Entries in NFL (15)


Sundance, Inauguration Organizers Brace for Flu

Hemera/Thinkstock(PARK CITY, Utah) -- This weekend will be big for movie buffs, football fans and Barack Obama. But as Americans flock to the Sundance Film Festival, the NFL playoffs and the Presidential Inauguration, the weekend could also be big for the flu.

About 35,000 Americans have been sickened by an early and nasty wave of influenza, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while the outbreak appears to be abating, flu activity is still widespread.

"Our biggest concern is people coming in asymptomatic but carrying the virus," said Rob Allen, chief executive officer of Park City Hospital in Park City, Utah, the home of Sundance.

Utah is one of 33 states reporting high levels of influenza activity. And Park City, home to roughly 40,000 people, will more than double its population this weekend as actors, director, producers and fans fill its hotels, restaurants and theaters.

"We have 50,000 people coming in, potentially bringing with them flu from their areas," said Allen, who partnered with local businesses to distribute hand sanitizer as visitors arrive. "If they practice good hand hygiene, hopefully they won't spread it so we can keep it isolated."

The flu virus spreads through microscopic respiratory droplets that travel six feet in a cough or a sneeze and survive on skin and other surfaces.

"And influenza can be spread by someone who's not yet sick," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. "They'll become sick tomorrow, but today they're emitting the virus as they exhale."

The best protection against the flu, according to the CDC, is the flu shot. This year's vaccine guards against three widespread strains of the virus and is 62 percent effective.

"We recognize that the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, but it's the foundation on which all other protection is built," said Schaffer.

Frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer can also guard against the virus. The Georgia Dome -- home of the Atlanta Falcons and Sunday's National Football Conference championship football game -- has hand sanitizer pumps at every entry gate.

"That's standard policy for us," said Jason Kirksey, a spokesman for the 70,000-seat stadium. "With any event we have here, the safety and security of our fans is our number one priority, and that includes protection from any kind of airborne disease."

But football fans should still fight the urge to high-five and hug, according to Schaffner.

"School children are now taught that during an influenza outbreak, handshakes are out," he said, describing how flu-fearing students are bumping elbows in lieu of high-fives. "But at exciting and emotional events, it's hard to resist. So get vaccinated and try not to hug someone who's coughing or sneezing."

Sunday's Presidential Inauguration is expected to draw 800,000 people to Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will man medical stations along the National Mall.

"Our advice for the inauguration is the same advice for a day-to-day basis," said HHS spokeswoman Elleen Kane. "Make sure you get the flu shot; if you cough or sneeze, do it into your elbow; wash your hands frequently and keep them away from your nose and mouth; and if you feel sick, stay home."

"It's pretty hard to protect yourself from the flu when you are in a crowd," said ABC News' chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. "Sure, you can use hand sanitizer to clean your hands. But when the person next to you lets go with a big sneeze or a cough, you are sunk."

And it's not just the crowded events, according to Schaffner. "It's the travel to and from the events," he said, describing how packed airplanes and busy airports can teem with germs. "There's only so much you can do when you're in 13C and someone's sneezing in 13B. It's an unlucky row."

So while the weekend will be big, it's not worth risking the health of those around you, according to Besser.

"If you have a fever or you are just getting over the flu, stay home," he said. "I know it's hard to do when it's an event you've really been waiting for, but it's the right thing to do."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


NFL & Army Team Up to Combat Traumatic Brain Injuries

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- On Capitol Hill today, U.S. Army’s Vice Chief of Staff General Lloyd Austin along with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with members of Congress to discuss a joint initiative by the Army and NFL to increase awareness and education about head injuries.

The effort aimed at Army soldiers and the NFL and football world,  carries a message that  together they can better address traumatic brain injuries that are sustained both on the battlefield of war and on the football field.

At a press conference, General Austin pledged that the Army is “not going to stop” until there is progress made, and that the Army is “committed to making that progress.” Austin also said that much has been learned about traumatic brain injuries in the last ten years than in the previous 50 years.

Goodell pointed to some of the work that has been done between the Army and NFL, like sharing data and research on traumatic brain injuries, and sharing equipment and censors that mutually benefit soldiers and football players.

Goodell said that player safety is a number one priority for the NFL and that working with the Army can “make our troops safer, sports safer, and society safer.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NFL Players Risk Death from Alzheimer's Disease, ALS

File photo. Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Former National Football League players are more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and ALS, a new study found.

The study of more than 3,400 long-term players between 1959 and 1988 found the risk of death from neurodegenerative disease was triple that seen in the general population, and adds to a burgeoning body of research linking contact sports to chronic brain disease.

