Entries in New York (18)


New York's Bellevue Hospital Set to Evacuate After Sandy

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- New York City's Bellevue Hospital and its remaining 700 patients have struggled along in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, with failing power, partially lighted halls and no computers, making it difficult to locate patients within the facility, hospital staff told ABC News on Wednesday.

When Sandy hit the New York area Monday night, Bellevue almost lost its generators.  At least one got repaired just in time to stave off an evacuation, but it's been a struggle to keep the hospital going.  Now, an evacuation is expected, making Bellevue the second of the city's public hospitals to be taken off line because of precarious and failing conditions that could endanger patient health.

"It's Katrina-esque in there," one nurse told ABC News.

Bellevue is perhaps the best known of the 11 hospitals that make up New York City's public hospital system.  On Tuesday, another of those hospitals, Coney Island Hospital, at the tip of Brooklyn, was evacuated.  Although one of its generators was still puttering along, another had long been underwater, and officials were reluctant to leave patients in such precarious conditions.

Lights out, computers down and long walks up and down dark stairwells and hallways to treat patients -- these are the conditions doctors, nurses, aides and staff face at Bellevue, as well as at Metropolitan Hospital, another city hospital that is running on backup generator power.

For two days, the Bellevue staff and the city have been poised for an eventual full evacuation, and that time now seems to have come, along with another quest for beds.

A spokesman at Mount Sinai Medical Center told ABC News that when it could no longer reach anyone at Bellevue, it sent a medical team of eight to Bellevue.  When the group arrived, two cardiac physicians told the Mount Sinai team they had two very serious patients that needed help.

Both of these patients will be moved to Mount Sinai, which is preparing for more patients.

On Wednesday, Bellevue nurses could be seen walking up and down stairs with food trays and medicine.  Some had to hike to the 17th floor, where some patients have "serious conditions."

Up and down the stairs, the evacuation of patients was under way.  But many patients still remain at Bellevue, according to city officials and hospital staff.

Police are stationed throughout Bellevue, and are limiting visitors' access to the main lobby entrance unless they are there to see family members.

The hospital is no longer admitting patients.

New York City's other major hospital evacuation this week happened Monday night at New York University Langone Medical Center.  A stream of ambulances evacuated patients from the hospital after backup generators failed following a power outage, city officials said.

NYU Langone Medical Center spokesman Christopher Rucas told ABC News on Tuesday that more than 300 patients had been safely moved out of the hospital and transferred to surrounding institutions.  Dozens of these were critical care patients, city officials said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NYC Hospitals’ Baby Formula Plan Rankles Mommy Bloggers

Image Source/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Breastfeeding experts are applauding New York City’s “Latch On NYC” initiative, which aims to encourage breastfeeding and curb baby formula use in hospitals, but some mommy bloggers are not happy, and they are taking their grievances online.

One of these bloggers is Katherine Stone, a 42-year-old mother who lives in Atlanta. In her Babble blog post on Monday -- titled “Back Off of the Mamas, Mayor Bloomberg!” -- she criticizes the additional monitoring of formula use in hospitals.

“It’s a thin line,” she said. “I think it’s a little bit scary because it begins to infer that it’s a bad, bad thing to feed your child formula.”

Meredith Carroll is a 39-year-old mother and Babble blogger who lives in Aspen, Colo., and she, too, takes issue with the impending New York City policy.

“This isn’t morphine,” Carroll said. “I’m not a drug addict that needs to be kept away from a drug. I just want to feed my baby.”

Both bloggers said they realized that the initiative would not affect them directly, as they do not live in New York. But the plan will see 27 of New York City’s hospitals implementing its policies on Labor Day, which include keeping formula in locked storage rooms and monitoring its use.

The initiative will also discontinue the practice of hospitals distributing free infant formula at the time of discharge, prohibit the display of formula promotional materials in hospitals, and encourage greater enforcement of existing regulations prohibiting the use of formula for breastfeeding infants unless medically indicated.

