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🎓 Finally, a graduate

Some of you know that I took the unconventional route of getting a full-time job in my dream career before finishing my degree.

Well, finally, seven years later, today I graduated. Working in news was hard enough, but balancing school and life proved to be a challenge, so I slowed my courseload down.

I am so proud to be an alumnus of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Finally 🎉

At first, I was embarrassed that it took me this long, but I’ve come to realize I need to embrace it. I wouldn’t change what I did.

At KELOLAND, I got the education of a lifetime for television. I had the chance to work on-air and behind the scenes, learning how to do almost every industry job. It led me to my dream job — to work in Chicago for those famous call letters — WGN.

This is kind of full circle for me because 13 years ago, I got a letter from ASU Cronkite sent to my middle school to convince me to consider going there. I didn’t go at first, but I’m glad it’s where I finished.

I’m so grateful for the many people who mentored me and pushed me to finish. Going to ASU was thanks to Starbucks and the incredible College Achievement Plan benefit. It’s why I woke up early to make coffee at Starbucks, then go to work. This fantastic company paid for much of my ASU experience, and I was so #ProudToBeAPartner.

I took the day off work to watch the virtual commencement and pop some champagne, but it’s back to work tomorrow. Need to pay off these student loans!

Saying goodbye to KELOLAND and South Dakota

After nearly five years at KELOLAND, this is my last week. It has been an incredible experience! I have had opportunities only someone could dream about when starting a career in television news. I produced newscasts, helped run our website and worked on the investigates team. Most recently, I had the chance to be our first Sioux Falls-based digital reporter as we shifted our business model to become #DigitalFirst.

I am so grateful for every opportunity I’ve had, the lessons learned, my mentors, the people I’ve met along the way and most importantly the friends I have made.

For those outside of KELOLAND, let me give you a little background. To say this station dominates is an understatement. It’s one of the strongest CBS affiliates in the country, has a massive geographical footprint, extremely loyal viewership and a digital platform that ranks in the top tier of the largest TV station company in the country.

Leaving at this time, especially when I feel so proud of the work being done by my team and our newsroom is very, very difficult.

However, I’ve learned over the last few months that it’s time for me to go home. I can no longer do the 500 mile drive or $500 plane ticket. Family comes first.

I have lived in the Mount Rushmore state for seven years. South Dakota will forever hold a special spot in my heart. I’m so glad Nathan is joining me on this next crazy adventure! That also means I’ll be back plenty to this beautiful state.

Saying goodbye is really hard right now, because the newsroom is empty as we social distance our way through the strangest of times.

What’s next? At the end of the month Nathan, the animals and I head to the NW suburbs of Chicago. What a bizarre time to move!

I’m going to be spending some quality time with family – at a distance – and at some point will have more to share about what’s ahead in my career too.

Thank you for all the memories from everyone I have met in KELOLAND.

Remembering my brother on Easter

When Charlie was in the PICU, and then came home for his final hours, in his right hand was an olive wood cross from Bethlehem. His amazing godparents got it for him. Charlie held onto that thing for days, which was super strange given his level of Cerebral Palsy and lack of muscle control.

Him grasping that cross meant a lot, especially to my mother. He was buried with that cross.

Last year, when I was at Cathédrale Notre-Dame (a few weeks before the big fire) in Paris, I saw these crosses for sale.

I bought one for my mom, knowing she would love to have another one. After touring the amazing cathedral and lighting a candle for Charlie, I decided to buy one for myself.

Obviously this is very personal, but I struggle often with my faith. However, this cross has so much meaning. Much of his final night he held that cross in his right hand, and I held his left hand.

Last night, as I slept, I held onto my cross to feel closer to my Charlie Bear. 💙 I woke up feeling sad, but so grateful for so much.

I thought this was an inspiring message on this Easter Sunday. While I’m still trying to figure out my own belief structure, I truly believe Charlie is in a better place.