"Our results are consistent with those from other studies," said Everett Lehman, an epidemiologist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati and lead author of the study published today in the journal Neurology. "No one study can make a definitive conclusion about whether concussions cause neurodegenerative disease; the body of literature is what's important."

Of the 334 players who died during the study follow-up, 27 had neurodegenerative diseases that caused or contributed to their deaths, according to the study. The risk of death from Alzheimer's or ALS was nearly four times higher among former NFLers. There was no increased risk of death from Parkinson's disease.

But the players' concussion histories were unknown, raising the possibility that factors other than head trauma might be at play.

"We can't directly link concussions and neurodegenerative disease," said Lehman, explaining how his study relied on death certificates to probe the incidence of neurodegenerative disease. "I think preventing concussions is a logical step to take, but whether that will result in a reduction in chronic neurological disease remains to be determined."

The median age of death from all causes was 54, according to the study.

Previous studies have linked contact sports to chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE – a progressive brain disease with features of Alzheimer's, ALS and Parkinson's disease. Lehman said it's possible some of the NFLers in his study had CTE, which can only be diagnosed by a brain autopsy.

"There's no way of knowing," he said. "The symptoms are all very similar."

CTE can also manifest as rage and depression. In February 2011, former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson fatally shot himself in the chest, leaving a note requesting his brain be sent to the "NFL brain bank" for study. He was later diagnosed with CTE. Former San Diego Charger Junior Seau's brain was also donated to the brain bank after his suicide in May. The results are pending.

Growing awareness of the long term impact of concussions has prompted some former NFLers to sue the league, claiming it downplayed the risks. Other players have signed up to donate their brains to research – a gift they hope will bolster concussion research and protect future athletes.

And the NFL today announced it would donate $30 million to support research on medical conditions affecting athletes, including concussions and late-life neurodegenerative diseases.

"We hope this grant will help accelerate the medical community's pursuit of pioneering research to enhance the health of athletes past, present and future," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "This research will extend beyond the NFL playing field and benefit athletes at all levels and others, including members of our military."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NFL Retirees Suffer Brain Damage, Study Finds 

JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/GettyImages(NEW YORK) -- A recent study showed that over 40 percent of retired NFL players suffered from problems such as dementia and depression, adding to a heaping mound of evidence that recurring sports-related head traumas can result in long-term neurological problems, Health Day reports.

Researchers from the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas analyzed 34 ex-professional football players, with an average age of 62, on such things as memory, problem-solving, reasoning and behavior. They found that 20 of the men tested normal while the remaining retirees suffered from memory and thinking deficits, depression or a combination of both.

Dr. John Hart, the author of the study, said they found that many men were depressed but weren't aware of it. He said the cognitive impairments were more than what is expected for their ages, and noted that many of the men had damage to their brain's white matter, which is a marker to look for, says Health Day.

Hart's study included ex-NFL athletes from North Texas. Researchers also analyzed the brains of 26 people from the general population with no signs of mental deficits, and matched in age, education and IQ.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NFL, Military Partner to Reduce Concussions

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- They are known as the invisible injuries. They may not result in bruises, breaks, or even loss of limbs, but the results of concussions can be disastrous, leading to severe brain trauma as well as psychological and neurological disorders.

Concussions are injuries that the NFL knows too well. Six out of 10 NFL athletes have suffered concussions and nearly one-third reported having three or more, according to a 2000 study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology. In a more recent study, conducted in 2007 by the University of North Carolina's Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, 20 percent of the retired athletes who recalled having three or more concussions suffered from depression.

But while the consequences are pervasive, the problem is not unique to athletes. For General Raymond T. Odierno, chief of staff for the U.S. Army, concussions are often looked at as lesser injuries and are rarely discussed among his soldiers.

"We have to make them [the soldiers] understand that you have to come forward because it has to be treated," Odierno said.

For this reason, he and the United Service Organizations Inc. (USO) have partnered with the NFL to try and eradicate the stigma associated with head injuries. He met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last month to discuss how a future campaign will play out.

As a former football player himself at West Point, Odierno says there are more similarities than differences between a soldier and an athlete and believes that the partnership will assist in changing attitudes about head injuries.

"There's a lot of things similar to sports and the army: the teamwork, not letting your buddies down, not letting your teammates down, not letting your infantry squad mates down. ... I think part of it is the stigma of not letting your fellow player down or not letting your fellow squad member down," he said.

