News Staff, Arizona Family: July 31, 2019.
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – Arizona’s Family anchor Kris Pickel is nominated for a national News and Documentary Emmy Award for her ongoing investigative reports into breast implant illness.
“We are honored that CBS 5 Investigates is helping create a national conversation on breast implant illness,” Pickel said. “For decades, sick women have been ignored or portrayed as imagining their symptoms. We listened and investigated their claims.”
Pickel and the CBS 5 Investigates team — Edward Ayala, Morgan Loew, and Gilbert Zermeno — first tackled this complicated and controversial story in 2017. Pickel interviewed former Playboy Playmate of the Year, Karen McDougal about her decision to explant – or in other words, to have her breast implants removed.
McDougal talked about health issues she battled for more than 10 years, explaining how she came to believe that her implants were to blame for those problems.
It was an emotional interview. McDougal shared how she felt when she hit rock bottom.
“I couldn’t get out of bed,” McDougal told Pickel. “The noise sensitivity was so bad. I couldn’t even tolerate my own voice because it hurt me so bad. The migraines were excruciating. I literally thought I was dying. All I could do was lie in bed.”
Finding more questions than answers, Pickel didn’t stop with McDougal’s experience, deciding to dig deeper into what woman had come to call breast implant illness. Despite being told – repeatedly – by implant manufacturers, doctors, and even the Food and Drug Administration that breast implants were perfectly safe, Pickel suspected there was a bigger story. As part of her extensive research, she asked to join a private Facebook group for women like McDougal, women who suffered severe health issues that they attributed to their implants.
Pickel contacted Nicole Daruda, the woman who started the Facebook group. Pickel was granted access, and within days, dozens of women reached out to her. They wanted their extremely personal stories heard, and they wanted Pickel to be the one to tell them.
“Kris Pickel and I have interviewed countless women, and Kris has talked to hundreds more about how their implants have impacted their lives, women who were told their symptoms were simply ‘in their head,'” Ayala said. “When they were not being heard, we became their voice. These women, tens of thousands of them came together, helping each other in an effort to effect change; we simply delivered their message.”
The responses from women who saw Pickel’s stories – some of whom were already painfully familiar with breast implant illness and others who were hearing about it for the first time — were overwhelmingly positive. And appreciative.
“I’m writing to let you know how your reporting has changed my life in a way I thought was lost to me,” one woman wrote to Pickel. “I was broke to my core. … Your thorough reporting brought me answers as well as new paths I could start researching. This is life changing (sic) ….”
That’s how many with breast implant illness have described Pickel’s and Ayala’s work – life-changing.
“I sincerely owe my life to you and your report,” wrote another woman. “I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me ….”
“You’ve probably saved my life,” a third woman wrote to Pickel.
Like any journalist, Pickel did her due diligence, learning everything she could about breast implants — from how they’re classified as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to FDA reports on the safety of implants and acknowledgment of breast implant-associated anaplastic cell lymphoma.
“Having my desk right next to Kris, I’ve learned a few things during the course of this investigation,” CBS 5 anchor Sean McLaughlin said. “Kris never took ‘no’ for an answer. She would methodically chase down every person by phone, email, by whatever means necessary. From an East Coast time zone text before sunrise to tenderly responding to a frightened woman via social media at midnight, Kris was on it no matter the hour. No breast implant manufacturer or federal agency employee escaped from her blizzard of concise, razor-sharp questions that were gleaned from hundreds of hours spent poring through thousands of government documents.”
Armed with information culled from FDA reports and studies, Pickel went to one of the foremost experts on women’s health safety and effectiveness of medical products like implants, Dr. Diana Zuckerman of the National Center for Health Research in Washington, D.C. Zuckerman explained some of the problems with those very studies, giving Pickel some critical context, including the fact that many early studies were “funded by implant manufacturers or plastic surgery medical societies.”
“Having surgeons whose entire livelihood, or almost entire livelihood, is based on breast surgery, with breast implants, can’t possibly be objective,” said Zuckerman, who has long advocated for policy changes to protect patients from potentially dangerous medical devices.