I have such empathy for the thousands of families in such grief right now during this pandemic. Grief never goes away and I truly believe it’s something you cannot fully understand until you’re in it. Many are in it now and collectively, humanity is as well as David Kessler said on a podcast I just listened to.

Be kind, be grateful and never stop smiling. Happy Easter, everyone.

My anxiety & how the skills learned translate to a more fulfilled life

The following is a speech I delivered at the 2020 HeARTS in Healing event by the Avera Foundation.

My name is Michael Geheren. I’m a digital reporter at a local TV station. First, I think we have to acknowledge the incredible nurses and care team on the floor the night of the tornado.

My heart broke when I was sent to Avera that night, because just a few weeks earlier I had one of the most transformational moments of my life in that building.

First, let me explain how I got there.
On April 12th, 2018, my brother turned 13. It was also the day he died.

Charlie was the best thing that ever happened to my life. He was one of three adopted siblings I had. All were born with special needs, but Charlie’s was quite expansive including 95 percent brain damage. He was my best friend. I had to grow up fast to help take care of him, but he took care of me by sharing his incredible strength, unconditional love and beautiful smile.

Just a few days before that, I was in the middle of an election day and I got a call from my dad that Charlie wasn’t going to make it. So, I maxed out my credit card and booked the next flight to Chicago to say goodbye. I was home and I was there for his final moments.

Shortly after he died, I decided to throw myself right back into work. At this point in my life I had thrived under pressure and this made working a newsroom a natural fit. We have a news cycle that is right now at warp speed and a job that can completely change in a matter of seconds.

But it was catching up to me. My body was giving me little signs that I was not functioning at my best.

Instead of this anxious voice in my head saving me from making little typos or preparing for breaking news, I was starting to break.I stopped going to counseling…which I had just started the year before and I was calling in sick to work.

It all caught up to me. On a Saturday morning, I decided I was going to Avera Behavioral’s free assessment. Honestly, I had very little money in my bank account and hadn’t been to the counselor in a few weeks and decided I needed an emergency counseling session.
It turned out I needed more than that, and I was admitted to the hospital. I went up to unit b, turned in my phone and began to feel trapped.

A tech on my floor named Szara gave me the advice I needed to hear. She told me to treat this experience like a mind spa, a relaxation from the real world. That was key. We had the TV on, and many of the patients wanted to watch the news. I would simply walk out of the room, and ignore it.


That set me up for a very successful stay. I soaked up a ton of information, took part in almost every activity and got to know some of the other patients. Several days later and after countless therapies it was time to be discharged, which was hard. This space had become truly an oasis from a crazy life.
I’m not here to say Avera Behavioral Health cured my anxiety. That’s not possible. It did, however, give me a toolbox of strategies from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to relaxation techniques and a start on much-needed medication.

The video of my speech started here

I have since continued weekly counseling and monthly psychiatry and have my anxiety under much better control.

I didn’t fully realize how much Avera changed my life until a few weeks before Christmas. I got a similar call saying my mom was on a ventilator. As you can imagine I was having deja vu and hopped on the next plane.

She was sedated while fighting a serious lung issue. In the ICU, she would become agitated sometimes…fighting through the sedation. This was dangerous since she was on life support. I simply said to her… this tube is not permanent… it will only be in while you heal… over and over.

She did heal and was taken off the vent a few days later. When I returned to South Dakota, we talked one night on the phone. She said she remembered me saying that over and over and how calm it made her feel.

I realized in that moment I was practicing CBT, which I learned in-depth at Avera, and I was using it on her.

The tools I gained at Avera haven’t just helped made me a better person, they helped the world around me.

I am so thankful for all of the people at Avera Behavioral Health.

I also couldn’t have gotten through it without my partner Nathan who is here and colleague Angela, who you may know is on a mission fighting substance use disorder and the stigma around it. She is my South Dakota mother and I’m lucky to have her.

