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Monday
May222017

Neighborhood holds Halloween party in May for boy with rare condition

Heather Keil (CASTAIC, Calif.) -- A California boy received an early birthday present on Sunday, when his neighborhood celebrated his favorite fall holiday five months early.

Carter Sarkar suffers from Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare metabolism disorder in which the body cannot break down sugar molecules. There is no cure, and Carter’s life expectancy is mid-to-late teenage years.

On Sunday, Carter’s family, friends and community trick-or-treated in May for his Halloween-themed party, just days before his fifth birthday.

"With where is he right now, he's still speaking and walking ... we are trying to make as many memories as we possibly can," mom Jen Sarkar of Castaic, California, told ABC News. "We are just humbled for the outpouring of love and support everyone has shown Carter and our family."

Carter was diagnosed with Sanfilippo syndrome on May 11, 2016. Carter is expected to lose his speech, ability to walk and may develop seizures, in addition to other side effects.

"It is caused by an enzyme deficiency where the children don't have enough of an enzyme to break down normal byproducts of the cell metabolism," said Cara O'Neill, pediatrician and the scientific director at Cure Sanfilippo Foundation. "It builds up and causes damages to the cells, but particularly brain cells."

O'Neill, a resident of Columbia, South Carolina, has a daughter Eliza, 7, who also has Sanfilippo syndrome. O'Neill told ABC News that she has met Carter and the Sarkar family.

"He's an absolutely adorable, vibrant little boy," she added. "His parents are fighting very hard to find a path that works for him that doesn't involve suffering and that's what all of us are trying to do as we work toward funding research and advocating."

At this time, O'Neill said there is no cure or treatment for the condition. There are some clinical trials, but because Carter has a secondary condition (pancreatitis), it excludes him from participation in those trials.

Before symptoms begin to surface, Carter's mom and loved ones decided to give him a birthday he'll never forget.

The entire block participated in trick-or-treating and dress-up for the makeshift Halloween. Carter went as Darth Vader of "Star Wars."

"There is a reason why his birthday dream came true and we couldn't have done it without [the community]," Sarkar said.

Sara Mallon, the Sarkars' next-door neighbor, said she and her four children participated in Carter's Halloween birthday party.

"I thought it was a fun way to spread awareness of Carter," Mallon told ABC News. "We've known their family since before Carter was diagnosed. We love Carter and it just has been so neat to see how they've embraced this challenge. Whether there's a cure for their son or not ... they're ambassadors for Sanfilippo syndrome."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
May222017

Duchess Kate stars in new video for Children’s Hospice Week

Pool/Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage(LONDON) -- Duchess Kate has recorded a new public service announcement to kick off Children's Hospice Week in the U.K., and she got a little help from singer Ed Sheeran.

Sheeran's song, "Lego House," is featured in the new video released Monday by Kensington Palace.

Sheeran is an ambassador for East Anglia Children's Hospital (EACH), where Kate serves as royal patron. Kate recorded the video at the hospital, located in Quidenham, England, in January when she visited children and their families there.

"For any parent, being told that your child may have a life-limiting condition, or may die young, will be one of the most difficult and isolating experiences you can face,” Kate says in the video. “Having someone to help you come to terms with this news, and the professional support and care that comes with this, can make an enormous difference. It can help families make the most of every precious moment they have together.”

Kate, who has made palliative and hospice care a component of her charitable work, praised the "dedicated and inspirational staff" who provide services to families coming to terms with the need for critical health care or the death of a loved one.

"I hope you will join me in shining a light on the dedicated and inspirational staff and volunteers, and the lifeline services they provide for children and their families," Kate says. "The work they do is extraordinary, and it really does make a world of difference.”

Later Monday, Kate is expected to accompany Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to the Chelsea Flower Show. The annual show, one of the most popular events in London, is expected to attract more than 150,000 visitors.

Kate and her family, including Prince William and their children, Prince George, 3, and Princess Charlotte, 2, spent the weekend in Berkshire, England, celebrating the wedding of Kate's younger sister, Pippa Middleton, to financier James Matthews.

George and Charlotte had starring roles in their aunt's wedding, serving as page boy and bridesmaid, respectively.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
May222017

Fruit juice for infants is now a strict no-no, say new guidelines

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Fruit juice for children younger than 1 year old is now a no-no, according to new guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The academy is also recommending sharply limiting juice consumption by toddlers and older children in its new guidelines, as ABC News Chief Women's Health Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton explained Monday on ABC's Good Morning America.

