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Friday
Dec152017

Santa delivers Christmas magic to babies in the NICU with special visit

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(FLINT, Mich.) -- More than 20 preemies in the NICU at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, got a magical visit from Santa ahead of the holidays.

“It’s really special because you can’t take your little guys or girls to see Santa,” Amy Sparks, a mom to twins who were born 10 weeks early, told ABC News. “I was really bummed we weren’t going to be able to do that and get their first Christmas holiday picture done with Santa. Then we came in and the NICU had arranged it and set up a time and everything. It was really special to know they care and they know it’s something that the parents need.”

It can be difficult for families to spend Christmas in the hospital with their baby, but Sparks said these little gestures were “really special.”

“It was great,” she said. “Santa was fantastic. He was the real deal Santa. He had a real long white beard and he had the character boots and the embroidery on his Santa suit was gorgeous.”

The hospital printed the photos of Santa with each child as a keepsake for the families.

“We want to show them we really care in the holiday season and want to make their day a little brighter,” said Rebecca Jensen, a marketing specialist for the hospital.

She said these small celebrations during the holidays “give them a little break from what could be a scary situation.”

“These are tough times. It’s so hard to have your child in the hospital,” said Jensen. “To be able to have a photo with Santa for their very first Christmas is very special. Our patients are No. 1 in everything we do. This is a beautiful, fun way to highlight that, and our staff loves it too.”

Hurley Medical Center has the only level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in a three-county region. It currently has 28 babies in the NICU, but Jensen said hospital staff cares for 800 to 1,000 babies each year who are born prematurely or with medical issues.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

'Life or death' insurance program for kids could lose funding in matter of months

ABC/Randy Holmes(NEW YORK) -- Comedian Jimmy Kimmel brought his 7-month-old son on stage for his monologue Monday night to draw attention to the de-funding of a "life or death" program that helps America's sick kids.

Kimmel first spoke about his son's heart condition after he was born to call attention to the importance of the Affordable Care Act, but Monday night's message was about a national program that hasn’t been center stage. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, provides health insurance for a huge segment of the American children, but it lost federal funding on Sept. 30. Congress has yet to reauthorize its funding, meaning that some of the families who depend on it could be cut off soon.

Kimmel blasted Congress for letting CHIP run out when so many Americans depend on it.

“Now CHIP has become a bargaining chip. It's on the back burner while they work out the new tax plans,” Kimmel said on his show. “Parents of children with cancer, diabetes and heart problems are about to get letters saying their coverage could be cut off next month. Merry Christmas, right?"

Kimmel added, “This is literally a life-and-death program for American kids.”

Despite its importance, CHIP is not exactly a household acronym. But Dr. Lee Beers, president of the DC chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the program is very important.

“In the scheme of our national budget, this is a very small piece,” Beers told ABC News. “But it is a small piece that has a tremendous impact on the lives and health of children.”

Ahead, here is what you need to know about the program.

What is CHIP?

CHIP is a program that funds health insurance for the children of working mothers (and pregnant mothers) who make too much money to be covered by Medicaid but earn too little to afford other insurance coverage. It was passed in 1997 under the Clinton administration and has enjoyed bipartisan support since its inception. In 2016, it covered 8.9 million children and pregnant mothers, according to government figures.

Why are people talking about CHIP?

Funding lapsed on Sept. 30 and has not been reauthorized by Congress; this is the longest lapse in funding in the program's history. Many states, including Virginia and Colorado, have had to notify residents that their insurance will be cut off soon, and that they should make contingency plans.

How much does CHIP cost taxpayers?

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that government contributions to CHIP totaled about $15.6 billion in 2016. By contrast, Medicare and Medicaid combined cost about $1.24 trillion –- about 80 times more, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

When analyzed by cost per beneficiary, CHIP costs about $1,750 per child or pregnant mother per year, while Medicare costs about $12,000 per person per year, according to CMS data.

What happens to women and children using CHIP if it isn’t renewed?

Most states expect to run out of funds in one to three months. Families that lose insurance have the option of buying individual insurance, which is prohibitively expensive for many of them. Access to the individual insurance marketplace has been restricted by legislative changes enacted by Congress.

If mothers obtain steady employment, they can sometimes get health insurance from their employer. The other option is to not buy any insurance and to hope that uncovered children do not require medical care. If a child does need expensive care, however, the out-of-pocket costs could be very high.

Why does CHIP matter?

