CLEVELAND: Even before Dr. Maria Siemionow received approval to perform the world's first face transplant, the media relations team at the Cleveland Clinic had been working side by side with the medical center's Institutional Review Board.
Eileen Sheil, senior director of media and PR, noted that she met with the board to begin discussing a media strategy even before it made its decision.
The review board is the first worldwide to give the go-ahead to the controversial procedure. Dr. Siemionow will begin interviewing potential patients in the next few weeks.
The PR team is helping with the effort to educate both potential patients and the public, but Sheil is careful to stress that the clinic isn't soliciting volunteers.
"We're not in a race to get this surgery done; we're not trying to recruit patients," she said.
Sheil's team first began working on a story last year with a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter. On an embargoed basis, they educated him on the research and protocols behind the procedure.
After the story ran, the PR team was able to direct reporters to it, and confirm key facts.
"Any time there's a piece that hits, it generates a lot of attention," Sheil said, adding that the team is currently filtering through 200 media calls.
Sheil noted that most media questions so far have been simple, and her team has been able to answer them directly. They've also arranged physician interviews on a case-by-case basis.
The clinic is handling PR in-house and is not working with an agency, Sheil added.
The procedure raises many thorny ethical issues, and patient privacy is no small concern.
"We've been clear with the media that the patient will dictate [how much information is released]," Sheil said. "If we do identify a patient and the patient doesn't want any information released, that's where it ends."
She declined to disclose the specific tactics the clinic will take to ensure patient privacy.