'A whole new world of freedom': Sailors with disabilities compete at an elite level

technotr/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Pauline Dowell may never be able to drive a car, but she can sail a boat around the world.

Dowell is legally blind and is one of many athletes with disabilities who competes in the C. Thomas Clagett Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta, an event she has competed in since losing her sight nearly a decade ago.

Each year, dozens of athletes with disabilities participate in the twice-a-year event, which is held in both Newport, Rhode Island, and Oyster Bay, New York. The mission is to provide a space for sailors with disabilities to train and compete at an elite level, and sailors of various abilities -- ranging from paraplegia to those missing limbs to those who are blind -- are invited to show off their skills.

Since its founding in 2002, 20 of the regatta’s sailors have gone on to win medals at the Paralympics.

“These sailors have done very well,” Clagett president, chair and co-founder Judy Clagett McLennan told ABC News' Good Morning America. “Just because you may not have a leg or you have a disease-driven issue doesn’t mean that you are not a whole person inside and that you need to expel that competitive energy somewhere and sailing is one of the many ways they can do this.”

Perhaps no one is more competitive than Dowell, who has a degenerative eye disease that has left her legally blind.

“I’m very passionate about every aspect of sailing, and it’s growing every year,” she told GMA.

Dowell loves sailing so much, she even resides on a sailboat in Boston Harbor with her guide dog.

“It was always a dream to live on a boat,” she said. “I live year-round [on the boat] and yes, the boat is heated.”

She says that sailing has given her a new beginning.

“I’m not allowed to drive. Even robots will have jobs driving but I will never do that,” she said. “I can drive the boat. I can make the boat go. I am able to be an integral part of a team and that’s huge for me.”

Jodi Munden is one of Dowell’s closest teammates. Munden, who is blind herself, found sailing six years ago when a friend invited her to a sailing event in Ontario, Canada.

“It gave me a whole new world of freedom and self-confidence,” Munden said. “It gives a new meaning to the word independence and showing individuals what you can do as a blind athlete."

The duo has competed in a multitude of competitions all over the world against sighted and non-sighted athletes. They find the sport of sailing to be fairly equal for all participants, regardless of physical ability.

“It’s this great equalizer where we can play on, basically, an even playing field... Off the water, it’s not an even playing field,” Munden explained.

More than certain other sports, sailing can be adapted based on competitors' physical abilities. For Dowell and Munden, they compete with the assistance of a sighted guide whose only job is to alert them if there is an obstacle or safety hazard.

For other competitors, equipment can be altered on the vessel to accommodate an athlete’s physical needs.

This is the case for Sarah Everhart Skeels, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a spinal cord injury in the early 1990s.

“I will be sitting in a seat that keeps me in the boat, but my job is to still sail the boat,” she said.

Her teammate, Cindy Walker, also suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving her unable to walk since the age of 14. Today, Walker has regained some movement in her legs but uses adaptive equipment to help her balance while sailing.

“Sailing is the only sport where there’s no barriers,” Walker said. “I can take my family out in a sailboat, but I can’t necessarily take my family to play wheelchair basketball.”

At the end of the day, sailing comes down to skill.

“Everyone out on the water has a different ability. We happen to have abilities that are more identifiable to people, not necessarily on the water but here on land,” Skeels said. “It’s about capitalizing on what your abilities are and not worrying about what abilities you don’t have.”

“It’s more about being in the moment than it is about abilities,” she added. “The disability is just another aspect of who we are, but we are sailors out on the water.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Local businesses work together to combat Ohio's growing opioid crisis

Janet Weinstein/ABC News(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- Treatment facilities and employers are working to tackle the opioid epidemic in central Ohio, which has been particularly hard hit by the growing national crisis.

House of Hope in downtown Columbus has helped an increasing number of opiate addicts through recovery. Hot Chicken Takeover, a Nashville-style chicken restaurant chain headquartered in Columbus, hires recovering addicts as well as other formerly incarcerated and homeless people.

House of Hope has provided addiction recovery services to city residents for 60 years, originally treating mostly alcoholics. But as the drug crisis has slammed Central Ohio particularly hard, they have seen more recovering opiate addicts.

