NPR: Joseph Shapiro

Joseph Shapiro is a NPR News Investigations correspondent.

In this role, Shapiro takes on long-term reporting projects and covers breaking news stories for NPR's news shows.

Shapiro's major investigative stories include his reports on the failure of colleges and universities to punish for on-campus sexual assaults; the inadequacy of civil rights laws designed to get the elderly and people with disabilities out of nursing homes, and the little-known profits involved in the production of medical products from donated human cadavers.

His reporting has generated wide-spread attention to serious issues here and abroad. His "Child Cases" series, reported with PBS Frontline and ProPublica, found two dozen cases in the U.S. and Canada where parents and caregivers were charged with killing children, but the charges were later reversed or dropped. Since that series, a Texas man who was the focus of one story was released from prison. And in California, a woman, who was the subject of another story, had her sentence commuted.

Shapiro joined NPR in November 2001 and spent eight years covering health, aging, disability and children's and family issues on the Science Desk. He reported on the health issues of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and helped start NPR's 2005 Impact of War series with reporting from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center. He covered stories from Hurricane Katrina to the debate over overhauling the nation's health care system.

Before coming to NPR, Shapiro spent 19 years at U.S. News & World Report, as a Senior Writer on social policy and served as the magazine's Rome bureau chief, White House correspondent and congressional reporter.

Among honors for his investigative journalism, Shapiro has received a Peabody Award, a Robert F. Kennedy Award, the Edward R. Murrow Award, Sigma Delta Chi, IRE, Dart and Gracie awards and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Award.

Shapiro is the author of the award-winning NO PITY: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement (Random House/Three Rivers Press), which is widely read in disability studies classes.

Shapiro studied long-term care and end-of-life issues as a participant in the yearlong 1997 Kaiser Media Fellowship in Health program. In 1990, he explored the changing world of people with disabilities as an Alicia Patterson Foundation fellow.

Shapiro attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Carleton College. He's a native of Washington, D.C., and lives there now with his family.



Wed July 18, 2012
Human Tissue Donation

Little Regulation Poses Problems Tracking Tissue

Originally published on Wed July 18, 2012 9:16 pm

Unlike organs, tissue doesn't need to be transplanted immediately. Storage facilities like Tissue Banks International in San Rafael, Calif., process and store donated tissue for later use in medical products or as transplants.
Noah Berger AP

Part 2 of a four-part series

Two winters ago, Lynnette Bellin tore her knee while skiing with her 5-year-old daughter.

"I felt the trademark pop ... and instantly knew I had injured my knee," she says.

But within a year, she was back to her athletic life.

"Recently in one week, I skied, ran, kayaked, standup paddle-boarded, swam and hiked. At the end of that week, I looked back in awe from where I have come from," she says.

Bellin healed quickly after receiving a tendon from a cadaver, which helped to repair her torn ACL.

Read more


Tue July 17, 2012
NPR News Investigations

Calculating The Value Of Human Tissue Donation

Originally published on Wed July 18, 2012 9:11 pm

Chris Truitt holds a photo of his daughter, Alyssa, who died when she was 2, at his home in De Forest Wis. After donating her organs and tissues, he decided on a career change that made him rethink tissue donation.
Narayan Mahon for NPR

Part 1 of a four-part series

The story of how Chris Truitt went from being a tissue industry insider to an industry skeptic starts with a family tragedy.

In 1999, his 2-year-old daughter, Alyssa, died of a sudden health complication. Truitt and his wife, Holly, donated their daughter's organs and tissue, which saved the life of another young girl, Kaylin Arrowood.

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Wed July 4, 2012

Baseball's Teen Phenom Steals Home, And Hearts

Originally published on Wed July 4, 2012 4:03 pm

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper walks out of the clubhouse before an interleague baseball game in Baltimore.
Patrick Semansky AP

Bryce Harper was 16 when he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, pictured swinging a bat in the desert and declared "Baseball's Chosen One."

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Wed June 13, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Disabled Woman Dies While Awaiting Second Chance At Kidney Transplant

Misty Cargill and her boyfriend, Mike Bishop, in 2006.
Duncan Group Homes

At Misty Cargill's funeral, the minister called her an advocate for other people with intellectual disabilities. She was — although a reluctant one.

