There IS such a thing as a free lunch

We’ve all heard the phrase “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” At UNMC, though, that’s debatable. There’s always something going on over the lunch hour, and most of the time, it’s free. Sometimes lunch is even included, SO THERE, whoever came up with the above phrase.

Recently, I was able to attend not one, not two, but THREE lunch sessions in the same week in which I learned something I could take back to my desk. And I could have attended two more events, had they not been scheduled on the same day at the same time as others.

The first was the “Superwoman is a Myth” brown bag lecture hosted by the Olson Center on Tuesday. There I learned that woman tend to feel guilty if they can’t do it all (can I get an amen?), while men tend to blame others (I’m quoting the speaker here, guys).

Sondra Dubas, owner and founder of Miracle Heart Books, was forced to stop running the rat race when her 6-year-old daughter, Ashley, suffered a stroke during surgery for a congenital heart defect. Ashley was born without a pulmonary valve in her heart. Prior to surgery, Dubas looked at it as another event on the calendar, something to get done and cross off her list. When things didn’t go as planned, her life became only about her daughter and getting her better (Ashley’s doing great now).

Dubas learned to say “no” to things that weren’t important to her, focus on “being” rather than “doing” and live “on purpose.” She stopped trying to be “superwoman” and instead became the best version of herself. She urged attendees not to wait for trauma to happen before doing the same.


Wednesday, I went to a Learn at Lunch put on by HR. Though it was titled “Uniting the Diverse,” the speaker from White Rabbit Group focused on branding. While some still think of the UNMC brand as just our logo or the tagline “Breakthroughs for Life,” Mike Wagner had a more open-ended definition.

Branding is “what people remember when they remember you,” he said. He talked about the different kinds of brands: adversarial (think cell phone/cable companies), indifference (fast food restaurants), friendly, but tend to overpromise and under-deliver (car care, anyone?) and focused (where the company anticipates your wants and needs, like Zappos’ surprise upgrade shipping feature).

While we in PR can do everything in our power to build our brand image, Wagner pointed out that the real brand of UNMC lies in the people – all the people. This, my friend, means you, too.


On Thursday, I’d signed up for a session titled “Running the Catch-Up-I-Don’t-Have Enough-Time Race,” also hosted by the Olson Center. How did I know this was something I needed to attend? Well, I showed up 15 minutes late, not realizing it started at 11:30 and not noon.

Jennifer Bartlett, a certified professional organizer, had our group draw how we spend our days on a pie chart. She then asked us to write down our priorities and see if the two matched up. Newsflash: They didn’t, and I’m guessing yours don’t always line up either.

I had on paper that my marriage and health are two of my top priorities, but in reality, I make little effort to schedule dates with my husband without our two rugrats in tow, and I don’t think I have time for exercise even though I always find time for Facebook.

Bartlett then offered tips on how to marry the pie chart with the priority list by:

-using the “no” word;
-setting timers for activities;
-not compromising on sleep; and
-scheduling “me-time”.

My Day in 24 Hours

Since the session ended before I expected it to, I stopped down to the first floor of the DOC and briefly listened to “I, the Siren,” an Omaha Chamber Music Society trio performing as part of the Music and Medicine series. It was a great way to cap off lunch hour, free of charge.


Check the UNMC calendar  to find out what’s going on around campus over lunch hours and throughout the day.

How the PR department “pulled one over” on Tom O’Connor

toeditUNMC’s Tom O’Connor and his wife, Karen
I found out a month ago that Tom O’Connor, senior associate director in public relations here at UNMC, was chosen to receive the “Special Achievement in Public Relations” award at the PRSA Nebraska gala on Dec. 4

But there was one caveat. Organizers wanted it to be a surprise. Our department had to keep it a secret from Tom (gasp!). Keeping a secret from Tom is like playing Santa. You have to work behind the scenes and be sneaky, though no long, white beard is required.

When I asked a colleague for ideas on how to get Tom to the awards ceremony without him realizing why, she had two words for me: “He’ll know.”

 But we were a determined bunch. After some conspiring with our PR director, Bill O’Neill, we decided to tell Tom the department won an award and we needed him to accept it.

 Yes, that would do, or so we thought. Tom agreed to go, but wasn’t satisfied with our story. Being the investigative journalist type, he continued to ask for details. Details that didn’t exist. After all, this was a made-up award.

 Enter an e-mail from Bill.

 “The next e-mail that I send out will be a complete fabrication so that Tom O. will quit asking me about the award. Remember, it is Tom who is actually receiving the award for his service to the PR profession.”

 And that next e-mail from Bill:

 “Found out yesterday that the award we will receive tonight is for “Outstanding Public Relations on behalf of a non-profit” … Thanks to Tom, Lisa, Vicky and Nicole for representing our department at the PRSA gala tonight. Great job, all!”

 As for the relentless questioning from Tom about who nominated us and why, we all played dumb and it seemed to work (not sure if this is necessarily a good thing).

 The biggest coup was getting his wife, Karen, to attend without giving anything away. Her having attended 3,472 of these types of events over the years, we knew that she would normally prefer to pass. But this wasn’t just another dinner. This was one in which her husband would be receiving a Grammy for PR.

 Bill called to clue her in at the last minute, giving her the scoop that it was actually Tom, not our department, who would be honored. While he was on the phone with Karen, Tom walked in the room. Bill quickly hung up. He covered by telling Tom there was now an extra seat at our table and asked if Karen could fill it. Figuring she wouldn’t want to go, he called her anyway.

 And this is when Karen put on an Academy Award-winning performance. She moaned and groaned and even threw in some colorful language for good measure. Karen knew that if she said yes right away it would be obvious something was up, so reluctantly she agreed to go. It was exactly what sold Tom on the idea that this was a general awards dinner.

