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Tuned In: Work on Working Hearts sent Wiggin to the hospital

Thursday, February 21, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Do as she says, not as she does.

For Sally Wiggin, herbal tea is in, chocolate and coffee are out. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

That's the word from WTAE-TV anchor Sally Wiggin. After procrastinating and then going into overdrive to complete her report last week on women's heart disease and her own experience as a heart disease patient, Wiggin pushed herself to do too much and ended up in a hospital Thursday night and remained off the air Friday.

"Here I am telling people about how I've changed my lifestyle, and then I'm living those three days like I used to before heart disease," Wiggin said. "It was another lesson. I felt like such an idiot."

Even in college, she was an adrenaline junkie, always waiting until the last minute to complete term papers.

"I just love being hyper," Wiggin said. "Everything about that piece was my choice. The station has been fabulous about this. They don't want me to behave that way."

Wiggin, who is spokeswoman for a Jewish Healthcare Foundation campaign called Working Hearts, said it was heart-care tip cards she received from the program that persuaded her to go to the hospital.

She went to dinner with her boyfriend Thursday and returned to the station to anchor the 11 p.m. news, but even then she didn't feel well.

Walking up the stairs at Channel 4, she started to feel a tightness in her chest and an irregular heart rhythm set off by exhaustion and drinking coffee, which she'd pretty much given up months earlier. She sat down on the steps.

"This went on for 10 minutes and really hard. And then I began to hyperventilate," Wiggin said. At that point, she remembered the Working Hearts cards, which listed various symptoms that need to be taken seriously.

She got back to the newsroom and told her co-anchor what had happened. "I looked at Mike Clark and said, 'I need to go to the ER.' "

Doctors never ruled out angina, but they did do tests that showed the blockage in her left anterior descending artery had not increased. She was put on new medication.

"I gave myself chest pains," Wiggin said. "I think it was angina, and I think I caused it with coffee and exhaustion that made my heart work overtime."

She's been instructed now to avoid all caffeine -- no chocolate, no coffee. She's learning to become better acquainted with herbal tea.

"I went to Bob Evans and had hot water with lemon because they had no herbal tea," Wiggin said, laughing.

Before pushing herself too hard last week, reaction to Wiggin's report was gratifying, she said. She received thank you e-mails from viewers. Former co-anchor Don Cannon left a message and suggested they get together for lunch. Staffers from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" called and may include a portion of Wiggin's report and a new taped interview with the anchor in a future broadcast.


Top 10 TV shows
For the week ending Sunday

Network, rating /share

in millions

1. Winter Olympics (Mon.)
NBC, 19.6/30


2. Winter Olympics (Tues.)
NBC, 18.5/29


3. Winter Olympics (Thurs.)
NBC, 17.6/29


4. Winter Olympics (Wed.)
NBC, 17.5/28


5. Winter Olympics (Sun.)
NBC, 17.1/26


6. Winter Olympics (Fri.)
NBC, 15.8/27


7. Winter Olympics (Sat.)
NBC, 14.0/25


8. Ev'body Loves Raymond
CBS, 9.6/14


9. CSI - Special
CBS, 8.4/13


10. 60 Minutes
CBS, 8.1/14


10. Becker (R)
CBS, 8.1/12


10. E'body Loves Raymond
CBS, 8.1/13


Source: Nielsen Media Research

Wiggin, 49, said she was nervous about going public with her own heart disease battle. She feared people would think she was doing the story to get publicity and sympathy, which wasn't the case. Last year when she was diagnosed, she specifically chose not to report on her situation. Only when she was tapped to be spokeswoman for Working Hearts did she decide to go public. It was also a way to explain why she has to decline some public speaking invitations.

"It was a way of saying to the people I'm going to be saying no to that there's a reason for this, because I feel so guilty about cutting back," Wiggin said.

Some folks even approached her about appearances after reading about her situation in last week's Post-Gazette, apparently missing the point of the article. She has to slow down.

"I'm going to take my own advice," Wiggin said. "I have to now because it was too embarrassing."


Through the second half of sweeps, Pittsburgh stations have done a better job than in the first shaky week. Some even helped make sense of the acrimony surrounding Allegheny County assessments. Here's a rundown:

KDKA's Andy Sheehan turned out a useful, practical report on the cost of taxes on a $100,000 house in Allegheny County vs. Butler County and other surrounding counties. Sheehan also got to the heart of the matter, mentioning it's not so much assessments that are the problem as local taxes and a history of bloated government in Allegheny County.

