Dr. Mona Blog: FOX and Friends - FOX 32 News Chicago

Dr. Mona Blog: FOX and Friends

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The email query arrived on a Monday. Would I be interested in making a guest appearance on FOX & Friends, the morning show at the national FOX News Channel? I had seen FOX & Friends a number of times. I liked the pace of the show. I liked the curvy couch. And I liked the chemistry that Gretchen Carlson, Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy had. Of course I agreed. The producer, Sandra, and I agreed that I would fly in on Wednesday so I could be on the show on Thursday morning. I would be put up at STAY, she said, a boutique hotel on West 47th Street, where many of the show's guests stayed.

The next question: what topic should we cover?

The greatest thing about health reporting is that there's always something to talk about and everyone cares about health. Did you know that roughly one out of four people employed in the U.S. work for some part of the health care industry? Every day, dozens of discoveries or events happen in medicine that can affect millions of people, most of which don't even make the news. New medications and medical devices get approved, warning labels are slapped on dangerous medication or they are yanked off the shelves, new procedures and treatments are discovered, the list goes on and on. Health care fraud is one topic that never gets enough coverage – dishonest health care professionals and administrators abound who swindle health insurers (including the government) by overtesting and overcharging. Then there is the trickle down effect…medical consequences of disasters…medical consequences of the housing crisis…medical consequences of unemployment…and medical consequences of food deserts.

Medicine intersects with every other discipline – law, politics, entertainment and business, just to name a few. Recently, the most talked-about and reported story was the Supreme Court hearings on the constitutionality of the health care reform law. But my favorite type of medical story is consumer health. I especially like to capitalize on the educational opportunities that emerge when celebrities disclose illnesses. When a celebrity announces that he or she has, say, aortic valve stenosis, anal cancer, multiple sclerosis or ADHD, I can leverage that news peg into raising awareness about a health issue that may have seemed so remotely unlikely to occur to the average person. I cover common issues all the time, since they are the most likely killers and cripplers – diabetes, suicide, heart disease, stroke and breast cancer. I never get tired of finding new angles. As I said on FOX Chicago News recently…"From the start of an hour long newscast to the end, 4 more people will have committed suicide...the rate is about one every 15 minutes." Bone chilling, isn't it, if you think about the vast numbers of people affected in that way?

Back to FOX & Friends. We needed a medical topic which was important and timely enough to raise awareness and improve health status. I emailed several story ideas to the producer, including…up to 6 out of 10 patients on commonly prescribed anti-depressant SSRIs experience sexual dysfunction…people are drinking raw milk again, which the CDC has a very firm stand against…actor and new Mom January Jones eats her placenta…new guidelines for pap smears recently released call for replacing annual tests with one every 3-5 years…did Dick Cheney receive special treatment since he received a new heart at such an advanced age…survival rates for patients are higher with bypass surgery than treatment with medication…obesity surgery led to remission of diabetes type 2 more often than treatment with medication…popcorn packs lifesaving antioxidants…and regular intake of chocolate is linked to lower body mass index.

With flight and hotel arrangements made and topics being floated, the assignment was getting closer and closer. In the meantime, my Chicago producers had heard I was off to New York and asked me to come in on Wednesday morning before I left to promote the network appearance. So I lugged my baggage to FOX Chicago News and did a talkback with the anchors. When Anna Davlantes asked me about FOX & Friends, I had to admit that it was the competition -- after all, it aired at the same time as Good Day Chicago. I suggested that viewers could either tape one of the shows or put both channels on in different TV's in the house! I didn't want to be a bad team player and leech the morning audience away from Good Day Chicago. I left the Chicago newsroom at about 800am and caught an early flight to New York. I was wondering what topic would be selected and I knew I had a few hours of research ahead of me once it was chosen.

When I disembarked at LaGuardia, I wasn't surprised to see an email from Sandra saying they had decided on a completely different topic: breaking down the psyche of the Jet Blue pilot that freaked out in the sky. Oh, okay, I thought, mentally creating a checklist of items I would mention. I wasn't offended that none of my ideas were picked. I suppose they weren't catchy or promotable enough. After all, this is an early show where you really have to grab people's attention to get them to stop drying their hair and watch morning television. And I wasn't intimately familiar with the style of Fox & Friends. Every show has a certain way about it – an intangible unique groove that is imprinted by the producers and anchors. I had thrown out generic ideas that could have worked anywhere…perhaps they weren't Fox & Friends-brand friendly.