"While some 100-percent fruit juice can be OK, in general it doesn't pack the nutritional punch that a lot of parents think it does," Dr. Ashton explained.

"The big difference is in the fiber," she said. "That is really important for [gastrointestinal] issues, so you always want to reach for the whole fruit versus the juice."

Eight ounces of unsweetened apple juice, for example, has 114 calories, 24 grams of sugar and zero dietary fiber while a medium whole apple contains four grams of fiber, Dr. Ashton said.

The pediatrics academy has in recent years advised against giving fruit juice to children younger than 6 months old, but the new guidelines expand that to children younger than 1.

The recommendations also call for limiting juice consumption to 4 ounces per day by toddlers who are 1 to 3 years old and to 6 ounces per day for children aged 4 to 6 years old. For children 7 to 18 years old, juice intake should be limited to 8 ounces.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
May212017

Teacher's uplifting art project reminds students of their uniqueness

Jessica Moyes/Sharon Elementary School(NEW YORK) -- One art teacher has inspired her entire school to embrace their unique gifts and talents.

Jessica Moyes, who's worked six years at Sharon Elementary School in Newburgh, Indiana, wanted each student leave their mark on the school by painting a rock any way they wanted to. She said she was inspired after seeing a similar project online.

After applying for an approximately $500 grant from a local foundation, Moyes put her plan into action.

 She first inspired the students by reading Linda Kranz's 2006 children's book, "Only One You."

"The story is basically about a little fish, who is getting ready to venture out on his own and he gets some words of wisdom from his parents," Moyes told ABC News. "The most important thing that the book talks about is being unique and not always following the crowd."

The teacher then had each student -- a total of 740 children -- paint a rock in their own unique way during a class period.

Moyes, who later laid the rocks around the school, completed the beautification project by creating a sign, featuring a quote from "Only One You."

The sign read: "There is only one you in this great big world ... Make it a better place."

After posting photos of the project on Facebook, they quickly went viral.

Still, Moyes hopes the project reminded her students "how unique and special each of them are," she said. "By themselves, they can do big things, but when they work together ... it can have an even bigger impact."

 Principal Ashlee Bruggenschmidt told ABC News the art project has had a tremendous effect on her students, who often experience "anxiety."

"Today there is so much focus on high-stakes testing," she explained. "The arts are a great way for our kids to express themselves and not have that stress of standardized testing."

Bruggenschmidt commended Moyes for "putting the kids first ... and being so positive with them. We're just very blessed to have her here."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
May202017

How to protect your family during tick season

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As temperatures rise and kids and pets across the U.S. return to playing outdoors, they're more likely than ever to come in contact with ticks. And in some cases, experts warn, the dangers could be fatal.

Last week in Oregon, Amanda Lewis posted a video on Facebook showing her 4-year-old daughter Evelyn struggling to walk. The video, which has been viewed more than 12 million times, captured the unsettling moment as Evelyn tries to stand but her legs go limp.

By the next morning, the little girl couldn't use her legs at all, and could barely move her arms. Evelyn was rushed to the emergency room, where doctors realized the cause -- a tiny American dog tick in her hair, her parents said.

"They just went straight into grooming her hair and found it,” her father Lantz Lewis said in an interview with ABC News' Good Morning America.

Once doctors removed the insect, Evelyn's condition began to improve.

"It took her until pretty much the next morning before she was able to walk normally again," her mother told Good Morning America.

Evelyn was diagnosed with tick paralysis, a disease that can occur when a tick remains attached to a host for a prolonged period of time. Human cases are rare, and the symptoms, which start with weakness, typically diminish quickly once the tick is removed. But, in some cases, full paralysis can develop and may lead to respiratory failure and even death.

Lyme disease, the most common vector-borne ailment, is another concern during tick season. Approximately 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year. However, an under-reporting of cases suggests the actual count could be as high as 300,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"The 'tickiest' month across America is May, but April through June is really the highest tick activity season," Thomas Mather, director of the University of Rhode Island Center for Vector Borne-Disease, said in an interview with Good Morning America.

"In most cases, people have a day to find the tick and remove it before the tick has the chance to transmit germs that will make them sick," Mather added.