It is crucial that children and pregnant mothers of all income levels be able to access medical care to stay healthy and prevent future illness. If CHIP doesn't receive the funding it needs, it could have serious consequences for working families, Beers said.

“In the U.S., children are insured at historically high rates, and CHIP funding is an important piece of that,” Beers said. “These families are facing a lot of uncertainty about their children’s health care coverage. Imagine you didn’t know what’s going to happen to your child’s insurance in one month. These are working families that don’t have any other options.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

Sweet dad shaves his head so daughter diagnosed with alopecia feels loved

Chelsea Sylvaria(PROVIDENCE, R.I.) -- After a Rhode Island dad heard that his 6-year-old daughter, who has alopecia, said she didn't love herself because she didn't have hair, he decided to show her how unimportant hair really is.

Dave Sylvaria's wife, Chelsea, told him last week about the troubling conversation she had with their oldest daughter, Riley.

Riley was diagnosed with alopecia, a disorder in which a person's immune system attacks the hair follicles, at just 15 months old, her mother told ABC News.

In a post on Facebook, Chelsea Sylvaria, 33, wrote, "Yesterday I was joking around with Riley and telling her everyone I loved."

"Riley then looked at me and went, 'And do you love yourself???' I immediately said, 'Of course I do, you always have to love yourself! Do you love yourself???' And she responded very softly, 'No,'" the Bristol, Rhode Island nurse continued.

Chelsea Sylvaria told ABC News she called her husband immediately to tell him what happened. And although they were about to head out to celebrate their wedding anniversary that night, Dave Sylvaria, 41, wanted to talk to his daughter about what she had said.

In a video that has since gone viral on Facebook with more than 500,000 views, Dave Sylvaria asked his daughter, "How come you feel that way, huh?...You shouldn't say things like that kiddo. You're a very special girl."

"Hair doesn't matter, OK?" he continued. "I love you the same no matter what."

On the fly, Dave Sylvaria asked Riley if she wanted him to shave his head. Immediately, she began smiling. The father then shaved off all of his hair as Riley Sylvaria smiled at his side.

The cruise ship captain told ABC News in a statement that he didn't put "a lot of thought" into offering to shave his head to cheer up his daughter.

"It was one of those moments as a parent, especially a parent with a child who has to deal with adversity for one reason or another, that you don’t think, you just do," he continued. "Words are a powerful thing but sometimes actions speak louder than words."

Dave Sylvaria said hearing that his eldest daughter didn't love herself was particularly hard on him.

"You never want to hear the words 'I don’t love myself' from your child, especially at 6 years old," he said. "I could tell she was sad, I could see that she needed reassurance and in that moment I knew that the solidarity of shaving my head and being bald with her would make it OK."

The father of four said it's important to show he cares for all of his children.

"The most important thing for me is to raise my kids in an environment that they all feel loved, [and] to do everything in my power to ensure, regardless of Riley’s alopecia, she knows that to us and so many others, she is the most wonderful little girl in the world," he said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

Hospitals offer 'gentle' C-sections with options like aromatherapy and a see-through drape

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When Tara Martinez gave birth to her second child, she was able to watch the birth and have immediate skin-to-skin contact with her son, even though she had a cesarean section.

“You're carrying this baby for nine months and the first thing you want to be able to do with this baby is hold them and that's what you're able to do,” Martinez told ABC News. “It definitely felt more of a childbirth then just having a surgery.”

Martinez, of Fishkill, New York, was able to have a “gentle” C-section at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York, in August after undergoing what she described as a “traumatic” emergency C-section with her first son.

“It was amazing,” Martinez said of delivering her second son, Landon, via a "gentle" C-section. “With my first, I don't really remember being able to meet him the first time so this was totally different.”

Dr. Angelo Cumello, a physician at Northern Westchester, described the difference between a traditional C-section and a “gentle” C-section as a “state of mind.”

“We try to incorporate mom into the entire process,” he told ABC News.

Options for women undergoing a “gentle” C-section include using music and aromatherapy during the surgery and minimizing conversations in the operating room so parents can hear their newborn’s first cries. Monitors are placed away from the woman’s chest in order to allow almost immediate skin-to-skin contact.

The experts ABC News spoke with said women who opt for a “gentle” C-section do not incur additional charges because the changes are so simple. The goal of the “gentle” C-section is to give women who must have a C-section an experience that more closely mirrors a vaginal birth.