Cargill became an advocate when NPR did a story about her fight to get a life-saving kidney transplant. Misty, 30, died in her sleep on Saturday. She was on a list to get that transplant when she died.

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Mon May 21, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Katie Beckett Defied The Odds, Helped Other Disabled Kids Live Longer

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:46 am

Katie Beckett fits herself with a vibrating vest that helps clear mucous from her lungs. A nurse comes over to her apartment in Cedar Rapids to help her do this twice a day. On the wall to the right are pictures of Katie as a child with Ronald Reagan. This story starts twenty-nine years ago with an angry President Ronald Reagan. <> We just recently received word of a little girl who has spent most of her life in a hospital. <> The little girl in the hospital was three-year-old Katie Beckett. Because of a brain infection, she needed to be hooked to a ventilator at night to breathe. Her parents wanted her home. Her doctors said she'd be better off at home. And it'd be cheaper, too: Just one-sixth the cost.
John Poole NPR

A few years ago, I asked a 13-year-old girl who was receiving care for cystic fibrosis on a Medicaid program known as the "Katie Beckett waiver" if she knew who Katie Beckett was. "Probably some kind of doctor," the girl said.

It was a logical guess. But Beckett was another child with a significant disability, and she changed health care policy for hundreds of thousands of other children with complex medical needs. On Friday, Beckett, at age 34, died in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, of complications from her disability.

Read more


Tue April 17, 2012
The Two-Way

Prosecutors Knew Of Forensics Flaws For Years, 'The Post' Reports

Originally published on Tue April 17, 2012 6:27 pm

For years, the U.S. Department of Justice has known that flawed forensic work by FBI experts may have led to the convictions of innocent people, but prosecutors rarely told defendants or their attorneys, according to an investigative report in The Washington Post.

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Thu March 29, 2012
Post Mortem: Death Investigation In America

New Evidence In High-Profile Shaken Baby Case

Originally published on Tue April 17, 2012 4:31 pm

Shirley Ree Smith sits in the living room of her daughter's upstairs duplex in Alexandria, Minn. Smith is waiting to hear if California Gov. Jerry Brown will grant her clemency. "They say things happen for a reason. I'm not sure if I'll ever figure out a reason for all of this," she says.
Courtney Perry for NPR

A senior pathologist in the Los Angeles County coroner's office has sharply questioned the forensic evidence used to convict a 51-year-old woman of shaking her 7-week-old grandson to death, identifying a host of flaws in the case.

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Mon March 5, 2012
Post Mortem: Death Investigation In America

Free, But Not Cleared: Ernie Lopez Comes Home

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:58 am

Ernie Lopez hugs his daughter, Nikki Lopez, for the first time since 2009. Ernie was released from prison on March 2 in Amarillo, Texas, after nine years, while he awaits a new trial.
Katie Hayes Luke Katie Hayes Luke for NPR

Ernie Lopez calls it his "rebirth." After spending nearly nine years in prison for the sexual assault of a 6-month old girl, a top Texas court threw out the conviction. And on Friday, the 41-year-old Lopez walked out of the detention center in Amarillo, Texas, where family and friends were waiting.

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Fri February 24, 2012
The Two-Way

Remembering Marine Sgt. Oscar Canon, A 'Superstar'

Originally published on Fri February 24, 2012 12:45 pm

Marine Sgt. Oscar Canon, and the tattered hat he was wearing the day he was injured.
Joseph Shapiro NPR

After the explosion of the rocket-propelled grenade on a road in Fallujah, Oscar Canon saw the white of his own thigh bone. At the medical unit, the young Marine sergeant grabbed the doctor by his collar and yelled, "Don't cut off my f***ing leg." That was in October of 2004 and the first of dozens of surgeries — 72 separate operations, by a family member's count — that saved his leg.

Last week, Staff Sgt. Oscar Canon, 29, died. A Marine Corps spokesman at Camp Pendleton says the death is still being investigated.

