For Newtown’s Children and Yours …
I first met him on an early winter day during one of the most frightening days of my life. Minutes before, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer–almost exactly 20 years to the day when I’d learned I had stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 22. Now, two decades later, my biopsy for breast cancer had been positive, and my new general surgeon, Dr. John Famiglietti, had gently broken the news. He then quietly counseled me that I should strongly consider having not one mastectomy, but a bilateral procedure, since my cancer was almost certainly due to the radiation I’d received as part of my treatment for Hodgkin’s.
I was terrified, overwhelmed, tearful, and in a complete daze, and my husband, who was similarly bewildered, was doing everything he could to comfort me. Dr. Famiglietti then said he wanted to ask a favor of me: he asked if I would give him permission to introduce me to a young colleague of his. He explained that he practiced in the same building with a plastic surgeon. Dr. Famiglietti described him as an extremely talented surgeon who also was simply a wonderful person, and he suspected that I would be very comfortable with him as a member of my new healthcare team. He paused for a moment and then gently explained that because of my previous radiation to the chest, it was crucial that my team include a plastic surgeon who was highly skilled and experienced, and he had worked many times as a team with this plastic surgeon. Through the haze, I and my husband managed to agree, and a few minutes later, Dr. Famiglietti brought Dr. Michael Baroody into my exam room.
Even though everything truly felt unreal at that point, I do remember being immediately struck by the wonderful professional relationship and level of mutual respect that the MDs clearly had for each other. And despite feeling that my life had just dramatically shifted, I began to feel a sense of comfort that these two doctors may well be caring for me literally as a team during my upcoming surgery. I had to take some time to recover from my news and to carefully consider all my options. But ultimately, I sensed even then that they would be working hand in hand during my unilateral or bilateral mastectomy and during what I prayed would be immediate reconstruction.
I was correct in that—and both doctors soon became what I often refer to as my human angels on earth. It did turn out that because I’d had radiation to the chest, my options were few. I was thin—far too thin—at the time (which is no longer an issue ). Therefore, there was literally nothing of mine that could be used for reconstruction. The only realistic option was for me to have tissue expanders placed immediately after my mastectomy, which would ultimately be exchanged for breast implants after the expansion procedures were completed. But Dr. Baroody was completely forthright with his concern about my irradiated skin. By that point, it was absolutely critical to me that we be able to proceed with reconstruction immediately after the mastectomy. I couldn’t bear the thought of waking up after the surgery, bringing my hand to my chest—and feeling nothing there. The very thought made me completely fall apart. Just days before the surgery, I called Dr. Baroody’s office in a complete panic. He called me back in less than 2 minutes—utterly amazing—and listened carefully as I explained my fear about waking up and learning that they hadn’t been able to proceed with immediate reconstruction due to my irradiated skin. I couldn’t shake the worry, and I was absolutely petrified. As long as I live, I will never forget Dr. Baroody’s next words to me. As always, his voice was calm, and his words were direct, yet also reassuring. He said, “Deb, I promise you, if Plan A doesn’t work, we’ll then go to Plan B. There is always a Plan B. And please, let me do the worrying for you. It’s going to be okay.” When I hung up the phone, my panic was gone. I knew with 100% certainty that I was in the best hands I could ever ask for and that Dr. Baroody cared about my health and well-being just as much as I did.
A few days later, when I woke up after what I’d ultimately decided should be a bilateral mastectomy, I raised the courage to bring my hand to my chest, and I felt … the tissue expanders just where my breasts had been. And when I looked down, I saw cleavage (oh, I have never been so happy to see my cleavage ). I closed my eyes with relief, and when I next opened them, I saw my husband, my sister, and the doctors—my human angels on earth—who had given me this gift.
What I didn’t know at the time was that, like me and my husband, Dr. Baroody and his young family live in Newtown. And today, more than 6 years later, Dr. Baroody is bringing his passion, excellence, and dedication to the children and families in our community who have been inalterably affected by the tragic events that occurred here. Knowing him as I do, I can’t think of anything more appropriate, more completely right.
And so, without further ado, I ask you to read Dr. Baroody in his own words, where he so passionately and humbly describes his critical efforts for Newtown’s children—as well as for your and ultimately everyone’s children–in a world that was profoundly changed on December 14, 2012 in Sandy Hook Elementary School, just nine minutes away from where I sit in my home today.
