Past Contest Entries

Tales From the Heart: Inside the Cleveland Clinic Heart Center

Provide names of other journalists involved.

Plain Dealer Staff

List date(s) this work was published or aired.

November 13 through November 20, 2011

See this entry.

Provide a brief synopsis of the story or stories, including any significant findings.

The eight-day narrative told the story of incredible humanity and compassion in the midst of life-saving decision making during a single day at what many recognize as one of the best, and busiest, heart centers in the country — the Cleveland Clinic Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute.

Explain types of documents, data or Internet resources used. Were FOI or public records act requests required? How did this affect the work?

The series relied primarily on the observations of 27 reporters, photographers, videographers and editors who stationed themselves throughout the heart center on Aug. 22. The unprecedented access The Plain Dealer gained that day came after meetings with the head of the heart center and staff training on the HIPAA privacy law. Before that day, two medical reporters each spent two months interviewing employees and a week in heart surgery to gain expertise and build trust. The knowledge they acquired enabled them to write a more powerful, balanced, and informative story.

Explain types of human sources used.

Reporters, photographers and videographers observed surgeons and anesthesiologists, nurses and perfusionists, exercise physiologists, pathologists, secretaries, patients, patients’ families and others over the 26-hour time period. Follow-up interviews were conducted with nearly every person mentioned in the story; many sources were interviewed numerous times. In addition, reporters spoke with doctors, hospital administrators and outside agencies such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the United Network for Organ Sharing. The writers also reviewed hours of tape shot by videographers and sat down with doctors who reviewed in detail exactly what happened during procedures and surgeries performed that day.


Our goal was to explain and demystify what goes on inside the Cleveland Clinic’s heart center, which draws some of the sickest patients from around the world. Readers praised the story’s simple language, powerful detail and ability to make the public aware of the symptoms and treatments of the No. 1 killer in America.

Follow-up (if any). Have you run a correction or clarification on the report or has anyone come forward to challenge its accuracy? If so, please explain.

The stories needed no corrections or clarifications.

Advice to other journalists planning a similar story or project.

Full and unfettered access is mandatory. We had to convince the leaders of the hospital — a private institution in this case — to open their doors and allow us to tell the story as it unfolded with no censorship at any stage. We did that by having two key editors and two main reporters meet with the director of the heart center months before to explain our motive and goals and to discuss concerns. Every journalist scheduled to be on site that day attended a meeting on patient privacy laws and how not to break them. In the end, no reporter or photographer felt the reporting was restricted in any way by the hospital. Reporters shouldn’t underestimate the extensive amount of follow-up reporting necessary to tell a narrative story about any disease and its treatment. And they should remember that it’s the details– gathered initially and later– that turn the written word into a world that readers can step into.