Ticks are often found in areas with tall grasses, piles of leaves or even in the shrubs around your home.

To keep you and your family safe, experts advise people to always check for ticks upon coming in from the outdoors, wear clothing with built-in tick repellent, use tick repellent sprays, and shower within two hours of leaving the outdoors to help wash away any unattached ticks.

If you're trying to remove a tick, experts say you should first protect your fingers with a tissue or latex gloves, and then gently remove the insect with a pair of tweezers.

"The best way to remove a tick if you find one attached is to use a pointy tweezer and pull it straight off. By using a tweezer, then you have the tick and you can take a picture of it, save it, identify it and then you'll know better what risk you're at," Mather said.

Experts also advise not to squeeze the tick's body when removing it, which could cause the insect to release its contents into the bite area and infect the host. Upon removal, drop the tick in rubbing alcohol to kill it and immediately disinfect the bite area, experts say.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
May202017

Hollywood executive's mysterious, almost fatal, illness led to a life-changing hand transplant 

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Jonathan Koch was at the top of his game as a successful Hollywood entertainment executive when his life suddenly came to a screeching halt. He became gravely ill and his body was quickly shutting down, but doctors couldn’t figure out why.

But Koch has defied unthinkable odds over a two-year medical odyssey -- one in which he narrowly escaped death and was given a new left hand in a remarkable feat of science.

Koch produced dozens of projects, including the movie Ring of Fire that he worked on with singer-songwriter Jewel and TV series such as The Kennedys. In 2015, Koch was traveling from Los Angeles to a reality television conference in Washington, D.C., when he was suddenly hit with symptoms that seemed like the flu, but decided to power through.

“I felt like I had been hit by a truck,” Koch told ABC News' Nightline. “[The conference] was a very important trip for my team and they had been preparing for a long time. … I needed to be there.”

Koch drove to the emergency room and said doctors there gave him a shot of morphine before he dragged himself onto the cross-country flight. He made it to D.C., but within 24 hours, he was in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital, his body was in septic shock and doctors had no idea what was killing him.

The man who treated his body like a temple -- he never drank or smoked, and was an exercise fanatic -- was now being told he had hours to live.

He said doctors even urged him to text loved ones, so he texted Jennifer Gunkel, then his girlfriend of seven years, but couldn’t bring himself to text his 15-year-old daughter, Ariana.

“I made a very conscious decision with the last moment of consciousness I had not to text my daughter because when they told me that I had a small chance of living ... that was the moment that I decided that I just can't die. I can't. I can't do it,” Koch said. “She shouldn't grow up without her daddy.”

Koch was placed in a medically induced coma. When Gunkel got his texts, she rushed to his hospital bedside and documented what was happening in a series of emotional video diaries. Koch’s doctors said his odds of surviving were just 10 percent.

“It was described to me as multiple organ failure. His lungs, even his heart. His kidneys -- he had to have dialysis,” Gunkel said. “Everything was shutting down.”

Gunkel had been entrusted to make life-or-death decisions for the divorced, devoted dad, and said she kept thinking about his daughter. Every year since she was in kindergarten, Koch had taken Ariana to a father-daughter dance -- and now he was missing it for the first time.

“I was just thinking about his daughter and thinking, ‘She can’t be without her dad,’ ” Gunkel said. “Every moment, every decision I made was for this little girl … and that was a really scary thing for me.”

During his coma, Koch said he experienced powerful nightmares, but the last one, he said, presented him with two doors and gave him a choice.

“A voice, a very deep, very distinct male voice -- I don't know if it was my own consciousness, if it was a doctor by my bedside, if it was God, I really don’t know even to this day, and it said, ‘If you do decide you want to live, it's going to be the most vicious, painful, awful fight every day for the rest of your life,’” Koch said. “When he put it that way I was, like, ‘That, I get,' so I said, ‘Yes.’ ”

The instinct to fight was something Koch had within him since he was a young boy mesmerized by the movie Rocky. He first saw it when his father took him to a drive-in movie when he was 11 years old.

“From that moment forward, I just knew that what was inside of me was way more than I had ever thought before that day,” he said.

For him, Koch said the Rocky story was the “gospel.”

“First of all, he didn't win. Rocky didn't win. People don't really think about that,” he said. “It's about doing the work. It's about putting everything you have into it. If you just literally do your best at everything, that's really all you can do.”