Dr. Michael Baroody’s Vision: The 12.14 Foundation
Upon First Hearing the News …
“I was in my office. An employee said that there was a shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary school. Initially, it was that someone, a teacher, was shot in the foot. At that point, I called my wife, and I told her to pick up our kid in Sandy Hook. I don’t care what progresses and what happens after that, I don’t want gunfire anywhere near my kid.
“So then it started progressing, and as more and more information started coming through the Internet, and patients started coming in and were saying ‘Did you hear about this?,’ I didn’t really process it. It takes me a little bit of time to digest the information; I’m not one of those people who react strongly right away. I process it, and then I start to understand exactly what’s going on. So as the day went on, it became more and more real for me as more information came in–actually more and more surreal, I should say. ‘How is this even happening?’ And then I just went home and kept calling, making sure my kids were safe. One was in lock down in first grade in a different Newtown Elementary School. And then, when my wife went to go get our other daughter in Sandy Hook at the preschool, that was under lock down, and a lot of the parents were going to my child’s school parking lot and running to the Fire House. When I got home, it was pretty emotional: I just wanted to see my kids, to be with them as more and more information came in.
“First, you heard that they were chasing a suspected van and then there were accomplices on foot. We had no idea of whether it was one person, if it’s over or not, or where your kids are, and if they’re safe or what’s going on. That was difficult, and our kids were under lock down, and we had to go get them and make sure they’re okay. It was interesting: I was relieved that my kids were okay, but because this happened, it wasn’t like, ‘Phew, I’m so relieved it’s over.’ People were calling me and saying, ‘I’m so glad that your kids are okay.’ My feeling was not anywhere near okay. It was not okay; there was nothing okay about it. If it wasn’t my kids, it was their friends [who were] their age. It really hit me the worst when scrolling down the names, when they finally released the names, and I saw that one of my patients was there [whom] I had seen a couple weeks earlier. That’s when it hit me even harder. I didn’t think it was going to be any worse. It really got worse at that point.”
The Idea to Create a Living, Breathing Remembrance
“It wasn’t right away. The way I approach things in life is that if there’s a problem, I try to fix it. That’s what I do for a living. I see a problem, and I fix it. Even in a situation where there’s a kid, I see kids who were mauled by dogs or kids who were run over by lawn mowers, horrible things. But when I go into the Emergency Department, the only feeling I have is that ‘I’m glad I’m here. I’m going to make this better.’ I can’t reverse time, but I can make this better. It’s not this feeling of ‘What am I going to do? I’m powerless over what happened.’ I want to get there; I want to make this kid better. That’s why I studied so much, all this time, was to make the situation better. But the problem with this, what happened, when I think about it, is there’s nothing I can do. I can’t reconstruct things or make their lives better. I can’t do it. They’re not here anymore. So that was difficult in itself, especially a patient of mine who trusted me, who I took to the operating room, who I had a special relationship with. The feeling was not getting better over time. And I was thinking, well what is it that can be done, that’s going to make this better, that’s going to serve the needs of the kids who survived this and serve as a living, breathing remembrance of the kids who were lost? There’s no way that it’s acceptable to me to have a static monument that’s just for sadness, that’s just going to decay over time, that’s going to rust. It’s unacceptable to me. We need something that is going to be a breathing remembrance of these kids.
The 12.14 Foundation / The Newtown Project: a Landmark Performing Arts Center
“Architecture in many ways can express emotion and feelings. When you are in a building that was constructed for a purpose or passion, you feel the presence of those people long after they’re gone. So I thought that was one way, because there are no words to describe how bad this is. It would be another way to get this out and to express it, because how are we going to do that? There have got to be ways other than verbal communications to address a problem like this. I feel like the performing arts is another way to do that. And then it all made sense, to build a performing arts center. Because the building itself is that type of architecture, and what goes on inside the building is the actual feeling and the enrichment of lives inside that monument, I suppose. So that’s how it came about, and that all made sense.”
“There are no words to describe how bad this is.”
“Additionally, the building can be a national stage for social discussions and debate. Whatever the truth is, however it’s supposed to go, it can be a national and even a global platform. If you’re going to talk about these issues, what better place than in Newtown, CT? So it just keeps building on itself: so one being the building itself, the second being a performing arts school, so these kids are strengthened and able to express themselves, basically to give them tools–because it’s our responsibility to not just be there for these kids, to heal them and show support, but we now have to put them on a different path. We have to put them on a path not where they were going before, which was a good path, but we have to give them opportunity to be the best, to reach their potential, to be the best they possibly can be, whatever that may be, whatever they want to work for. It’s all about working hard and giving them inner tools to succeed in life. It’s much better than giving them a one-time entertainment event. Okay, you want to go to a baseball game? That’s fine, but that’s not going to heal. That’s not going to give them the tools that they need to succeed in life. When they start turning into fathers and mothers themselves, when they start having their own kids, even before, when they go to college and are leaving Newtown, when they don’t have the support here anymore, they’re not going to think about a baseball game. They’re not going to think about a free concert. They’re going to say, ‘Who am I, and do I know myself, and am I confident? Do I have support, and am I strong?’ That’s what they’re going to want; that’s what they’re going to need. So it’s our responsibility to give that.”