It is not the first time the availability of baby formula in hospitals has been put under the spotlight. An August 2011 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lambasted hospitals for not adhering to steps designed to encourage breastfeeding in hospitals spelled out by the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

The initiative, sponsored by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, suggests that hospitals “[h]ave a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff” and “[g]ive no pacifiers of artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.”

At the time of its report, the CDC noted that only four percent of hospitals had adopted at least nine out of 10 of the steps included in the initiative, and that nine percent of hospitals had adopted two or fewer of the steps.

Breastfeeding experts said that in light of this dismal situation, the New York City plan is sorely needed -- and they say such policies will not restrict mothers’ choices in feeding their infants.

“Locking the formula up and paying for it does NOT mean it won’t be available for mothers who choose to exclusively formula feed or for mothers who want to supplement or for medically necessary formula supplementation,” wrote Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a pediatrician at Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper in Camden, N.J. “It simply helps keep track of usage and cuts down on indiscriminate use.”

Feldman-Winter, who is a published researcher on the topic of infant formula use in hospitals, said closer monitoring of formula has been demonstrated to make a difference.

“We have shown that once the formula is kept in a locked cabinet and used only when medically necessary, then the usage is cut in half, resulting in more infants exclusively breastfeeding, an outcome good for the infant, family and our society as a whole,” she said.

Dr. Miriam Labbock, director of the Center for Infant & Young Child Feeding & Care, also agrees with Bloomberg’s move to institute the plan.

“It is amazing to me that so many papers have somehow headlined that this deprives folks in some manner,” said Labbock, who was previously in charge of UNICEF’s efforts to encourage breastfeeding, in an email to ABC News. “All other nutraceuticals and drugs have been controlled under lock and key in all hospitals for ages -- formula had been the only unfortunate exception.”

The point on which everyone seems to agree is that breastfeeding is the ideal approach. Blogger Stone said most of the discussion she has seen online recognizes the fact regardless of position on Bloomberg’s plan.

“People who can have a reasoned discussion about this really do understand the importance of breastfeeding,” Stone said. “It’s important we promote breastfeeding…I support the idea of promoting breastfeeding and increasing the percentage of women who do it. It is crucial thing.”

And according to the Latch On NYC website, there is no requirement for new mothers to breastfeed while in the hospital. “While breastfeeding is healthier for both mothers and babies, staff must respect a mother’s infant feeding choice,” the website states.

But the site does encourage hospital staff to remind mothers of the health benefits of breastfeeding when they request formula. Among the recommendations offered on the website for hospital staff is advice that they can “[a]ssess if breastfeeding is going well and encourage the mother to keep trying” and “[p]rovide education and support to mothers who are experiencing difficulties.”

Stone said that for women who can’t breastfeed, the policy would represent another hoop through which these new mothers would have to jump -- possibly adding to their guilt at the worst possible time.

“I hear from moms who have all sorts of problems related to breastfeeding, whether it is the inability to produce enough milk, or medical conditions they have, or their baby having problems breastfeeding,” Stone said. “There are a lot of things that lead a mother to not being able to breastfeed."

“Many of them do go through the experience of having people judge them for that. People saying they are selfish, or that they don’t care about the baby.”

Carroll said she knows firsthand the guilt that comes with not being able to breastfeed as a new mother. She writes in her blog that, at the time her older child was a baby, she had tried unsuccessfully to breastfeed her.

“It’s not up to me or Mayor Bloomberg to pass judgment on any mother who makes a choice about how to feed her baby,” Carroll told ABC News. “It’s embarrassing for a new mother to go out of her way to ask for something she may need or may want. Maybe someone who hasn’t been in that situation is not aware.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NY Mom on Way to Hospital Delivers Twins on Two Different Highways

Declan (L) and Gavin (R). (Courtesy Deirdre Shea)(NEW YORK) -- Before a very pregnant Siobhan Anderson left her Amityville, N.Y., home early Saturday morning to deliver twin baby boys, her mother told her, "You'd better not give birth on the Northern State Parkway."