Why I went to a mental health hospital to get treatment for anxiety

This weekend I took time for myself to just read and relax at a local arboretum. A few weeks ago I was hospitalized inpatient at Avera Behavioral Health for five days. I have been battling severe anxiety for years now. That, plus depression and several other factors brought me to the hospital.

It was a big moment for me. I haven’t stopped to breathe. To take care of myself. To see what’s causing me these anxious thoughts.

One of the nurses called it a “mind spa” and that’s exactly how I took it. It was five days unlike any other for me. I learned A LOT. From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to how the mind works.

It was also super challenging. I didn’t have my phone. I didn’t watch the news. I was completely unplugged. It turned out to be incredibly refreshing.

Our brains are a funny thing. How the imbalance of one chemical in our brain can cause such chaos in our life.

Everyday is still a challenge and I’m taking steps to grow from this experience. Treating your brain should be no different than your heart or pancreas. There is a very bizarre stigma attached to mental health that I myself can’t seem to get over sometimes.

It shouldn’t be that way. Getting the help you need is important. I didn’t listen to the warning signs. I just kept going 1,000 miles per hour and finally I broke.

I’m sharing my story in hopes that maybe someone suffering from depression or anxiety or any other mental health issue gets the help you need. I’m here to talk or just listen. It doesn’t make you weak (I’m not weak 💪🏼). Taking action only makes you stronger.

No matter what, take time for yourself to explore nature and relax. It’s well worth it!

The Gift: How my brother with 95% brain damage taught me more about life than anyone else

Charles James Geheren

2005-2018

Update 4/12/21: Today marks three years since my brother died. While my grief has evolved, I still miss this boy so much. Below is what I wrote a year after his death.

In just a few days, it will be a year since the hardest day of my life.

Losing my brother was absolutely one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through. Charles James Geheren died on his 13th birthday. It was very early in the morning. My mom was asleep in his hospital bed in our living room. My father was asleep on the couch. The hospice nurse was in the other room. I was holding his hand, talking to him and pressing the Morphine drip as needed to make sure he was comfortable in his last moments.

The house was eerily quiet. There weren’t any of his machines beeping. It’s something we all lived with for nearly 13 years. Charlie had a series of very severe medical issues. It’s a miracle he lived as long as he did. His twin brother died shortly birth according to medical records.

Charlie’s story is one of perseverance, strength and incredible love. I’ll start from the beginning.

Charlie’s footprints from his medical records. He was just listed in the records as Twin Boy B.

Charlie was born as Martavien Day at John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County on April 12, 2005. The Illinois Department of Child and Family Services said in a report that he was born extremely premature at 26 weeks. Records show he was 1lb 12 oz. at birth. Later in life, we would nickname him “lunchmeat” to explain to my other brothers how little he was at birth.

He was abandoned by his mother at the hospital. DCFS records said “his biological parents have a history of substance abuse, homelessness and domestic violence.”

Records also showed six months earlier the state received a call saying Charlie’s birth mother was using drugs while caring for one of his siblings.

“It was indicated by other reporters that the minor (Charlie’s biological sibling) was not being properly cared for and that the family was homeless,” the reports said.

The parents were indicted for:

  • Substantial risk of physical injury/environment injurious to health and welfare
  • Inadequate clothing
  • Burns
  • Medical neglect

Needless to say, it was awful conditions. The state took custody of his sibling in January. Our family actually had the chance to meet that child and he is a beautiful, thriving and healthy young boy with an incredible adopted family.

His parents had a long history of substance abuse. The state records show his birth mother’s drug of choice was believed to be heroin. Immediately when we was born, Charlie was in heroin withdrawal. The American Academy of Pediatrics research outlines a number of symptoms linked to neonatal drug withdrawal. It’s awful.

He was placed in foster care, then a medical group home, then to the hospital for surgery, then back to the medical group home until October 26, 2005. That’s when my parents, Mia and Bill, went to pick up who would become my third brother and the light of my life.

