January 2010

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Member's 'China Journey' Wins Accolades

A baby boy lies motionless on an operating table. Tubes protruding from his nose and mouth provide life-giving fluids. White medical tape covers his eyes. Around him, a team of American and Chinese doctors at the new Children's Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai carefully begin the grueling operation that will stave off his congenital heart disease and give him a chance at life.

Hovering close to the scene, news photographer and Manchester, Maine, Local 1837 member Jason Nelson's video camera captures the drama.

Hours later, success. The boy rests in a recovery room filled with groggy babies and overjoyed family members. The child's parents weep—at other hospitals, they were told the boy would not survive. The mother strokes her son's hair and respectfully bows to the nurses between sobs. For Nelson, this is a life-changing moment.

Brother Nelson accompanied a team of about a dozen surgeons, doctors and nurses from the Maine Foundation for Cardiac Surgery who flew to Shanghai in late 2008 to volunteer at the hospital. Fudan is one of only three facilities in the dense, smog-choked city of 20 million that struggles to help the 150,000 babies who are born with heart problems each year. The Americans' mission: to take on the most challenging cases while teaching new techniques to their Chinese counterparts. Along with reporter Kim Block, Nelson spent 10 hectic days documenting the action for CBS affiliate WGME-TV Channel 13 in Portland, bringing "The China Journey" to viewers in southern Maine and northern New Hampshire.

For his unflinching honesty and technical precision, Nelson was honored with an Emmy from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences. Even more impressively, he netted what's considered the highest accolade in TV reporting—an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association. The awards confirm the eight-year brother as one of the best news photographers in the New England area, as he beat out tough competition from much larger cities like Boston and Providence, R.I.

"I'd never done a project of this magnitude," Nelson said. "It was an intense experience." At 32, he has already nabbed regional awards and was twice named National Press Photographer of the Year for his area. A graduate of Worcester State College in his native Massachusetts, Nelson worked for two years as a photographer at a nonunion station before moving to Portland and joining the IBEW in 2001. Since then, he has shot video of border patrol agents in Arizona and covered two Super Bowls and two World Series—but nothing compares to Shanghai.

"All the families had been told by other hospitals that there was nothing they could do," Nelson said. "So to see a kid go from being sick to the operating room to the recovery room the next morning blew me away. Before surgery, some looked really blue, tired and unhealthy. But three days later, they were smiling and high fiving."

While the concise scripting sharply traces the arc of the doctors' efforts to save 17 young lives, it's Nelson's camerawork that breathes life into the five-part series.

"I wanted to relay the amount of emotion that I saw with my own eyes—to bring that over on the television," he said. "I tried to capture natural moments, like people waiting up all night or visiting their kids in recovery. I've talked with many who watched the series and said the feelings of the people came through."

Those images and sounds—a rolling tear here, a crying baby there—spontaneously show the emotional spectrum of the experience of children, families and health care workers. In one, a Maine nurse talks about how the patients are sedated but not given adequate pain medication, resulting in a four-hour-long process to give a child Tylenol. In another, a close-up of Block pulls out into a long shot, framing the hundreds of families inside the gaping maw of the hospital's main hallway. Brows furrow and eyes squint as surgeons carefully attach a valve to a beating heart. And families erupt into laughter and playfulness as their children heal.

The segments ran in November 2008 and were repackaged into a 30-minute special that aired during last year's holiday season.

Local 1837 Business Manager Cynthia Phinney said Nelson is well-deserving of all the kudos for "The China Journey."

"We were very excited when Jason got the award," Phinney said. "He's a great guy and he approaches everything with enthusiasm and a helpful attitude. We're pleased and proud that one of our members is doing such quality work and is being recognized for it."

Manchester, Maine, Local 1837 member Jason Nelson earned an Emmy and an Edward R. Murrow Award for his coverage of Maine doctors saving children's lives in Shanghai, China.