MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And with 2012 nearly behind us, we decided we'd do something we've never done before. You know, usually we go from week to week bringing you a fresh batch of stories each and every time, right? And if they're about some ongoing issue, then we'll circle back to them later and bring you an update. But never before have we devoted an entire hour to this kind of circling back. So as 2013 knocks on all of our doors, today we've taken a handful of "Metro Connection's" stories from the past year or two and checked back in with the people involved to bring you a sort of second act.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
That's why we're calling this week's show Follow-Ups.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll follow up with local kids struggling with obesity.
MISS RACHEL FREEDMAN
Every day I do a checklist of every fruit and vegetable I have. And I have to get at least five servings, but I usually get a lot, lot more.
We'll continue the ongoing saga of stinkbugs.
MR. BOB BLACK
This thing is really going to put a big chapter in my book of life. I've never had anything affect me like this.
And we'll spend some more time with the McNeil family. You may remember how Matt McNeil wrote a book inspired by his two kids who were diagnosed with a terminal degenerative disease.
MR. MATT MCNEIL
At the end of the book, when I allowed myself to write a happy ending, I think that's when I started to realize that the book could be useful to us to try to get to it in real life.
First, though, in February 2011, we introduced you to Marquita Lister, a D.C.-born opera star who's graced stages around the world. She's sung the role of Bess, in Porgy and Bess, more than 500 times.
She's recorded numerous CDs.
But in 2006, not long after she turned 42 years old, the curtain nearly fell on all of it. Here's how she told the story last year on "Metro Connection."
MS. MARQUITA LISTER
I was up for Salome at La Scala. And I noticed that my hands started hurting. And shortly after that I noticed I was having a hard time walking and a hard time moving my arms and a hard time breathing.
Marquita was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder called polymyositis.
I was in total organ failure and I was really on the brink of death.
After numerous treatments and therapies at D.C.'s National Rehabilitation Hospital, Marquita eventually began to do what was once thought impossible, she began to sing again.
I met up with Marquita again earlier this month at NRH. After delivering holiday gifts to her doctors and nurses, she treated patients in the cafeteria to a little concert. Her rheumatologist, Dr. Robert Bunning, accompanied her on piano.
Turns out that since last we spoke, Marquita's been one busy soprano. She's had some relapses, some weight gain, some discomfort and pain, but every time she'd get in to what she calls…
A Marquita moment.
…where she'd look at herself and say…
Something wonderful would happen. I would get a phone call saying, oh, hi, Marquita. We're honoring you with the blah-blah-blah-blah award.
Like the Gala Victory Award, which NRH presents for overcoming physical adversity.
Or, I'm putting together a concert and I'd like for you to come and sing blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.
Like the 2012 Philadelphia concert to benefit the National Association of Negro Musicians.
Or, I was thinking about doing an interview. This is Rebecca Sheir. Would you like to come and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.
Well, that one's pretty self-explanatory.
Every single time, which to me is a confirmation that through all of the fire that we walk through, there is the cooling water at the end.
And her rheumatologist, Dr. Robert Bunning, the piano player, says Marquita showed hints of this belief and determination from her first day at the hospital.
DR. ROBERT BUNNING
I read about a woman who was seriously ill. And I was concerned about if she would be healthy enough to be in our hospital. And when I went in the room she was studying German, while she could barely lift her head off the bed. And that immediately told me that we had a woman who was quite a bit of a fighter.
That, again, is why NRH presented Marquita with the Gala Victory Award last year. She joins the likes of Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and Bob Dole. Opera singer Alvy Powell introduced her at the ceremony.
MR. ALVY POWELL
Marquita, tonight, we applaud not only your return to the stage as a great soprano, but also your enormous strength and inspiring spirit as we present to you with the 25th Anniversary Victory Award. Ladies and gentlemen, I have the great honor to introduce Marquita Lister.
It was so magical, you know, of all the awards I have received this one really is the most special for me because I had to work so hard.
Do you remember what you said in your speech?
My speech was one about gratitude. I am grateful for being able to wake up, stand up unassisted, walk around without an apparatus. I live with the gratitude of being able to sing again. I've sung on some of the biggest stages and I've sung in church. To me it's all the same because it's giving thanks for a gift that I was given.
Now, when I step onto the stage, it is not about the character I am portraying or the accuracy of the music that I am singing. It is about the grateful heart that I have and the privilege that I have been given to share it. When I sing, my heart soars in exultation. I thank you so much for this marvelous honor. God bless you. Always believe in yourself and know that dreams do come true.
And speaking of dreams, Marquita Lister got to live out a big one in August and September of 2011, when she was cast in a new role in Porgy and Bess.
At Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts and then at Symphony Hall in Boston, Marquita portrayed Serena, a pious woman whose husband is brutally killed.
Bess is a great acting role. She gets a couple of duets. She gets a reprisal of "Summertime." But, in terms of just standing flat-footed and just letting your chops show, you know, it's really more Serena that allows you to do that.
And Marquita says this more grounded role suits her just fine. Because after all, whereas once upon a time she could run across the stage, dash up some steps and sing a high C before flinging herself into the orchestra pit…
Well, that girl, I don't think, exists anymore. So now I can maybe walk across the stage, take my time walking up the steps, sing the high C and throw myself into the pit.
She says her voice has changed, too. It's gotten richer, more mature. In a way, after all these years of illness and pain, she says it's gotten even stronger, just like Marquita Lister herself.
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