Entries in Survivors (7)


Shooting Survivors Should Be in School, Psychologist Says

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Connecticut school officials' plan to get survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting back together at a new school is exactly the right decision, says a youth trauma psychologist.

Authorities announced on Monday that the Newtown, Conn., elementary school where 26 people, including 20 children, were gunned down, will be closed "indefinitely," but Sandy Hook students and staff could be back in classes at nearby Chalk Hill School in Monroe, Conn., by this week.

"It's a good idea that kids go back to school as soon as possible and normalize and get...accustomed to a routine," said psychologist Susan Lipkins.  "You want to make it as familiar and easy as possible so the transition is as smooth as possible for teachers, faculty and the children."

Most children do not understand death; they understand that their parents and teachers are upset and draw on those emotions, Lipkins said.  She believes it was the right decision to have the students return to classes, especially before the Christmas break, because it will help them adapt to the new situation.

"If they didn't have school this week that really would give the children too much time to get accustomed to being at home...and it would increase their likelihood of developing phobias," she said.

Lipkins also agreed with the decision to have Sandy Hook remain closed because going back to the scene of the massacre would have been "too traumatic" for everyone.

"I think that the scene is too extreme and that it would be very hard to erase the memories," Lipkins said.  "It's really good for everybody to have their normal routine but to have those physical manifestations would make it probably more stressful."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Dogs Put Smiles on Faces of Sandy Hook School Students

Goodshoot/Thinkstock(NEWTOWN, Conn.) -- Some much-needed smiles were brought to the children of Newtown, Conn., by way of seven dogs especially trained to comfort survivors in the wake of a disaster.

Seeing the dogs led to some of the town’s children smiling for the first time since Friday’s murderous rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said Tim Hetzner of the Lutheran Church Charities.

The dogs, mostly golden retrievers, “bring some relief” to children, and put, “a smile on their face, kind of like a teddy bear, but a live one,” Hetzner told ABC News.

Hetzner, who has taken dogs to New York and New Jersey after superstorm Sandy hit in October and to Joplin, Mo., following a devastating  tornado, said the animals are “like a counselor” meting out "trusting unconditional love.”

Hetzner says his organization begins training dogs as puppies when they are about five and half weeks old. It takes a year to train the dogs, making them calm enough to work with the public in post-disaster situations.

Some of the dogs were stationed outside an interfaith memorial service on Sunday night, at which President Obama spoke, eulogizing the 20 children and seven adults killed in a massacre at the hands of 20-year-old Adam Lanza last Friday.

According to the Lutheran Church Charities website the seven dogs in Newtown are: Abbie, Chewie, Luther, Ruthie, Barnabas, Hannah, and Portage. Each of the dogs has its own Facebook page.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Nor'easter Stress Is Normal for Sandy Survivors

EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- At the height of superstorm Sandy, Jane Frank clung to her husband and three boys as the water rose. It flooded their basement and rose as high as the first floor of their Belle Harbor home in the Rockaway section of Queens. Despite the pounding rains and gusting winds, they were forced to open the upstairs windows because the smell of gas from leaks and fires in the area made it difficult to breathe.

Now their house is uninhabitable. She's relocated her family a hundred miles away to her parent's summer home in upstate New York.

And Frank said she's feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the future. The nor'easter that bore down on the area Wednesday made her particularly anxious.

"With another storm coming in I feel like we are up against a clock," she said. "We're terrified it will set things back and it'll take even longer to get back home."

Simon Rego, the director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, said Frank's anxiety over the incoming weather is perfectly normal, considering what she's been through.

"People's brains are wired with a radar system that helps them look out for potential threats," he said. "It makes sense that after going through a traumatic event like a natural disaster we're primed to react to similar events."

Frank probably isn't the only one who's feeling nervous about the incoming storm system. Rego said anyone who weathered the worst of Sandy may already be suffering from acute stress disorder, a precursor to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Looking up at the storm clouds may make them feel anxious, fearful and depressed, he said, or they may feel a sense of emotional detachment to what's going on around them. They may have trouble sleeping and eating – or may they sleep too much and overeat. They may become obsessed with news reports about the storm or go to great lengths to avoid them altogether. Headaches, stomach upsets and other physical ailments are also typical symptoms of stress.

"For someone who has experienced Sandy, they may fear the worst is yet to come with this new storm," Rego said.