There have been nearly 230,000 reports of traumatic brain injuries among the soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to military figures. Head injuries have been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers and a study done earlier this year found links between head injuries and a degenerative brain disorder known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

While the military puts its troops through rigorous tests before, during and after deployment, it is hoping to pool resources with the NFL to better its technology, improve its marketing, and expand its medical information.

Since Odierno and Goodell's meeting, a group of players, coaches, analysts, and doctors have met at the Pentagon. The first session included Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark, Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge. A meeting Friday sat players down with members of the Army and Marines.

Odierno expects for the formal campaign to be launched later this summer.

And while details of practical effectiveness have yet to be seen, Odierno hopes that the shared experiences of the servicemen and women and the athletes can spur collective change.

"I think that if they see somebody they know," he said, whether personally or know him from playing football willing to come forward, willing to say, 'I have a problem,' maybe it will make it easier for him to say he has a problem," he said.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Junior Seau: Safety Debate Continues as Family Delays Brain Donation

Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- The family of Junior Seau, the NFL football star who died last week, is now reconsidering donating his brain to science, backing off their decision last week to let his brain be examined for signs of traumatic injury.

"The Seau family is currently revisiting several important family decisions and placing them on hold in order to confer with their elders," said Pastor Shawn Mitchell, the longtime San Diego Chargers' chaplain, in a statement. The Seaus are of Samoan descent, and elders are the most respected and highly regarded in a Samoan family. They are often consulted when making family decisions. It is unclear when the family now plans to make its final decision regarding the brain donation.

Seau, 43, who played for the Chargers as well as the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, was found dead last Wednesday at his home in Oceanside, Calif., apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Medical examiners ruled his death a suicide.

On Thursday evening, the family said they hoped that the brain donation would help others "down the road."

Seau's death has sent shockwaves through the sports and science worlds, but experts have cautioned that it is too early to determine whether Seau's suicide was linked to potential concussions he likely experienced during his 20-year NFL career.

Jacopo Annese, director of the University of California at San Diego's Brain Observatory, said there has not been a definitive link shown between blows to the head and such disorders as depression, dementia and Alzheimer's, but he did say there is strong scientific and anecdotal evidence.

While research methodology has not changed dramatically, the questions have evolved, offering clues into the potential lifetime adverse effects of hits and concussions.

"Like searching for the link between traumatic injury and more subtle and insidious effects like depression, suicide, and dementia," said Annese. "This has been particularly crucial in the world of sports where unprecedented body mass and acceleration create the scenario for severe trauma if there is a collision."

The death of Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl player, came only one day before more than 100 former NFL players filed a federal lawsuit in Atlanta, claiming the league did not properly protect them against concussions and did not provide proper medical care after they finished their careers.

Seau's death bears a resemblance to that of other athletes in hard-hitting sports, including Chicago Bears football player Dave Duerson. Duerson shot himself in the chest in February of last year. Duerson's family filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL, saying the league did not protect against concussions. Several former NFL players have committed suicide in recent years, and many experts believe the deaths could be related to repeated blows to the head. In addition to Duerson, ex-Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Terry Long and Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Andre Waters took their own lives. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative and progressive disease found in people who have experienced multiple blows to the head, has shown up in the brains of several former athletes who committed suicide, including Duerson.

CTE has similar brain features to those of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease.

As of October, more than 500 current and former professional athletes agreed to donate their brains to the VA Brain Bank, which works in affiliation with the Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Annese said the Brain Observatory at UCSD has been in contact with several athletes who are considering participating in the brain donation program.

"Like Mr. Seau, they feel that they personally hold many of the answers needed to know how to make their sport safer for future generations," said Annese. "The examination of the brain is only the final and definitive chapter of a long narrative that we create working with our participants."

The average life expectancy of a retired football player is 58, according to the NFL Players Association. That is far less than the average American man's life expectancy of 75 years, according to government data from 2006. Repeated blows to the head may disturb neurotransmitters that affect mood, and may also damage parts of the brain that have to do with impulse control and the ability to weigh the long-term consequences of decisions.

But until more research has been done, experts caution against definitively linking the hits Seau took on the field and his suicide.

In 2009, the NFL instituted new rules that require clearance from independent neurologists to allow players who suffered concussions to return to the field. The league also imposed stricter guidelines to reduce the number of helmet-to-helmet hits.

"What happened to Junior Seau is terribly sad," said Annese. "The least us scientists can do is to match his dedication to his sport and his community with our own dedication to research, finding the reasons for such tragedy, so that it does not have to happen again."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Junior Seau's Death: Is There a Brain Injury Link? 