She didn't.  Instead, she gave birth on two other Long Island highways -- Southern State Parkway and Wantagh State Parkway.

Siobhan and Bryan Anderson expected to welcome their twin baby boys next Friday, but Siobhan's water broke at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning -- nearly a full week early, Bryan said.

Heeding their doctor's advice not to rush or panic, they took their time and got into the car at about 7 a.m.

Siobhan said she felt a big contraction, and suddenly felt the baby's head a few minutes after they pulled onto Southern State Parkway.  She told her husband he was going to have to deliver the twins right there on the side of the road.

"She kept screaming, 'The babies are coming,'" he said.  "I was like, 'I think we have time to at least get to the hospital.'"

Siobhan told Bryan to pull over near Exit 30, where he called 911.  Once EMTs arrived, Siobhan told them she couldn't move from the car because she was "holding the baby in," but they didn't believe her because even most emergency births aren't immediate, she said.

"They were helping her out of the car and into the stretcher and that's when Gavin was born," he said.  "Born right there on Southern State Parkway."  It was 7:35 a.m.  Gavin was 6 pounds, 12 ounces.

"As soon as I moved, he came out," she laughed.  "He was born at 7:35 in the open air."

Once Siobhan delivered the first baby, EMTs got her in the ambulance.  The plan was to drive to the nearest hospital in time for her second son to be delivered.

Meanwhile, Bryan got back in his car and followed the ambulance, calling his brother-in-law to calm himself down.

But less than 10 minutes later, the ambulance pulled over on Wantagh State Parkway.

Confused, Bryan said he jumped out of the car.  EMTs told him "baby number two" was coming, and let him in the back door of the ambulence.

At 7:46 a.m., Declan was born at 5 pounds, 15 ounces.

"I sat right behind her," he said.  "It was an unbelievable experience."

They walked into the Nassau University Medical Center with both babies in-hand.

"We were just in shock," Siobhan said.  "I'm still in shock that it happened.  I can't believe I was able to do that."

She said the scariest part was that she knew she had to give birth naturally, even though she'd thought that she needed an epidural before she even left the house.

Siobhan, Gavin, and Declan will be able to go home Friday to be with Dad and their big brother, Dylan.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New York's Proposed Cap on Soda Size Gets People Fizzing

Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic(NEW YORK) -- Are large sugary drinks a health risk or a civil rights concern? That's the debate set off by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to restrict the sale of sodas and other sugar sweetened beverages to 16 ounces or less.

Advocates on both sides of the issue faced off at a public hearing Tuesday in Queens. Beverage companies, their advocacy groups and some consumers vehemently object to the ban. Aside from the obvious reason that it will cut into profits, they claim it will limit choice and amounts to "nanny state" policing of personal nutrition.

"While we feel the mayor has good intentions, his proposal seems arbitrary," said Eliot Hoff, a spokesperson for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a group that receives a portion of its funding from the National Beverage Association. "We believe that we can choose what we drink and how much we drink."

Should the proposal be adopted, it would only apply to establishments under the supervision of the Department of Health, which includes restaurants and movie theaters but not grocery and convenience stores. So any business that receives a letter grade from the city could not sell super-sized drinks under the proposed rules -- but the 7-11 or bodega right next door could continue to sell Big Gulps or giant-sized beverages.

This did not sit well with many of the 100-plus people who attended the hearing, including most of the elected officials who spoke on behalf of their constituents. Even as he expressed admiration for the Mayor's ongoing commitment to health, Daniel J. Halloran, councilman for the city's 19th District in Queens, warned that small business owners would be unfairly penalized by the ban. He called the initiative "absolutely ridiculous, unenforceable and hypocritical."

Others objected to consumers being forced to buy two smaller drinks at a higher cost if 16 ounces didn't quench their thirst. This, they said, will stretch the already tight budgets of New Yorkers.

"Families who typically share one large drink will no longer be able to do so and will definitely wind up paying more," said Hoff.

