High school senior gives up playing in marching band to serve as blind classmate's 'eyes'

iStock/Thinkstock(LAINGSBURG, Mich.) -- When the Laingsburg High School marching band performs on their Michigan school's football field, one band member marches without an instrument.

Rachael Steffens, 17, gave up playing clarinet in the band for her senior year to help bandmate Autumn Michels, who is visually impaired.

"I was excited to do it," Rachael told ABC News, adding how much she enjoys having Autumn in the band. "She’s always making jokes, and it makes band a lot more fun."

Autumn was 4 years old when, after a diagnosis of a brain tumor ( led to chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, she lost vision completely in both eyes.

She found an outlet in music, learning to play the clarinet by memorizing the musical notes in songs.

“Our comment to her has always been, ‘No matter your disability, there is nothing that’s going to stop you,’” said Autumn’s mom, Angela Michels. “She’s definitely a go-getter.”

When Autumn, now 14, decided she wanted to play in her high school marching band, band director Thomas Cousineau searched for a solution.

“It was a little bit of the unknown,” he said. “We do so many [marching] formations, and the speed of the music is so fast at times.”

Cousineau and Autumn’s parents agreed a fellow student should be by her side on the field to help guide her.

Rachael volunteered to help Autumn at a band camp over the summer, and when the fall band season began, she stepped up again.

“I asked Rachael when we got back from camp, and before I finished she cut me off and was on board,” Cousineau said. “She enjoys every minute.”

Rachael stands by Autumn’s side at all times to keep her both safe and in formation, while also making sure other band members around her are in the right spots.

"I love Rachael. she's amazing," Autumn said. "She puts her hand on my shoulder and tells me where to go. If she realizes I'm on the wrong foot she'll tap the shoulder [of the foot] that everybody is on."

She said of their fellow band members, "Everybody is really, really supportive of Rachael and I, just cheering us on."

Michels described what it is like to watch Autumn march alongside her peers.

“You always want your kid to have something special,” Michels said. “This gave us the opportunity for our family to see Autumn do something that makes her happy.”

She added, “Rachael did that for us.”

Rachael said she also finds joy in helping Autumn to do something that she loves.

"I’m really happy that she’s able to do this because music is something that she loves," she said. "Just being able to see her flourishing in something that she really enjoys is great."

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Barber goes above the call of duty to ensure child with autism gets amazing haircut

Fauve Lafreniere(MONTREAL) -- When a 6-year-old boy with autism kept being refused by barbers, one Canadian stylist welcomed him with open clippers.

Wyatt Lafreniere's mother Fauve told ABC News that her son was diagnosed with autism at 2 years old. Since then, it's been hard for the boy to get his hair cut due to his hypersensitivity to sound and touch.

"He doesn't like his hair to be touched and a lot of sounds are aggressive for him," she explained.

After meeting Franz Jakob, who owns Authentischen Barbier in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, and mentioning the issues she was having getting her son's hair trimmed, the barber invited them into his shop.

"I was nervous the first time," Fauve Lafreniere, 30, said of when she first went to Jakob's vintage barbershop two years ago. "But now, I just feel blessed that we have Mr. Jakob in our life, in every way."

Jakob, 45, who's been cutting hair since he was 12 years old, said he's not doing anything special -- he's just doing his job.

"I’m trying to take care of all my clients. It’s in my nature to go the extra mile," he said. "There’s no difference for me if I’m doing a popular singer or if I’m doing Wyatt. I’m doing what I need to do to... get a real nice haircut, honestly. That's what it’s all about."

The barber cuts the hair of many children with disabilities and even terminally ill patients, whom he doesn't charge. He typically schedules them at the end of his day so "I can take all the time I need," Jakob explained.

For Lafreniere, he usually begins their 90-minute sessions by playing a game or by eating candy.

"I'm just being really, really, really patient because they are the drivers. I'm not the one driving those moments," he explained.

Captured in a now viral photo on Facebook, Lafreniere got onto the floor during his haircut two weeks ago.

"So I put the mirror in front of him and I finished what I was doing," Jakob said. "It’s an honor for me to do all of this."