According to Rego, it's natural to feel worried about a storm coming in right on the heels of a superstorm. For people who've recently gone without power, heat, water -- or a place to live -- it brings up legitimate concerns.

But there are ways to help oneself. Rego said it's important to keep things in perspective by recognizing Sandy was a storm of historical proportions and a very rare event.

"Try to balance the extreme negative thoughts with more reality-based thoughts. There will be snow and wind this time around, but nothing that's predicted will be on the same scale as what Hurricane Sandy gave us," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


For Hantavirus Survivors, Yosemite a Painful Reminder

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When Jennifer Benewiat first came down with a fever on Christmas 2010 at her home in Wichita, Kan., she thought it was the flu.

What she didn't know was that she had a deadly illness called hantavirus, which would stop her heart three times in ten days.

"I get upset still because I had no idea, and it's just a mouse," Benewiat said. Hantavirus is carried in airborne particles of urine or feces from infected mice, which can be inhaled by people. "It's really scary, and people don't realize the danger that comes from something so little."

As the number of Yosemite campers at risk for hantavirus climbs to 10,000, including people in 39 countries outside the United States, those who have survived the deadly airborne disease are reminded what they went through and the struggle that still lies ahead.

"There's a perception that once a patient has left the hospital, that the patient has completely recovered and can go about their normal routines just like before, but that's not really the case," said Marjorie McConnell, a medical sociologist at the University of New Mexico who founded the Hantavirus Survivors group on Facebook and Twitter.

McConnell started the group a few years ago to give survivors a place to support one another. It now includes 42 survivors and their family members, including a few new faces in light of the outbreak at Yosemite.

Benewiat, 29, said the hantavirus group on Facebook first alerted her to this summer's Yosemite outbreak, which has already killed two people and infected four others. As she read, overwhelming fear passed over her for a moment. It's the same sensation she gets every time she reads about a new hantavirus case as a result of her post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

It all started with a 104-degree fever and flu symptoms that wouldn't go away, Benewiat said. It's still not clear where she inhaled the virus. The first time she went to her doctor's office, he ran a number of tests, but found nothing. He sent her home with medicine for nausea.

When nothing changed the next day, he told her to go to the emergency room, where doctors performed more tests. But they still didn't know the mystery illness they were treating, and Benewiat was beginning to fear passing it to her 2-year-old twins, her infant, her mother or her sister.

"The first doctor she saw in the ER was just going to send her home," said Benewiat's mother, Gayle Collins, 52, as she fought off tears. "If she would have went home, she would have died in her sleep that night." Benewiat's oxygen level dropped while she was at the hospital. Within a few hours, Collins was signing paperwork to put her on a ventilator.

A doctor friend from New Mexico, where hantavirus is more common, recognized the symptoms right away. They tested Benewiat for hantavirus, but the results would take more than a week to process before they could get an actual diagnosis.

That was time she didn't have, but sure enough, a chest X-ray revealed that her lungs were full of fluid, a common symptom of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Of the 587 reported hantavirus cases in the United States, 36 percent of them resulted in death as of December 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Benewiat's fever reached 107 degrees and she fell into a coma. Doctors decided to keep her unconscious as they pumped her full of medicine and steroids. Collins stayed by her daughter's bedside the whole time except when doctors inserted a chest tube to drain Benewiat's lungs. Collins said she was afraid her daughter would feel pain even in her comatose state and couldn't watch.

Benewiat's recovery was touch and go for 10 days as her kidneys and liver failed, Collins said. Doctors had to resuscitate her three times. Finally, her body began to fight the virus on its own and doctors brought her out of the coma. She was temporarily paralyzed from the neck down because of the steroids, and would have to learn again to walk and feed herself in a rehabilitation center after she left the intensive care unit on January 20, 2011.

"She didn't understand where she was," Collins said. "She knew she had had that flu at one time, but she didn't understand where she was. She thought she'd been kidnapped."

Even though Benewiat has returned to a normal life, she said people don't realize how much physical and emotional pain she's faced in the aftermath of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Her life now includes depression, PTSD, anemia and chronic pain. Her mother also worries about her kidney function, which is regularly tested.

When Benewiat's therapist suggested she find a support group for survivors, she learned that she wasn't alone.

"I think it's particularly important for folks dealing with these processes to be able to discuss the issues since recoveries may be similar but not identical," McConnell said of the group. "The Facebook survivors can empathize and offer advice to one another, which is an important part of the recovery process."