"We treat the disease of addiction. We don't treat a drug," Carolyn Ireland, House of Hope’s CEO, told ABC News. "We are here to help people get sober, you know, and live a life of sobriety."

Twenty-four men at a time can join House of Hope’s six-month residential treatment program where they go through individual and group counseling as well as cognitive behavioral therapy. Graduates may continue to live in recovery residences after completing the program.

Kyle Harden entered House of Hope’s doors two years ago as he was battling alcohol and opiate addictions. Now he works as the organization’s outreach director.

"Two years ago I couldn't stop using drugs and alcohol, was living in a homeless shelter. I was in and out of jail, couldn't hold down a job. No money, no hope. No friends, family wanted nothing to do with me," Harden said. "Now because of my time here, I work for the House of Hope."

While Harden found employment at House of Hope, the program also helps place graduates into jobs at other local businesses, including Hot Chicken Takeover.

Hot Chicken Takeover considers itself a "second chance employer," meaning people with employment barriers, like past drug addiction or incarceration, have a fair shot at jobs.

"A large percentage of our workforce are men and women in some state of recovery," Joe DeLoss, the founder and co-owner of Hot Chicken Takeover, said. "There's a sense of ownership, often an aspiration for what life could look like."

Approximately 70% of the restaurant chain's employees are formerly incarcerated or homeless. DeLoss said they have found second-chance applicants through a variety of local treatment centers and other community partners.

Jamila Perry began working at Hot Chicken Takeover’s North Market location last month after going through treatment for a years-long addiction to opioids. She can now provide for her children, whom she has recently reunited with, and has found a community in her coworkers.

"Our team is like family. Wherever one slacks, we pick it right back up and they don't complain about it. I just love it here," she said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New study shows student athletes more likely to get concussions during games than practices

rmcguirk/iStock(NEW YORK) -- High school athletes are more likely to have concussions during games than in practice, according to a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In the new study, 20 high school sports, including football, wrestling, field hockey and cheerleading, were examined over the course of five years to see trends in concussion incidences and found that athletes were more likely to get concussions during games than practices.

"This is alarming since greater impact forces during the heat of competition may result in more severe head injuries and post-concussive effects over the short- and long-term," said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not connected with the study.

The study, which took a sample of 9,542 reported concussions across a variety of sports, showed that 63.7 percent of concussions occurred during competitions and 36.3 percent occurred during practices.

Football had the highest concussion rate followed by girls’ soccer and boys’ ice hockey.

Glatter said, "The game of football is inherently dangerous and unpredictable, making the risk of serious head trauma, along with bodily injury, always a concern."

As a former sideline physician for the NFL's New York Jets, Glatter is no stranger to head injuries and has seen the effects firsthand.

"The pressure to perform and excel in competition may lead athletes to ‘overplay’ or push themselves beyond their natural capabilities, leading to a higher risk for head injuries and concussions," Glatter said.

For years, concussions have been a growing concern among student athletes, especially in high-contact sports, like soccer, where concussions are mainly posed by "heading," when players use their heads to control the ball to pass, shoot or clear.

Glatter said that repetitive subconcussive impacts can lead to lasting neurocognitive effects that affect teens and children more.

Just last week, the Concussion Legacy Foundation compared football to smoking in a dramatic PSA video and said that kids who play tackle football at an early age versus later in their teen years are 10 times more likely to get CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease common among former football players.

Glatter pointed out that preventative efforts, like the use of a helmet, may reduce the risk of skull fractures and intracranial bleeding, but no helmets exist that can prevent or reduce the risk of concussions.

On soccer, he said, "While a recommendation to avoid heading exists for those under the age of 14, there seems to be no solid effort to make an all-out ban on this practice a reality anytime soon."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Is your positivity toxic? How being positive may be harmful when helping others

Licensed psychotherapist Whitney Hawkins Goodman. (ABC News)(NEW YORK) -- We've all heard of the power of positive thinking. We're told to be positive. Think positively.

So when someone we love is feeling down or facing a challenge, many of us often turn to positivity to comfort and console.