On the other hand, WTAE's Chris Glorioso filed a report that was supposed to answer the question, "Are more people fleeing the county?" It did -- more people are selling homes -- but the reasons were unclear, which sort of made the report pointless.

On WPXI, Becky Thompson tested a product called the TeleZapper that purports to curb phone calls by telemarketers who use computer dialing. It was a solid consumer testing story that showed the device does cut down on phone solicitations. I just wish it had run during November sweeps when this particular product was being marketed as a Christmas gift.

Thompson also had an informative report on area stores that have no policy about selling M-rated video games to children.

Two reports by Andy Gastmeyer on Channel 11 provided interesting information, but little more. A report on neighborhoods with the most car thefts was instructional, but to what end? Knowing this doesn't help much unless people plan to move or avoid certain neighborhoods.

Similarly, a story on an underage drinking crackdown that resulted in 2,523 counts of serving alcohol to minors -- none of which went to court because of plea bargains -- failed to include interviews with prosecutors who cut the deals. It's good to learn how cases are disposed of, but telling viewers why it happened this way would have made the report stronger.

Kudos to KDKA's Kelli Olexia and WPXI's Renee Wallisch for localizing the Olympics ice skating medals controversy by interviewing a former Olympic gold medalist now living in Pittsburgh.

WPXI's Alan Jennings gets the award for disingenuous reporting. First he did a story complaining about fire hazards in the building where people wait to hear their assessment appeals, particularly people sitting in chairs in a hallway. The report resulted in the creation of a waiting room and a clear hall, but in a later report, Jennings spoke of a "stuffy, overcrowded waiting room." Jennings just can't be satisfied.

KDKA's Yvonne Zanos reported a useful consumer story about insurance sold for various utilities, including gas and water lines that run into homes.

KDKA's Paul Martino continued his "You Paid For It" reports on the excesses of state lawmakers, particularly those who take a $125 daily stipend and then eat food provided in the Capitol, effectively charging tax payers twice.

Far be it from me to defend these fat cats, but Martino said many state representatives defend the double dipping. Then he cut to a sound bite from a lawmaker who really didn't seem to be speaking to that, an unfortunate transition.

Sad serendipity

Last Thursday, Jim Parsons walked into the Channel 4 editing bay and saw the face of a woman he'd interviewed last May on a monitor. He asked why she was back in the news.

It turned out to be Alison Gebauer, the Washington County woman who was murdered, allegedly by her 15-year-old adopted son, John.

"That's the family I interviewed last year about school violence," Parsons told the station's assistant news director. It was 10 minutes before 5 p.m. Parsons worked quickly to dig up the tape of his May 2001 report and got it on the air for the 6 p.m. newscast.

Afterwards, Parsons said he and the photographer who accompanied him on that report spoke about their impressions of the family.

"When we got into the car after the interview, the first thing I said was, 'That young man is very lucky to have Ed and Alison Gebauer as parents.' We both agreed on that."

Parsons talked to John Gebauer last May but didn't interview him on camera. He said the boy seemed happy.

Parsons said he called Ed Gebauer last week and left a message, offering his sympathies. He did not request an interview.

On Friday, Parsons was sent to cover the story in Washington County. He decided to stop in and see Ed, "not for an interview, just to see how he's doing," Parsons said. As he drove up the road, Gebauer came out, "loaded for bear," but he stopped short when he recognized Parsons.

"He talked to me off camera, I didn't ask for an on-camera interview," Parsons said. "I just said, 'If there's anything we can do, give me call.' We had a nice conversation. He said to tell the rest of the media people to leave us alone.

"When the funeral happened, we were not there," Parsons said.

"This never happened to me before, that someone I interviewed was murdered or accused of murder," Parsons said. "It was uncharted waters for me. You can't get emotional about it, even though I personally felt emotional about it. After spending an afternoon with them, I thought these were really good people. I felt just terrible about it."

Those CNN pranksters

Last week during a report on CNN Headline News, anchored by former "NYPD Blue" star Andrea Thompson, the network's entertainment reporter spoke of ABC's decision to renew "NYPD Blue."

Throughout her report, footage from the cop drama played on screen, footage that prominently featured Thompson as an actress in her pre-CNN role. I think someone at CNN was having fun at Thompson's expense.

Dumb quote of the month

In an interview last week on "Entertainment Tonight," Kirk Douglas told anchor Mary Hart about a suicide attempt after his stroke.

"You went and loaded a gun and put it in your mouth. Were you serious about suicide?" she asked.

What? Did she think he was kidding around?

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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