On the other side of the aisle, groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said it's about time someone addressed the ballooning portion sizes of sweetened beverages.

"For more than 100 years, the soda industry has had free reign and for many years it was not a problem because people mostly drank in moderation," said Michael Jacobson, CSPI's co-founder and executive director. "Now container sizes have jumped and the marketing of these drinks -- especially to adolescents -- has exploded to more than $2 billion a year."

The current default container size for a soda is a 20-ounce bottle, more than triple the 6.5-ounce size that was once standard. And that's tiny compared to McDonald's 32-ounce serving, Burger King's 42-ounce serving and the 54-ounce soda sold at Regal movie theaters. When you factor in sports drinks, sweet teas, vitamin waters, and energy drinks, Jacobson and other health experts who attended the hearing say it's no surprise the average person drinks 40 gallons of sweetened liquids per year.

The Bloomberg proposal has no precedent; this is the first time a U.S. city has so directly attempted to limit sugary-drink portions. Even the experts in support of the size limit say it's impossible to predict whether it will help cut sugar and calorie consumption or make an impact on the percentage of obese New Yorkers.

However, Bloomberg and his supporters say the data are on their side. They point to the success of other ongoing initiatives such as the posting of calorie counts on menus and the trans-fat ban as models of how effective the super-size ban could be.

"If people shifted from one 20-ounce serving to a 16-ounce serving just once a week, this could potentially prevent an estimated 2.5 million pounds of weight per year," Jacobson said.

Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for food policy and obesity at Yale University, cited research linking increasing portions of sugared beverages -- as well as soup and foods such as macaroni and cheese, sandwiches, pasta, and potato chips -- to a 25-50 percent increase in overall consumption. Worse, he said, liquid calories don't create the same feeling of fullness as solid foods do, so consumers often don't make up for the excess by cutting back at subsequent meals.

People also tend to consume food in the size of the bag, bottle or box it comes in, a phenomenon known as unit bias. When packaging is larger, people consume more. With the steady growth in package sizing over the last few decades -- especially soda bottles -- this has consumers subconsciously eating more than they intend.

However, many obesity researchers say limiting drink sizes is a useless gesture that gives a false sense of accomplishment.

"It's never been definitively shown that the obesity epidemic is due to drinks larger than 16 ounces," said Nikhil Dhurandhar, an obesity researcher from Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana. He did not attend the hearings but is familiar with the Bloomberg plan.

He said there is no way to compartmentalize eating and that limiting or removing a single food from the diet is no guarantee it won't be replaced by another source of calories.

Indeed, studies by the Centers for Disease Control have not indicated a definitive link between soda consumption and obesity. And a recent study published in the Journal of Behavior Nutrition and Physical Activity found that when schools eliminated unhealthy foods and beverages from campus, children did make healthier choices -- but obesity rates didn't decline and were no different from schools without such bans.

Regardless of where they stood on the issue, just about everyone who attended the hearing conceded that Bloomberg's proposal was likely to pass when it comes up for vote this September by a panel of health experts handpicked by the mayor himself. If the rule is adopted, it will go into effect in March 2013. Establishments that violate size limits can be fined by up to $200 per violation.

In addition to the public health policy experts represented at the meeting, a slew of celebrities, including chef Jamie Oliver, filmmaker Spike Lee and former president Bill Clinton have publicly supported the Bloomberg initiative.

Still, some said the ban could be a slippery slope.

"What will they be telling me next," councilman Halloran wondered. "What time I should go to bed? How many potato chips I can eat? How big my steak should be?"

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Erin Brockovich Slams EPA over Toxic Waste Superfund Site in Le Roy

ABC News(LE ROY, N.Y.) -- More than four decades after a train derailment left a massive toxic chemical spill in a small upstate New York town, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that they will begin removing 235 drums of dirt still sitting on the site.

The Lehigh Railroad Derailment Superfund site is located in Le Roy, N.Y.; the same town that has received national attention over the past several months because of a medical mystery involving a group of girls who suddenly began displaying Tourettes-like symptoms.