But being positive may not always be the right approach, according to licensed psychotherapist Whitney Hawkins Goodman, who uses the phrase "toxic positivity" to describe the phenomenon.

"Toxic positivity is when we meet somebody with a platitude, advice or a statement, and it leaves them feeling like they don't have room to be vulnerable, explain themselves or share how they're feeling," Goodman said. "This might be when somebody comes to you with a problem and you say, 'Come on, it's not that bad. Get over it ... everything's gonna be fine.'"

"I think as a society we really enjoy this type of positivity because it makes us feel like everything is OK," Goodman said. "It also puts a lot of responsibility on the individual. It lets us be able to say, 'This is your issue and if you could just be a little bit more positive, you would be able to fix it.'"

In reality, life is more complicated than that. Goodman explained via a viral social media post how some positivity can be "dismissive," while "validation and hope" can be better mechanisms for helping people cope.

"Toxic positivity has become such a popular concept with people because positivity has become so popular lately," Goodman said. "I think social media has played a huge role in how much we see positivity being pushed on us in our daily lives -- that everybody else is doing so great and they're so happy, and we're not."

Goodman said your interactions with others can be more helpful when you validate their statements and feelings.

To do that, she has provided tips for how to engage better with our loved ones:

1. Validate the experience that the person is going through. Say things like, "I hear what you're saying;" "I'm here for you;" and "That sounds really hard."

2. Ask them questions, such as, "Can you tell me more about that?" or "Can you tell me a little bit more about what this feels like for you?"

3. Ask the person if they want space to vent about their issue or if they want advice. If the person tells you that they want advice, it's OK to step in and share with them. If they tell you they are looking to share, then this is where you stop and continue to ask questions and be there with them.

"If you're the recipient of toxic positivity, it might make you feel really emotional and like the other person doesn't understand you," Goodman said. "It's OK to tell that person what you need in the moment, and if they're not able to offer it to you, it's OK to say, 'This is about me.'"

If that happens, Goodman suggested going to talk about the issue with another person who might be able to validate you in the moment.

"Toxic positivity is a scary word," Goodman said. "We want you to have more positivity in your life. What's important is that you're able to feel a wide variety of emotions and get to that positive adaptive thought on your own without being pushed there."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


There's a national shortage of Braille teachers and the situation is dire 

Braille Institute(NEW YORK) -- "When my son was born, he was the first blind person I’d ever met," Emily Coleman told ABC News' Good Morning America.

Coleman, 40, now works as a superintendent for the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, in Austin, and is an advocate for Braille education. But before her son, now 14, was born in 2005, she didn't realize the extent of the nation's need for Braille educators and services for blind children.

There is a national shortage of educators who know and can teach braille, and it’s leaving children who need their services in a dire predicament.

The importance of Braille as a code to access literacy

Braille is an essential skill for those without the ability to read and write print due to visual impairment or loss and provides a way for them to access literacy. However, less than 10% of legally blind people in the U.S. read Braille, according to a 2009 report from the National Federation of the Blind.

The lack of Braille education dramatically affects a person with impaired vision's ability to find work. Over 70% of working-age adults with significant vision loss are not employed full time, according to Cornell University’s disability statistics.

About 90% of blind or severely visually impaired people who are employed use Braille, according to the 2012 Report of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

Currently, 84% of blind children attend public school and Braille instruction can be offered as little as an hour per week, reports the The National Braille Press.

While technology is inching in the right direction by including services like speech-to-text, standard on some devices, there is still a long way to go to make all the features of the modern world accessible to those with vision impairment or loss.

And misconceptions remain about the importance of Braille.

"Sometimes it’s a misunderstanding on the part of sighted people who think why can’t some people just listen to information? We have audiobooks, we have recorded information. But until we stop teaching print reading and writing to children who are sighted, we have no justification for stopping Braille reading and writing instruction for students who are blind or visually impaired," Cay Holbrook, a professor at the University of British Columbia who has been preparing teachers to instruct Braille for over 20 years, told GMA.

“It’s not just about creating people who can go to a book and find information -- it’s about creating people who love to read, who love to read and write, who gather information as a part of their lives,” she continued. “And certainly employment is dependent on a level of reading and writing and access to information that’s only available if the child has been taught.”