Fewer than 15 minutes later she sent another saying the topic was changed to two dangerous teen health trends that adults were engaging in: The Cinnamon Challenge and Whip-Its. The cinnamon challenge is a game that involves trying to swallow a spoonful of the spice cinnamon without any water. Whip-Its are small canisters filled with nitrous oxide that can be used as a recreational drug to get high and were reportedly used by actress Demi Moore shortly before she was rushed to the hospital in January. I had heard that a college student from Lincolnwood, Ill., had died from inhaling gas from cans in 2008 and in doing my research I discovered that Whip-Its have become the most popular recreational inhalant of choice, with at least 12 million users in the U.S. who had tried it at least once. With more than 30,000 videos posted on YouTube, each with millions of hits, the cinnamon challenge was becoming very well known, and had inherent risks such as choking and vomiting.

Sandra asked if I could put some talking points together that she would then take to Gretchen, Brian and Steve. I couldn't wait to get to my hotel to get to work. I did some research on the Internet, and assembled some talking points for the trio and some additional notes for myself. I sent them to Sandra who distributed them to all of us. I asked her if I should buy some canned whipped cream and cinnamon to use as props, and she thought that was a great idea, but she said she would take care of it. It was so great to work so intensely and so productively with someone even if just for a brief period of time. I wanted to meet her in person, so I told her I would wait around after the segment was done until she came in the next morning. I was finished preparing for the show but I still had a lot of energy, so I decided to work out. I ran on the treadmill for about an hour at New York Sports Club right down the street.

Unlike most morning shows on other networks, FOX & Friends doesn't time delay. That means being live on the air at 650am Eastern Daylight Time (my scheduled time) is 350am Pacific Daylight Time. So if my friends in California wanted to watch, they would have to set the DVR. Even my good friends wouldn't wake up that early to watch the live show and I didn't blame them. Shoot, I didn't even expect my friends in the Midwest or East Coast to watch live at almost 6am and 7am!

I walked over to the FOX building on Avenue of the Americas at 530am even though I wasn't slated to go on until almost 7am. I had been to the building several times before. I handed Security my identification and then waited for Marc, the green room producer. The green room is a term for a lounge area where people wait before they go on the air. Marc seemed surprised to see me that early but he graciously showed me around and answered my lingering questions. I asked where I would be seated during the segment. I was hoping I would be on the curvy couch. He looked at the rundown and said I was slated to be at the desk when I aired. Darn, I thought, but I tried to shake off my disappointment. At least I'm here, I told myself. Marc showed me the makeup and hairstylists' green room – from the back I could see that Gretchen was getting her hair done – and then took me into a lounge area, where I deposited my bags. Soon I was called in to get my hair and makeup done.

Afterwards, I went back into the green room to review my notes and watch the show on the plasma screen. Soon enough, it was time to go into the studio. I carried the can of whipped cream and bottle of cinnamon and waited on the sidelines until commercial break. Then one of the directors escorted me over to the curvy couch. The curvy couch! Wasn't I supposed to be at the desk? I asked. Yes, he replied, but there was a last-minute switch. Steve Doocy got up as I walked into the shot. He was going to be off set for this segment, he told me, so I would sit where he usually sat, on Gretchen's right. I introduced myself to all three anchors and they welcomed me. We had about one minute for light banter before we were on the air and I told Gretchen that I remembered her from Miss America. She laughed and said -- "THAT was a long time ago!"

The red light came on and Steve read a news story. When he was finished, he tossed to us by saying "Brian, Gretchen, Doctor…." Gretchen picked up the toss. "All right, so every parent should pay attention to this," she said, "because they are everyday items in the kitchen but they have become recipes for disaster for kids."

Then some video rolled showing kids inhaling gases and trying to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon. Brian spoke up "Joining us now to discuss it is Dr. Mona Khanna." For the next few minutes we discussed the dangers and reasons for the growing popularity of these unhealthy trends. A full screen graphic was used to show the increasing numbers of calls made to Poison Control Centers after these substances were used. When we got to the point of how the influence of celebrities, I said, "It's like Money See, Monkey Do!"

After about 3 minutes of discussion the anchors thanked me and moved on to a quick tease for the next block of stories. While transitioning to the commercial break, the camera came back on Gretchen, Brian and myself still sitting on the curvy couch, now chatting casually. I saw Steve approaching. "You mean you want your seat back?" I teased. I asked one of the floor directors to take a picture with my iPhone, and Steve sat down next to me. We got a quick shot in, I thanked the anchors again and I left the studio.

What a smooth, professional operation, I thought. I went back to the lounge toting the whipped cream and cinnamon where I waited for Sandra. I watched the rest of the show from there, as well as talked to some of the other guests and staff who circulated through. I also had a chance to speak to the executive producer who told me she was very pleased with my appearance. She also said the story was trending right now on some news wires. At about 11am, Sandra came downstairs so we could meet in person. It was great to see her in the flesh, although I had to apologize because while I returned the whipped cream, the cinnamon bottle had mysteriously disappeared. I hope whomever has it is using it for baking cookies and not the dreaded cinnamon challenge!

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