Last fall, about a dozen girls attending Le Roy High School began experiencing uncontrollable and painful tics, seizures and verbal outbursts, which appear to be similar to the symptoms of Tourettes syndrome.

As of Thursday, nearly two dozen people, including one 36-year-old, are displaying the symptoms.  Some in town have wondered whether there is some connection with the decades-old toxic chemical spill.

Enter Erin Brockovich, the environmental activist who became a household name after Julia Roberts portrayed her in an Academy Award-winning film.

Brockovich was asked by some concerned parents in Le Roy to explore whether the spill could be linked to the bizarre symptoms their daughters are suffering.

The derailment left a spill of over 30,000 gallons of liquid trichloroethene (TCE) and cyanide crystals.

TCE is a dangerous man-made chemical that was once used as a solvent to remove grease from metal and to strip paint in manufacturing plants. Over the years, several studies have linked TCE exposure to certain types of cancer. Long-term exposure can affect the central nervous system, according to the National Institute of Health.

While the chemicals were reportedly cleaned up at the time, hundreds of barrels of TCE and cyanide contaminated earth gathered shortly after the spill remained at the site for 40-some years.

After a recent national media spotlight was shined on the Lehigh site, the EPA returned to test the barrels.  The results?  “No tested contaminants were detected in materials from 203 of the drums. In 32 of the drums, some detectable concentrations of contaminants were found.” The barrels will be removed by Friday and sent to a landfill that Lehigh is permitted to accept hazardous waste in Belleville, Mich.

Meanwhile, Brockovich’s colleague, environmental scientist Bob Bowcock, also went to Le Roy last month to conduct preliminary tests.  His results suggest that the plume of the contaminates did not move toward the Le Roy High School.

“This is good news,” said Bowcock. "It is one of the many areas we are investigating where we are able to reprioritize, so we can focus our attention and resources on other environmental concerns” in Le Roy that might have caused recent health problems there.

Bowcock’s stresses that his investigation is looking at a myriad of environmental concerns, including the natural gas wells on the grounds of Le Roy High School, fill material used at the school, the routine complaints of fumes or odors in the school vent system, the school’s storm water system and biological and chemical concerns surrounding the school’s sports field.

And as of yet, Bowcock and Brockovich say, they have found no link between the spill and the Tourettes-like symptoms.

Nonetheless, Brockovich is not pleased with the EPA. In a letter to Nightline anchor Cynthia McFadden, she said that the EPA is sending mixed messages. “On one hand, the EPA suggests they found no contamination in the barrels, but they go on to detail the contamination they did find, including TCE and cyanide.”

After reviewing the area for possible environmental causes of the illness and conducting testing in the area, Brockovich’s team came across the derailment site.

“We actually alerted the EPA that the rotting barrels were still there in Le Roy. They had no idea.” Brockovich said.  ”The EPA didn’t even realize the barrels of hazardous material had never been disposed of properly.”

Brockovich calls the EPA’s press release a “feeble attempt to gloss over their abject failure in Le Roy,” and she said that the “EPA clearly dropped the ball.”

Calling the derailment site “the largest TCE Superfund site in the country,” Brockovich went on to say that “the EPA had responsibility to ensure that the polluter clean up the site and remove the drums of toxic waste within 30 days of being filled. And that never happened. ”

According to Bowcock there are approximately 15,000 Superfund sites in the United States and Le Roy is just one example of thousands of towns that are unaware of their environmental surroundings.

“The EPA is failing -- it is not protecting people, it is not protecting the environment,” Brockovich said. "Sadly, it takes citizens like me, and the people of the impacted communities, to speak up and fix problems that should have been dealt with years ago.”

The EPA declined ABC News’ request for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Erin Brockovich: Research into Upstate NY Tourette's Case Preliminary

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has corrected misinformation regarding her investigation into the medical mystery in an upstate New York town where a group of teenagers has displayed symptoms similar to Tourette syndrome, saying that her research is still preliminary.