To be clear, Braille is not a language, it’s described as a code to access literacy. By knowing Braille, many students can go on to achieve great things, according to Kateri Gullifor, who has been teaching Braille for a decade and recently won the 2019 Braille Teacher of The Year award from the Braille Institute.

“I have a student who is in AP chemistry and honors calculus ... and legally blind,” Gullifor said, adding that another one of her former students is living in New York and studying law. "To watch someone learn to read with their fingers is one of the most fascinating things you’ll ever watch."

Braille education across the country

There are many different ways Braille education works across the country. For Coleman, she is at a state school for the blind which is a residential program with intensive Braille learning. The goal is to integrate these students into their local school systems with the building blocks they’ll need to succeed in life.

“Some students come here for a few years, and we offer boarding -- and they come home on the weekends. Other students come here for a couple weeks' bootcamp and go back to their local schools,” she said.

Gullifor’s role includes meeting students in their local schools and giving them one-on-one instruction on Braille. Her caseload ranges but she works with approximately 15 students each year and she often helps teach the same students year after year, creating lasting bonds them.

“It’s such a creative job and it’s really all about catering to exactly what each student needs,” she told GMA.

For students with visual impairments, learning Braille is one of the first steps toward independence, and for educators, it’s a rewarding career.

“I feel like if people knew how awesome our job was, [the shortage of Braille educators] would not be the case,” Gulifor said.

“I always tell people who are coming to me to learn how to teach Braille that I can guarantee them a job -- in the city, in the mountains, near the ocean,” Holbrook emphasized. “It’s just that much in demand.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Mom competes in 140-mile race with daughter who’s unable to walk

Beth James(NEW YORK) -- An Ironman triathlon is considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.

It’s about a 17-hour competition where athletes have to complete a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and then a marathon, which is a 26.2-mile run.

“Enduring 17 hours is quite a bit on the body,” Beth James said.

Beth James, 54, has not only finished one -- an accomplishment by itself -- but she does it with her 23-year-old daughter, Liza James, who is nonverbal and unable to walk.

They are the first mother-daughter duo to compete in the Ironman World Championship, which is, essentially, the Super Bowl of Ironman triathlons. What makes it more incredible is that there is no subdivision for disabled athletes to qualify.

“Our time is no different than the 20-year-olds or the 80-year-olds," Beth James said.

An Ironman race starts with the swimming portion. Liza James, who weighs about 100 pounds, is strapped into a float that is attached to Beth James.

When it comes time for the 122-mile bike ride, Liza James is seated in a racing chair that weighs 21 pounds and is connected to the bike pedaled by Beth James.

Finally, for the marathon portion, Liza James sits in the racing chair that resembles a stroller as Beth James powers through.

Call her “Ironmom.”

“We really need to stop and think what humans are capable of if you can channel something like that maternal love instinct that she has for her daughter,” trainer Peter Defty said.

Beth and Liza James finished the first two portions of the race, but missed the cutoff time for the third in the Ironman World Championship. Still, Beth and Liza James have finished an Ironman race before.

Perhaps Beth James’ physical toughness stems from her mental toughness.

In 2004, Beth James and her three children were making the approximately one-mile drive home from a Fourth of July party when they got into a life-changing accident.

Beth James says she was turning left at a green light when her car got nicked from behind and spun around. Liza James’ head hit the interior of the vehicle and she suffered a severe brain injury.

Liza James, then 6 years old, was in a coma for more than two months. Beth James said doctors had to cut part of her skull -- about the size of Beth James’ palm -- to allow the brain to swell.

That ended up saving her life.

“It’s truly a miracle that they kept her with us,” Beth James said.

Liza James is healthy, but she needs assistance eating and drinking.

Three months after the accident, Beth James developed a noncancerous brain tumor the size of a golf ball. She got it removed in time by the same neurosurgeon who saved Liza James’ life.

Liza James eventually woke up, and Beth James recovered from her brain issue. Beth James was a single mother with three kids. The shock and trauma of it all was hitting her.

“I thought, ‘Beth, you need to get up. You need to care for the children. You need to go for a run. You need to clear your head,’” she said.