Boston's Brigham and Women’s Hospital has been at the forefront of offering women a more mindful approach to C-sections.

“The requests for this type of concept have absolutely increased over the years,” Dr. William Camann, director emeritus of Obstetric Anesthesiology at Brigham and Women’s, told ABC News.

Brigham and Women’s pioneered the practice of using a see-through drape instead of the traditional blue drape to allow for greater visibility.

Thirty-two percent of all deliveries in 2015 were by C-section, with around more than 1.3 million C-sections performed that year according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A C-section is the “delivery of a baby through surgical cuts in a woman’s abdomen and uterus,” according to the National Institutes of Health. A cesarean delivery may be necessary if the pregnancy includes multiple fetuses, the baby is breech or too large, or the baby’s or mother’s health is in danger, among other factors.

Doctors at Northern Westchester Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital said a "gentle" C-section is meant as an alternative for women who must have a C-section, and that traditional birth is always recommended when possible.

Martinez said opting for a "gentle" C-section gave her the chance to bond more immediately with her son, which doctors say can make a difference when it comes to breastfeeding and regulating a baby's body temperature.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Dec142017

Fast food employee comes to the rescue of diabetic woman at drive-thru window

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(AMARILLO, Texas) -- Texas resident Rebecca Boening was driving on Dec. 8 when she felt her blood sugar level dropping.

Boening, who is diabetic, began "sweating and shaking," she told ABC News.
 
"My heart was racing, which are all symptoms for low blood sugar," she said.

She immediately pulled off the highway in Amarillo, Texas, when she spotted a Burger King near the exit.

"I pulled up to the drive-thru," she recalled, "and I was trying to figure out what I could eat that would bring my blood sugar up but not too far up. It’s a real balancing act."

Boening, 61, remembered having difficulty ordering. She was slurring her words.

Tina Hardy, who was working the drive-thru window that day, remembered too.

"She ordered ice cream and a coke. I asked her if there was something wrong. She said that she was diabetic and that her blood sugar was getting low," Hardy told ABC News.

Hardy, 32, told Boening she'd meet her at the window with the ice cream, knowing it was critical that Boening increase her blood sugar as soon as possible.

Hardy's husband of nearly five years, Patrick Green, is diabetic too.

"I learned how to help him and used my knowledge to help her," said Hardy, who's also a mother of three.

Hardy then checked on Boening before she got back on the road, even willing to call 911 if necessary.

"And about 30 minutes went by and when she got better she came back to my window," Hardy said.

Boening said she couldn't leave without thanking Hardy. "Afterward, I appreciated what she had done for me. She went out of her way," she said.

Boening told Hardy's manager what had happened and posted the account on Facebook where it quickly went viral with more than 400,000 likes.

The two women have kept in touch. "We talk every day," Hardy said. "She's a very lovely lady."

Boening is even attempting to pay Hardy back by buying her a car to get to and from work. "She's a mother of three," Boening said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Dec142017

Chicago Boy, 4, sharing gift of books with others after reading 100 in a day

iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- A 4-year-old Chicago boy is inspiring others to share the gift of reading after thousands watched him read 100 books in one day on Facebook Live.

Caleb Green committed himself to reading 100 different books last Saturday, including his favorites about Ninja turtles and dogs. When ABC Chicago station WLS-TV asked him why he wanted to read so many books, Caleb’s response was simple. “I like to read and I want to read more like my sister,” he said.

Taken aback by the young boy’s request, Caleb’s father, Sylus Green, told the television station he initially had the “gut reaction to talk him down a little bit” but Caleb pushed and said, “’No, I want to read 100.’”

Empowered by his son’s passion and ambition, Green said, “I learned to just dream bigger and I am going to set unrealistic goals for myself this coming year and I’m going to be inspired by Caleb to not quit on him and just push through it.”

Since Caleb’s online marathon, the Green family has received an overwhelmingly heartfelt response from the community. Several organizations, including local children’s book publisher Albert Whitman and Co., have donated books to both Caleb and his 7-year-old sister, Jael, and have pledged to donate books to other children in the Chicago area.

Wanting as many children as possible to benefit from his son’s latest endeavor, Green reached out to local author Candace Edwards about finding books for Chicago’s depleted school libraries. Edwards, who said she was happy to help, donated 500 copies of her children’s book, “I Love My Skin,” which will be distributed throughout Chicago’s South Side.