Nearly two dozen people, including one 36-year-old, in the upstate New York village of LeRoy are now experiencing uncontrollable tics, seizures and outbursts that might have been caused by a chemical spill in the town more than 40 years ago.

In a statement released Tuesday, Brockovich said she is still investigating a plume from a 1970 train derailment in LeRoy, which dumped cyanide and trichloroethylene (TCE) -- a chlorinated hydrocarbon used to de-grease metal parts -- within three miles of the village's high school.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that TCE can affect the central nervous system, and cause dizziness, headache, sleepiness, nausea, confusion, blurred vision and facial numbness.  It is suspected of being linked to the symptoms among LeRoy's local teens.

Brockovich associate Bob Bowcock reportedly said on Feb. 11 that samples taken from the wells of private residences had not migrated west and south -- toward LeRoy High School -- as some had feared.  Although at the time Browcock said that the investigation would continue for the next several months, Brockovich on Tuesday said that the tests he referred to were preliminary.

"Contrary to an erroneous news report, I want to make clear that my investigation into possible sources of environmental contamination in LeRoy, New York that may or may not be linked to the serious illnesses suffered by various members of the community is not complete," Brockovich said in a statement.  "In fact, it appears the number of people in the area displaying alarming health issues that can be caused by TCE is growing."

"It took the EPA 40 years to investigate the contamination from the train derailment and it will take us more than 40 days to get to the root of the problem in LeRoy.  I want to further stress that we have not ruled out the TCE plume from the train derailment as a source of contamination at LeRoy High School," she added.

Brockovich, 51, added that her team has many more areas of LeRoy to test, including the local quarry, six fracking wells at the high school and the Methyl tert-butyl ether (MtBE) contamination in local wells, while stressing that thoroughness is key in her investigation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NY Mystery Illness: Parents Want Erin Brockovich On the Case

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Months of mounting frustration surrounding a mysterious illness apparently causing facial tics and verbal outbursts that started among teenagers in Le Roy, N.Y., has come to a head as reports of the illness expand and the high school where it began comes under fire.

Nearly two dozen people in the upstate New York community are now experiencing uncontrollable tics, seizures and outbursts they say may have been caused by a chemical spill in the town more than 40 years ago.

The original affected teenagers -- 14 girls and one boy -- all attended Le Roy Junior-Senior High School when they started showing symptoms last fall. Most of the teens have been diagnosed with conversion disorder, a psychological condition induced by stress that is sometimes called "mass hysteria" when occurring in clusters, such as in Le Roy. One of the victims is a 36-year-old.

The parents of the afflicted teenagers contest that diagnosis and dismiss suggestions that social media may be to blame.

"No, there is too much going on in Le Roy," Charlene Leubner said Tuesday on ABC's Good Morning America.

Leubner's 16-year-old daughter, Traci, is one of the teenagers who first began experiencing symptoms late last year.

"Mine started in early December and I started with a really bad stutter to where I couldn't talk and I got sent home," Traci Leubner said of her symptoms, which she says are provoked by stress and sadness.  "It eventually developed into a head twitch and then it went away for a little while."

Leubner and other parents are demanding that the school allow environmental activist Erin Brockovich to investigate potential environmental causes behind the disease.

Brockovich, who famously linked a cluster of cancer cases in California to contaminated drinking water, prompting an Oscar-winning movie starring Julia Roberts, launched her own investigation last month.  She says a derailed train that spilled cyanide and trichloroethene within about three miles of Le Roy High School in 1970 may be behind the Tourette-like symptoms.

"They have not ruled everything out yet," Brockovich told USA Today. "When I read reports like this that the New York Department of Health and state agencies were well aware of the spill and you don't do water testing or vapor extraction tests, you don't have an all-clear."

Bob Bowcock, an investigator for Brockovich's team, was asked by officials to leave the Le Roy High School property during a visit there Jan. 28 to collect soil, air and water samples from the school grounds.