She set a goal to run a marathon months after she and her daughter suffered brain injuries. When she finally ran the marathon, she was thinking the whole time about how to include Liza James.

So Beth James got a racing chair for Liza James to sit in while she ran. She started by running a 5-kilometer race, then a 10-kilometer race and continued to work her way up.

“Even though Liza cannot speak, she can communicate,” Beth James said. “She immediately told me, ‘Don’t stop, mom. Don’t slow down, mom. Let’s go.’”

So Beth James kept going. She says Liza James communicates to her through hand gestures and noises.

In the past four years, Beth James has worked her way up to triathlons, sometimes training for up to 10 hours a day. And even though Beth James is not new to Ironman races -- she ran her first one in 1999 -- with the added motivation of competing with Liza James, the race has taken on a whole new meaning.

“Life is a gift,” Beth James said. “Each and every moment of each and every day is priceless. Don’t ever take it for granted. Do not ever complain. There’s always positives surrounding you.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Miscarriage and stillbirth: Woman details her heartbreaking experiences

Courtesy Kendal Taylor(NEW YORK) -- Miscarriage is a heartbreaking reality for many women in this country, with at least 10 to 20% of pregnancies ending in loss, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, that number is likely higher, as many miscarriages occur before a woman learns she's expecting.

Stillbirth, a term used to describe a miscarriage after 20 weeks of gestation, is less common, but is believed to impact 1 in 100 pregnancies, or 24,000 babies, each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kendal Taylor, a Colorado native currently based in Alabama, has suffered three losses -- two miscarriages and a stillbirth -- and now aims to raise awareness of these issues and provide grieving parents with resources.

Taylor, who has a background in nonprofit work, maintains The Hopeful Creative, a lifestyle blog, where she's kept readers abreast of her parenthood journey. Now pregnant for the fourth time -- she's due to give birth to a baby boy later this month -- Taylor shared her story with ABC News' Good Morning America:

Like most, our journey to starting a family began with the cheerful wonder of all the possibilities to come. So when heartbreak took over where joy was meant to be, it knocked us off our feet. We thought we would bring home babies, but instead we came home with empty arms and grieving hearts. When we found out we were expecting, we certainly weren’t expecting this.

Our first pregnancy came as a surprise because it happened quick. Nonetheless, we were thrilled. However, just as quickly as it began, it ended a couple short weeks later. It left us devastated. Nothing prepares you for working through a miscarriage, and we were faced with apprehension in our desire to get pregnant again.

A few months later, we found out we were expecting. We were excited, but with that came a new layer of anxiety that we hadn’t felt before. I was on edge at anything that seemed like it might pose a problem: a cramp here or there, a day of relief from morning sickness or getting an ultrasound and not seeing what we should.

Though it never completely left, that anxiety quieted to the background as my husband, a member of the U.S. Army, deployed to a war zone when I was in my second trimester. But before I knew it, I was about 24 weeks pregnant and realized I should start planning a registry and buying our sweet girl more than stylish outfits and matching bows for her hair.

By that time I had been feeling her kicks and movements at least a few times each day. It was exhilarating! I wished my husband could be there to participate in the excitement. Hearing about it on FaceTime just wasn’t the same as feeling a little foot kick for yourself. Despite this, being able to talk daily was a blessing.

I’ll never forget the knot in my stomach that wouldn’t untangle itself when the doctor told me it’s normal for me to have gone without feeling my baby move for an entire day at 25 weeks. Despite this, I went in to be checked anyway. The silence that signaled the absence of fetal heart tones was the loudest noise in the room. The Doppler slid over my belly, but detected nothing but my own racing heart.

The 20-foot walk down the hallway from the exam room to the ultrasound room felt like miles. My eyes brimmed with tears and dread crept into every part of my being as I avoided eye contact with the happy mamas having a normal appointment that day. All I could think of was my first loss, when the ultrasound confirmed that the bleeding was in fact caused by a miscarriage. Through my fear, I grabbed desperately at any shred of hope I could reach, thinking that maybe the Doppler had it all wrong, that we could chuckle in relief after we saw her heartbeat flickering away. Instead, I was met with a still screen and the words that broke me: "There’s no heartbeat."