After his near-death experience, Koch emerged from his coma two-and-a-half weeks later and asked Gunkel to marry him.

“I wanted to marry her,” he said. “That's the truth. We were not married and probably planning on not being married.”

The damage to Koch’s body was severe. As he was headed into septic shock, his body had started pulling blood and oxygen away from his outer limbs to protect his internal organs, causing his hands and feet to turn black and start to die, necrosis and gangrene setting in. He said the pain in his hands felt like “somebody is holding a Bic lighter underneath my fingertips all day, every day.”

Doctors wanted to amputate, but Gunkel intervened and asked them to wait. She began searching for other options and eventually stumbled upon the possibility of a hand transplant.

Only 85 hand transplants have ever been attempted globally. One of the pioneers of the field is UCLA’s Hand Transplant Program -- led by world-renowned surgeon Dr. Kodi Azari, who was looking for his next patient when Koch was referred to him.

“I was looking for someone who was motivated, who was healthy and hadn’t had his amputations done,” Azari said.

Since Gunkel made the critical decision not to have Koch’s left hand amputated, and he had lived a healthy lifestyle, he became a perfect hand-transplant candidate for Azari.

Koch, who eventually lost the bottom part of his right leg, parts of his fingers on his right hand and all of his toes, decided a hand transplant for his left hand seemed like a better option than having the hand amputated and living with another prosthetic limb.

“When you have transplantation, they often times will put you through psychiatric exercises, and one of the questions they ask me is, ‘Why do you want another hand?’ ” Koch said. “And I thought, ‘Well, I mean, you have two.’ You know, ‘I think the world's built for two, and I can handle it.’ ”

Azari and his team began the process by first amputating Koch’s left hand, preserving his nerves and blood vessels for the transplant surgery. Azari then instructed Koch to get stronger and healthier, and to mentally prepare himself for what was coming next.

“His mental toughness was what actually got me to fall in love with his personality,” Azari said. “He is an eternal optimist like I have never seen before.”

When it came time to have his right leg amputated, Koch said it was an “extraordinarily painful moment” for both him and Gunkel.

“She was crying with me, and it was a real get-it-out cry,” Koch said. “The admission that we had lost that battle was really tough for both of us.”

But Koch kept fighting. After his amputation surgeries, Koch started working with trainer Scott Zeller at his home.

“I walk into their home gym and he's in a wheelchair, hands and feet wrapped and I'm like, ‘Ah, what am I supposed to do with that?’ ” Zeller said. “I’m looking around, like, ‘How about the stairs? … Knees and elbows, dude.”

Koch spent a year-and-a-half undergoing rigorous training, doing sets up and down the stairs on his knees and elbows to get stronger. He was then fitted for a prosthetic for his right leg and said the moment he learned how to walk with the prosthetic was a huge milestone.

“Jennifer was crying,” Koch said. “I could see Scott in the mirror because I was walking toward where he was behind me and I could see this big smile on his face.”

“It was heart-warming, chilling, almost incomprehensible,” Zeller said.

As Koch worked on getting stronger, he and Gunkel set a date and got married in August 2015.

“Our wedding day was very sweet,” she said. “It was really not eventful, which is the way we wanted it to be. It was really a 30-second ceremony, and it was joyous and happy. And we really didn't want anything to change. … After we got married we got something to eat, like we always do.”

Their honeymoon period involved waiting for a donor. Finding a good match is a challenge, Azari said, because unlike internal organ transplants, the donor hand had to be the correct size, skin color and hair pattern. It took seven more months before Koch got the call.

He was wheeled into surgery in October 2016. The surgical team said a special prayer of gratitude for the donor and began a marathon 17-hour surgery.

A team of 24 nurses and doctors from competing hospitals collaborated to successfully attach the donor hand. The 24 tendons, countless nerve endings, veins and arteries had to be microscopically stitched together.

“Hand transplants are marathon surgeries because there are so many structures that need to be repaired,” Azari said. “Initial fears are that the vessels are going to clot and blood is not going to move through the hand. … There's no margin for error.”

The total cost of his hand transplant surgery was estimated to be hundreds of thousands of dollars, but UCLA waived the cost in the name of research that could help others.

It was Gunkel’s birthday when Koch emerged from surgery.

