Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Guest speaker at RI Historical Society annual meeting

I am honored to be the guest speaker at the 191st annual meeting of the Rhode Island Historical Society at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, at the society's historic (naturally!) Aldrich House on Providence's East Side. The event is free and open to the public.

The Society all year has been remembering wars in which Rhode Islanders have fought and my topic, appropriately, will be The War on Terror -- the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan primarily. I will be including some of the findings of my 2011 Providence Journal series and showing clips from Coming Home, the award-winning Journal documentary that capepd our effort last year.

Please join us!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Chasing Sandy (away), Day 3

 My third day chronicling Hurricane Sandy. More, as always, at The Providence Journal.

[For Sunday and Monday pre- and during-Sandy photos, click here.
[For Thursday's Day Four adventure, including interior photos of Carpenter's Beach cottages and buildings, click here.]

A full moon was peeking through swirling storm clouds outside.

Arrived at East Matunuck Beach, South Kingstown, around 6 a.m., in the pre-dawn darkness.
Overnight, the sea flooded the parking lot with sand. The pavillion, new this year, appeared undamaged.
Another view of the parking lot. I was standing on the pavllion. Nothing like my last time there, at the height of the swimming season in August! There was still beach there then...

On my way to the famed Ocean Mist bar in Matunuck, passed a submerged mobile home park.
Crews had removed feet of sand that had blocked the road in the Monday evening high tide surge.
Amazingly, the Ocean Mist, built on piles, survived with minimal damage. "Someone said the piles go straight to hell and the devil's hanging on!" owner Kevin Finnegan joked to me.
But a few doors down, a private cottage wasn't so lucky.
Neither was this cottage at nearby Carpenter's Beach.
Nor the one next to it.
Debris was all over Carpenter's Beach, which the storm had shrunk to almost nothing. Longtime summer people remember a beach 500 feet deep...
Incredibly, a rainbow at Carpenter's just before high tide.
Heading west from Carpenter's to the "First Lady," one of the grand old cottages.

For comparison photos, see my earlier blog.

The First Lady has lost all of its sand and berm protection, and is being lashed by the waves. It tilts now seaward.
A temporary reprieve from the waves shows the building as an island. Two other "ladies" were damaged, too, but the water was too treacherous for me to get close.

At this point, afraid of being trapped, I headed back at a brisk run.

I tried but could not get to Misquamicut, where damage was reported severe. R.I. National Guard troops here muster at the Westerly Police Station for duty assisting national Grid and protecting property from looters.

And folks, this is Rhode Island. This Dunkin' Donuts in Westerly (probably one of about 234 in Westerly alone!) had power. Line out the door and cars backing up traffic in the street.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy on Rhode Island's south coast, Part I

 The shore at South Kingstown -- Matunuck in particular -- is one of my favorite parts of Rhode Island, along with the Charlestown and Westerly coasts. All are being battered by Hurricane Sandy. I drove to Matunuck on Sunday afternoon, to see the waves from the beginning storm surge. I was back early Monday, to see the morning high-tide surge and Tweeting for The Providence Journal's ongoing coverage. I'll be back in the area on Tuesday morning, to see what is left after the anticipated higher surge of the Monday evening high tide. Check back tomorrow for the latest, and of course get timely updates, blog items, photos and video and more at The Journal's site.
[For Tuesday post-storm photos and chronicle, i.e. Day Three,  click here.
[For Thursday's adventure, including interior photos of Carpenter's Beach cottages and buildings, click here.]

South Kingstown shore late afternoon, Sunday, October 28, 2012:

Looking west, toward a grand old summer cottage near Cards Pond (and Theater-by-the-Sea) whose owners have valiantly tried to shore up over the years against creeping beach erosion. Not sure if it will survive this one.
A shot westward taken from the front of the grand old cottage. Sand I am standing on may well be gone when this blows over.