On Monday, he posted an open letter to the school asking for their assistance, according to The Daily News.  The school has said it will post a response on the school district's website.

"We really want the school to do some outside testing and let Erin Brockovich's crew in because there has been great resistance as far as having them come in," Lana Clark, whose 16-year-old daughter, Lauren Scalzo, is another of the 15 students originally afflicted, said on GMA.

"They were too quick to reach a diagnosis and they did minimal testing," she said of the school's reaction to the outbreak.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Erin Brockovich Launches Investigation Into Tic Illness Affecting N.Y. Teenagers

BananaStock/Thinkstock(LE ROY, N.Y.) -- Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has launched her own investigation into the mysterious illness causing facial tics and verbal outbursts among 15 teenagers in Le Roy, N.Y.

Most of the teens have been diagnosed with conversion disorder -- a psychological condition that causes physical symptoms. But Brockovich suspects ground water contamination from chemical spill more than 40 years ago may be to blame.

"They have not ruled everything out yet," Brockovich told USA Today. "The community asked us to help, and this is what we do."

Don Miller, whose 16-year-old daughter Katie still suffers from debilitating tics, said his sister contacted Brockovich for help.

"We're just trying to eliminate everything, and she wants to eliminate that it's the environment," said Miller. "It's a possibility and she wants to either prove it is or it isn't something in the environment."

Brockovich, who famously linked a cluster of cancer cases in California to contaminated drinking water inspiring an Oscar-winning movie starring Julia Roberts, said a derailed train spilled cyanide and trichloroethene within about three miles from Le Roy High School in 1970. All 15 of the affected teens -- 14 girls and one boy -- attended the school when they started showing symptoms last fall.

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"When I read reports like this that the New York Department of Health and state agencies were well-aware of the spill and you don't do water testing or vapor extraction tests, you don't have an all-clear," Brockovich told USA Today.

An investigation by the New York Department of Health found, "no evidence of environmental or infection as the cause of the girls' illness," according to department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond. "The school is served by a public water system...An environmental exposure would affect many people."

Doctors also ruled out PANDAS -- a neurological disorder linked to streptococcal infections -- and the Guardasil HPV vaccine, which many of the girls did not receive, Hammond said.

The school was tested for volatile organic compounds by an independent firm, but, "people are free to pursue additional environmental testing," Hammond said.

Twelve of the teens -- all of them girls -- have been diagnosed with conversion disorder, in which the emotional response to a stressful situation is converted into physical symptoms. Three new suspected cases are still being examined. Women are more likely to get conversion disorder than men, and teens are at a higher risk than adults. But some parents want a second opinion.

"We don't really agree with it," Miller said of the diagnosis. "Down the road, who knows. But for them to give that diagnosis, they have to rule everything else out. And they haven't done that."

The National Institutes of Health has offered to help solve the puzzle. Dr. Mark Hallett, chief of the NIH Medical Neurology Branch, said the cluster of cases offers a unique research opportunity.

"We have offered our help but have not been asked for yet," said Hallett, adding that he has not yet seen any of the teens. "One of the difficulties in this is that there hasn't been a lot of attention to this problem or very much research into it, which has made it somewhat of a mysterious disorder."

Hallett said he's not surprised the teens and their families are looking for another, nonpsychological explanation.

"It always seems to be the case that patients far prefer to have a [medical] diagnosis than a psychological one," he said. "Maybe they don't see the connection; don't see how it's possible to have a tremor or tic produced just by stress."

The possibility of an environmental trigger has been bolstered by reports of similar symptoms in two teens living in Corinth, a town 250 miles from Le Roy. The girls started showing symptoms in May, around the same time they passed through Le Roy on their way to a softball tournament in Ohio.

If it is conversion disorder, there are treatments. Psychotherapy, stress management and in some cases medications can improve the symptoms. But Hallett said more research is needed to understand which approach is best.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Transplant Technique Keeps Lungs Breathing Before Transplants

New York Presbyterian Hospital(NEW YORK) -- Nancy Bloch, 60, of Westchester, N.Y., was physically fit and had no history of medical problems, but a routine checkup that involved a quick listen to her chest detected something she recalled her physician's assistant saying, "didn't sound right."

