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Behind the Scenes 24/7
Plugged in and on the move with ABC

It’s been nearly three months since the ABC News team set up shop at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and now they’re in full swing, making a six-part documentary that will focus primarily on the training of young physicians.

Operating out of an office in Carnegie, this crew probably has as good a bead as anyone on what’s happening around the hospital. They’ve developed relationships with doctors and nurses. They’ve earned the trust of patients and families. They’re on the cases; they’ve got the contacts.

Of the 16 producers and videographers, two—executive producer Terry Wrong and director of photography Richard Chisolm—were here making ABC’s original, award-winning miniseries Hopkins 24/7.

Now, Chisolm is down in the Emergency Department, waiting for something exciting to happen. He’s got a mike on a second-year resident, but so far, things are pretty quiet. Then, one of the ABC producers, Alex Piper, appears with word that a baby with bladder exstrophy is about to be born on Nelson 2.

Bladder exstrophy is a rare, congenital birth defect in which the bladder forms outside the body. Hopkins has what is probably the world’s foremost center devoted to treating these children. With the permission of the family, ABC has been following the case for a couple of days.

Camera in hand, Chisolm travels the tunnel to the Nelson elevators. He knows his way around. A freelance cinematographer, he’s worked at Hopkins on and off since 1979. He’s shot for movies, PBS and National Geographic Channel documentaries, and shows like The Wire. “But nothing,” he says, “has as much meaning as working at Hopkins. Here, the intellectual stimulation is incredible.”

Chisolm arrives in Labor and Delivery just as the grandparents are being hastened from the room. Inside, the mother is totally dilated, draped and starting to push. There are two attendings, a resident and nurse, as well as the fellow and nurses from the NICU. There’s also the father—he’s holding his wife’s hand—and Chisolm. He’s holding a camera.

The birth is quick and uneventful. “It was beautiful,” says Chisolm moments later out in the hall.

For most, the birth of a baby with bladder exstrophy might be a distressing event, given the medical complications that clearly lie ahead, but for Chisolm, it’s a life-affirming moment. His work has recently taken him through a bad patch, one in which people died in front of him every day for seven days. So he’s elated that a new life is beginning in the very place that’s best equipped to give superior care.

In the NICU, the baby is surrounded by nurses and residents. The fellow is explaining how such a case might unfold. She says that surgeons soon will come to evaluate the baby. Chisolm seizes the moment, for this—teaching—is the essence of the documentary.

What motivates any family to consent to being filmed during such personal and life-altering events? The reasons, Chisolm says, most commonly range from the novelty of being on network TV to altruism. “People think their story might help others in similar situations,” he says. “There’s also trust. If we present ourselves carefully and sensitively, and they see we have permission from Hopkins, they begin to trust us.”

Chisolm reports back to Carnegie and to Wrong. Wrong decides to pursue the case, at least for the moment. Piper appears. “A GSW is coming in,” the producer says, using the initials for gunshot wound.

Chisolm picks up his camera and heads down the hall, bound, once again, for the ED.

—Anne Bennett Swingle



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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