National Geographic brings K-State alums to the small screen in ‘The Hot Zone’

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Executive producers Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson joined original main characters of the true story "The Hot Zone" Nancy and Jerry Jaax for a panel discussion after an advanced showing of the first episode on Tuesday, May 7. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Based on the nonfiction bestseller by Richard Preston, the National Geographic limited series “The Hot Zone” tells the story of two Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine alumni, Nancy and Jerry Jaax, and their involvement when Ebola arrived on U.S. soil in 1989.

Nancy and Jerry Jaax were joined by writers and executive producers, Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders, for a brief panel discussion regarding the limited series after the screening of the first episode in Forum Hall on Tuesday night.

Peterson and Souders said they enjoyed making the series because of their appreciation for the work the Jaax’s did during the Ebola outbreak.

“Learning about how the Jaax’s and other people put their lives on the line, that was just a thrill in general for us to write about,” Souders said.

Nancy and Jerry Jaax graduated with veterinary medicine degrees and soon after served in medical defense with the U.S. Army which led them to experience the events relayed in the series.

“What you guys saw as just daily work was to us just incredible,” Peterson said.

Lt. Col. Nancy Jaax is played by the star of TV drama “The Good Wife,” Julianna Margulies.

Nancy said she had mixed feelings seeing the limited series for the first time in Forum Hall.

“It’s a little surreal, seeing a person in the uniform with my name on it,” Nancy said.

The series depicts the Jaaxs’ characters without being too “Hollywood” or dramatic.

“From my personal perspective, we have always been on a team and this was portrayed well through the film,” Jerry said.

Coraima Yanez, senior in life sciences, read the book before the premiere and found the series to be very relatable to the novel.

“I liked how it seemed as though the film captured the natural essence of the characters as well as the general science of the novel very realistically throughout the movie,” Yanez said.

During the Jaaxs’ time at K-State, Nancy had the largest female graduating class at the time from the College of Veterinary Medicine with just eight woman. The Jaax’s served in the U.S. army at a time of inequality.

“It’s inspiring to see a woman at that time, like Nancy Jaax, break barriers and do so many impactful things,” Yanez said.

The book has influenced people of all ages in a countless amount of ways.

“Richard Preston was able to write a book about science that left a fifth grader interested,” Jerry said. “[The fifth grader] then wrote us a letter saying he wants to be a microbiologist. Now that is a true gift.”

Mariah Hegemann, sophomore in elementary education, said she has always had a passion for science and couldn’t wait to see the correlating series.

“I absolutely loved the book and totally wish I could be a scientist like the Jaaxs someday,” Hegemann said. “I can’t wait to see the rest of the series when it is released.”

The limited series will premiere on National Geographic Monday, May 27 at 8 p.m. and will continue over a three night period.

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