CLIFTON, Va. (WUSA) - 9 News anchor Anita Brikman received an email from a loyal viewer in Clifton, Virginia, in the wake of Super Storm Sandy, that read, in part:
I want to personally thank you for being our beacon in every storm. My husband Steve waits for your telecast each evening before I get him ready for bed...
Steve has ALS. Lou Gehrig's disease. A top of the line disability. He does not move, does not speak.
But oh, that smile. He is ventilator dependent.
The machine breaths for him so that those of us who love him, have one more day, and the day after that.
We are waiting for our power to be restored, here in Clifton Virginia. We live alone. We are down to the last 300 customers in Fairfax County without power. We can not complain. We have a generator. But, it is a single point of failure.
Steve's ventilator has two backup batteries. We have power to last for approximately 15 hours without electricity. We are housebound in a storm.....
The email touched Anita and the rest of the newsroom so much that we had to go see what we could do for Steve and Helene Nichols. Reporter Debra Alfarone and Photographer Gene Yagle paid them a visit on Wednesday afternoon.
As soon as we pulled up, Helene came running out to say hello, but she had to run right back in, because Steve can never be left alone. Helene explains, "We've been married for 32 years, Steve is beginning year 19 with ALS. They say he is trapped in his body."
That means Helene has basically the equivalent of three fulltime jobs, providing round the clock care. There's nowhere else she'd rather be, she says. "I would not be me without Steve."
The Nicholses are using a generator right now, but if it goes down, they've only got a few batteries, and that means a few hours. As Helene explains, "If Steve loses power capability, he could live for 45 minutes, that's it."
Steve uses a special computer that recognizes his eye movements in order to communicate. These parents of a daughter, grandparents of four, watch 9News every night. That's why the Nichols reached out to us for help.
We called NOVEC, and told them about the life-or-death situation. They promised their crews were working on it and that they would look into making sure the Nicholses were on their medical priority list.
But Anita wanted the Nicholses to know they weren't alone, and mentioned our super fans on the 6 p.m. news Then she showed a picture of Steve, which delighted the couple, and brought them to tears. Steve, through his computer, said this: "I am humbled and quite honored by the recognition by my favorite team and especially Anita."
We asked why Steve why he liked our newscast so much, and found out that the former computer guru has a sweet spot for the ladies.
Steve: "I like all pretty women."
In full disclosure, he did offer that he liked Derek McGinty and Topper Shutt too. He even had praise for photographer Gene Yagle. Steve: "Gene did good."
And then, at 6:39 p.m. in the middle of our interview, the power came back on. How did Helene celebrate? By hugging Debra, and running to Steve to give him a kiss. "Now, I know we're safe,"she said.
In all fairness, NOVEC did promise us they'd get the power restored to the Nicholses' area by 7, so 9News may not have affected that outcome, but we did manage to make Steve and Helene Nichols' day a little bit more warm, a little more special, and a little more exciting.