“Not everybody can afford to fill up their child’s bookshelves ... even teachers need help filling up their bookshelves, so why not help?” Edwards said to WLS.

Impressed by the efforts Caleb and his family have made to make reading a core part of their lives and the lives of hundreds of children throughout Chicago, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White invited the Green family to be honored at an African-American heritage event next month, WLS reported.

Caleb continues to read several books a day. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Caleb told the station, “I want to be a basketball player. When I am 22, I want to be an astronaut and when I’m 23, I want to be a Ninja Turtle.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Dec132017

France to ban mobile phones in primary, middle schools starting next fall

iStock/Thinkstock(PARIS) -- Banning cellphones in French schools was one of the promises made by Emmanuel Macron during his campaign to become president of France last spring. Six months after he won the election, the French president and his government are trying to enact the new measure for the start of the next school year in September 2018.

Last Sunday, French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer discussed the issue on French radio station RTL radio.

"We are working on this issue, and it can take different forms," Blanquer said. "You may need a mobile phone, for example, for educational purposes, for emergency situations, so perhaps the phones can be confined somewhere inside the school."

The measure will apply to all French students from the time they start school at age of 6, up to roughly 15 years of age, when they go into high school.

"Public health issue"


According to French law, pupils are already barred from using their phones in the classroom, but the new restrictions will forbid them from using phones at any point during the school day -- breaks, lunch and between lessons.

The French education minister said it is a matter of "public health," and believes that "children should not be too often, or even at all, in front of a screen before the age of 7." A 2015 study published by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics found that students had almost 7 percent higher test scores following a phone ban.

However, the number of children who own a cellphone has drastically increased in the past few years, according to a 2015 study from the French Research Institute for the Monitoring of Living Standards. More than eight in 10 teenagers in France had smartphones in 2015, compared to two out of 10 in 2011.

Logistical problems

French teaching unions said the amount of student cellphone use in schools is a problem. But they are skeptical about the implementation of the proposed law, citing logistical problems.

"Can you imagine school supervisors having to check the pockets of about 400 students every morning?" said Valérie Sipahimalani, spokesperson for the French teacher union Snes, in an interview with French radio France Info. She said she believes the measure won't be possible to enforce.

Speaking to French magazine l’Express earlier this year, the education minister suggested that schools could install lockers for phones.

But Sipahimalani said, “Many schools located in city center have no space to install lockers."

Other logistical questions about the implementation of a cellphone ban in French schools remain unanswered, as well.

The education minister said he believes this is an important societal debate that needs to be addressed.

"Together with schools principals, teachers and parents, we need to find ways to protect our children from spending hours on their cellphones," he said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Dec132017

FDA warns not to consume the raw dough in your Christmas cookies

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a new warning against consuming raw cookie dough as Christmas cookie season gets underway.

While the potential risks of consuming raw eggs have are widely known, the FDA's new warning highlights the potential risks of consuming flour raw.

"Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria,” Dr. Leslie Smoot, a senior adviser in the FDA's Office of Food Safety, said in a statement.

The warning comes after an FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation that linked an E. coli outbreak to contaminated flour and resulted in the recall of 10 million pounds of flour, including unbleached, all-purpose and self-rising varieties, according to the FDA.

"The concern is that the specific flour came from a grain that was contaminated with the bacteria E. coli, and that flour has the potential to cause human illness," Dr. Michael Levine, an associate professor at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, told ABC News.

Levine added that one of the easiest ways to protect yourself is to discard any flour in your home that may be contaminated.

"The first thing is to look at any flour you have in the house and see if it's on the FDA's list of recalled flour," Levin said. "If it was, I'd throw that flour away. If you have flour that you subsequently transferred out of that bag into a container, for example, and you don't know, probably the safest thing is to throw it away."

The FDA advises on its website to not eat any raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter or other products that are intended to be baked or cooked, and to follow package directions for cooking products containing flour at the temperature and time specified.

For those looking for an alternative means of consuming raw dough, some experts recommend using recipes that don't include any eggs, and baking the flour in the oven prior to adding it to the mixture.


Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Dec122017

10-year-old double amputee who lost everything in California wildfires gets snowboard lessons from US Paralympian

iStock/Thinkstock(BRECKENRIDGE, Co.) -- A 10-year-old double amputee who lost everything in the California wildfires learned how to snowboard from a Paralympic medalist who is also an amputee.

