Thursday, January 10, 2008

Medical News - Something's Gone Viral

In case you haven't heard, Craig Colgan has written an article about Susan Reynolds and the Frozen Pea Fund. This article appears in the "Loudon Extra" version of the Washington Post.

I personally am not often quoted by major media, but I've been quoted often enough to know that one of three things usually happens when a reporter puts an article together:

  • The reporter makes his or her best effort to get the facts straight, but the reporter's unfamiliarity with the specifics of the situation results in a few inadvertent errors.

  • The reporter doesn't do his or her homework on the article (or has an ax to grind), and ends up producing an article with a bunch of errors.

  • The reporter either has knowledge of the subject matter, or obtains enough knowledge of the subject matter to ensure that the facts are correct.
As far as I can tell, Colgan's article falls into the latter category. From my peripheral knowledge of Susan Reynolds' story, everything sounds like it's correct. However, the people who would really know whether all the facts are straight are the people directly referenced in the article - Reynolds herself, Shel Israel, Connie Reece, and Cathleen Rittereiser. (Oh, and Susan's husband Bill and their four children.)

Here are a few excerpts from the article, in case you haven't seen it yet:

Applying a bag of frozen peas directly to her breast shortly after undergoing a needle biopsy that day in December made perfect sense to Susan Reynolds.

"Ice packs are hard and heavy," Reynolds wrote on her blog. "As much as I try to be a good sport I'm not into having a brick sitting on my chest. That bag of peas added a touch of lightness to what could have been a sad and serious tale."

And just like that, a mini-movement was born....

The Internet buzz soon turned into a low roar as the peas people got noticed by hundreds of bloggers, well-known and otherwise. "The communities may be virtual, but the friendships formed there are real," wrote Shel Israel, co-author of the book "Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk With Customers," on one blog referencing the peas phenomenon.

A New York resident who is one of Reynolds's Twitter followers came up with the idea of donating the equivalent of the cost of two bags of frozen peas, about $5, to cancer research. That led Connie Reece, another online friend, to establish the The Frozen Pea Fund. As of early this week, the fund had raised $7,171 from contributors on three continents since its launch Dec. 21, said Reece, who lives in Austin.

"I had a gut feeling that the Frozen Pea Fund would take off — that peas would 'go viral,' as we say online — but even then it surpassed my expectations," Reece said.

All donations go directly to the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer program, Reece said, through a link on the fund's Web site,

Let's jump back a few paragraphs to the part of the article that everyone is laughing at - the part about the mysterious "New York resident" (who is turns out is Cathleen Rittereiser). It doesn't sound like Cathleen is exactly heartbroken about missing her 15 minutes of fame:

I thought it was funny too. I definitely didn't choose anonymity. It's generally not my style unless I'm lying

It turns out that Cathleen has a lot to keep her busy anyway. By day, she is an expert in foundation and endowment investing. Here is a description of a book that she co-authored on the topic:

Foundation and Endowment Investing provides a detailed look at the successful investment approaches used by today’s leading foundations and endowments. Foundation and Endowment Investing profiles a number of accomplished Chief Investment Officers within this respective field; chronicling their experiences, investment philosophies, and the challenges they face in allocating assets, managing risks, and selecting from an increasingly sophisticated set of investment opportunities. With this book as their guide, readers will gain valuable insights into the philosophies of foundation and endowment investment managers, and discover how to integrate their ideas and strategies—from asset allocation to investing for the long term—into their portfolios.

But when the sun goes down, Cathleen (if she's not otherwise occupied with frozen peas and the like) becomes a comedic legend. But why does she spend her days looking at investments? She explained it once:

One night when I was 8 or 9 years old, my father had cranked up the TV volume louder than usual. I got out of bed, went to the door of my room and stuck my head out to listen. Johnny Carson's guest, I believe it was the comedian David Steinberg, was telling a joke.

"God came to King Solomon and told him he would grant him either Wisdom or Riches. King Solomon had to choose. So he thought and thought and agonized over the decision. Finally King Solomon told God he wanted the gift of Wisdom. As soon as he got wisdom, he knew he should have taken the money."


When I graduated from college, I thought and thought and agonized about what I wanted to choose as a career. Then I remembered that one moment of pure comedy, David Steinberg and the story of King Solomon.

I went to work on Wall Street.

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Connie Reece said...

Thanks for giving Cathleen Rittereiser her due as the unidentified "New York resident" -- and of course she had to turn it into a comedy routine. We would have expected no less.

Craig Colgan did a superb job of fact-gathering for this story. We swapped quite a few emails in addition to his interview with Susan. If I understood the Twitter conversation correctly -- tweets were flowing fast last night when the story broke -- Craig actually used Twitter to track Susan down when she did not initially respond to his email to her blog. That's a story I'd like to know more about.

Ontario Emperor said...

And it was all for a good cause!

Cathleen Rittereiser said...

Thank you for identifying the mysterious New York resident and bringing her story to light. It must be told and you tell it well.

Ontario Emperor said...

And I didn't even use any acronyms!