South Kingstown, Charlestown and Westerly, Monday morning, October 29, 2012:

Another west-looking view of the old summer cottage -- I could not get as close as on Sunday. I took this shot from Roy Carpenter's Beach.

The waves pile on -- and this was the morning surge. Compounded by the full moon, the Monday evening surge is expected to be mightier. Lord knows what I will find tomorrow...

I wasn't the only one drawn to the power of nature at Carpenter's.

On way to Charlestown Breachway, a kayak shop already imperiled.
A kindly officer let me past the roadblock to get to the Breachway itself.

The ocean is invading the Breachway parking lot. I doubt this shack will be here in 24 hours.

The water pours in. I stood for a moment on the dunes, but the waves crashed too close. Too dangerous.

In the summer, cars fill this lot. On Monday, gulls hunkered down at the Breachway.

Continuing west, I arrived in Westerly to find the access to Misquamicut was blocked. Seriously blocked.
Walking past the plows, the reason why: The bridge is already underwater.

Another roadblock on road to Watch Hill, Westerly. This time, the cops would not let me by. Tried my press pass and a cash bribe (kidding about the latter).

But the police said: "You want a good photo? Turn down this road." I did, onto Avondale Road, where the water from Colonel Willie Cove (I did not make that up) was over the road. This was almost 10 a.m. two hours past high tide.

Resident of Apple Rehab, Westerly, were already evacuated.
Windows boarded in downtown Westerly.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fighting for Health in a Sick Economy

Fighting for health in sick economy
Medical disabilities magnify the already daunting task of making ends meet in R.I.

      CRANSTON — In the sometimes overwhelming bustle of life inside this family stands a resilient woman. Given her grim upbringing and the many discouraging circumstances of her adult years, Leeann Noonan- Watts easily could have been something or somewhere else. She could have walked away, or turned bitter and complaining. She could be a sorry statistic. But here she is, at age 38, the anchor for her husband, Scott, and four living children. She and her family face multiple medical disabilities, uncertain employment and unrelenting debt, but she keeps humor and perspective.
     “Scott and I taught the kids that you don’t need money for everything,” she says. “Money can’t buy you happiness. It can’t buy you love.”
     “The most important thing,” says Scott Watts, “is being together.”   
     On this October afternoon, when Scott has not yet left for his $9-an-hour security-guard job, they are together, literally, in this plain, rented house in this ordinary neighborhood. They have lived here for nearly five years, their longest residence by far in an odyssey of homelessness and multiple moves.   
      “Having a roof over our head is pretty much most important,” says John Noonan-Silva, 20, the oldest child, a smart and personable young man who laughs easily. Stability is as essential to John as oxygen. Rootlessness compounds his bipolar disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and autism, which began to shape him during infancy.    
       They sit in their living room on threadbare couches as youngest son Kenney, 9, plays a video game. Daughter Shayna, 13, has a friend visiting; son Bruce, 17, entertains his girlfriend, Brittney Roy. Dog Milo bounces about, ignoring cats Boots and Baby. Colleen Walsh, 42, a longtime friend of Leeann’s who lives here, too, listens in on the conversation, which weaves through the background clatter.  
     “Scott’s main priority is working to provide for his family,” says Leeann. “I have to be the one who holds everything in place — the one who says, ‘OK, this bill is due, the rent is due, we need gas in the car, we need food in the house, the kids need to eat.’ Essentially, I have a 24/7 job with the kids. And I’m working, too.”  
      She is indeed, at four part-time jobs that pay marginally but allow flexibility for a higher purpose: managing her children’s medical disabilities, a costly, time-consuming and often stressful commitment beyond the children’s regular school and extracurricular activities. Like his older brother, Bruce has Asperger’s and bipolar disorder, and also oppositional defiance disorder. Shayna has Tourette’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Kenney is learning disabled.  
  Leeann not only understands these disorders; she can empathize.
      She, too, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder –– and with post-traumatic stress disorder, a legacy of a nightmarish childhood...