“She said, ‘I just want one thing. I just want you to move one of your fingers,’ ” Koch said. “And I didn't think there was any chance I could, but I thought about it -- and it moved.”

“Soon as we walked into Jonathan's room he gives me the old thumbs up just like the Fonz used to do,” Azari said. “I'm like, ‘This guy … he’s absolutely perfect.’ ”

Azari said the surgery was successful, but the recovery was far more treacherous than Koch had anticipated.

“I woke up. My mind wasn't right,” Koch said. “I wasn't breathing as well as everybody had wanted me to. … I was telling Jennifer, you know, ‘I'm drifting away and … I can't get back in into my life and control what's happening with me.’ ”

“All the work that I had done since getting home with Scott, and working out my wheelchair and trying to crawl up and down the stairs on my elbows and knees, all those things I did to rebuild myself, they came right back into play,” he said.

But ever the fighter, Koch soldiered on. Within a week, he was gripping and throwing a tennis ball with his new left hand.

“What's next thing you know … he picks up a glass of water and he takes a drink,” Azari said.

“You feel fierce and powerful -- you just do,” Koch said. “So when I grabbed the bottle [of water] and was able to hold it, even though it was pretty shaky, I was like, ‘I feel fierce and powerful.’ ”

With each new movement, each new milestone bolstered Koch’s confidence.

“Jonathan has met or in the vast majority of cases exceeded all of my expectations,” Azari said. “I told them, ‘Jonathan, it's going to take you maybe a year-and-a-half to two years before you can tie your shoelaces.’ At two months, he sends me a video of him tying his shoelaces.”

Two-and-a-half years after he fell dangerously ill, Koch got to do something else for the first time -- get behind the wheel of a car and drive himself again on the open road.

“I’ve felt the breeze before, but right now it feels electrified, like it’s humming on the inside,” he said, with his hand out the window. “So I think that means that nerves are growing back on the inside.”

Driving seemed to liberate him, Gunkel said, and gave him the confidence to work on others tasks. Only recently, Koch said he has regained a sense of temperature, differentiating between hot and cold in his new hand.

“It was 100 percent worth it,” Koch said, referring to the transplant surgery. “You can’t imagine the change in my life as I regain my independence.”

But the biggest prize for him is getting back on the tennis court -- a longtime passion of his. Born right-handed, Koch now swings a racquet with his newly acquired left hand.

“There's nothing more than I like to do than to go play as hard as I can and as well as I can,” he said. “When it's over with, no matter what happens, it's been an incredible experience. And once in a while, you catch lighting in a bottle in a tennis match -- and it’s everything you have.”

He is still working on his recovery, and the man who many describe as a hard-charging workaholic, whose life was road-mapped by a Hollywood movie, is looking for other stories, including his own, to inspire others.

“It's a triumph of human spirit story, not from just my standpoint but from our standpoint … and all my friends who rallied so hard,” he said. “And just the amount of love and prayers and all those things that were coming to me that I could actually feel them. Like, I felt lifted up by them. I know how many people were caring about me.”

 

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
May202017

2 teachers dismissed after student with ADHD receives award for 'Most Likely to Not Pay Attention'

WSB-TV(ATLANTA) -- Two Atlanta-area middle school teachers have been dismissed of their duties after an eighth-grader with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder received the "Most Likely to Not Pay Attention" award earlier this week at a school assembly.

Nicole Edwards' 14-year-old daughter received the award as part of the Spirit Week activities at Memorial Middle School in Conyers, located about 25 miles east of Atlanta, reported ABC affiliate WSB-TV.

Rockdale County Public Schools superintendent Richard Autry was subsequently notified about the award.

The teachers who handed out the award will not be back at Memorial Middle School, or returning to any Rockdale Public School, school officials said.

Edwards said in a statement to WSB-TV, "At this time, I would like to thank the superintendent, Mr. Autry, for taking immediate action regarding this matter. My family appreciates his concerns."

She adds, "My goal is to make sure that this horrible event never happens to another kid again. As a parent, it is my job to protect my child from being humiliated and bullied, especially when the bully is her teacher. Making fun of any disability is not acceptable."