Lafreniere and his mother were both thrilled with the result.

"Anyone can make a difference with an open mind and love," Fauve Lafreniere said of the experience.

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Three geneticists win Nobel Prize for 'body clock' research

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Three scientists who studied circadian rhythms have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young were able to "peep inside our biological clock" by helping “explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions,” according to the Nobel Prize committee. They isolated a gene in fruit flies that controls the rhythm of a living organism’s daily life, according to the New York Times.

The section of DNA that Hall and Rosbash isolated, called the period gene, contains data that makes a protein called PER. Levels of the PER protein oscillate over the course of a day, rising during the night and falling during daytime.

Young discovered a gene that affects the stability of PER.

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WHO has sent 1.2 million doses of antibiotics to Madagascar to fight plague outbreak

iodrakon/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The World Health Organization has delivered 1.2 million doses of antibiotics and provided $1.5 million in emergency funds to fight an outbreak of plague in Madagascar.

The Madagascar Ministry of Health has reported more than 200 infections and 33 deaths since August. The majority of those cases are associated with pneumonic plague, a more deadly form of the disease, which can be transmitted through coughing.

"Plague is curable if detected in time," Dr. Charlotte Ndiaye, WHO Representative in Madagascar said. "Our teams are working to ensure that everyone at risk has access to protection and treatment. The faster we move, the more lives we save."

The WHO has provided drugs for both curative and prohpylactic care. With another 244,000 doses expected in the coming weeks, the agency says it has provided sufficient medication to treat 5,000 patients and protect 100,000 more who may be exposed.

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Regis and Joy Philbin discuss heart health and new partnership and campaign

Hollywood To You/Star Max/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Television legend Regis Philbin has been open about his health battles over the past two decades, having undergone an angioplasty in 1993 and triple bypass surgery in 2007.

He is not only continuing to share his stories after having retired from ABC's "Live! with Regis and Kelly" in 2011, but is speaking out about a heart health issue that is important to him.

Philbin is partnering with Kowa Pharmaceuticals America and the Academy of Family Physicians Foundation in a new campaign called "Take Cholesterol To Heart," encouraging people to speak openly about their cholesterol with their doctor and find the statin that works for them, if needed.

He shares his story on the web page

Regis, 86, and his wife Joy Philbin spoke to ABC News about the campaign and outlined a few ways they are keeping healthy today, and how Joy is helping Regis maintain his good health.

Regis was first prescribed a statin following an incident in Florida in 1992, during which he was feeling chest pains on a cruise ship. That led to his eventual angioplasty, and later on he was prescribed a statin.

His doctors eventually told him his cholesterol, which Regis claims exceeded 300, needed to be lowered.

Joy talked about his first time taking the lipid-lowering medication, which she says was a challenge. Regis was experiencing muscle soreness with the prescribed statin, and generally had side effects that kept him from being able to continue taking the specific statin. So he switched and found a statin that works for him, and he takes it daily to this day.

After Regis' first surgery, he kept in close contact with his doctor, asking him about what prescription would work best for him, and the steps he can take in his daily life to make sure a high cholesterol level does not reoccur. Now, Joy claims, Regis visits the doctor every two months.

Another key to Regis' strong health: keeping a close watch on his diet.

While Regis is an avid meat eater and enjoys an occasional ice cream, Joy says her husband eats a lot of fish and has made dietary changes that have helped him keep a healthy cholesterol level for his body. She also says while she cannot track everything he is eating, she helps him stay on track and keeps a close eye on his diet.

In fact, Joy revealed to ABC News that Regis' cholesterol level is lower than hers, to which he jokingly asked her, "Why am I still with you!"

Regis shares his personal story and offers facts and tips about statin and cholesterol levels at

For more on cholesterol news from ABC News, follow the link here.

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How 'Sesame Street' is helping kids learn to cope with trauma

Creatas/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Big Bird and his "Sesame Street" buddies are taking on a new mission: helping kids learn to cope with stress and trauma.

"Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit offshoot of the long-running children's program "Sesame Street," launched the powerful new initiative, which was designed with the help of psychologists, the same week that the nation was rocked by the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The initiative includes materials for parents, caregivers and social workers, as well as video elements featuring the beloved "Sesame Street" Muppets demonstrating the simple exercises to help children to feel safe and cope with the traumatic and stressful experiences.

A new analysis of the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health that was released today found that nearly half of all American children under age 18 have had at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE).

ACEs, or stressful or traumatic events, have been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential and even early death, according to the U.S.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ACEs are also a significant risk factor for substance abuse disorders, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

While traumatic experiences cannot always be prevented, the new material from "Sesame Street," released entirely online, aims to help prevent childhood trauma from defining a person's life and lessen the adverse effects of it.

“As much as we would like to wrap our arms around our children and try to keep anything bad from getting through, it’s unrealistic that we have that ability," Robin Gurwitch, a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, told ABC News earlier this week in the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting, which resulted in the deaths of 58 people and injured hundreds more.

Dr. Lee Beers, a pediatrician at Children’s National Health System in Washington D.C., added that tragedy does not have to be a trauma for children if it is "buffered by good, strong and caring relationships, by the adults around the child."

Sherrie Westin, an executive at Sesame Workshop, said she felt called to launch the program “given how few resources there are for young children dealing with traumatic experiences.”

"Sesame Street" characters are also in a unique position to help children cope with trauma, Westin added in a statement, because “'Sesame Street' has always been a source of comfort to children dealing with very difficult circumstances.”

"We know how damaging childhood trauma can be to a child’s health and wellbeing," Dr. Richard Besser, the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which helped fund the initiative said in a statement.

Besser, a former ABC News medical correspondent, added that the new initiative "provides tools to help children cope with life’s most difficult challenges."

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Hot car deaths can happened year round, Consumer Reports finds

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Hot cars can be a threat for children even during the cooler months of the year, according to new findings released Friday by Consumer Reports.

The new warning for parents states that even though the hot summer months have ended, the temperatures inside a closed car can still rise to potentially fatal levels for young children.

"It can happen even in the milder temperatures," Janette Fennell, the founder and president of the website, told ABC News. "Our vehicles kind of act like a greenhouse.”

The new Consumer Reports findings warned it is a misconception that heatstroke deaths in vehicles only occur during extremely hot days.

"Temperatures that might seem comfortable for adults can quickly become dangerous for children," Dr. Orly Avitzur, Consumer Reports' medical director, said in the new report, adding that elderly people and those with cognitive problems may also be at risk, "If they're left in a car on even a mild day."

So far this year, 39 children have died in hot cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

ABC News' Gio Benitez met up with Consumer Reports' director of operations Jennifer Stockburger at a test site to see firsthand just how high temperatures rose inside a vehicle during an autumn day when the outside temperature was approximately 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

"We're at about 74 degrees, very close to the ambient temperature," Stockburger said from inside the lighter colored sedan. Inside the dark-colored sedan the temperature was approximately 75 degrees at the start of the test.

After 30 minutes, the temperature inside the dark sedan soared to 98 degrees and reached 94 degrees in the light sedan. After an hour, the temperature inside the dark sedan reached 104 degrees, while the temperature in the light sedan reached 99.2 degrees.

Despite the 5-degree difference in temperature between the light sedan and the dark sedan, Stockburger emphasized that both vehicles are still going to heat up quickly.

"It doesn’t matter if you’re in a light-colored car, light-colored interior, you’re still going to get warm," she said. "You should never leave any child unattended in a car."

Stockburger added that at the "105 range, babies are in trouble.”

Fennell adds that a child's body is incredibly vulnerable.

"They don’t have the ability to get that heat out of their body," Fennell said. "They’re going to heat up three to five times faster than an adult.”

American Academy of Pediatrics reiterates Consumer Reports' findings on its website, saying, "Children can die when left in a closed car or truck even when the outside temperature is not that high."

The academy provides tips for parents and caregivers to avoid hot car deaths on its website, recommending them to always check the back seat to make sure children are out of the car before walking away, to avoid distractions while driving and to be extra alert when there is a change in your routine. Another tip they provided was to leave your cellphone or purse in the back seat so that you are forced to check the back when you arrive at your destination.