So begins my latest contribution to The Providence Journal's Reinvent Rhode Island series. Click here to read the full text and see photographs. And for a sidebar on what the experts say, click here.

And you can view a sidebar of this family through this link.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

More reinventing, the final 2012 Publick Occurrences

I was back at Rhode Island College last evening for the third and final Publick Occurrences of 2012. All three have been devoted to the Rhode Island economy -- and all have explored themes The Providence Journal has been examining in depth every week, all year, in our Reinvent Rhode Island series, which will continue right through the very last Sunday in December.

I was a panelist, Tweeter and blogger last evening from Rhode Island College; I wrote the story for the previous Publick Occurrences.

Speaking of reinvention, on a lunch-hour stroll today, I walked past Waterplace Park, in the shadow of the R.I. Statehouse, center of this photo. When I first came to the city many years ago, this was a dark, scary, trash-strewn dead zone, a sad example of decay with a foul caricature of a river running through it. I can remember thinking if I ever fell in, I would have to be quarantined by public-health authorities. And rightly so.

As you can see today, it is a jewel -- the home of WaterFire and a wonderful place to visit as the fall leaves turn, as the birds here would certainly agree!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pete's tree

In the golden light of autumn yesterday afternoon, I transplanted the pine seedling Pete Lord's family handed out at his memorial service. Now it has a good home in a corner of our garden.

And then I spent a few moments remembering this good man and fine environmental journalist, who died this spring.

I still think of him often, especially when at The Providence Journal.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

@pubstory at Salve Regina University's Pell Center

Story in the Public Square planning continues.  As we build toward our November 28 lecture and public announcements -- and the April 12, 2013, day-long launch -- we have put our first stake in the virtual ground with a Twitter account, @pubstory.

Do follow! And mark those dates: November 28 and April 12, both at the Pell Center on Bellevue Avenue, Newport, R.I.

Soon to come: a dedicated section of the Pell Center site. Here's the @pubstory info:

Pell Public Stories
Celebrating and studying public story telling in American politics.
Newport, RI ·

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Pell Center Fellowship week

The week flew by at Salve Regina University. A lot of planning for the April 12, 2013, Story in the Public Square day at the center, some writing, and three writing and filmmaking classes taught -- including Donna Harrington-Lueker's feature writing class, above (photo courtesy of Donna).

My thanks to the center's Jim Ludes and Teresa Haas, and teachers Donna, Jamie McGuire and Madeleine Esch, and Salve president Sr. Jane Gerety for everything. I will miss the view of the front lawn and Bellevue Avenue from my window!

But I will be back -- next up is a public lecture and announcement evening, November 28, details soon.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New, digital `Work of Human Hands' published


Timeless medical classic updated to 2012, with all-new chapters and photos
October 3, 2012

