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A leadership group keeps schedule, despite tragedy; Halloween Party Celebrates Spirit; Reporter On Vacation Sees Tragedy Unfold; New "Giraffe" Beds Help Preemies; Pond Turns Deadly for Fish

Street Talk

A leadership group keeps schedule, despite tragedy

It was supposed to be a pleasant reception, an orientation. The 67 new members of Leadership Metro Richmond, a sort of community-leadership training fraternity, were scheduled to kick off their yearlong program on Sept. 11.

That morning, America was attacked.

At 5:30 that evening, the reception went on as planned.

So did the group's out-of-town retreat that weekend. Both events, long-scheduled, were mandatory. So when four class members missed the retreat they had to drop out of the $1,700-a-person program, according to Tina Egge, executive director of LMR.

Among them were Jon E. Mathiasen, executive director of the Capital Region Airport Commission. Kathleen Burke Barrett was another. Barrett had a few other things going on — like dealing with the national tragedy. Barrett works for the American Red Cross.

"I had been so excited about being in Leadership Metro Richmond," says Barrett, vice president for financial development at the local Red Cross. Barrett had applied last year, but didn't get in. This time, she did. "I really considered it an honor," she says.

Along with that honor, Barrett agreed to attend every mandatory event, or voluntarily drop out of the program. And rules, apparently, are rules.

LMR says classes are so involved it would be impossible for students to make up. And schedules set a year in advance are too difficult to rearrange.

The Thursday after the attacks, Barrett learned that the Red Cross would be on alert. "So it was imperative that we be here and open seven days a week," she says.

Barrett's boss, Richmond Red Cross CEO Heath K. Rada, called LMR officials. He was told there were no exceptions, Barrett says, "and that they were going to be at the retreat, building leaders for the community." That's what she thought she was doing, Barrett says, by staying in Richmond at a time when nearly every event in Richmond was canceled except worship services.

"I just felt like it showed leadership to stay in Richmond that weekend, for me," she says.

The class members faced a difficult situation, acknowledges Irving B. Taylor Jr., director of external affairs for Verizon Virginia and chairman of LMR. "We didn't have all the answers," he says. "We went back and forth" on the reception, he says, and struggled with whether to cancel the retreat.

Taylor says the board eventually decided, "We need to deal with this situation and be prepared for the community." The retreat provided a time to grieve, come together and discuss deeper issues of leadership, he says. There was a moment of silence each day, a revised curriculum and an ecumenical service around the flagpole on Sunday.

"It really helped in a lot of ways," says Sherrie Brach, an LMR class member and president of Richmond's United Way chapter, who attended the retreat. (Style Publisher Sara Fender also attended.)

Barrett says she's surprised there is no opportunity to make up for her absence.

Next year, those who had to drop out will get special consideration if they apply again, Taylor says. And their $25 application fee will probably be waived, he adds.

Will Barrett reapply? "I haven't decided," she says. - Jason Roop

Halloween Party Celebrates Spirit

The 25th annual Great Pumpkin Fest in Shockoe Slip will be a little different this year. Think ghosts and goblins, Fourth-of-July style.

After the national tragedy on Sept. 11, business owners in Shockoe Slip, who organize the Halloween party, got together. And they decided last week to turn the bash into more of a celebration of American pride.

"It's still a theme-costumed event," says David Campbell, activities director for Tobacco Company Restaurant and director of activities for the Shockoe Slip Partnership. "We're moving away from Halloween but keeping costumes."

The idea is to change the scene to a patriotic, "no-hate" gathering. Local residents will be able to come together and "show their colors" to support victims of the tragedy, Campbell says.

The single-day event is scheduled for Oct. 14, on East Cary Street between 12th and 14th streets. And in most ways, it will be similar to past years.

There will be three stages of national bands, food sold by vendors, and for children, a "pumpkin patch" area with rides and games. The Farmer's Market will also be open, offering fresh-baked goods and an arts-and-crafts section.

As for costumes, expect to see more red, white and blue, although that's not necessary, Campbell says. "You should dress in whatever way you feel comfortable," he says. "We want to leave it up to the public."

The revised festival will kick off at noon on Sunday and last until 7 p.m. Admission is $5. All the proceeds will be donated to local and national charities.

For those who still want to dress up, wait a few weeks. Bars and restaurants in the area will hold costume contests on Oct. 28, closer to Halloween, Campbell says.

The event will go back to its Halloween routine next year, Campbell says. — Dan Wagener

Reporter On Vacation Sees Tragedy Unfold

Veronica Reeves, a morning reporter for WRVA radio, had some vacation time coming. So she decided to visit her best friend in Brooklyn — get away from Richmond, from her 3:30 a.m. on-air shift, and just chill.

She ended up working on the biggest story of her life.

On Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, her friend had left the Brooklyn house where Reeves was staying. Reeves, 24, was sleeping in. And she woke up to a voice on the radio: A plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.

"I thought it was some sort of stupid DJ joke," Reeves recalls.

It was no joke.