My parents don’t take enough credit for what they did by taking him into our household and what they would do for him over the next 12 and half years. They are both saints.

We discovered a lot when he came into my family. The drugs and premature birth did a number on him. Charlie was born with 95 percent brain damage. With that came quadriplegic spastic cerebral palsy (he couldn’t sit up or voluntarily move his arms). He was also diagnosed with cortical blindness, reflux esophagitis, a collapsing esophagus (which led to a trache being put in so he could breathe), a benign tumor, chronic lung disease, failure to thrive, microcephaly (what has been made famous with Zika), sleep apnea, a severe milk allergy and he had a hole in his larynx.

His medical records say his behaviors were conducive with a 4-month-old.

Most of this stemmed from the brain damage. Actually, upon researching his medical history, I learned there’s actually a diagnosis for all this: Perinatal Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy.

Perinatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) occurs in one to three per 1000 live full-term births. Of affected newborns, 15%–20% of affected newborns will die in the postnatal period… The outcomes of HIE are devastating and permanent, making it a major burden for the patient, the family, and society. — Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology

Needless to say, it was a miracle he survived.

Now, you must be thinking to yourself, how could he make such an impact on your life with so many challenges? Here’s how:

I wrote these down these three things when exploring my grief in the last year.

  • Never stop smiling
  • Always show unconditional love
  • Stay strong

This is his legacy. He couldn’t verbalize these three rules to me, but they stayed with me.

A few hours after he died, I told our local newspaper this:

“Charlie was faced with the biggest obstacles in life you could imagine, and he always had a smile on his face and fought until the end of his life.”

It’s so true.

Never stop smiling

Charlie did this constantly.

He would laugh and smile whenever there were loud noises, ESPECIALLY when my brothers (or myself) were being yelled at by my parents to go clean our rooms). That I think was his favorite. He would just belly laugh in the corner of the room. He was always so happy. See the left photo.

When I got the call that Charlie wasn’t going to make it, I hopped the first flight home from Sioux Falls, SD to Chicago. A quick 15 minute drive to the hospital, and I was in his PICU room at Lutheran General Hospital. He heard my voice and smiled. That will stay with me forever.

Always show unconditional love

No one listened to me more than Charlie. Sure, he couldn’t verbally respond, but he was my bud. He would listen to me vent as a kid, be a shoulder to cry on when I was sad and even was the first person I told was gay. I figured it would be pretty easy to tell him first. He embodied what unconditional love is and his smile told it all.

Stay strong

Up until the very end, he was stronger than anyone. With as much damage to his brain, it was actually challenging for him to die. Huh? I know, it’s a confusing statement. When he was pulled off the ventilator, it was expected he would die pretty quickly. That’s not what happened. It took all afternoon, evening and into the next day. The hospice physician said it was likely because his damaged brain stem had been fighting all his life to survive and it wasn’t going to give up quickly. She told me that if it were her or I in this situation, we wouldn’t have held on that long.

Charlie was up against the most challenging circumstances possible for a human being. He couldn’t breathe well, he couldn’t see, talk, hold his head up, eat or walk. But he was strong. He never gave up. He rarely showed he was in pain. He just lived life.

The day after Charlie died, my family went to his school. A lovely girl in his small classroom with special needs wouldn’t stop raving about how handsome Charlie was.

She also told me, “never forget he will always be your brother.”

At his memorial service, the funeral home was packed with former nurses, teachers, doctors, therapists, neighbors, family, friends and even his classmates. It was beautiful.

I learned that day how impactful this little boy was on so many people. I thought it was just my family who he touched, but I discovered pretty quickly that I was wrong. Strength defined that kid and it impacted others.

So, on April 11, 2018 at 11:59 p.m., we decided to celebrate that strength and gather in the kitchen to prepare a makeshift celebration for his birthday. It wasn’t just any birthday, it was the entrance to his teenage years.

We sang happy birthday.

My exhausted mother who was up for at least 48 hours, maybe more fell asleep in bed with him.

