He didn't want to give reporters individual interviews, Ken began telling the Loyola nurses; he wanted to give one big press conference interview "like Michael Jordan does." Responding to a suggestion from Dr. Craig Anderson, the pediatric department chairman, that he "calm down" about the media, Ken said, "Oh no, I'm going on 'Good Morning, America.' "
When donations from all over the country began arriving for the Lakebergs, mailed care of Loyola, Ken appeared to have some trouble restraining his enthusiasm. "Other parents complained in the nursery about Ken ripping open envelopes, tossing them aside, and jamming checks into his pockets, with no record of who or what was sent," said Myers. "But what could we do?"
Two of Reitha's siblings--Theresa Hubbell and Michael O'Dor--did try to do something. At some point in July, they opened a trust account for the babies at DeMotte State Bank in Indiana and denied Ken access to it. In response, he went to court seeking a protective order to keep Hubbell and O'Dor away from the babies. He also opened a second trust account that he could control.
Watching all this, the medical staff at Loyola grew amazed at the widening gap between what they knew of the Lakeberg family and how they were being portrayed in the media.
To the Rev. Schultz, Ken was "an angry drug-using opportunist out to cash in."
To pediatric department chairman Craig Anderson, he was an "opportunistic, manipulative exploiter, out for a buck."
To the newspapers and TV shows, however, he was a central character in a courageous story about facing down physical affliction--what Myers called an "against-all-odds tale."
The most galling moment for many at Loyola came on the evening of July 29, when the ABC News show "PrimeTime Live" broadcast a segment featuring the Lakebergs.
The introductory sequence set the tone for what was to follow.
Reitha: "They told me to abort, there was no chance for the babies to live."
Ken: "They made it feel like we were almost kind of like freaks."
Diane Sawyer: "Almost everyone told them not to do it, but they followed their hearts. . . . It's a story that began when these parents heard some terrifying news and decided to dismiss the experts and follow their hearts."
From there, correspondent Sylvia Chase picked up the narrative and the interview, intercut by views of Ken playing with his 5-year-old daughter, Shervon.
Chase: "You're broke. You're approaching a million dollars worth of debt. But it's worth it to you."
Ken: "Oh, yeah. . . . You can't put a price on life."
"Perhaps the greatest shock to the Lakebergs," Chase paused to narrate, "has been the explosion of public debate over their very personal choice, the intrusion into their very private pain." Then she returned to her interview.
Chase: "Do I understand that people have called you and harassed you on the telephone. . . . Why would people hate you for going ahead and making the choice to have the babies?"
Reitha: "I don't know. I don't understand it."
Watching this show, the Loyola medical team felt nothing less than disgust. That the Lakebergs might find a million dollars of someone else's debt "worth it," that the Lakebergs might not "understand" the "explosion of public debate" was no surprise. But the "PrimeTime" producers' disregard for the true story was a revelation.
"We watched Ken come across as a caring and loving parent," said Anderson, "while all the time we knew something different. Frankly, the picture presented was fraudulent."
"It was hard to hold my tongue," Schultz recalled. "I knew the story of the Lakebergs was a fraud, but my neighbors were all so touched and concerned. Some wanted to send in donations, and some did. I was wishing I could warn them, but I kept silent. I let them learn."
Even Muraskas, who tolerated Ken much better than his colleagues, had to laugh.
"I like the Lakebergs, I get along with them, but this was just not the true story," he said. "I thought the media looked stupid. No one did their homework. I could have called the media, I could have said this is the most dysfunctional and also media-crazed family. But that's not my job. I'm a neonatologist, not a politician."
Clearly, though, something had to be done to stop the snowballing momentum. What the Lakebergs were telling the news media, and what the media were then reporting, just didn't reflect the complex, difficult situation inside Loyola. Muraskas had to talk to the Lakeberg family. He had to spell out Loyola's judgment about their babies.
Still, Muraskas hesitated. The media circus at this moment was overwhelming, even scaring him, he would later explain. TV cameras were tracking him across the Loyola parking lot, reporters were calling him at home. It was his license on the line, not his colleagues'. What if he mismanaged the case? What if the family got angry and sued the university?