Children at Risk
“No doubt about it: you see certain kids, and they experience a trauma or some event in their lives, and they actually get stuck in that moment. They never grow up. They’re still that scared little kid. Their whole lives, they act certain ways, and they never evolve and grow, because they’re stuck. So if we can break them out of that. The most important thing to understand is that this is the situation I see in Newtown.”
“It’s our responsibility in this community to lift these kids up …”
“Let’s say you have a kid, and you’re going into a supermarket, and your kid is running around and falls down and skins his knee on the ground. The first thing that happens is that you turn around, and the kid looks up at you. And that kid has to make a decision on what he’s going to do at that point. Is he going to cry, or is he going to whimper a little bit and press forward? And it’s going to be the reaction of their parents that is going to dictate that. And if you say, ‘Oh no, oh my God’ and you start getting all upset, then they start crying uncontrollably, right? But if you say, ‘Let’s get up and brush that off. Let’s go; we’re going to do something else,’ and they whimper a little bit, and then they don’t dwell. They press on. So it’s our responsibility in this community to lift these kids up, not to say, ‘Oh my God; poor you.’ They need to be comforted initially which evolves into strengthening. Otherwise, they’re going to claim to be the victim for the rest of their lives. They will be ‘those kids from Newtown,’ and that’s unacceptable to me. What we need to do is pick them up and take them somewhere else, and they’ll heal along the way. Not ignore it, as if it didn’t happen, [but] we need to face it, attack it, and build something together. Because they’re going to look around at their peers and see how people were affected and there’s strength and that they’re not alone– ‘that person’s my brother now or my sister, and we’re together in this’, and that’s how you can attack the world. You’re not by yourself in your bedroom on a 4-acre lot. It doesn’t work that way. So that’s the premise.”
The 12.14 Foundation, The Newtown Project:
To Remember, To Honor, To Heal, and To Inspire
Debut of the 12.14 Foundation’s First Event
The 12.14 Foundation is currently sponsoring its first performing arts’ event, the musical Seussical, which is described on the Foundation’s website as a “fantastical, magical, musical extravaganza … that lovingly brings to life all of our favorite Dr. Seuss characters,’ including Horton The Elephant and The Cat in the Hat. It “celebrates the powers of friendship, loyalty, family, and community,” with multiple performances to be held between August 9th and August 11th.
When asked what comes next for the 12.14 Foundation following their debut of Seussical, Dr. Baroody explained:
“We are brainstorming right now. Our goal is not to be focused on any particular genre of the performing arts. The vision is ‘let’s have multiple different ways to help kids express themselves.’ It has to be a wide range of performing arts. So we may have a rock band come in. We may have kids learning how to play the guitar or learning how to sing popular music. That might be next. We’ll have to see. Or we may do a play, like a children’s Shakespearean play or opera. Or maybe a dance performance. We’re talking about bringing in professionals from around the world to interact with these kids, to inspire them and teach them things that they couldn’t have had before, to give them opportunities. They need to work for it, they need to earn it; you make a plan, and you have to fight for it. That’s the whole point: they have to fight, because what happens to you when tragedy happens [is that] there are 3 options. You can become the victim, and that becomes who you are now. You can try to ignore it. Or you can fight it head on. So this can be an example of how you fight. You do something that’s going to affect people’s lives. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot to try to get something like this going, but that’s the point. It better be difficult. It should be. It has to be. Easy responses typically make that person feel better. Unfortunately, that’s not enough.”
“…This is a vehicle, [and] it’s not ‘performing arts for performing arts’ sake.’ It is what performing arts can do for people that I care about.”
“It’s not about you feeling better but making them feel better, because it’s hard work to try to make something like this happen. I’m not a performing arts person. Some people have difficulty grasping that. ‘How are you even doing all this without any experience?’ The goal is for these kids to have a place to express themselves. The performing arts is a vehicle to get to that point, so it’s not ‘performing arts for performing arts’ sake.’ It is what the Arts can do for people that I care about. So I don’t need to know how to dance or sing. That’s why I bring in the best people in the world to tell me what needs to be done, and they can do it. I appreciate the power of the Arts.”