I talked to him. I didn’t really know what to say, except: “I love you” and “it will be OK.” Over and over again for hours. Until all of a sudden I realized one key fact, I said “Charlie, now you will get to see your twin brother. Isn’t it interesting how you entered this world with him and you’ll leave it with your other brother next to you?” and then he took his last breathe… holding my hand and he was gone.

The loss of my Charlie Bear has been very hard on me.

I felt guilt. I missed a lot of his last few years being away at college and the beginning of my career, but I got to be home when he needed his big brother the most — at the very end.

I also felt an intense amount of grief. I found some good books, went to counseling, decorated his grave for Christmas, lit a candle at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris for him, leaned on my family and friends and just cried… a lot.

However, as this first year wraps up and I continue to move forward I take great pleasure in knowing he had an incredible life with an amazing family and team of caregivers. I couldn’t be more thankful for my parents in all this. If they didn’t foster and adopt this little boy, I don’t know where he’d be and I really don’t know who I would be. Charles James Geheren shaped me. He gave me empathy and that reason to smile everyday.

I will never, ever forget him, and I hope you don’t either.

I miss you, Charlie bear.

Love,

Your big brother, Michael.

Late Night Thoughts on Sen. John McCain’s Diagnosis

From July 20

The first political and major journalism experience I had, that I can recall, was asking Sen. John McCain a question at a press conference ahead of the 2008 election for Scholastic News. This moment has been forever seared into my memory. He was nice and answered my question like he would for any other journalist sitting in the room (from national outlets and market #3) despite me being in middle school.

Today’s news made me really sad. I’ve been trying to figure why. And I think that moment just really sparked something in me. I know he’ll never know that, but it made such an impact in my love for covering politics.

He is an American hero and has worked hard for his country. What an awful diagnosis for a person who has suffered so much. My thoughts are with him and his family.

I have to say, it’s so refreshing to see America come together to support him. I think my favorite message was from his former political opponent (fmr. President Barack Obama): “Cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.”

#3 with #45

Air Force One in Watertown, SD (Michael Geheren/The Volante)

As we inaugurate #45, I’ve been looking back at the amazing opportunities I’ve had to cover now three Presidents of the United States and the impact President Barack Obama had on my interest in political journalism.

Donald Trump (Sioux City, IA)

President-Elect Donald Trump in Sioux City, IA (Michael Geheren/The Volante)

USD junior questions Donald Trump on immigration plan

Bill Clinton (Sioux Falls, SD)

Former President Bill Clinton in Sioux Falls, SD (Michael Geheren)

Barack Obama (Watertown, SD)

Soon to be Former President Barack Obama visits Watertown, SD (Michael Geheren/The Volante)

Presidential politics is my favorite. It’s quite amazing to watch our country work at the highest level.

My “journalism career” began during Obama’s first election in 2008.

Visiting Sen. Barack Obama’s office

From being there when he announced then-Senator Joe Biden as his running mate in Springfield outside the old Illinois Capitol building, to stopping by his Senate office the day after he was elected President, and watching him step foot in South Dakota as he visited his 50th state as POTUS.

USD junior questions Donald Trump on immigration plan

I also had the privilege to cover a speech by First Lady Michelle Obama on the campaign trail, his opponent John McCain in a visit to Illinois and at the RNC, and visit the Obama White House as a Al Neuharth Free Spirit Scholar.

I feel so fortunate for these experiences at such a young age. Obama was the president of my youth, which sparked my passion of political journalism. Which is interesting since the Columbia Journalism Review called the Obama era as the worst-ever between the President and the Press.

USD junior questions Donald Trump on immigration plan

So, now we turn to 45.

It’ll be an interesting, exciting and headline filled 4–8 years.

There are many questions as to what’s to come, especially for journalists. For me, I’ll be tuned to the peaceful transition of power and excited for what’s ahead.

Donald Trump in Sioux City, IA (Michael Geheren/The Volante)