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Before Your Eyes a Heart for Olivia

Narrator, Adam Arkin.

Narrator, Adam Arkin.

Last June, the 5-months-pregnant Sherrie Maize learned that her unborn daughter, whom she and husband Lonnie had already named Olivia, had a heart defect that would prove fatal shortly after birth. “A Heart for Olivia” is a powerful documentary as writer/director Jonathan Klein’s cameras follow the life-or-death, ultimately successful quest for a heart donor and the first weeks in the endangered life of Baby Olivia.

Viewers hooked on this season’s medical fictions “ER” and “Chicago Hope” may fault Baby Olivia’s story for its relative lack of duelling scalpels and other forms of high-tension surgical hijinks. (“Chicago Hope’s” Adam Arkin’s narration speeds the action along at times.)

As compensation, “Olivia’s” cameras stay close to the true-to-life struggle of parents Sherrie and Lonnie Maize.

Viewers tune in on the prayers of the Maizes’ neighbors in the Smoky Mountain town of Murphy, N.C., who raise the money to send them to the University Medical Center at Loma Linda, Calif., where surgeon Leonard Bailey has virtually invented the technique of infant heart transplant; and to the saintly generosity of the donors, a Washington State couple whose baby has been born brain-dead.

There are no professional actors, no re-creations or re-enactments. The characters speak for themselves, not without an occasional touch of self-consciousness at the presence of microphones and cameras. You might wonder what prompts a perfectly ordinary, immensely likable couple to invite a camera crew into their lives to follow their months-long agony. Ultimately, you have to be glad that they did.

The two-hour program is the second in CBS News’ occasional series, “Before Your Eyes,” of national-interest stories. The first, “Kristin Is Missing,” dealing with runaway teenagers, aired last May.

Before Your Eyes a Heart for Olivia

(Tues. (17), 9-11 p.m., CBS)

Production: Filmed in Murphy, N.C., Loma Linda, Calif., and Spokane, Wash., by CBS News. Executive producer/director/writer, Jonathan Klein; editor/co-producer, Rob Klug.

Crew: Camera, Ben McCoy, Bob Brandon, Darrell Barton; sound, Steven Lederer, Steven Roseboom, Carl Franson, Victor Miller; music/sound design, Richard Fiocca; design, Anne Cadel.

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