Reeves turned on CNN, threw on her clothes, called WRVA News Director Deanna Malone to tell her she was in New York and ran for the door. "You're always a reporter," she says. "I just grabbed my equipment — my minidisc, and my microphone, my credit card and my cell phone."

Reeves jumped on the subway, which kept stopping and starting. Finally, after traveling somewhat closer to the crash site, she was herded out with the other passengers. In the open, she saw a stunning scene.

"Everyone's just standing there," she says. There was burning debris and paper in the air. "People had their radios up on their cars and their doors open. And to me, it almost felt like the world was ending."

Reeves walked for 30 minutes to a point where she saw lines of people fleeing lower Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge. "It reminded me of people leaving Kosovo," she says, "like refugees." People were covered in dust, crying, bleeding.

She searched for a working phone — a seemingly impossible task. But she came across a doorman who let her inside an apartment complex. She slipped him $10. And there, she started filing reports — first, in Richmond, on her own station, 1140-AM.

"I'm just saying, there's smoke everywhere," she says. "And I'm just describing people walking across … just talking off the cuff."

Meanwhile, her station alerted sister stations owned by Clear Channel Communications across the country. If stations e-mailed their phone number to WRVA, the news department would pass it to Reeves, who could call them collect.

She was on and off the phone for the next six to seven hours.

By 8:30 that night, she had gotten into an area close to the Trade Center, a section shortly after closed to reporters. She found a hotel room, where she stayed until last week, filing reports each day. In all, she reported for 40 or 50 stations in places like Memphis, Houston, San Diego, and Burlington, Iowa.

Reeves came home last Monday. And although WRVA offered her time off, she went back to work Wednesday. "I didn't want to spend a lot of time home alone," Reeves explains. "Because it really hasn't hit me, what happened." — J.R.

New "Giraffe" Beds Help Preemies

Nine-week-old Spencer Warner of Richmond is the first premature baby born at St. Mary's Hospital to live in and undergo surgery in an unusual new kind of baby bed.

Spencer was due on Halloween, but on July 22, about three months too early, was born weighing only 1 pound, 14 ounces. Doctors immediately placed him in one of St. Mary's three new Giraffe OmniBeds.

The Giraffe bed is a neonatal care station made by Ohmeda Medical that instantly converts from an enclosed incubator to an open-bed radiant warmer. This gives doctors complete access to babies without ever having to move them.

The beds at St. Mary's are the first of their kind in Richmond, says Nellie League, nurse manager of the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital. "They are like the Cadillac of incubators — with the North Star," she adds.

The bed can be turned 360 degrees, and it regulates temperature and humidity to create an environment similar to the womb. It also can calculate gestational age and current weight, says Bonnie Makdad, medical director of neonatal intensive care services for Bon Secours Richmond, which serves St. Mary's Hospital and Memorial Regional Medical Center. The baby does not even have to be disturbed for X-rays.

"The flexibility of the bed is great for extremely premature babies who need to still be in the womb because they cannot tolerate the movement that is required when using incubators and radiant warmers," Makdad says.

The bed's features are extremely helpful for performing surgeries, which are common for premature babies, Makdad says.

In the womb, she explains, babies have a channel in the heart that is open for blood flow, but that channel should be closed when they are born. But premature babies are frequently born with the channel still open. That requires surgery, as was the case with Spencer.

To close the channel, Spencer in mid-August underwent what's called a patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA, ligation while still in the Giraffe bed. The surgery was successful, says Makdad, who is impressed with how much time was cut down by using the bed.

"Spencer is super," says his mother, Laraine Warner. "I never knew anything about neonatal intensive care or the Giraffe bed before Spencer came," she said, "but I was confident in his care because the bed did everything all in one unit and kept him very stable."

Spencer will remain at St. Mary's at least until his original due date of Halloween, says Makdad, but he is doing well. — Lindsay Sterling

Pond Turns Deadly for Fish

It appears the toll stress takes on certain fish has been sadly underestimated. They can die from it, for one thing. And on Aug. 25 four did. They are called koi.

Developed by the Japanese over 200 years ago, koi are said to be a gift.

Koi are not big goldfish, as most people think, although they are distant cousins. The forerunner of present-day koi is the common carp.

In other words, they're not exactly expensive or endangered. Nonetheless, they have fans. There are Web sites and books devoted to them.

Word has it some koi fish were donated a while ago to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. The fish were set. They were practically guaranteed a well-fed life, proximity to amenities like plant life and lifetime membership in the garden.

But much of that ended when a herbicide was introduced into the pond to treat an ugly weed called hydrilla.

Two years ago the very same treatment was used without incident. This time, four koi and 60 native fish died from it. Why? Is it one of Mother Nature's mysteries?

In a telephone message returning a question from Style, Lewis Ginter spokeswoman Beth Monroe explains it this way:

"The Garden did treat one of the ponds for hydrilla, a noxious weed that will take over a body of water and choke out all of the native plants. You can think of it as kudzu in the water. When that hydrilla decomposed it depleted the oxygen supply in the water, and that resulted in some fish asphyxiating. That was the cause; it was not the treatment."

Poor koi. — Brandon Walters

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