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Thursday
Jun152017

Dad, daughter duo with cleft palates get surgery at same hospital decades apart

Courtesy Molly and Brian Pierce(ATLANTA) -- Hattie Pierce was born with a cleft lip and palate. And when her mom and dad, Brian and Molly Pierce of Atlanta, saw her photo, they knew she would be their daughter.

Brian and Molly Pierce had already decided to adopt from China prior to being matched with Hattie. Brian Pierce, too, had been born with a cleft lip and palate and as such, felt a special connection to the little girl whom he only knew through a photograph.

"In China, you don't get to adopt a quote-unquote healthy child," Brian Pierce told ABC News, adding that Hattie is, in fact, perfectly healthy. "They give you a list of conditions you'd accept, it requires a lot of soul-searching. But a cleft lip and palate made a lot of sense."

Brian Pierce endured seven surgeries between birth and the age of 18. Hattie has had two so far, though more are likely on the horizon. Both father and daughter had their cleft lip and cleft palate repaired at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. In a happy coincidence, Dr. Joseph K. Williams, the surgeon who performed Hattie's surgery, was mentored by the very same surgeon that performed Brian Pierce's.

"Any story of restoration is never really just about the surgery, but the sum of the patient's experience," Dr. Williams told ABC News. "How unique for this pair to share such a special bond, not only as father and daughter but also as two people who have gone through the same experience. This is truly coming full circle in such a beautiful way. I feel privileged to have played a small part in it.”

In addition to Hattie, adopted when she was 16 months old and is now 4, the Pierces also have a 5-year-old daughter, Curdie. Curdie is in the stage where she likes to point out her similarities to her parents, Brian Pierce said.

"She'll say, 'I have blue eyes like Daddy,'" he said. "Hattie's only in preschool and no one has said anything to her so far [about her facial surgeries], but some day they will. I'll be able to help her deal with that because I went through it. I'll be able to say, 'Look at Daddy, he went through the same thing.'"

Today, though, Hattie is a "confident, happy girl," her dad said, who is "everyone's favorite playmate."

He added, "Maybe I worry about it more than I need to."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jun152017

Couple who met at a camp for kids with cancer marry many years later

Courtesy Caylee Renick(NEW YORK) -- When any couple gets married, there's a certain element of unknown about the future.

For Caylee and Joey Renick, that uncertainty is magnified. The 23-year-olds met when they were 10 at a camp for kids with cancer and their siblings called Camp His Kids.

Joey, who was diagnosed at 3 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), is in remission from ALL and is currently recovering from a bone marrow transplant.

Caylee's sister, Taylor, also had cancer.

"If we let Joey being sick get in the way of getting married, I wouldn’t have the life I have now," Caylee told ABC News.

It's been a long road from their days as campers to their wedding on a Florida beach one month ago. In that time, the couple has repeatedly faced down adversity. Joey's cancer has returned twice. The couple had to cancel their initial wedding plans and Joey has had to put his career plans to become a nurse on hold. Taylor died in 2008 when she was 16 years old.

But on May 14 in Seacrest, Florida, the couple wed before their families and closest friends -- including their 4-year-old nephew Thomas, himself recently diagnosed with ALL. Caylee said she knew Taylor, "was watching" as the families gathered for the beach ceremony.

Over the years the couple maintained a friendship and texted often. It was when Joey's cancer came back just before his 18th birthday in 2011 that the relationship reached another level.

"I couldn't drive, so Caylee came to pick me up. We went for ice cream and then Starbucks. We stayed there for hours talking until they closed the store," Joey Renick said.

"I was sitting there saying things I've never said out loud, how I felt about my sister passing away," said Caylee Renick. "I knew I wanted a relationship with him."

That first year, when Joey was at his sickest, was hard for them both.

"Joey was being treated at the same hospital my sister was treated at and many of the doctors and nurses were the same," she said. "It brought back a lot of memories of the time Taylor was sick."

They spent the majority of the first year of their courtship in the hospital.

"When we started dating she was phenomenal and I liked her so much," Joey said. "I did not want my baggage to be put on her, but it made me realize she could handle this and she was there for me."