The anticipation of giving birth, knowing there would be no happy ending after the pain, was devastating.

A couple hours later I found myself in Labor and Delivery preparing to be induced for what would be a stillbirth. My husband and I were about to face the hardest moment of our lives, while nearly 8,000 miles separated us. During this time I had to work with the Red Cross to get his chain of command officially notified. This was necessary so that he could hopefully come home on emergency leave. I had already shared what was happening with him, but we still needed to get through the red tape of the Army if we wanted him home.

About 10 hours after the induction of labor process started, I gave birth to our sweet Paxton Grace. A fully formed little beauty, she was 12 inches long and weighed just 1 pound, 9 ounces. The labor and delivery nurses were a blessing. They helped take pictures of her for me, and even made a mold of her hands and feet. This gave us something tangible to remember our girl with. And I was able to hold her for as long as I wanted. Despite the pure exhaustion I felt, I stayed up all night holding onto my little babe and staring at the precious face I would soon have to let go of. When the funeral home came to make arrangements the next morning, it took every fiber of my being to muster up the strength I needed to set her down and let them take her. Being faced with this situation is so wrong that unfair doesn’t even begin to describe it.

A couple days later, my husband made it back to the States and was able to hold our precious Paxton Grace. It felt so wrong that saying hello and goodbye to her occupied the same moment. That day I had to say my final goodbye as well, which presented a new challenge. Leaving the hospital was hard, but I had been able to cling to the fact that I’d be able to see her again. This time though, it was final. Words will never do justice in describing the grief that comes with letting your child’s body go. No moment would ever be the right time to leave. We would never be ready. But ready or not, we couldn’t stay in that room forever.

In the days, weeks and months following Paxton’s stillbirth, I went back and forth between two extremes. I either wanted to get pregnant immediately or never wanted to conceive again. I never wanted to replace our daughter, and I knew that no baby ever would, but I also wanted to experience the joy of bringing home our children and being able to raise them.

In our situation, there are no indications as to any issues that would make carrying a pregnancy to full term impossible. Unfortunately, miscarriages just happen. And the cause of our stillbirth was due to an extremely rare condition called amniotic band syndrome. ABS is not genetic, nor is it likely to present in a subsequent pregnancy. Medical professionals don’t know what causes the amniotic bands to form, so they say there’s no indication that another pregnancy would be sure to result in loss. My husband and I started discussing the possibility of another pregnancy.

Despite my deep desire for it, the thought of another pregnancy was terrifying. I told my husband over and over that my heart couldn’t take another loss. I wish so badly that I could inform you it didn’t have to, but it did. We experienced another very early miscarriage in our third pregnancy.

There was nothing uncommon about this that would indicate fertility issues. It was just another case of “bad luck." While it was encouraging that there were no issues present, I cringed at this statement. Luck is success or failure brought on by chance. From the medical standpoint, we had simply hit all the bad statistics. From our standpoint, we were grieving three little lives that we wouldn’t get to share in. Naturally, we began to question if trying to get pregnant again, knowing heartbreak could result, was something we were ready for.

Today, we are pregnant with our fourth baby -- a boy -- and are anxiously clinging to the hope that God will bless us with the opportunity to raise this sweet little one of ours. He's due later this month. I’m working to remind myself that regardless of the outcome, this little life -- just like the others -- is a gift. We must cherish every precious minute that we get with him.

While we have experienced healing from our losses, we have acknowledged that this grief is just something that will always be part of us. We’re finding the beauty and joy in life, because it can still exist. But we’re also comfortable with the fact that we are always going to struggle with the pain of losing our children. And that’s OK, because they are worth remembering and longing for.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Men’s marijuana use increases miscarriage risk for women, new research finds

Tunatura/iStock(NEW YORK) -- New research is highlighting the role men play in infertility and miscarriage.

When men smoke marijuana once a week or more, their partners are twice as likely to experience a miscarriage when pregnant, according to Boston University researchers who examined over 1,400 couples before they got pregnant.

The researches asked the couples about marijuana usage over the past two months and then followed them as they got pregnant and, in some cases, miscarried.