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CDC: Suicide is more common among Americans in rural areas

Credit: James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(NEW YORK) --  According to data released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans who live in rural areas are consistently more likely to die by suicide than those who live in metropolitan counties.

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and the CDC notes that there were more than 500,000 suicides between 2001 and 2015, the period during which the study was done.

"While we've seen many causes of death come down in recent years, suicide rates have increased more than 20 percent from 2001 to 2015," said CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald. "This is especially concerning in rural areas."

Rural areas saw 17.32 suicides per 100,000 people during the course of the study, according to the CDC. Small and medium metropolitan counties saw just 14.86 per 100,000 people, while large metropolitan counties had just 11.92 suicides per 100,000 people.

Across geographical areas, suicide rates were four to five times higher for men than women.

Perhaps most concerning, suicide rates increased for all age groups, which the largest rates and the largest increases both appearing in rural counties.

"The trends in suicide rates by sex, race, ethnicity, age, and mechanism that we see in the general population are magnified in rural areas," James Mercy, director of CDC's Division of Violence Prevention said. "This report underscores the need for suicide prevention strategies that are tailored specifically for these communities."

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Mochi the St. Bernard earns world record for longest tongue on a dog 

afhunta/iStock/Thinkstock(SIOUX FALLS, S.D.) -- There's a Guinness World Record for just about anything. Including dog's tongues.

Mochi "Mo" Ricket, an 8-year-old St. Bernard from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, will go in the record books for having the longest tongue on a dog.

Her massive tongue was measured by a veterinarian at 7.3 inches — the length of two and a half Jenga blocks, according to Guinness World Records.

Mochi's owner Carla Rickert adopted the St. Bernard when she was just two years old from the Big Dogs Huge Paws breed rescue organization and told Guinness World Records it was "love at first sight."

The dog's impressively long tongue can sometimes leave her tongue-tied, Rickert said. Treats have to be fed to her in a certain way so she can grab them, and her tongue sometimes causes breathing problems and extra slobber when she is nervous. Plus, dirt, dust and leaves can get stuck to it when Mochi picks things up.

But Rickert said she thinks her happy-go-lucky dog is certainly proud of the recognition.

"It still does not seem real. Mochi is so humble, she never brags or boasts, but I know that she is as proud of her new record as we are," Rickert told Guinness World Records. "It feels truly amazing to be a part of the 'Guinness World Records: Amazing Animals' book. We are so grateful for the opportunity to make others smile."

Mochi is featured in the new publication alongside many other talented and unusual creatures.

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Therapy dogs comfort survivors of Las Vegas shooting VEGAS) -- A group of therapy dogs are being flown to Las Vegas to comfort survivors from Sunday's mass shooting in Las Vegas.

The LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs, affiliated with Lutheran Church Charities, are helping survivors, families of victims, first responders and others after a suspected shooter Stephen Paddock opened fire during the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival, killing 58 people and injuring nearly 500.

"The key is for people to cry and for people to start talking about what they're are going through, and it's a key part of the healing process," said Tim Hetzner, president and CEO of Lutheran Church Charities and founder of the K-9 Comfort Dog Ministries. "The great thing about the dogs, they're unconditional, confidential and safe."

"Dogs have an incredible sense of when somebody is hurting," he added. "They'll just come and lay themselves into somebody's lap."

Since the Vegas tragedy on Oct. 1, the dogs have visited schools, first responders and area hospitals.

They've also comforted families at the Las Vegas Convention Center as they waited to hear news of their loved ones, Hetzner said.

Hetzner started the organization in August 2008 with four dogs. It now has more than 130 dogs in 23 states who have responded to tragedies such as Sandy Hook, Orlando, the Dallas shootings and disaster response for Hurricane Harvey.

On Monday, the canines attended a candlelit vigil for the victims of the Vegas shooting and will attend another tonight with the police department.

They will also visit the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and the emergency call center to help relieve stress of hotel staff and 911 dispatchers, Hetzner said.

"We only go where we are invited and we never charge who we serve," Hetzner added. "We try to put boots and paws on the ground within 24 hours."

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