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More than 1,300 people have signed a petition created by Austin Music Hall of Famer Sara Hickman to preserve and display two 53-year-old murals that are about to be walled off, sealed from public view after decades on the hallway walls of a medical office building.
"THAT can NOT HAPPEN!!!" singer-songwriter and artist Hickman wrote in an impassioned post on her Facebook page last month.
The post touched off a social-media movement that caught the attention of city officials, art and architecture preservationists, the media and the building's Chicago-based owner, Lillibridge Healthcare Systems.
Affixed to the walls of Medical Park Tower on W. 38th street in 1967, the 29-foot-by-9-foot murals, a two-piece work called "The Origins of Medicine," were painted on canvas by Mexican artist Rafael Navarro Barajas, who was commissioned by the building's designers.
The murals underwent a restoration in the late 1980s.
Because they can't be removed from the walls without being destroyed, Lillibridge currently plans to surround them with new walls and keep the records, according to media reports. A rendering of the new designs, posted near the mural, is labeled "upgrades."
Calls and emails to Lillibridge from Austonia for comment were not returned.
Memories and history
In addition to their cultural significance, the murals are also ingrained in the memories of locals who spent their childhoods walking past the enormous, whimsical artwork on their way to pediatricians' offices, and then later family physicians, in the long-standing tower at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin.
"OMG they are so much a part of my childhood," one commenter wrote on Hickman's Aug. 14 post. "Dad used to work in that building."
Wrote another: "Over the last 3 years I've been to Medical Park Tower a million times. One day I met a man who went there often just to gaze at the mural. I found that pretty amazing."
Owners have said publicly that the murals, both of which depict the same piece, did not fit in with new renovation designs planned for the tower and would be "encapsulated" to protect them.
"Each single canvas is adhered to the wall it is mounted upon, and we have been advised there is a very high risk that any attempt to remove the paintings will result in significant damage to the paintings," Lillibridge spokesman Louise Adhikari told the Austin American-Statesman.
Display or remove
But supporters of the murals object to covering them up where they can't be monitored, leaving them susceptible to damage by leaks, rodents and bugs.
Ideally, they say, the murals would be left as part of the history and decor of the building- and the new renovations redesigned to include them.
"The 1967 artwork is irreplaceable and from the aspect of creating a sense of place... which is what every real estate owner wants or should want," a Facebook commenter said. "The current art is amazing and the rendering of the future space is just plain vanilla. Doesn't make sense from any perspective.... unless you just want to destroy art, culture and a unique space."
Lillibridge so far has rejected that option but has said they would allow the walls themselves to be removed if they could find someone to do it before the renovation gets to that stage of construction.
The company has not released a timeline for that particular portion of the construction, however, giving advocates an uncertain deadline for the project. So far no plan has been announced for the murals' removal.
Hickman discovered the new plans when she went to the tower for a routine appointment and saw a photo of the bright, minimalist new hallway design posted next to them.
"No matter what," she posted, "PLEASE do NOT let these beautiful artworks be destroyed!!!"
As it often does when such things are on the line, social media stepped up, and Hickman's followers shared her announcement more than 100 times. The petition had garnered more than 1,300 signatures early by early Tuesday.
"There were literally so many posts from y'all, I haven't gotten through all of them!" Hickman wrote on Facebook. "Please know that YOUR PART of this is essential and together---all of us---we will make sure the murals are preserved for future generations to continue to enjoy."
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17 years and three medals later, Osterman's last ride with USA softball is over. What's next for Cat?
Nearly two decades after her debut with the University of Texas and 17 years after her first Olympic gold, softball icon Cat Osterman stepped off the Olympic pitcher's mound for the last time with a silver medal to take back home.
Osterman, a three-time Olympian who has been called the "Michael Jordan of softball," will officially retire from the international realm at 38 after a decorated career that included Olympic golds, years of retirement and plenty of adversity—from a worldwide pandemic to dashed gold-medal dreams.
Osterman and her crew left Tokyo on a bittersweet note on Tuesday with a silver medal in hand.
Osterman with Team USA in 2008. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
Osterman in the final in 2021. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
After a year of sparse in-person training and over a decadelong hiatus, Team USA and Osterman flew to the finals. In five games, the team beat Italy (2-0), Canada (1-0), Mexico (2-0), Australia (2-1), and Japan (2-1).
Deja vu struck in the final match. On one side, Osterman and fellow 2008 Olympic teammate Monica Abbott took the mound; on the other was the 39-year-old Yukiko Ueno, a familiar foe who helped the team beat Team USA last go-round.
"Just like 13 years ago," Ueno said in a press conference, "we were facing each other in the final."