Cindy Ball, the school board's chief of strategy and innovation, said in a statement Friday, "Earlier this week, we learned about an awards ceremony held during spirit week at Memorial Middle School that had insensitive award categories. RCPS will neither condone nor tolerate any activities or insensitive behavior that may cause embarrassment or humiliation to our children."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
May192017

Girl with rare disease singing "Overcomer" in viral video meets Grammy winner behind song

UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland(OAKLAND, Calif.) -- Earlier this year, 4-year-old Leah Carroll, a California child who has a rare blood disease, lifted spirits worldwide when her rendition of the song "Overcomer" by Grammy winner Mandisa went viral.

But this week, it was Leah's turn for a bit of uplifting when Mandisa came to UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland to meet the petite songstress for the first time, sing and play.

"Y'all, I'm with somebody very special right now," Mandisa said during a Facebook Live video she shared with fans Wednesday. "This is amazing. It's bringing me so much joy."

Leah was born with severe congenital neutropenia. In February 2014, she had her first bone marrow transplant, and in March 2016, she underwent her second transplant. Since then, she has been recovering in the hospital in Oakland, California because of complications.

On Wednesday, Mandisa also held a private concert at Leah's church, participated in a discussion about Be the Match Registry and later joined her. The event helped raise $3,600 for Be the Match.

Click here for more information on Be the Match Registry.

During the discussion, Lindsey Chapman-Carroll, Leah’s mother, shared that Tuesday would be the girl's 430th day spent in the hospital and away from her home and family.

Chapman-Carroll said that she and Leah had a goal of signing up 430 new marrow donors by Tuesday. So far, about 400 people have signed up in Leah's honor.

"It's just so cool. God is in every detail. ... People have really stepped up their registering game," Chapman-Carroll said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
May192017

Single father creates a safe haven for children with autism to play together online

Stuart Duncan(TIMMINS, Ontario) -- A single father quit his job to operate a Minecraft server specifically for children and adults with autism to play the popular multiplayer game with each other, and ended up creating an online community and safe haven on the internet for people with autism and their families.

Stuart Duncan, 40, of Timmins, Ontario, told ABC News that he started the server, called Autcraft, in 2013, because he loved playing Minecraft with his children.

"My oldest son has autism, my youngest son does not, but all three of us love Minecraft," Duncan told ABC News, adding that he also saw so many parents of children with autism reaching out online to try and find other people their children could play Minecraft with.

Duncan said parents were searching for a safe space on the internet for their children with autism to play the game because "anytime they went to a public server they would get bullied. ... The bullies wouldn’t just terrorize them on the game but they would say terrible things."

"I thought, 'I am going to give these kids a place to play where they can just be themselves, and not worry being bullied,'" Duncan said.

He said the response was immediately overwhelming.

"I shared this idea on my Facebook and I got 752 emails in the first 48 hours," he said. "Within eight days I had to upgrade the server package from the bottom tier they had to the top tier that they had."

Currently, the server has 8,000 users, which includes everyone from players with autism to their parents and family members.

Duncan said the server has become a lot more than just a place for children to play video games and has evolved into a community that offers support for people with autism and their families.

"There is a lot more to our server so that kids feel especially safe, and anytime they need help or someone to talk to, we are there," Duncan said.

Duncan said they have also developed many plugins that prevent players from swearing or breaking things or fighting with each other as they play Minecraft.

"On top of all the plugins that protect the kids, the big thing is that it is very heavily monitored, someone is always watching, usually me," Duncan said. "We also give the actual players the responsibility as well, so if someone shows that they are helpful and responsible, then we will give them a rank like junior helper or senior helper and with that they get the ability to mute somebody."

Duncan said that since starting the server, countless parents and families have reached out and thanked him for his work.

"I have heard from so many parents who say that their children are interacting better," Duncan said, adding that many children are less afraid to open up on the server, "because on Autcraft nobody laughs at anyone else."

"I started hearing from players and parents that their children were making friends at school because they were learning how to socialize more," Duncan said.

Duncan said that when he first started Autcraft, he still worked as a web developer, but as more kids on the game started opening up to him, it began to take more of his time and attention, so he eventually quit his job and started running Autcraft full time, relying on support from parents and other benefactors that invest in his project.

"What happened was after about six months or so, a lot of the children, because they felt so comfortable with the server and with me, they would open up to me more and more and then it got to a point where I was talking to two kids per week who were suicidal, because they were bullied, they felt like they didn’t fit it," Duncan said. "It started to interfere with my work.