12.14 Foundation Presents “Seussical” the Musical!
When asked what the response has been when he’s reached out to people, Dr. Baroody shared the following:
“When I first came up with this concept, it was Super Bowl Sunday or right around there in February. I’d thought about it a little earlier, but this was when I started to act on it and started to tell people about the vision and what I wanted to do. I met with construction people in Newtown and some of the more influential people in Newtown and said, ‘Listen, you need to put me on your plan, because this is going to happen.’ It took a little convincing, but they understood that I was serious about it. So then I said, ‘Okay, well, I don’t know a lot of people from the performing arts.’ So I just starting Googling, ‘Who is the best in the world at this? Who’s the best in the world at that?,’ and then I contacted them. The response has been really good. But if they [responded with], ‘You know what? I really respect what you’re doing, but I don’t feel it’s a good fit,’ I’d then say, ‘Okay, tell me who is a good fit?’ Who’s your friend? And if you don’t know, what’s your brother’s phone number? What’s your mother’s phone number? I don’t care; I’m not getting off the phone until you tell me where else I’m going to go. Just point me in the right direction and I’ll get there.’
“So I did that with PR firms, marketing companies, theater consultants, law firms, accounting firms, entertainment companies, and the list goes on. And when I started with them, they knew people, and then they knew people. And [then it was a matter of] just calling and calling and then having meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting. And you end up with a core of people who have a passion for the vision. And that’s all I care about, that people really believe in it, not just their name or how much money they have or what they’ve done in the past. That’s great, but that doesn’t mean anything to me. The thing that’s important to me is that you have the tools and passion to help make this happen. And I’ve gotten very good response, because I would say, for multiple different reasons, the whole world is affected by this, and the reason why it’s called the ‘12.14 Foundation’ is because it is a date in time that has affected everybody on the planet. It’s not just Newtown. It is not just for the people of Newtown. I don’t feel that Newtown really should be defined by this, though it very well may be for now. It’s not a reflection of Newtown, it’s a reflection on humanity basically.”
“…the whole world is affected by this, and the reason why it’s called ‘The 12.14 Foundation’ is because it’s a date in time that has affected everybody on the planet.”
“So the response has been really positive, but it’s like everything else. You have to really stay on top of people. If they’re going to put in an hour of their time, they’re going to feel that I’ve put in 20 hours of my time. It’s those types of organizations where you [feel that with] everything that you do, someone’s going to take that and then exponentially grow it, that ideal or that work. And the people involved are not afraid to take the garbage out, they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty and stay up late at night. So I think that people are more [inclined] to join this type of organization. Things are expected of them, but they feel that they’re going to see progress every day, that things are moving forward because of their efforts and because of everyone else around them. And it’s interesting, because everybody involved really has nothing to prove to anybody; they’re all accomplished, they’re all well-respected. They don’t really need to do this, but everything they do is purely from a good place, which is a great group of people to be around.”
Dr.Baroody then brought together his thumb and forefinger and said the following:
“Because I basically tell everybody, ‘you’re this big. We’re all this big, that’s it.’ So this event distilled us down to the core of who we are. Because we’re not doing this for each other; we’re doing it for a much bigger cause–something much bigger than any one of us.”
How Others Can Help
“It’s a long process. So there are different phases to this project. During the first phase, it’s really awareness, becoming involved, and giving support by following the project and telling people about it, getting the word out about what this actually is.
“We need seed money to get the first phase underway. That phase consists of a feasibility study and for the theater project consultants to outline the structure. In my mind, it’s hypocritical to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to build a performing arts center to help these kids in Newtown, but they can’t use it for another 5 years.’ So what’s going to happen to these kids over the next 5 years? It’s not about the venue per se. So you don’t shut the door until this thing is done, [and] that 5 year old is now 10. So what we’re going to do is continue these programs and productions to have people get involved. They can come to the show [Seussical] and support these kids.
“The performing arts is an interaction between the performers and the audience. There’s applause; there’s laughter. You, the audience, become part of the performance and share time and support these children and young adults. They’re rehearsing from 9 to 6 on some days, 6 days a week for 5 weeks. There are 86 kids performing, and there are 20 apprenticeships. So there are kids who may want to be a director or a choreographer or possibly a stage designer or a costume designer or in lighting. So these New York City professionals are joining up with the kids even on the production side too, because it’s about getting involved, it’s about the process.