Ueno, who had lost hopes at gold to Osterman in '04, outpitched her longtime opponent with six scoreless innings as Team USA was held to just three hits. The same team that squandered their gold-medal hopes 13 years before had done it once again.
Your Tokyo 2020 Olympic Silver Medalists 🇺🇸#TokyoOlympics | @TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/MOMNOedHUd
— USA Softball Women's National Team 🇺🇸 (@USASoftballWNT) July 27, 2021
"There's a little bit of disappointment in not bringing home the gold since that's the eye on the prize when you go over there and you know you have a shot at it," Osterman told Austonia. "But more than anything, I'm very proud of the way our team handled everything that was part of this journey and not just the six games."
It's that very loss at the 2008 Olympics that partially motivated Osterman to get back on the mound. She officially put down the glove in 2015 after six seasons with the USSSA Pride, took time with family and began coaching at Texas State University.
Osterman helped ace Randi Rupp to greatness while a coach at Texas State University. (Active Voice Health/Twitter)
She thought her Olympic endeavors were well over—until talks of reinstating softball into the Games reentered the conversation.
"It wasn't until 2016 or 2017, that it ever crossed my mind to possibly put the USA uniform on again," Osterman said. "After the World Championships in 2010, I walked away, and I thought that my career on the international stage was done. So this was a pleasant kind of new opportunity."
Three years after facing any competition, Osterman was on the field once more with world-class athletes. Some, like Osterman and Abbott, had been playing together long enough to form a formidable "Fire and Ice" duo on the mound. Others had just graduated college.
Osterman said playing with a younger generation of athletes was one of the most rewarding aspects of this year's Games.
"It can be very different when you have 24- and 38-year-olds on the same field," Osterman said. "The adversity put us in some challenging positions and we came through with flying colors. And this group will forever be special just because what we had to go through is so different."
While on the mound, Osterman's job was to give the team a calm start. Off of the field, she felt her role had much of the same effect: she knew that new Olympic feeling, and she served as a deep breath to her first-time teammates.
"There's no words to explain how nervous and excited you get knowing that the whole world can be watching," Osterman. "I think using those emotions and figuring out how to get all our butterflies lined up and going in the right direction, so that way we were all moving together, was kind of my role outside of pitching."
We've heard her retire once before, but this time Osterman said she's gone for good—even from coaching. After her final time with Team USA on Sept. 27, she plans on returning to Austin, where she'll look to work for a nonprofit.
A gold and two silvers will have to do for one of the most decorated athletes in U.S. softball history.
"To be able to say you're a three-time Olympic medalist is a pretty special deal, right?" Osterman. "I played for a long time. But those are the pinnacle, in my mind, and kind of what elicits the dream to keep playing."
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Hospitals are facing a "significant" increase in admissions of pregnant women due to COVID-19 complications, Austin-Travis County health officials say, revealing what could be a long-term side effect of the virus.
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes met with three maternal medicine specialists on Monday morning to warn of yet another COVID-19 Delta variant concern: severe cases of the disease affecting unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
The doctors said unvaccinated pregnant women face an increased risk of preterm births, long-term effects, preeclampsia, ICU stays, stillbirths, being put on life support and even death if they are unvaccinated.
"We are really concerned that we are not getting that population of folks to hear this message of the safety of vaccines, so today we're assembled, one and all to say, wear a mask and please get vaccinated," Walkes said. "Vaccinations are the way to prevent severe disease and hospitalizations and death."
Medical Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at St. David's Women's Center of Texas Dr. Kimberly DeStefano said 95% of pregnant women admitted with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, stressing that all pregnant and lactating women should get the vaccine not only to protect themselves but to protect their babies from infection, which can be passed through breastmilk or birth.
"We know that the earlier in pregnancy you are vaccinated, the more antibodies are present at the time of birth for the infant," DeStefano said. "This is something that's very important, both during the pregnancy and postpartum."
Catching COVID-19 while pregnant can cause adverse effects on the baby, particularly because it increases the risk of preterm births. Baylor Scott & White Maternal Obstetrics Chief of Maternal Medicine Dr. Jessica Ehrig, said that preterm births are one of the "biggest impacts" on childhood development.
"We know that (preterm births) can have long-term effects depending on how early a baby's born," Ehrig said. "It increases the risk for long term respiratory issues, for blindness sometimes (and) for neurologic development delays."
Since mid-July, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on a steep rise that sent the city back to recommending Stage 4 guidelines. As the seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations surpassed 50 admissions, Stage 5 guidelines could be on the horizon. The city reported 54 new admissions and 546 total new cases on Friday.
Delta is more contagious than chickenpox, Walkes said, and even vaccinated individuals can catch and spread the virus without symptoms. The group of doctors asked everyone, especially pregnant women, to mask while in public as local hospitals pass the Stage 5 threshold.
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