One survivor, Charlotte Winter of Santa Fe, N.M., said doctors told her family that if she'd been airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital just 10 minutes later, she would have died. When she arrived there, her heart stopped, and she was blue from head to toe. She, too, was in a coma and on heart and lung bypass for a number of days.

It has been five years now since she was stricken. "While I look okay today, the overwhelming fatigue and other aftereffects of HPS cause me to be disabled," Winter wrote in an email to ABC News.

In light of the Yosemite outbreak, McConnell's group of survivors have started a Tumblr page, which includes news articles and updates from government health departments.

Health officials have already emailed 3,000 people who camped at Yosemite's now-closed signature cabins from June through August, urging them to keep an eye out for symptoms, seek medical attention early, and let doctors know about their hantavirus risk. The number of people at risk is reported to be 10,000.

"The Facebook survivors are keen on getting education and awareness out into the public so appropriate cleaning methods are utilized," McConnell said. "Survivors don't want anyone else to go through what they experienced, or perhaps lose a life."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Twins Born to Dead Father Ineligible for Benefits

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Twins conceived in Florida from the frozen sperm of their father who died 18 months before their birth are not entitled to survivors benefits, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The twins’ mother, Karen Capato, became pregnant through in vitro fertilization after the death of her husband, Robert Capato, from cancer in 2002. The Social Security Administration rejected her claim for Social Security survivors benefits, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in a 9-0 vote.

“Tragic circumstances gave rise to this case,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote.

But the Social Security Act Congress passed in 1935, she wrote, calls for resolution of Karen Capato’s application for child’s insurance benefits to come under state law. “We cannot replace that reference by creating a uniform federal rule the statute’s text scarcely supports.”

Under Florida law, a child may inherit property from a deceased parent only if the child was conceived during the parent’s lifetime.

Ginsburg’s ruling interprets the Social Security Act, signed 77 years ago, for an era in which sperm and eggs can be frozen and stored indefinitely.

“The technology that made the twins’ conception and birth possible, it is safe to say, was not contemplated by Congress,” she wrote.

The first “test tube baby,” Louise Brown, was born in 1978.

Ginsburg said other states may take a different approach, adding that posthumously conceived children can inherit property in California “if the child is in utero within two years of a parent’s death.”

A bill in the Maryland legislature would allow children born within two years of a biological parent’s death to receive inheritance, as long as the parent consented in writing.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


More than One in 20 Americans over Age 20 Is a Cancer Survivor

Duncan Smith/Thinkstock edit Delete caption(NEW YORK) -- Cancer no longer sounds the death knell it once did.  In fact, more Americans are living with cancer than ever before.

According to a new study by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 20 Americans over age 20 is now a cancer survivor.

Using data compiled by other cancer studies, the NCI and CDC found that the estimated number of cancer survivors in the U.S. increased from 10 million in 2001 to almost 12 million in 2007.

The data also revealed that women had a higher rate of survival than men. Almost two-thirds of all cancer survivors as of January 1, 2007 had been living with the disease five years or more.

The most common cancers diagnosed were breast, prostate and colorectal. 

The majority of survivors were seniors 65 and older, while fewer than one percent were 19 or younger.  Many of those had leukemia.

Researchers cite several reasons for the increased cancer survival rate including advancements in screening and early detection, more effective treatment and clinical follow-up, and an aging U.S. population.

If these trends continue, the number of cancer survivors is expected to climb even higher.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Report: Melanoma Survival Affects Men and Women Differently

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ROTTERDAM, South Holland) -- Researchers say the experience of surviving melanoma may be more significant to the emotional lives of women than men.

Melanoma is the most deadly of all skin cancers, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.  But if caught early enough, before it has spread to the lymph nodes and other tissues and organs, the disease can be cured. 

Authors of a study published in the February issue of the Archives of Dermatology say that 80 percent of melanoma patients see a "relatively good" prognosis.  The catch, however, is that melanoma survivors also face the lifetime risk of disease recurrence.

Dr. Cynthia Holterhues and her colleagues at the department of dermatology at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands found that female melanoma survivors exhibited more serious reactions to the diagnosis and survival experience than men.  Compared to men, female survivors of the skin disease were more likely to suffer from worse physical and mental health.

On the other hand, the study authors also found that male survivors of melanoma were less likely than their female counterparts to go on to take cautions to protect themselves and their families from harmful UV radiation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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