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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hail Szczur




          This fall E:60 told the story of a young baseball player, Matt Szczur (pronounced Caesar), who donated bone marrow to an infant born with leukemia.  The story comes with a teardrop warning -- it has a powerful emotional payoff.
         For its producer, Lisa Binns, the airing of Szczur’s story was a triumph of patience, perseverance and organization.  When she pitched it late in 2009 she knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
         “These type of (medical) stories don’t happen in a neat package,” Binns said.
         At the time Szczur was a two-sport star in football and baseball at Villanova.  He had signed up for the national bone marrow registry, and had been matched with the stricken infant.  For a while it looked like Szczur might have to miss Villanova’s Division 1-AA national championship football game.
Reporter Lisa Salters and Matt Szczur
         But the extraction procedure was put off until May of 2010, in the midst of Szczur’s baseball season.  Binns shot his last game before the procedure, shot footage in the hospital, and three weeks later, shot his first game back.
         Then she hurried up and waited.   Recipients of bone marrow transplants are not revealed to the donors until after a one-year waiting period and only if both parties agree.  The first year after transplant is tense, with survival rates at about 65 percent.
         Finally word came in May of 2011 that the transplant had worked -- the recipient had survived.  The national Be The Match registry gave Szczur the name of his recipient.  At this point Binns knew the donor and recipient -- or in this case the recipient's parents --wished to meet.
         The process became more complicated when he found out the recipient was a Ukrainian girl, Anastasia Olkhovskaya, who had been treated in Israel.  Through an agency in Israel, Binns got the family’s e-mail.
Marina Olkhovsky and Anastasia
         “The problem was they only spoke Russian,” Binns said.  
         So Binns reached out to ABC’s bureau in Israel.  The bureau assigned a translator to conduct the initial interviews.  With the translator’s help, Binns sent the parents a flipcam to shoot footage of their daughter.
         Now Binns was positioned for the coup de grace -- a Skype conversation between Szczur on one side of the ocean, and Anastasia and her parents, Ivan and Marina Olkhovsky, on the other.  The translator from the ABC bureau was on board.  All she needed was a camera.
         That need was filled when shooter Bill Roach was assigned to film a feature in Ukraine.  He went to Israel first to shoot the Skype conversation.  It took place in May 2012 -- two years after the successful transplant.
         Binns filmed Szczur, now in the Chicago Cubs farm system, when he finally talked, over Skype, with the little girl, now almost 3, and with her grateful parents. 
          Binns’ reaction?
Anastasia today
         “Pure delight,” recalled Binns.  “Not as a producer, but as a person.  Really touching and heartfelt moment.  I think it was effective for just that reason.”
Szczur is a Cubs prospect 
         By the time the segment aired this fall, nearly four years after her initial inquiries, she had come to appreciate its resilience.
         Had the recipient not survived, Binns said, “I don’t know if you have a story.  Everybody wants a happy ending but with stories like this you can’t predict the ending.
          “I would have said we should still do it, because it’s the reality of what happens, and it’s still about his act of generosity.  But you wouldn’t have all those things that are the total payoff.  You wouldn’t have the adorable little girl with glasses.”

(posted by Steve Marantz on September 19, 2013)