Lilly Biagini, of Santa Rosa, California, spent last week hitting the slopes in Breckenridge, Colorado, with Keith Gabel, a U.S. Paralympian bronze medalist in snowboarding.

Gabel said of his student, “I’ve never met anybody with the spirit that Lilly has.”

“When I turned and I stopped without anybody’s help, it made me feel strong and proud of myself,” Lilly said. “I was really surprised that I did it by myself.”

Lilly, a third-grader, chose to have her legs amputated in 2014 after being born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenital, a condition that prevented her joints from bending.

Lilly and her mom, Jessica Biagini, had to evacuate their home within about five minutes in October when one of the fast-moving wildfires that devastated parts of the Sonoma County area swept through their neighborhood. Their home was destroyed by the fire, along with all of Lilly’s medical equipment.

“Everything that makes Lilly a confident, spunky, sassy little girl she lost,” said Biagini. “She’s very, very proud of who she is and proud to be an amputee. She never wears pants because she wants people to see her prosthetic limbs.”

A San Francisco-based prosthetic company stepped up to offer Lilly a new set of legs for free. Then she got an invitation to attend The Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, one of the nation’s largest winter sports festivals for people with disabilities.

Instead of skiing, Lilly decided to tackle snowboarding, something she hadn’t tried before.

“When I was introduced to her, her jaw just dropped,” recalled Gabel, 33, who said Lilly picked up the essentials of snowboarding within one hour of lessons. “Her level of excitement for this whole thing and her gratitude, I don’t have the vocabulary to express those feelings.”

Lilly said her favorite part of the experience was, “Being free and being with Keith.”

“He told me to keep working hard and help yourself and be proud of yourself,” Lilly said of Keith. “I’m so amazed and very, very grateful … for being here with everybody and being alive.”

During their time on and off the slopes, Lilly and Gabel had the chance to talk about the more serious near-death experience Lilly went through during the fire.

“She has a very vivid memory of the whole thing and I think that’s going to stick with her for a long time,” Gabel said. “And to see how she’s handled it so far, it’s empowering. It really is.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Dec122017

Family fights to find a cure after 2 children are diagnosed with fatal genetic disease

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A couple from New York are pleading for the public's help to raise awareness and funds in order to find a cure after two of their children were diagnosed with a rare and fatal genetic disease.

"They're beautiful babies, they're happy babies," Gary Landsman told ABC News of his two sons. "Josh, at about 4 months now, is starting to smile and starting to become happier."

"Benny, at 17 months, should be doing more things, he should be crawling, he should be beginning to talk but he's not," he added. "But he's happy and smiling."

Gary Landsman and his wife, Jennie Landsman, told ABC News that they first became concerned when their older son, Benny, seemed to be developing motor skills at a slower pace than most infants.

"Around six months he wasn't holding his head up, and he wasn't sitting by himself, which he should have started to do independently at that point," Jennie Landsman said.

The couple took Benny to see countless specialists over the next few months, desperate for a diagnosis. Eventually, Jennie Landsman said that a geneticist told her that Benny was "missing an enzyme."

"I said, 'OK, when can we start giving it to them?' Like, it seemed so simple," she added. "And she said, 'No, it's fatal,' and just like that ... it was like the world ended."

The couple found out that Benny had Canavan disease, an extremely rare degenerative disorder. Canavan disease currently has no cure, and most children diagnosed with it do not live past 10 years old, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Canavan Foundation.

"Canavan disease is a rare genetic disease that affects the ability of the brain to send and receive messages," Dr. Joanne Stone, the director of maternal-fetal medicine at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City told ABC News.

At the same time that the Landsman family finally got a diagnosis for Benny, they had also just welcomed home their 2-week-old son Josh. The family was heartbroken to learn that Josh also tested positive for the Canavan disease.

"We're taking life day by day right now because when you think about the big picture, I don't want to go on," Gary Landsman told ABC News, "I don't."

Jennie Landsman added that they are coping with the double diagnosis "minute by minute."

Symptoms of Canavan disease begin appearing in children when they are between 3 and 5 months old, and the disease can affect a baby's ability to develop skills such as turning over, controlling head movement and sitting without support, according to the National Institutes of Health.

While the disease is extremely rare, it is most common in people of Eastern European Jewish descent, and it can be predicted by genetic testing. The disease affects approximately 1 in 6,400 to 13,500 people in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, according to the National Institutes of Health, although the frequency of the disease in other populations is currently unknown.

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