overwhelming and we are very grateful for the compassionate support of the extended Chances for Children family.

“When events like this occur in highly developed countries, early on there are many inaccuracies in the reporting, and with the lack of significant infrastructure in Haiti, we can not rely on 100 percent of what is currently being reported. What we do know and can report is that all of the staff and all of the children are safe and uninjured from the quake and aftershocks…the transit house ( which is in downtown Port au Prince ) has experienced some significant structural damage. The creche (our main building in Lamardelle ) also had damage but to a lesser extent. We wanted to release this preliminary information to our network of families and supporters as soon as we could confirm the information.

“While we are grateful that our operation, our children and our partners at FEJ have survived this massive quake – we are truly saddened by what this means for Haiti. This has been a devastating day for the people in Haiti. Many, many wonderful people will now be dealing with yet another catastrophe that will make day to day life in Haiti nearly impossible.

“If what is being reported is halfway accurate it is very difficult to imagine how this region is going to cope with the devastation. After the dust settles (literally), we will get back to you with an update and a ‘how we can help’ guidleline of potential activities . Please put the people of Haiti in your prayers…they already have plenty of challenges in their daily life………they did not need or deserve another sucker punch, which is exactly what they got today.”