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What Was Up With That? Columnist looks back at memorable people of 2022

Science fiction-like ear surgery, the Galloping Gourmet, and more — choosing the top stories of the year is like choosing a favorite child.

EVERETT — It has been a good year of trespassing into strangers’ lives.

What’s up with that?

This weekly column lets me go places I normally couldn’t go, ask nosy questions and meet people out of my orbit.

When the big editor asked me to select my top five favorite What’s Up With Thats of 2022, it was like choosing a favorite child. I have four kids, and all are my favorites except when they’re not.

So I picked five stories from different parts of the county:

A medical couple in Mukilteo who goes on mission trips to create ears for children born without them. A retired TV chef galloping and gourmeting in Stanwood. A Monroe woman who uses a flagpole to tell her transgender journey. Joel, just one of the guys in an orange hardhat at the Everett dump. And a teriyaki trailblazer in Mill Creek who took six months to pin down, but it was worth every bite.

Dr. Prabhat Bhama performs surgery on a child with microtia in a Guatemalan hospital with a team of New York-based HUGS foundation medical volunteers in 2016. Bhama is a facial plastic surgeon at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. His wife, Trish, is an nurse practitioner with experience in general surgery and aesthetics. They are part of a nationwide HUGS team working together for a week in Antigua to provide free reconstructive ear surgery to children, many who travel for miles and wait days for a chance at a surgery they would otherwise not get. (HUGS)

Dr. Prabhat Bhama performs surgery on a child with microtia in a Guatemalan hospital with a team of New York-based HUGS foundation medical volunteers in 2016. Bhama is a facial plastic surgeon at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. His wife, Trish, is an nurse practitioner with experience in general surgery and aesthetics. They are part of a nationwide HUGS team working together for a week in Antigua to provide free reconstructive ear surgery to children, many who travel for miles and wait days for a chance at a surgery they would otherwise not get. (HUGS)

“All ears: Mukilteo couple provides surgery for kids born without ears (Sept. 27)

Ears are a big deal, especially if you are born without one.

I’d never heard of microtia, a condition where children have missing or deformed ears. Have you?

Dr. Prabhat Bhama, a Providence Medical Group facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon, and his wife, Trish, a nurse practitioner, go to Guatemala on annual volunteer missions to make ears with the HUGS Foundation.

The new ear is constructed from pieces of the child’s rib cartilage in a surgery that takes about five hours.

“It’s one of the most complicated surgeries in plastic surgery,” Prabhat said. Few, if any, children from Guatemalan villages would get the surgery if not for the HUGS team.

The team did more than 30 microtia surgeries on the mission this year.

The surgery sounds like science fiction. With the child under general anesthetic, the surgeon removes rib cartilage, which is living tissue, and carves a new ear structure using the template of a normal ear as a guide. The new ear is positioned under the scalp to live and grow with the child. The following year, a second operation lifts the ear above the skin like a typical ear.

Prabhat said children with microtia are often bullied and ostracized by their peers. Reconstruction is life-changing all around.

“When I see those kids come out and their parents are crying, it makes me feel emotional about what I do,” he said. “It’s why we went into medicine.”

Melissa Batson unfurls a Groundhog Day flag designed by her niece on May 11, 2022, at her home in Monroe. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Melissa Batson unfurls a Groundhog Day flag designed by her niece on May 11, 2022, at her home in Monroe. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Flags tell Monroe woman’s transgender journey — and more” (May 24)

Scrolling through Facebook when I should have been working led to Melissa Batson.

I got hooked on View From My Window, a global Facebook page started in the pandemic for people trapped at home to share a single photo from their window. It had over 3 million followers as mesmerized as I was. Some were right in our back yard.

Melissa’s photo was a simple shot of her snowy front yard with a flagpole on a private lane outside of town.

Turns out there was more to that flagpole.

She began using flags to tell her story as a transgender woman. The flag series expanded as a way to share her love of history.

She writes a post on her personal Facebook page to go with each flag photo.

At times, it’s a lesson about NASA, the United Nations, the Choctaw Nation, or South Korea, where she was assigned in the Army.

Other times, it’s about her struggles.

“It started out as a way to tell my story, then morphed into me looking into things that were interesting to me and telling my friends and family about,” she said. “So I got 75 flags, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”

“At 88, TV chef ‘Galloping Gourmet’ still sizzles with the ladies” (Oct. 4)

Graham Kerr is, was and always will be “The Galloping Gourmet.”

