Alumnus helps win Pulitzer Prize

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Lou Saldivar, graphic designer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was part of a team that won journalism’s most prestigious award, the Pulitzer Prize.

The three-part series, published in the Journal Sentinel in December 2010, was titled “One in a billion: a boy’s life; a medical mystery.”

UW-Whitewater alumnus Lou Saldivar was one of five people to contribute to the Pulitzer Prize winning piece titled “One in a billion: a boy’s life; a medical mystery.” Photo by: Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Saldivar graduated from UW-Whitewater in 1983 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

“I didn’t graduate with a science degree, but I’ve always been kind of a science geek,” Saldivar said with a laugh.

Fortunately for Saldivar, there was a lot of science and research to cover for this story.

The series, shown through articles, pictures, graphics and videos, focused on Nicholas Volker. The 4-year-old boy had not one, but two rare genetic conditions that caused his immune system to attack his intestinal tract.

In order to attempt to find a cure for the mutation in Nic’s body, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin planned to sequence Nic’s genes.  To do this, scientists and doctors had to determine the precise order of roughly 3.2 billion pairs of bases on the DNA double helix.

“The project was ongoing for a whole year… all of 2010,” Saldivar said.  “[Nic’s] condition kept changing, so we’d collect research about what was happening and try to keep up with the story.”

Saldivar created all the graphics for the series.  Graphics are like stories in themselves, Saldivar said.

Pulitzer Prize judges said the series was a “lucid examination of an epic effort to use genetic technology” to save the boy’s life.  Save the boy’s life, it did.

Nic, who is now 6, has been healthy since December.  He has gone through chemotherapy, an innumerable amount of tests and had a bone marrow transplant.

After spending most of his life in the hospital, he is healthier now and has a new immune system to prove it.

“The fact that Nic turned out to be healthy and OK was probably the most memorable part for me because that meant that we could have a happier ending,” Saldivar said.

Saldivar has never met Nic, but it is clear the series became personal to him and the Journal Sentinel team.

“Nicholas has a strong heart,” Saldivar said.  “Everybody was rooting for him.”

The Journal Sentinel team of five people was comprised of science reporter Mark Johnson, business reporter Kathleen Gallagher, photographer Gary Porter, features multimedia producer Alison Sherwood and Saldivar.

Saldivar offered some advice for journalism and art majors.

“I would say to learn as much as you can,” Saldivar said.  “Learn as much science as you can, because science is a process, it’s a way of thinking.”

Volker and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel both received happy endings.  The Journal Sentinel has now won three Pulitzer Prizes in the last decade.

The three-part series can be found at www.JSOnline.com under Health and Fitness.