The majority of men in the study did not smoke marijuana, with only 8% smoking once a week or more. Nearly 18% of the couples in the study reported a miscarriage.

Smoking, but less frequently than once a week, did not have an association with miscarriage rate, according to the research.

One reason for the increased risk of miscarriage with male marijuana use, according to researchers, is that smoking marijuana may negatively affect sperm quality and the change in sperm quality may drive the increased occurrence of miscarriage.

The research is being presented Monday at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Congress & Expo in Philadelphia.

"I think that’s part of the reason why this study is getting so much attention, because we’re used to putting all the focus, all the blame, all the stress on the women and the world of male fertility is really exploding," Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News chief medical correspondent and a board-certified OBGYN, said Monday on "Good Morning America." "Forty percent of couples’ infertility is due to male factors so it bears repeating we need to focus on the men just as much as the women."

Ashton points out two red flags in the study: its findings are based on association, not causation, so more research is needed, and there is not yet any peer-reviewed data on the study's findings.

 The lead-author of the research, Alyssa F. Harlow, MPH from Boston University School of Public Health, told ABC News the research will be presented for peer-reviewed publication “in the near future” where it will be further scrutinized.

The research comes just days after researchers in China released a study that found a father's alcohol intake may actually affect a future child more than a mother's intake.

Their results, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, revealed that the risk of heart defects in infants was 44% higher if their fathers drank. They found that this risk was increased by 16% for mothers who drank.

The takeaway for men is that they, like women, need to pay attention to their health prior to conception, according to Ashton.

Ashton shared on "GMA" the following four steps men can take to improve their fertility.

1. Do not smoke.

2. Minimize exposure to high temperatures like Jacuzzis, seat warmers and laptops.

3. Do not overdo alcohol.

4. Exercise regularly.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Suicide attempts among black teenagers are rising

Moore Media/iStock(NEW YORK) --  Since the 1990s, suicide attempts among black youth have risen 73%, while attempts among white youth fell 7.5%, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Previous research has also shown an uptick in suicide rates among elementary school black children, which have nearly doubled since the 1990s.

"I've been concerned for the past decade about black youth not receiving treatment for mental health disorders," said Michael Lindsey, the lead study author and executive director at New York University's McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research.

The study, which utilized anonymous survey data from nearly 200,000 high school students and asked questions about suicidal thoughts, suicide plans and suicide attempts, found that in 1991, 5.9% of black teenagers reported attempting suicide. By 2017, more than 10% of black teenagers said they had made a suicide attempt.

While suicide rates among white teenagers are higher overall, the percentage of white teenagers reporting suicide attempts fell slightly during the study period.

According to Lindsey, part of the problem is that black youth aren't having their mental health addressed by psychologists, psychiatrists or counselors. Instead, some teenagers act out and get involved with the criminal justice system or are suspended from school. Others try to handle unmet psychiatric needs on their own.

"That's the population of kids we think that are engaging in higher rates of suicide attempts," he said. "This is a form of coping. It's pain, turned inward."

In addition to evidence that black teenagers are under-utilizing mental health services because of the stigma associated with depression, there are a variety of structural factors that can take a toll on mental health.

On top of disproportionately higher rates of poverty and adverse childhood experiences among black youth, black American adults are more likely to report being severely psychologically distressed in the previous month than white Americans are, according to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

Better access to mental health services for black teenagers is key, Lindsey pointed out, as is improving cultural competency among existing health care providers.

Lindsey said he once counseled a black adolescent who told him that when he felt depressed, he wanted to knock somebody's head off, "so he feels the same pain I feel."

Interpreting that aggression as a simple conduct problem would be a missed treatment opportunity, Lindsey explained, since many black teenagers express depression as a physical ailment, such as a constant stomachache or headache, or as interpersonal conflict.

"We tend to punish as opposed to treat," he said. "Are we readily thinking that kid may be depressed?"

As it stands, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 12 and 18 years old, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Non-fatal self-harm is concerning, too, since the biggest risk factor for dying by suicide is a previous suicide attempt.

In 2017, 111,000 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 went to the emergency room for self-harm, according to CDC data.

