Bryan Thompson said he has no choice but to be interested in children's health issues.
With five children plus a disabled son who died last year at age 17 Thompson has firsthand experience in many of the topics he explores in his weekly radio series, "Kansas Kids: A Prescription for Change."
"I can empathize with a lot of things people face," Thompson said. "I've struggled with the system, and I know about the frustrations that go along with the Medicaid system just the pain and difficulty of a child with a chronic health problem."
Thompson has served as reporter for the radio series, produced by KANU-FM 91.5, Kansas University's public radio station, since its inception in 2000. He said the series, funded primarily through the Kansas Health Foundation, covers a "broad field" of issues.
"We'd like to be able to make people understand some aspect of children's health and/or well-being," he said. "It doesn't have to be medically related, and it's often not medically related. We want them to understand on a deeper level and to empathize and feel what the children and/or the family goes through and then to look at what's being done about it, or what can be done about it."
Thompson travels across the state recording interviews, then produces the series in his Salina home. He sends the reports to KANU electronically, and he also maintains the series' Web site, www.kansaskidshealth.org.
The reports, which usually run about 8 minutes, are broadcast on eight public and two commercial stations in Kansas. They air locally on KANU at 6:40 a.m. and 8:40 a.m. Mondays.
So far, Thompson's favorite reports include:
l A Lawrence father talking about his son's suicide.
l A boy at Camp Hope, a retreat for cancer patients, talking about doctors' plans to amputate half his leg and reconstruct his knee using his foot and ankle.
l Boys in Wichita discussing their habit of inhaling gasoline fumes.
l A Kansas City, Kan., father talking about the struggles of having two autistic children.
One of the biggest issues for Kansas children that needs to be addressed, Thompson said, is dental care. Though many children have Medicaid, most dentists do not accept the coverage.
Several organizations also have shown their approval of the "Kansas Kids" series with awards. Last year, it received second place in the "Best Series" category from Public Radio News Directors Inc.
Thompson received the Tony Jewell Award from the Kansas Association of Broadcasters. The award honors contributions in the field of alcohol and drug abuse prevention.
The Kansas Health Foundation also is singing its praises.
"We're just very excited about Bryan's program," said Tami Bradley, the foundation's vice president for communication. "We hope people are listening and paying attention."
The series is part of a statewide children's health initiative. Unlike other segments of the project such as the "Take a second, make a difference" media campaign that are targeted at the general public, the KANU series targets "decision-makers and leaders," Bradley said.
Health foundation officials will re-evaluate the series in October when the current grant expires. Bradley said she hopes to find other funding sources to assist in the program.
The Health Foundation recently approved a $100,000 grant that will fund the series through October. It will help fund additional years if KANU can secure additional sponsors.
Thompson said he sees no end in sight for the project.
"I haven't yet seen a point where we run out of things to talk about," Thompson said. "There are so many things going on. We've taken general looks at certain problems. But sometimes the best stories are when you take a very narrow look at a very specific situation, and I haven't done that a lot yet. I have a ton of things to write about."