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2019 Feature, Medium Newsroom winner

Losing Laura

About the Project

In the early hours of Sept. 16, 2016, Laura Levis, a seemingly healthy, fit, 34-year-old woman, suffered a severe asthma attack. She staggered toward a hospital in Somerville, Mass., but found the 24-hour emergency room locked and without an attendant. She called 911, pleading for help. But that help never came. She slipped into unconsciousness outside that hospital, steps from aid, and died a few days later.

For Levis’s husband, Boston-based journalist Peter DeMarco, the news was crushing. He was wracked not only with pain, grief, and loss, but also a compulsion to understand why it had happened: How could someone die just steps from an emergency room? Amidst his grief, DeMarco went searching for answers.

What he discovered was shocking. DeMarco found a systematic breakdown of systems, procedures, and people that met in a perfect storm to resulted in Laura’s death. The tale of those findings is told in “Losing Laura,” a heart-wrenching, longform explanatory story and accompanying video.

Throughout the story, DeMarco recreated Laura’s tragic search for help. The project incorporated:

  • Flawed cellphone data that showed how Laura’s location was missed by emergency responders.
  • 911 audio capturing her pleas for help and the efforts of dispatchers to locate her.
  • Surveillance video that showed her struggling to find the entrance to the hospital.
  • Detailed graphics showing poorly constructed entrances and pathways into the hospital parking areas.
  • Heart-wrenching video introducing the reader to Laura in life, and retracing her steps that morning.

DeMarco didn’t just capture Laura’s last journey, but he also underwent a thorough examination of the policies of the hospital and emergency responders, unearthing numerous failure points.

And the entire story was delivered with striking, heartfelt prose and deft visuals, delivering almost as powerful an impact as the story itself.

The power of DeMarco’s words and video captivated readers and viewers, and drew attention to numerous flaws in both the hospital’s practices and emergency response procedures, some of which are already being rectified. Unfortunately for Laura, it’s happening too late.

Staff of the Boston Globe accepted the award for Feature Story. (Video by Levar Alonzo, ONA19 Student Newsroom)