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Breastfeeding benefits mom, baby and the environment

kate_sept2004/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Breastfeeding is not only good for mothers and their babies, but it also protects the environment according to an editorial in the British Medical Journal.

"It benefits all of society," Natalie Shenker, Ph.D., a research fellow at Imperial College, who was involved with the study, told ABC News.

“Breastfeeding does not require the energy needed to make and use formula. It doesn’t create waste or air pollution,” said Dr. Laura Teisch, a pediatrician from Las Vegas.

Formula produces significant waste during its production, distribution and use.

“As with all products, infant formula has an environmental footprint,” says Andrea Riepe, a representative for Reckitt Benckiser Group which has infant formula Enfamil in its product portfolio. The company works to minimize the waste associated with Enfamil, she added.

It's known that breastfeeding protects both women and children. However, recent studies have highlighted that breastfeeding is also good for the Earth. Supporting mothers to breastfeed more would reduce the same amount of carbon emissions as removing nearly 77,500 cars from the United Kingdom's roads each year, asserts the editorial's authors.

Over 80% of U.S. children are breastfed at some point but only about 25% are exclusively breastfed until age 6 months, according to the latest National Immunization Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why should a woman breastfeed?

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports breastfeeding given its benefits to the child. It also helps prevent infection, diabetes, cancer and childhood obesity.

“Decreasing the risk for obesity is really important. Obesity is a risk factor for cancers such as breast, uterine, kidney and pancreatic,” said Dr. Vivek N. Patel, a radiation oncologist from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

There are benefits to the mother as well including decreased bleeding after delivery and a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers, the AAP also notes.

“Breast cancer is linked to exposure to estrogen,” said Patel. “When a woman breastfeeds, their menstrual cycle is delayed and therefore less estrogen is released.”

Why do some parents choose formula?

“Sometimes breastfeeding is contraindicated due to a medical condition,” said Teisch.

For example, “Breastfeeding during cancer treatment isn’t recommended as the treatment can affect your milk supply and harm the baby. If treatment is completed, a woman may breastfeed but the quantity and quality of breast milk may be affected,” said Patel.

Breastfeeding is also contraindicated when mothers have HIV and when infants have certain metabolic disorders.

Some may prefer formula for the convenience.

Formula may also supplement breast milk. Breastfed babies with significant weight loss who also received supplemental formula, had a reduced risk of hospitalization, a recent study in the American Journal of Pediatrics revealed.

Breastfeeding isn’t always an option.

"Women who try to breastfeed but are unable to do so are commonly left with 'mom guilt.' On top of those internal struggles, these mothers are often 'formula-shamed' by family, friends and even medical professionals. Parenting is hard, breastfeeding is hard and life itself can be hard," said Teisch.

The push for "breast is best" feeding often adds pressure on women, agreed Shenker.

"I know the struggle women face when they aren’t able to breastfeed firsthand. I, too, had to rely on formula after the birth of my son. He had an extended stay in the NICU and despite my best efforts and support from family and medical professionals, I wasn’t able to produce enough milk," Teisch shared.

"I don’t formula-shame in my own practice. I encourage breastfeeding to the mothers of my patients and inform these mothers of the benefits associated with breastfeeding, but I also recognize and acknowledge to all my families that a healthy, growing and thriving baby with a happy mother is just as important too. Bottom line, fed is best," said Teisch.

What can we do to support breastfeeding, when possible?

There are multiple ways to support breastfeeding mothers, Shenker said. She believes that healthcare providers should be better educated on how to support mothers when they want to breastfeed. Parents should develop a birth plan and a feeding plan, she also advised.

Better access to milk banks for children who need supplementation would also help, said Shenker. In fact, Shenker founded the Human Milk Foundation which works to create awareness about, supply and raise funding for donor milk. Shenker hopes her research will shed light on the environmental impact of formula to encourage the government to step up efforts that support breastfeeding.

Why is this important now?

Breast health is always important but it’s even more in focus currently as October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“Breast cancer awareness is crucial. There have been so many advances in our ability to detect and treat breast cancer in the past decade. As with any medical diagnosis, knowledge is power.” says Patel.

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