 Fast forward to that night. During the cocktail hour, Tom still wasn’t satisfied with our vague description of what we were winning and questioned me again. My response: “I think it’s an award of merit…or maybe excellence…Bartender, more wine please!”

 Later, Tom, Karen, Vicky, Lisa Spellman and I took our places at the table. They began to announce award winners and UNMC’s name was never called. I wondered when Tom would start to get suspicious, but he didn’t until the moment they read his bio from the podium.

 “…36 years of media relations experience….. credible, friendly and reliable….helps place more than 2,000 UNMC media hits per year.”

 Tom turned to his wife and said: “I think they’re talking about me.” With a huge grin on her face, Karen replied, “They ARE!”

 Tom stood, and sheepishly walked to the podium. First one person stood, and then another, then a few more and finally the whole room rose to their feet and applauded everyone’s favorite media relations guy. T.O. received a standing ovation. On his way back to the table, it got quiet for a second. Someone then started a second round of applause. It was a special moment to be a part of.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, it was clear Tom never suspected a thing. I believe he uttered something like, “Ya got me.”

 Ever the PR man, Tom sent a gracious email around the next morning.

 “It was a great honor for me. But, I say this in total sincerity, I owe it all to UNMC and the great people I have been lucky to work with in PR. You make me look way better than I really am. Way better.”

 And that, my friends, is the story of how the PR Department “pulled one over” on our very own Tom O’Connor.

Man Raising Awareness for Organ Donation Stumbles Upon UNMC

Don Erickson was walking down Leavenworth Street on Thursday morning when he looked up and saw three words that made him stop. Lied Transplant Center. You see, Erickson wasn’t just out for a stroll in Omaha. The 55-year-old is on a trek across the country. By foot. He’s walking the approximately 3,300 miles to raise awareness for organ donation.

donedit A good friend’s brother died after complications from a grand mal seizure. Because of the Y on the man’s driver’s license and his family’s verbal yes, Joe Rethmeier saved five lives with his organs. He improved more than 50 with his tissues and skin.

One of those lives was that of an elderly woman who needed new corneas. The woman’s husband had Alzheimer’s disease. Upon receiving the gift of sight, she was able to renew her driver’s license and remain the primary caretaker of her husband.  And he was able to remain home with her.

Stories like this are what sparked Organ Donation Awareness: One Mile at a Time.

Along the way, Erickson encountered a bear in New Jersey. (Get big and roar. Erickson said that made the bear scamper back into the woods.) He’s also thrown out the first pitch at a Minnesota Twins game. (He still gets goose bumps when he talks about it.) He gets by on beef jerky, almonds, peanut butter and a whole lotta pop tarts.

Erickson started in New York in June and will be halfway home when he reaches Kansas. The goal is to make it to Arizona by Christmas to spend the holidays with his youngest son, and California by the end of January. Prior to the start, a friend bet him that Erickson would want to quit at least 100 times by the time it was over. Erickson says he wanted to quit 100 times before he reached Iowa.

But he didn’t. And he won’t, because of people like Dillon in Ohio. And Alan in Indiana. And Charley in Iowa, whom he met last week outside of Avoca. Charley is a young heart transplant recipient, who read about a guy trekking across the country to support organ donation in her transplant newsletter a couple weeks ago. Imagine her mother’s surprise when she happened upon Erickson while driving around Avoca.

“All three of us are in shock that nothing but fate has brought us to this meeting,” Robin Butler recalled on her Facebook page. “We will never forget the man walking for such an amazing cause.”

“Just seeing Charley smile and to see how happy her mom was…. it made it all worth it,” Erickson said, adding that he misses his family dearly, especially girlfriend Val.

An electrician by trade who flips homes on the side, Erickson said he’s learned two main lessons on his journey.

Number one: expect the unexpected. Erickson’s had his phone stolen, his wallet taken, met a man who believed he was Moses and twice abandoned his belongings to jump in the ditch and avoid cars.

“Texting and driving,” Erickson lamented. “My next walk might be on that.”

Lesson No. 2. People are kind. Total strangers hand him $10 and $20 bills. Churches and fire departments open their doors for a place to stay, though he camps most nights.

At UNMC, we treated him to a hot lunch of chicken and dumplings in the Nebraska Café. Lisa Spellman in Public Relations arranged for him to meet liver transplant recipient and UNMC employee Dave Eggers. Debb Anderson heard what was happening and went straight to the top. Mere hours after arriving at the med center, none other than the chief of transplant surgery himself, Alan Langnas, D.O., gave Erickson a tour of the Lied.


Pictured are transplant surgeons Dr. Rubin Quiros (left) and Dr. Alan Langnas with Don Erickson.

The weary traveler was so impressed he booked an open hotel room for the night. He said he won’t soon forget his experience at the med center. It was everything he hoped for when he stopped his cart earlier that morning and looked up.


Don Erickson by the numbers

6 – the number of months of research Don did prior to his departure

3 or 4 – the number of pairs of boots he expects to go through by the time he’s done

1,000+ – number of business cards he’s handed out

2 – the number of miles per hour he walks

3,500 – the number of dollars he’s spent on hotels, food, supplies, etc. thus far

17-18 – the number of miles he averages per day

600 – the number of gloves he’s spotted on the side of the road. He started posting pictures of them on his Facebook page. Joe Rethmeier’s mother has a theory: they’re high fives from heaven, sent by her son.

515-745-0409 – Don Erickson’s cell phone number, where an inspirational text to “keep on keepin’ on” is always welcome.