Appearance on FOX CT, “Suessical” Comes to Newtown, CT
“It has to be at the highest level for multiple different reasons. Because one, why are we doing this? We’re doing this in remembrance of these kids; doing something that’s less than the best that I and the organization can possibly give, anything less than that is unacceptable. We might not be able to get every single person in the world involved, but we’re going to fight to get the best, because there’s no reason that our kids don’t deserve the best in the world. That’s the bottom line.
“Seussical” the Musical in rehearsal
“It seems like when someone approaches me with an idea, the first question I have is, ‘Is this going to improve the lives of these kids?’ So if they can answer that question or if it’s ‘Oh, I don’t know, not really,’ then it’s not part of this. It can’t be bogged down by wasting time doing things that are not ultimately going to make their lives better and stay consistent with the vision. So that’s why it’s interesting: when I’m in a meeting with some of the best people in the world at what they do, invariably, they stop, and they ask, ‘Does this make sense with what we’re trying to do here?’”
“…When someone approaches me with an idea or a question, the first question I have is, ‘Is this going to improve the lives of these kids?”
A Global Impact
“The most important aspect of this is once again the focus on the kids, not only on the kids who survived this or in Newtown or in Connecticut, or in the country, but in the world. There was a fundamental loss of security, of trust, that was taken from so many people from this event. And again as a kid, it’s so important that you don’t forget about that and do not say,’ We’re just going to move on,’ because it will manifest itself at some other point in their lives, and it’s our responsibility; it’s not a choice to make. It’s a responsibility to be there for them at this time in a very meaningful, long-term way.
“So what you can do to help is to support the Foundation, support it with awareness, support it financially, support it with connections that you may have, people you know who may be able to help us accomplish the vision. Attend the events. This will not just trickle down to other people, it will be an avalanche: from Newtown, it will affect the world. So this is not just about Newtown, that’s what people need to understand.”
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Thank you for your dedication and drive, your compassion, and your passion — for your patients, for the children of Newtown, and for children everywhere.
~ Debra Madden, a grateful patient, a proud Newtownian, and a supporter of the 12.14 Foundation
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To support the 12.14 Foundation and to learn more about the upcoming “Seussical,” the Musical, and future events, please:
–> Visit their website at http://www.1214foundation.org
–> Like their Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/1214Foundation
–> Follow them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/1214foundation
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Seeing “Seussical, the Musical”: After the Show …
My husband and I had the pleasure of seeing “Seussical” last Saturday night, and I wanted to share as much of the experience as I can with you as a follow-up to my interview with Dr. Baroody above.
But quite honestly, it’s extremely difficult to put into words just how wonderful it was. As Dr. Baroody said during our conversation a few weeks ago, sometimes words simply aren’t enough. But I’m going to do my best.
The truth is that last Saturday’s performance truly wasn’t “simply” a musical. From the moment that Dr. Baroody stepped on stage to introduce the show, the audience seemed to become one with the performers. We weren’t sitting in our chairs and watching from afar: we were so vested in the performance that we all became a part of it ourselves. These children and young adults were not solely talented actors and actresses: for all of us in the audience, they were our children, our Newtownian children, part of our community’s family. And that first moment when dozens and dozens of young children ran out onto the stage, many as young as 5 years old, I doubt that there was a dry eye in the house: the music, the acting, the set, the costumes, the lights … the joy, the imagination, the months of hard work, the dedication, the mentoring, the new friendships, the making of new and wonderful memories, the magic that The 12.14 Foundation brought into these kids’ lives.
The show itself was moving from start to finish: it was sweet, funny, joyful, magical, and heartwarming. The leading actors and actresses were true talents, with beautiful powerful voices. To a person—or should I say to a “Who”—everyone on that stage, behind it, and up on the light towers—did a spectacular job. And seeing all those children–a total of 84 from ages 5 to 18–running on and off the stage, singing, dancing, jumping, twisting in sheer joy: it was better than any Broadway play I’ve ever seen.
And there was nearly as much action in the audience as on stage. We were laughing, applauding, whistling, shouting, and leaping to our feet. And many of us were wiping our eyes for most of the show.
We’re so proud of all the Newtown children and families who worked so hard and poured their hearts and souls into “Seussical,” this, the first of The 12.14 Foundation’s efforts. What started with Dr. Baroody’s vision is now the reality of The 12.14 Foundation: a remarkably special Foundation that has begun to bring healing, growth, unparalleled opportunities, and joy to Newtown’s children. And this is what our Newtown audience saw last Saturday night and why it’s something that most of us will certainly never forget.