"I had to make a decision to either not do the server anymore or ask people to support me. I never wanted to charge for the server," Duncan said. "I ended up making less money than I have ever made in my entire life but it was enough."

Duncan said he hopes the server will be able to help people get a better understanding of children with autism.

"There are just such wonderful kids on this server, I kind of want people to see that these kids are so great if only you wouldn’t make them so afraid," Duncan said, adding that when people come to the server, "I encourage them to be the best person they can be, and not be ashamed of any part of themselves.

"Once you can get rid of that fear, that they are not going to be bullied or made fun of, they teach themselves how to read or how to socialize or how to interact," he added.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
May192017

Single mosquito bite might be enough to transmit multiple viruses, study finds 

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Mosquito bites aren't just a nuisance but can be a serious public health threat as seen during the mosquito-borne Zika outbreak that spread through much of the globe last year.

A new study published Friday in the Nature Communications journal reports that mosquitoes might be even more adept at spreading disease than previously thought. The researchers wanted to find out if the infamous Aedes aegypti mosquito may be able to spread multiple diseases at once. The insect, also called the cockroach of mosquitoes, is known to be among the primary way diseases like chikungunya, dengue and Zika virus spread.

Researchers from Colorado State University exposed hundreds of mosquitoes to either chikungunya, Zika or dengue and different combinations of the three. They also exposed 48 mosquitoes to the three viruses--chikungunya, Zika and dengue--to see if one or all three of the diseases could appear in the saliva, which could then potentially infect a person.

The researchers examined the saliva, gut and legs of the insects for signs of viral infection. They found that 92 percent of the mosquitoes tested positive for all three viruses.

Of the 48 just one remained uninfected.

They found that six saliva samples from the mosquito tested positive for all three viruses 14 days after the insects were exposed. Another two saliva samples tested positive 21 days after exposure.

While not all the insects had the virus in the saliva, the researchers pointed out that the virus' presence in the saliva occurs only after the infection has traveled through the body. As a result, the other mosquitoes that tested positive may still have been able to transmit the disease in the future even if the virus was not found in the saliva.

"Based on what I know as a virologist, epidemiologist and entomologist, I thought that the viruses would either compete or enhance each other in some way," Greg Ebel, director of the Arthropod-borne and Infectious Diseases Laboratory and co-author of the study, said in a statement Friday. "On the one hand, all of these viruses have mechanisms to suppress mosquito immunity, which could lead to synergy. On the other hand, they all likely require similar resources within infected cells, which could lead to competition."

But Ebel said, "we didn't see much evidence of either one of these things in mosquitoes that were infected in the lab by multiple viruses."

Ebel told ABC News that with Zika and chikungunya newly arrived in the western hemisphere, it's important to understand how these diseases are spreading and how people are impacted by these new viruses.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said that the study was "fascinating notion" but noted researchers will need to find evidence of this coinfection in the wild.

Schaffner said more research is key to understand these risks of mosquito-born disease, since some blood tests can not easily identify the virus a person is infected with.

"That's part of the difficulty if you use the blood test, the viruses are sufficiently similar so that the blood test are nonspecific and you're not sure," Schaffner said.

This raises the concerning possibility that patients presenting with infections from more than one of these viruses may only be diagnosed with one disease, given the similarity in symptoms between these illnesses.

Co-infection with humans is unknown because doctors rarely check for all three viruses. As a result, it is not clear if there are increased risks for people. Some studies have found little or no risk and others have found some link to complications.

"There might be some indications, but it is still fairly unknown what the effect is from co-infection," said Claudia Ruckert, post-doctoral researcher in CSU's Arthropod-borne and Infectious Diseases Laboratory.

The only way to protect yourself from mosquito-born illness is to prevent the bite by using insect repellent. The CDC recommends using EPA-registered insect repellents that include at least 20 percent DEET. Though products with higher DEET concentration does provide longer protection, this peaks around 50 percent DEET.

When applying insect repellent with sunscreen, apply the sunscreen first and allow it to dry before applying repellent. Consider using clothes treated with permethrin (an insecticide). Try your best to minimize exposed skin, long shirts, pants, socks and hats.

Do no use insect repellent on babies younger than two months old, protect them by draping a mosquito net over carrier. Oil of lemon eucalyptus products and par-menthane-diol should not be used on children under the age of three. DEET is approved for use on children with no age restriction.

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