The couple got engaged and a few months later, Joey was diagnosed again. They had to cancel the wedding they had planned.

While Joey was sick, a woman named Gail Marchbanks from an organization called Kellsie's Hope asked Joey what he wanted. "I want to marry Caylee," he said.

And so the planning began for the wedding in Florida -- a special place to Caylee's family. It was the last place they vacationed as a family before Taylor died.

Nicole Richardson of Sandprints Photography was there to capture the event.

"Working with Caylee & Joey was incredible," she told ABC News. "All wedding days are important but I knew I needed to make certain that I captured memories for the entire family. Group photos were just as important as the bride and groom images. I feel blessed to have been just a small part of their incredible journey."

It was picturing the big day that got the couple through Joey's relapse and bone marrow transplant.

"I saw Caylee and she was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. It was in that moment, on the beach with our family and closest friends that it all hit me. Just one year ago, I didn't know if I would make it. And now I was marrying this woman who had literally been with me through the best and worst times of my life," he said.

The couple hopes to someday start a family. Joey is currently in remission and recovering from his bone marrow transplant well. He hopes to resume his plans for a nursing career in the fall.

"I hope he can use our story to give others hope," Caylee said. "Out of hard times, good things can come."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jun142017

Scottish women traveling to England for abortions

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) – Nearly 200 women traveled from Scotland to England for an abortion last year, according to the BBC.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service said this highlights how difficult it can be for women north of the border to obtain late-stage terminations. 

The law currently allows the procedure up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. More than 70 percent of the 180 women who traveled south were at least 20 weeks pregnant.

The Scottish government said it was looking at improving abortion services, the BBC reported.

The 1967 Abortion Act made it legal for women to have an abortion up until 24 weeks gestation in England, Scotland and Wales.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jun142017

Nurses honor tiny 'graduates' leaving the NICU

Courtesy CaroMont Health(GASTONIA, N.C.) -- A North Carolina hospital is celebrating babies who are ending their stay in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The staff at CaroMont Health in Gastonia, North Carolina, honor their tiny patients with a special photo shoot and a graduation cap.

About six months ago, Nurse Melissa Jordan began the "graduation ceremonies" after she helped care for an infant who spent 62 days in the NICU.

On the day he was leaving, the baby's parents dressed him up in a "NICU Grad" onesie, which inspired Jordan to continue the tradition.

"It's an emotional roller coaster for a preemie," Jordan, 28, told ABC News. "One day could be really happy and then another day there can be several setbacks. You have to be there emotionally for the parents and celebrate every single, teeny milestone."

On the last day of the NICU stay, each baby gets a professional photo shoot and a foam cap with a message written by Jordan.

Bella Baby Photography takes the photos of each graduate free of charge.

"We thought it'd be a great experience for us to give back to the families and be a part of that milestone as the babies are being discharged," said photographer Amanda Meixsell.

Jordan will display the pictures of all the NICU grads on the walls of the unit to give hope to preemie parents, she said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jun142017

Saints fan with chronic liver disease to be honored at 2017 ESPYS

New Orleans Saints & Ochsner Hospital for Children(NEW ORLEANS) -- Jarrius Robertson, the teenage superfan of the New Orleans Saints who is battling a chronic liver disease, will be honored with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at this year's ESPYs, it was announced Wednesday.

The 15-year-old who has already undergone two liver transplants and 13 surgeries works as the official "hype man" for the football team. Robertson was able to meet some of the Saints players in 2015 when they visited the Ochsner Hospital for Children in Jefferson, Louisiana.

“When I first heard the news I thought I was dreaming!” Robertson said in a statement of learning that he was chosen for the ESPY. “The ESPYs? For real? The past two years have been a blessing in so many ways for me and my family. I have been able to do things I never thought I would be able to do."

Earlier this year, Robertson made headlines when he stole the show at the 2017 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game in New Orleans.

The teen also appeared live on ABC News' Good Morning America last year, where he opened up about the lifesaving work you can do through organ donation.

