By Pamela Ferdinand
Taking the Lead
A medical reporter doesn’t let a cancer diagnosis stand in her way
By Pamela Ferdinand
Photographs by Paul D'Amato
It’s time to tango and the competition is hot at the 2008 “Dancing With Chicago Celebrities”—an annual charity ball to benefit breast cancer research. As the beat begins, a professional dance instructor, his black shirt unbuttoned, emerges from the wings. With a dramatic flourish, he pulls a scarlet cloth up and away from a mysterious figure crouched on the dance floor, revealing a woman in a shiny silver halter top, strappy high heels, and a thigh-baring, flouncy red skirt. Dina Bair—an award-winning broadcast journalist at WGN-TV News in Chicago, who is familiar to viewers more for her health care reporting than her boleo—stands up and clasps her partner’s hand. She twirls into his arms. Together they dance with swiveling hips and high kicks, taking the championship.
Few in the crowd could have guessed that prior to the competition, Bair didn’t even know how to dance. But undoubtedly many did know that she has a reputation for not shying away from a challenge. She learned how to swim so that she could enter a triathlon. She shared with television viewers her thrilling rides in an F-16 fighter jet (for a story on the physical demands of pilots) and in a V-22 Osprey Hybrid military troop transport aircraft (for a story on how Marines get supplies in combat zones). She ran up 94 floors of the John Hancock Center in less than 19 minutes during an event to benefit the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. And last year for the same charity, she took a skyline plunge off the roof of a city hotel and rappelled down 27 stories.
Added to that, this mom of four—who also gives Sunday communion as a Eucharistic minister—runs, boxes, lifts weights, and kayaks.
“She doesn’t feel like there’s anything that she can’t conquer or be,” says Lou Kleinberg, Bair’s husband of 16 years. “She is one of the strongest and smartest people I know.”
Katharin Czink, a medical producer at WGN-TV News, who has been Bair’s friend and colleague for nearly a decade, agrees.
“There is no doubt Dina is and always has been driven. But when it comes to physical tests of endurance, strength and speed, she is off the charts,” Czink says. “Would I say Dina is fearless? No. Because I think fear is an emotion that motivates her. She’s acutely aware of her own mortality, which is why she doesn’t let much stand in her way.”
Her spirit and determination have made Bair, 42, a success. She is a dogged, compassionate reporter (and principal back-up anchor) known for the thoroughness and accuracy of her “Medical Watch” segments on WGN-TV News. She has won five Emmy Awards, a Peter Lisagor Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and multiple Associated Press awards, among others. And, as she has let her audience know, she is a cancer survivor.