BOSTON –– Crossroad Press is pleased to announce release of the new edition of the critically acclaimed book THE WORK OF HUMAN HANDS, by G. Wayne Miller, a timeless medical journey through pioneering surgeon Dr. Hardy Hendren’s legendary operating room that the Los Angeles Times called “impossible to forget.”
Set at Boston Children’s Hospital, which U.S. News & World Report consistently rates as America’s best children’s hospital, THE WORK OF HUMAN HANDS is available now for the first time in digital format. An audio book and a new paperback edition will also be available soon. These 2012 editions include a new introduction and a greatly expanded epilogue updating readers on Hendren and patient Lucy Moore today.
The central narrative remains an epic story of struggle against seemingly impossible odds as Hendren faces one of his biggest challenges: Lucy Moore, a fourteen-month-old girl born with life-threatening defects of the heart, central nervous system and genitourinary system. Before Hendren, surgeons regarded Lucy's condition as fatal.
But at the hands of master surgeon Hendren, she will go on to lead a normal life. And Hendren is aided in that quest by Aldo R. Castaneda, the pioneering cardiac surgeon, and R. Michael Scott, the internationally renowned neurosurgeon. Hendren, Castaneda and Scott are all affiliated with the Harvard Medical School.
The Work of Human Hands is also the story of a revered hospital, its lore, its people and their remarkable accomplishments – an example of the best of health care in America. Poignant and dramatic, lively and engrossing, with breathtaking insight into the craft of surgery, The Work of Human Hands is medical and literary journalism at its best.
“At a time when TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and ER win huge followings for their stories, The Work of Human Hands stands out as a real-life medical drama with a cast of uniquely colorful characters,” said Crossroad publisher David N. Wilson. “We are thrilled to publish these new editions of the classic Work of Human Hands.”
Said author G. Wayne Miller: “With health care dominating the public discourse today -- and rightly so -- it’s refreshing to rejoice in the triumphs. American medicine truly can perform miracles.”
Today, Lucy Moore, the 14-month-old baby who spent nearly 24 hours on Hendren’s operating table is a college graduate, fully healed and living a normal life.
Hendren performed his last surgery in 2004, when he was 78 years old, but he continues to work full-time on his non-profit W. Hardy Hendren Education Foundation for Pediatric Surgery and Urology. He still receives some of the world’s most prestigious medical honors, most recently the Jacobson Innovation Award of the American College of Surgeons, in June 2012.
The publisher and author are donating a portion of the proceeds from this edition of The Work of Human Hands to the Hendren Foundation.
The digital edition of the book is available online at Kindle/Amazon, at the Crossroad Press Digital store, on Barnes &'s Nook, iTunes, Sony, Kobo and at and EBSCO for libraries. Audio and paperback versions of the new edition will be available online and in bookstores later this year.

Praise for The Work of Human Hands:

“A song of suffering and redemption that is harrowing to read and impossible to forget... Only rarely does a work of nonfiction equal or surpass the novel in the art of story-telling, the play of emotion and the sheer grandeur of human spirit... To this short list, I must add The Work of Human Hands.”
–– Los Angeles Times

“Mr. Miller reminds us that in the hands of visionary and dedicated doctors, miracles still happen.”
––  New York Times Book Review

“At a time when so many books are telling us what is wrong with American medicine, it’s nice to see one that tells us what’s good about those who provide our care.”
–– Library Journal

“The sheer drama of it all is gripping throughout.”
–– Vermont Sunday Magazine

G. Wayne Miller is a staff writer at The Providence Journal, a documentary filmmaker, and the author of three novels, three short story collections and seven books of non-fiction, including THE XENO CHRONICLES: Two Years on the Frontier of Medicine Inside Harvard’s Transplant Research Lab and KING OF HEARTS: The True Story of the Maverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery, which is in Hollywood development. He has been honored for his writing more than 40 times and was a member of the Providence Journal team that was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service. Three documentaries he wrote and co-produced have been broadcast on PBS, including The Providence Journal’s COMING HOME, about veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nominated in 2012 for a New England Emmy and winner of a regional Edward R. Murrow Award. Miller is Visiting Fellow at Salve Regina University’s Pell Center, in Newport, R.I. Visit him at

For more information and author interviews, please contact David Niall Wilson, or tel. 252-340-3952. Visit

For interviews with Dr. Hendren, please send an email to

Crossroad Press / 141 Brayden Dr. / Hertford, NC 27944

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Visiting Fellow at Salve Regina U's Pell Center

 In my second day of my week-long Visiting Fellowship at Salve Regina University's Pell Center, in Newport, Rhode Island -- a place I know well. Great to be back! Spent yesterday helping develop "Story in the Public Square," an initiative with the Pell Center that will launch next spring.

"The effort, when launched, will celebrate the ethical use of story-telling in the public arena while exploring the topic more generally through on-going research, writing, and public events,"the Salve news office said in a press release today.

Today, I continue that work, along with teaching the first of three writing and documentary filmmaking classes I've scheduled for this week.

My office is on the second floor of the center, which is housed in the magnificent Young Building. I have a view of Bellevue Avenue, just north of Rosecliff. Sweet!