“It takes lives to save lives,” Jarrius said on GMA in 2016. “That means if people go out and donate anything like blood, organ, kidneys or liver, then they can save somebody else’s life.”

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in a statement that Robertson is "such an inspirational young man."

"His strength, determination and resolve along with his infectious energy and attitude should be an example that no matter the circumstances or adversity with a positive outlook and embracing the motto of ‘Don’t give up … Don’t ever give up’ there isn’t a challenge that cannot be conquered,” Brees added, quoting the late basketball player Jim Valvano, for whom the ESPY Perseverance Award is named.

The 25th annual ESPYs will air on Wednesday, July 12, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jun142017

How 4 technologies designed to prevent hot car deaths work

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- More than 800 children have died from heatstroke in hot cars since 1990, including 12 so far this year, according to Kids and Cars, a nonprofit focused on children’s safety.

The organization is working with lawmakers to put a stop to these preventable deaths. Last week Representatives Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Peter King (R-N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) reintroduced the Hot Cars Act to ensure that an alert system is standard in every car to prevent these tragedies.

"If there are technologies that can prevent that kind of tragedy, we should just do it right away," Schakowsky told ABC News.

There are several devices already on the market that are designed to prevent hot car deaths. "Good Morning America" tried out four different technologies: a car seat with built-in technology; an alert system already in some General Motors cars; a sensor system that can be put in a car seat; and a popular traffic app.


ABC News tried out four popular devices.

1. Sensorsafe is a technology found in some car seats from the brand Evenflo. There is a receiver that goes into your car’s diagnostics port, a socket located inside a vehicle that accesses various vehicle subsystems where small receivers can be installed to tap into a car's computer system. That receiver communicates with the car seat's smart chest clip – letting the driver know through a series of chimes whether a child is still in the seat after the car is turned off.

2. General Motor's Rear Seat Reminder System: This feature in some GM cars uses back door sensors that become activated when either the rear door is opened or closed within 10 minutes of the vehicle being started, or while the vehicle is running. Under these circumstances, when you reach your destination a reminder appears on the dashboard as well as an audible chime notification. When Faris opened the rear door before starting the car and then turned off the car, this reminder popped up on the dashboard: "Rear Seat Reminder. Look In Rear Seat."

But what happens if the driver stops and restarts the car without opening the back door? To test this scenario, Faris stopped at a gas station and the reminder went off again when she turned off the car. She got out and then, without opening the back door this time, restarted the car to continue on her drive. When she reached her final destination and turned off the car, there was no reminder.

GM told ABC News that its Rear Seat Reminder feature is "designed to remind drivers to check the back seat as they exit their vehicle under certain circumstances. The feature is intended to activate when either rear door is opened and closed within 10 minutes before the vehicle is started, or if they are opened and closed while the vehicle is running."

3. Driver’s Little Helper Sensor System is a sensor system sold at several major retailers that can be put in a car seat. The sensor goes under the car seat padding where the child sits. The sensor is then attached to a battery pack and synced with an app. You can set when you want the app to send you notifications after you stop the car. You can set the interval for when you receive the notification -- the fastest being a minute. For our demo, Faris set the app to 1 minute notifications.

When Faris pulled into the driveway with her phone and stopped the car, a notification came through after 1 minute and 39 seconds. She tried it a second time, the alert took 1 minute and 6 seconds.

Driver's Little Helper told ABC News the alert was received "well within the threshold of safety."

Also, if you don’t respond to the notification, Driver’s Little Helper will send a text and email to your emergency contacts.

4. Waze, a popular traffic app, has a setting that will remind a driver to check his or her back seat when a destination entered into the app is reached. But it won’t alert a driver during an impromptu stop. As Faris pulled into the driveway for her Waze destination, she received an alert before she turned off the car: "Check your car before you leave."

In a statement to ABC News, Waze said: "You can never be too careful when it comes to the safety of a loved one or a pet. Waze Child Reminder is one more step parents can take as added insurance, building a habit to remember to check the back seat."


Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Tuesday
Jun132017

House clears major Veterans Affairs reform bill, sends to White House

United States Department of Veterans Affairs(WASHINGTON) -- The House overwhelmingly approved a bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs Tuesday, sending the measure to the White House for President Trump’s signature.