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The circumstances coming to light about the death of former NFL linebacker Junior Seau may highlight what some doctors see as a growing link between head trauma, mental illness and suicide, a connection that has come to the forefront of sports safety research in the last decade.

Seau was found dead from a gunshot wound to the chest at his home in Oceanside, Calif., Wednesday morning.

If Seau did indeed commit suicide, his death would bear a resemblance to that of other athletes in hard-hitting sports, including Chicago Bears football player Dave Duerson. Duerson shot himself in the chest in February of last year.

Seau played in the NFL for 20 years for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. On Wednesday, Chargers Chaplain Shawn Mitchell told ABC News that Seau died of a "self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest this morning." Seau was 43 and leaves behind three children and an ex-wife, Gina Deboer.

The Chargers released a statement to ABC News' San Diego affiliate: "Everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now. We ask everyone to stop what they're doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family."

The case may be similar to that of Duerson, who left a note requesting his brain be sent to the "NFL brain bank" for study.

Several former NFL players have committed suicide in recent years, and many experts believe the deaths could be related to repeated blows to the head. In addition to Duerson, ex-Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Terry Long and Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Andre Waters took their own lives. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative and progressive disease found in people who have experienced multiple blows to the head, has shown up in the brains of several former athletes who committed suicide, including Duerson's.

CTE has similar brain features to that of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease.

Last May, Dr. Ann McKee, co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, a research center that studied Duerson's brain after his death, told reporters that Duerson "had classic pathology of CTE and no evidence of any other disease," ESPN reported at the time.

"Exactly how the brain damage causes mood disturbance is not clear," said Dr. John Whyte, director of the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute in Philadelphia, who does not know Seau's medical history. "There could be biological changes going on, or changes in the neurotransmitters that affect mood, or it could be a psychological factor that this brain injury has disrupted work and family life so much that it has really changed your life."

Until more research has been done, Whyte said the public should not jump to conclude a definitive link between concussions that Seau may have experienced in his career and death. But repeated blows to the head may also damage parts of the brain that have to do with impulse control and the ability to weigh the long-term consequences of decisions.

A concussion is caused when the brain is shaken so hard that it hits the inside of the skull, resulting in brain trauma. Studies have contributed to the growing concern over head injuries, particularly concussions, in football and other contact sports.

For reasons that remain unclear to experts, having one concussion makes a person more prone to further concussions. According to a study published in Neurosurgery last year, American football players who sustained three or more concussions were significantly more likely to develop depression and were five times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

According to statistics from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, about 47 percent of high school football players sustain at least one concussion each season. And 35 percent of those who reportedly suffered from a concussion actually sustained two or more in the same season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 2 million brain injuries are suffered by teenage players every year.

While there is more concern over players and suicide, Whyte said sports are likely becoming less dangerous because of all the research being devoted to safety guidelines, proper equipment and the aftermath of a career of brain injuries.

In 2009, the NFL instituted new rules that require clearance from independent neurologists to allow players who suffered concussions to return to the field. The league also imposed stricter guidelines to reduce the number of helmet-to-helmet hits.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch Aims to Tackle Meningitis

Comstock/Thinkstock(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) -- Deion Branch is famous for catching Tom Brady's touchdown passés—a role that earned him Super Bowl MVP in 2005. But off the football field, Branch is raising awareness and funds to tackle meningitis in honor of his son.

Branch was 21-years-old when his twin boys, Deiondre and Deiontey, were born in Louisville, Ky. Small but strong, the twins endured two weeks in intensive care before coming home from the hospital. But six days later, Deiondre returned to the hospital.

"He wasn't eating. And he'd cry when you picked him up," said Branch, recalling the new-parent panic that prompted a late-night trip to the emergency room.

A series of tests revealed Deiondre had meningitis, inflammation in the lining of his nervous system triggered by a viral infection.

"The disease was already taking over his body," said Branch. "The doctors gave him six months to live."

But Deiondre fought hard and lived despite irreversible brain damage. He is now 11-years-old, and although he can't walk or talk, he lights up when he sees his dad.

"He always smiles and he's always going to make me smile," said Branch. "It's an honor to have him for a son."

Branch, who also has two younger daughters with his wife Shola, said he looks forward to the day Deiondre can play with his siblings.

"I know deep down inside he will," he said.

Because he needs constant care, Deiondre lives at Home of the Innocents, a Louisville non-profit that cares for medically fragile children.

"He is beloved by his family and the staff here," said Gordon Brown, president and CEO off Home of the Innocents. "He's one of those kids that always has a smile on his face."

