MIAMI (CBS4) – Nearly six months have passed since Ronald Poppo was viciously attacked on the MacArthur Causeway. It was a story that captured the world’s attention. Poppo continues to recover from his injuries inside a long term care facility at Jackson Memorial Hospital. But CBS4 News has learned the spectacle behind the horrific story was as intense as those being played out in public.
There is little doubt that when Ronald Poppo was rushed to Jackson’s Ryder Trauma Center he instantly became a VIP – a very important patient.
“We’re here to talk today about Mr. Ronald Poppo, who you’ve all become familiar with in the last few weeks,” the head of the trauma center, Dr. Nicolas Namais, said during a June press conference to update the world on Poppo’s progress. “I’m very pleased to say he’s doing very well today.”
Yet while his doctors acted as if Poppo was just another patient, it is clear the hospital had never dealt with a case quite like this before.
CBS4 News obtained more than 900 pages of hospital emails revealing the behind the scenes machinations.
Was Poppo mentally competent or should the hospital ask the courts to appoint a guardian?
And how should the staff handle the cards and letters stuffed with cash?
There were bizarre fundraising requests. There was an offer from celebrity plastic surgeons to fly in from Hollywood to operate on Poppo. And a debate by members of the hospital PR staff whether they should allow a phone in Poppo’s room.
“Eek, I don’t like that idea,” one PR staff member wrote, noting she was afraid a reporter might figure out a way to call Poppo’s room.
His plastic surgeon, Dr. Woodie Kassira said Poppo was always leery of the press.
“He’s asked me what do the media think about him and what are their thoughts and how are they portraying him,” she said back in June. “And I said you’re a victim of violence.”
There was a request to film Poppo from a company whose previous subjects included a Chinese baby with a giant tumor, an artist born without arms, and the world’s smallest body builder.
The creator of a website – helppoppo.com – sought the blessing of hospital officials for their fundraising efforts. The website featured a photo shopped picture of Poppo, holding a cardboard sign begging – Help Need Money 4 Surgery.
Hospital officials declared the website to be in poor taste and demanded their logo be removed immediately.
But it was the challenge of what to do with Poppo’s face that drew the attention of plastic surgeons across the country, including Dr. Andrew Ordon from the TV show The Doctors. Ordon’s public relations firm contacted Jackson to offer his services.
The hospital declined.
Some emails just offered moral support.
“My heart goes out to him and his family and may you let him know that there are people in this world who do care about what has happened to him.” wrote Sara Gonzalez from the Bronx.
Another note came from someone who hadn’t seen Poppo in 50 years: “We were friends in the 1960’s and played guitar together in a band,” wrote Dr. Steven Peters.
Peters never heard back from the hospital or any of Poppo’s family – but when CBS4 News called him he sent along pictures of Poppo from their band days together. The band, called The Famed Flying Berserkers.
Peters said one day – back in the Sixties – Poppo just disappeared and no one heard from him again.
As touching as those emails were, it was equally heartbreaking to watch as hospital officials realized just how alone and isolated Poppo was from his family. During the June press conference Dr. Namais was asked if anyone from his family was with him.
“No,” the doctor said softly.
Behind the scenes hospital officials had been trying to find relatives willing to oversee his affairs.
In an email, Poppo’s brother, Joseph, in California wrote: “Regarding the legal guardian issue, I think a state appointed guardian would be best. I don’t think at this time in my life I can deal with being one and at such a distance.”
But before hospital officials could arrange a court appointed guardian for Poppo, his doctors declared that he was — in fact — competent enough to make his own decisions.
The emails also reveal that Jackson opened an internal investigation into how unauthorized pictures of Poppo made their way onto the internet. To date no employees have been fired or reprimanded and the investigation continues.