Episodes of his TV show began with oh-so-handsome Graham jumping over a chair, followed by cheeky monologue in that dreamy British accent of his. He prepared a dish, swirling wine and witty lines in front of a live audience.

Graham, who was born in England to Scottish parents, was as much stand-up comedian as chef. The show ended in the early 1970s when he and his wife, Treena, were in a serious car crash.

They moved to Washington state in 1981 and later lived in Skagit County. After Treena died, he moved to an apartment at the Warm Beach Retirement Community in 2019.

He starts his day with purple porridge, a hot goo of oats, nuts and berries, topped with a “little secret.”

That secret: sugar-free hazelnut coffee creamer.

“It’s gorgeous,” he said. “It’s almost lust.”

Before bed, he has a purple porridge chaser.

“I’ve done 1,800 TV programs and probably 4,000-odd radio programs and written 30 cookbooks and here I am finishing off my days with such a simple thing and being completely satisfied by it,” he said. “Isn’t that ridiculous?”

We met up with Graham when he spoke at a Marysville retirement center to an audience of 60 women and a few men. He didn’t flirt, per se, but the guy sure exudes charm.

After that, I made excuses to call him three times for the story. Each time was such a treat.

Now I’ll have to call him again.

Toshihiro Kasahara works the grill on Jan. 26, 2022, at Toshi’s Teriyaki in Mill Creek. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Toshihiro Kasahara works the grill on Jan. 26, 2022, at Toshi’s Teriyaki in Mill Creek. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“Teriyaki trailblazer: Mill Creek’s Toshi created our regional dish” (Feb. 8)

It took six months of prodding for Toshi Kasahara to agree to a Daily Herald story about him. His reason was that he’s busy enough just keeping up with his regular customers at Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill, where everything is cooked to order.

(To steal a line from Graham Kerr, the sauce is “gorgeous … almost lust.”)

Toshi is the guy often credited for making teriyaki the iconic fast food of Seattle.

He opened Toshi’s Teriyaki in 1976 near Seattle Center with a menu of five items. A plate of chicken teriyaki was $1.85 and the chicken-beef combo, $2.10. Over the years, he’d sell a shop and reopen another, mainly in King County. He also sold about a dozen independent franchises.

Since 2013, he has carried on his char-grilled legacy in a tiny takeout in Mill Creek at 16212 Bothell Everett Highway. He speaks softly, smiles demurely and moves with a blurry whirl of precision. While juggling multiple orders, he instinctively knows without looking when it’s time to stir, flip, chop or box up.

Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill is tucked behind an unpretentious doorway in a strip plaza across the parking lot from Safeway.

Many people don’t know it’s there. Those who do keep coming back.

I’m heading there now.

Joel Christensen, donning a hardhat gifted to him from employees at the Airport Road Transfer Station, tosses old newspapers away with the guidance of his grandfather on Aug. 4, 2022, in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Joel Christensen, donning a hardhat gifted to him from employees at the Airport Road Transfer Station, tosses old newspapers away with the guidance of his grandfather on Aug. 4, 2022, in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“At the dump, Joel is just one of the guys in an orange hardhat” (Aug. 30)

This column was the most asked “How did you find out about him?” story.

It was also the most touching, based on reader response.

For most people, a trip to the dump is a noisy, stinky, unpleasant task.

For Joel Christensen, it’s bliss.

Joel, 24, was born with Infantile Refsum disease, a rare metabolic condition affecting his physical and neurological development. He is blind and nearly deaf.

His other sensory systems come alive on the tipping floor at the Snohomish County Airport Road Recycling & Transfer Station. He feels the vibrations of heavy equipment clanking and beeping across the immense garbage pit. It’s the demolition derby of trash.

The biweekly trips to the transfer station are with his father and grandfather.

Workers noticed Joel’s joy when he came to the station. They gave him his own orange hard hat, just like the ones they wear.

“We made him an honorary member of the team,” said Shintaro Ishikawa, an employee who drives one of those clamoring machines in the pit.

Joel high-fives him and other workers.

“Most of the time people don’t want to high-five the person working in garbage,” Shintaro said.

Julie Kuntz, a county Public Works spokesperson, told us about Joel. That’s how I found out about him.

Is there a person, place or thing making you wonder “What’s Up With That?” Contact reporter Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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