Brown said kids like Deiondre who beat the odds make his job worthwhile.

"We see this kind of hopeful stuff happen all the time, and you never get callous to it," he said. "You always get that emotional charge every time you start to see progress; every time something works out better than predicted. It's wonderful to be part of that."

Deiondre gets regular visits from his mom and brother, Deiontey, who live in Louisville. And Branch makes the trip down from Foxborough every chance he gets.

Branch launched a charity called the Deion Branch Foundation to raise awareness about meningitis in children and funds for medical care and research. On Saturday, he and Deiontey pushed Deiondre in his wheelchair for the Kentucky Derby Festival mini-marathon. They raised $27,000.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NFL Brawl Leads to Ref’s Cancer Diagnosis

George Gojkovich/Getty Images(NEW ORLEANS) -- Tony Corrente, a veteran referee for the National Football League, started a second round of chemotherapy for throat and tongue cancer Monday, two days after officiating Saturday’s playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Detroit Lions.

Corrente recalled his fluke cancer diagnosis and his drive to keep working during treatment in an interview Monday with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King.

It started with a brawl between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Sept. 11 season opener. Corrente, a high school social sciences teacher in La Mirada, Calif., stepped in to split up the scrum. Instead, the ref was pushed over, landing hard on his head and back. Feeling the pain after the game, Corrente, 60, was given the option of Tylenol or Motrin. He picked Motrin, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory that also acts as a blood thinner.

In the days that followed, he began to cough up blood and was referred to a throat specialist who spotted the thumb-sized tumor.

“Getting knocked down and hurt in that Baltimore game might have saved my life,” Corrente told King. “Had I not done anything, or had I taken Tylenol, which doesn’t cause your blood to thin, I probably wouldn’t have discovered this for a while. And by then, I’d have needed massive surgery, and who knows what chances I would have had.”

Corrente started a seven-week stint of chemo and radiation therapy in October at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston that caused him to lose his hair and three weeks of work. But he was back in time for the Nov. 20 Baltimore-Cincinnati game.

Most throat cancers are detected when patients complain of voice changes, difficulty swallowing or palpable lumps on the neck. But coughing up blood can also be a symptom.

“This is an unusual way of being alerted to a diagnosis,” said Dr. Edward Kim, chief of head and neck medical oncology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Kim was not involved in Corrente’s care. “But there are all kinds of anecdotes like this in sports  -- fluky plays that lead to a diagnosis.”

Because throat tumors tend to be spotted early, the prognosis is usually good. But the aggressive treatments can take a toll. On top of chemo, Corrente is also undergoing radiation therapy, which will blister his throat, fade his voice and make it painfully difficult to swallow.

Although he made it through Saturday’s Saints-Lions game, Corrente said he felt weak and sore Sunday. He told King he’s disappointed to be out for the rest of the playoffs, but added he’s looking forward to next season.

Kim said hunkering down at work can provide a much-needed distraction for people going through cancer treatment. “Whether you’re a lawyer, an executive, an NFL ref or a secretary, one can only imagine how hard it is not to think about the diagnosis and the future,” Kim said. “I do believe the more people can stay occupied and do things to keep busy and keep a positive attitude, it really goes a long way in helping them through the battle.”

Corrente might have a tough road ahead. But based on his performance Saturday, Kim said the prognosis looks good. “I would expect him to be calling games next season,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Jerome Harrison: NFL Trade Leads to Cancer Diagnosis

NFL Handout(DETROIT) -- A midseason trade may have saved NFL running back Jerome Harrison’s life.

Harrison, who was sent to the Philadelphia Eagles from the Detroit Lions, was undergoing a physical to seal the deal when doctors found a brain tumor, ESPN reported.

The surprise diagnosis, the details of which are still not known, voided the trade, but meant Harrison could start life-saving treatment.

The 28-year-old missed practice Thursday and will likely be out for the rest of the season. Harrison was scheduled for Friday afternoon surgery, according to the Detroit Free Press. He’s expected to get back in the game after kicking cancer, ESPN reported.

Lions teammates of Harrison told the Detroit Free Press that he had been experiencing headaches prior to the diagnosis, and that the problem worsened forcing Harrison to wear sunglasses during practices and later be fitted for a visor.

Harrison is not the first athlete to catch a lucky break and learn he had a hidden tumor. In July, 25-year-old golfer Chris Logan was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after he was hit in the head by a rogue golf ball at the AT&T National tournament in West Chester, Pa. After surgery and radioactive iodine treatment, Logan’s doctors say he’s cancer-free.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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