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Thu January 26, 2012
The Two-Way

Judge Tosses Conviction Of Texas Man Accused Of Sexually Assaulting Infant

Originally published on Fri January 27, 2012 11:30 am

Ernie Lopez is serving a 60-year prison sentence for a crime he, and medical experts, say he didn't commit.
Courtesy of Frontline

A Texas man whose conviction for sexually assaulting a 6-month-old girl raised questions about the science behind determining how children die has won a key legal battle. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday threw out the conviction of Ernie Lopez, ruling that the Amarillo man's original attorneys failed him by not calling potentially important medical experts as witnesses.

Now the Amarillo district attorney must decide whether to retry Lopez, who has been in prison for nine years. Lopez is serving a 60-year sentence.

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Wed December 21, 2011

Calls For More Reporting Of Suspected Child Abuse

Originally published on Wed December 21, 2011 10:35 am

Students stand outside Penn State's Old Main building, protesting the handling of a child abuse scandal involving retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Gene J. Puskar AP

The revelations about alleged child sex abuse by a former Penn State football coach have caused policymakers to propose new measures to broaden who is required to report suspected abuse.

Each state already has laws that require some combination of doctors, teachers, day care providers and others who work with children to report suspected abuse. If they don't, they could face fines, the loss of a license, and, in some states, possibly jail time.

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Tue November 29, 2011
The Two-Way

Book Award Winner's Tale Echoes Those Told By Other Vietnamese Refugees

Thanhha Lai.
Courtesy of Harper Collins

Thanhha Lai was 10 years old the day in 1975 that North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon and fear spread through the city on rumors that Communist troops were about to begin a massacre. Lai recalls fleeing with her eight older siblings and her mother to the nearby port and boarding a crowded South Vietnamese Navy ship that then headed to sea.

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Mon July 18, 2011
Home Or Nursing Home

At 88, A Chance To Be Independent Again

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:39 am

For six years, Rosa Hendrix, 88, lived in the Parkview Manor Nursing Home in Atlanta. But she always wanted to go back to an apartment, like the one where she lived before she fell and needed physical therapy. Now she's moving to a new home.
All photos by Robin Nelson for NPR

As Rosa Hendrix puts it, she got "stuck" in a nursing home for six years. So when the 88-year-old woman was finally able to move out, she looked around her new one-bedroom apartment and had some stark things to say about what makes a home.

"A home means to me where you are not in prison. Where you don't have to have somebody to tell you what you can do, when you can do it and how you can do it," she says.

Read more


Fri July 1, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

Autopsy Study Provides New Theory On Shaken Baby Syndrome

Findings from a series of autopsies could alter the debate over the controversial diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome.

A new study suggests that babies can die by violent shaking alone — but not in the way doctors have previously thought.

A team of researchers who conducted autopsies on 35 babies in Miami, Dallas and Calgary, Alberta, report that when children die after being violently shaken, they die of neck injuries and not from brain trauma.

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Thu June 30, 2011
Post Mortem: Death Investigation in America

The Child Cases: Lessons From Canada

Tammy Marquardt, now 39, spent 14 years in prison for a crime she didn't commit.
Joseph Shapiro NPR

Medical and legal experts often disagree on how to determine the cause of a child's unexpected death. One result is that parents sometimes are wrongly accused of murder and sent to prison. No place has uncovered a bigger problem — or dealt with it more directly — than Ontario, Canada. That change can be seen in the arc of Tammy Marquardt's life.

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Tue June 28, 2011
NPR News Investigations

Flawed Child Death Probes Cause Wrongful Convictions

NPR News Investigations, ProPublica and PBS "Frontline" analyzed nearly two dozen cases in which people have been accused of killing children based on flawed work by forensic pathologists. Some of the accused were later cleared. Others are still in prison.


Tue June 28, 2011
Post Mortem: Death Investigation in America

The Child Cases: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Ernie Lopez is serving a 60-year prison sentence for a crime he, and medical experts, said he didn't commit.
Courtesy of Frontline

Her name was Isis Charm Vas and at 6 months old she was a slight child – fifth percentile in height and weight.

When the ambulance sped her to Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo on a Saturday morning in October 2000, doctors and nurses feared that someone had done something awful to her.

A constellation of bruises stretched across her pale skin. CT scans showed blood pooling on her brain and swelling. Blood was found in her vagina. The damage was so severe that her body's vital organs were shutting down.

Less than 24 hours later, Isis died.

Read more