Bloch was diagnosed in 2007 with a rare lung disease called diffuse interstitial lung disease.  After her diagnosis, her health started quickly deteriorating.

After seven unsuccessful attempts to undergo a routine double-lung transplant, Bloch became in August the second patient so far at New York-Presbyterian Hospital to successfully undergo a revolutionary experimental approach to lung transplantation that could offer potentially more viable lungs to more patients like Bloch who are on the recipient wait list.

The technique, called "ex vivo" -- or, outside the body -- involves taking the lungs that were removed from the donor and placing them in a transparent case, where they are hooked up to a pump and ventilator.  The lungs are closely monitored for up to four hours as they are nourished with nutrients and antibiotics and pumped with oxygen.

In the traditional lung-transplant approach, the lungs are assessed in the deceased donor's body before being removed. If the lung is considered viable, it is stored in cold temperatures within a short window of time before the transplant.

But the new preservation technique "revives" the lungs in a transparent box by gradually warming the lungs to normal body temperature, and the organ is reinstated in an environment as if it is in the body. The lungs are assessed and reconditioned in the operating room until the final minute before being placed in the recipient's body.

In 2011, nearly 1,400 lung transplants were performed, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"We have the potential to increase, even double, the number of transplants we're performing, and to satisfy the needs for more lung transplants," Dr. Frank D'Ovidio, the associate surgical director of the lung transplant program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New York Man Pleads Guilty to Organ Trafficking

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A Brooklyn, N.Y., man admitted in court Thursday that he purchased human kidneys from live Israeli donors that were ultimately transplanted into three New Jersey residents.

Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, 60, earned $410,000 from the three black-market sales and was conspiring to broker another deal when he was caught, federal prosecutors said in a statement. He received another $10,000 as down payment for that transaction.

Rosenbaum’s attorneys, Ronald Kleinberg and Richard Finkel, issued a statement saying their client’s motivation was to save the lives of people who would have died without the transplants because more than 90,000 Americans are on transplant waiting lists.

“The transplants were successful and the donors and recipients are now leading full and healthy lives,” the attorneys said.  “In fact, because of the transplants and for the first time in many years, the recipients are no longer burdened by the medical and substantial health dangers associated with dialysis and kidney failure.”

But New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman called Rosenbaum’s actions “an affront to human dignity” and said these black-market organ sales offer an unfair, life-saving advantage to people who can afford to buy organs.

Rosenbaum, an Israeli citizen, admitted the sales took place between 2006 and 2009.  He was ultimately caught in a sting involving the FBI and a woman who told Rosenbaum her uncle needed a kidney transplant. According to prosecutors, Rosenbaum told the woman he knew the organ sales were illegal, but he had been in the business a long time. They agreed on a price of $150,000, part of which he said was to pay individuals for their part in finding a donor.

He faces three counts related to the kidney brokering and another count of conspiracy.  He could spend up to 20 years in prison and have to pay a stiff fine. He will also pay back the $420,000 he earned and is under house arrest until he is sentenced in February.

Prosecutors did not name the hospitals where the transplants took place, but as for whether the institutions should hold any accountability, Dr. Linda Chen, surgical director of the Live Donor Kidney Program at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, said it is difficult to determine whether individuals are being honest about where organs come from.

Chen also said that because waiting lists for kidneys across the country are so long -- it is about two-and-a-half years in Florida and seven to nine years in New York -- it makes sense that there is such a profitable black market out there.

“But this is a big blow for the transplant community,” she said. ”We need to get the right message out there about the fact that it’s a highly regulated process governed by the United Network for Organ Sharing and the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.”

Chen also said there could be safety issues involved with internationally acquired organs.

“It’s always a safety issue,” she said. ”How long can a kidney remain in a box while it’s transported? There could be issues with prolonging preservation time.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio