Tormented first by hiccups, now by media
Shows are circling Jennifer Mee, vying for a part of her story.
By MARY JANE PARK
Published February 20, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - The notes under the door. The incessant phone calls. The impassioned pleas, all begging for a piece of the story.
It wasn't reporters in search of secret intelligence involving the war in Iraq.
The subject: St. Petersburg's Jennifer Mee, a 15-year-old who started hiccuping four weeks ago today and has yet to stop.
The competition for her story became so frenzied over the weekend that NBC's Today show changed Jennifer and her mother's New York hotel after another network's exhaustive attempts to get an interview.
"You really never know what is going to gain that sort of attention," said John Trevena, a Largo lawyer who has represented some high-profile clients. "It seems once it starts, it spreads like wildfire. It becomes very exhausting for all involved."
Representatives from ABC's Good Morning America called Jennifer's home 57 times on Sunday and slipped notes under her hotel room door, her family said.
"They kind of made me feel guilty," Jennifer's mother, Rachel Robidoux, said Monday. "But I felt it wasn't right to ditch the Today show."
NBC paid to fly Jennifer and her mother to New York City and put them in a hotel for four days.
It was Jennifer's first time in New York, and she and her mother were amazed at how much things cost: $17 for two packs of cigarettes (for Robidoux), $65 for a french manicure for Jennifer, and even more for the hotel to wash their clothes. "$257 for a load of laundry," said Robidoux, who waits tables at a Denny's in St. Petersburg. NBC picked up that tab, too.
On Monday, Jennifer and her mother did another interview with Today and one with Inside Edition before flying home.
Waiting for her were calls from the Ellen DeGeneres Show, and television stations from as far away as Canada and Britain.
The Northeast High School freshman, whose family does not own a computer, can now be seen hiccuping on YouTube. Bloggers refer to her as the "hiccup girl," and people worldwide have suggested cures. A Google search for "Jennifer Mee" and "hiccups" brought up 10 pages of Web sites.
It's all a bit overwhelming.
Jennifer has school to think about. Her mom, the family's chief wage earner, has to get back to work. She and her husband, their five daughters and his brother rent a two-bedroom home in north St. Petersburg.
"We went to the media for one reason only, but now I just feel like she is being used," Jennifer's stepfather, Chris Robidoux said about reaching out for help.
"She's not for sale. She's a human being."
While Jennifer has enjoyed being a celebrity, she's tired. The hiccups hurt.
When she got back Monday, the first thing she said she wanted to do was visit her friend, Ashley, whom "I haven't seen in a million years."
During her second Today appearance Monday, Jennifer thanked everyone who suggested remedies, even though none worked.
Doctors in St. Petersburg and New York may have identified a couple of physical causes for the spasms, her mother said. Jennifer recently had strep throat, and an MRI showed a vertebra compression.
For now, the family is considering chiropractic and acupuncture treatments.
Times researchers Caryn Baird and Cathy Wos contributed to this report.