The bill, passed on a bipartisan 368-55 vote, would make it easier for the VA Secretary to fire department employees, a move that advocates say would improve accountability at the scandal-plagued agency.

It would also boost protections for whistleblowers that report wrongdoing, and create an office within the VA to support whistleblower protections.

Congress set its sights on VA reform in 2014, after a whistleblower claimed that roughly 40 veterans died waiting up to 21 months for care at a VA hospital in Phoenix. That scandal led to the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in May of 2014.

“It’s common sense -– we need to hold our employees accountable for their actions if they violate the public trust, and at the same time protect whistleblowers from retaliation,” Secretary David Shulkin, who supported the bill, said in a statement.

Speaking on the House floor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), said the bill addresses the VA’s “culture of ambivalence” and “lack of accountability.”

“Fixing the culture at the VA requires us to acknowledge the great work of the many without leaving them tainted with the incompetence and scandal of the few," he said. "It requires removing the bad apples."

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minnesota), the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the bill “will bring real, long-lasting accountability” to the VA “in a way that will stand up to constitutional muster.”

The bill was criticized by American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 federal workers. The group claimed the measure is anti-union and would undermine due process for workers.

“To call this a dangerous precedent is an understatement," J. David Cox, the union’s national president, said in a May hearing before the Senate. "To anyone who cares about the apolitical and objectively qualified civil service this bill is a disgrace."

The Senate previously approved the bill on a unanimous voice vote.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jun132017

Man, almost 90, serenades his wife while celebrating their 70th anniversary

Courtesy of Robin Vermeer Bobo(HOT SPRINGS, Ark.) -- Seventy years together sounds awfully sweet for this couple.

Paul Miller serenaded his wife Imogene Miller with a sweet rendition of Bing Crosby’s “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” at their 70th anniversary celebration on Saturday, while lovingly holding her hand.

“I started practicing so it would sound just right,” Paul Miller, 89, told ABC News. “I didn’t just reach up out of the clear blue sky to choose it.”

The lovebirds from Hot Springs, Arkansas, wed on June 15, 1947.

“She’s the only one I’ve ever had,” said Paul Miller. “It started out when I was 18 and it’s gone along just as great as ever.”

June 15 is also Paul’s 90th birthday.

Their granddaughter Sarah Saragusa said Imogene wouldn’t marry Paul until he turned 20, so they wed on his birthday.

“Their story is really cute. My grandmother is actually a few months older,” said Saragusa, 36. “She told my grandfather she wouldn’t marry him until he turned 20 so they got married on his birthday. She wanted him to be a mature man at 20 before they got married. They met at the Western Union, he really pursued her. He’s always been the outgoing one and she’s very sweet. He’s always said she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever known.”

The couple renewed their vows at The Vines at Shelly Lane in Hot Springs, a wedding venue their son and daughter-in-law, Alan and Caroline Miller, own.

“We had it all set it up and he had a microphone and he sang to her,” said Caroline Miller. “For someone that’s almost 90 to be able to sing like that is just amazing.”

Paul Miller’s advice for everlasting love?

“Pick the right girl,” he said.

The video of Paul Miller singing to his lovely bride has gone viral with nearly 75,000 views in less than 24 hours after the local ABC affiliate, WATV, posted the touching video to their Facebook page.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jun132017

Police, strangers fix 95-year-old's air conditioner after Texas heat prompts him to dial 911

Jennifer and Christopher Weir (FORT WORTH, Texas) -- Police and strangers came to an elderly man's rescue last week after he dialed 911 to report his broken air conditioning unit.

On June 8, the Fort Worth, Texas, Police Department answered a call from 95-year-old Julius Hatley, who said his central air had stopped working in the 90-degree heat.

"I know we're not A/C repair people, but we got done with one call and went straight there," Officer Christopher Weir told ABC News Tuesday. "I started sweating immediately, as soon as I got there. [Hatley] said he woke up in sweat and didn't know what to do, so he called us."

Weir, 31, and his partner, Officer William Margolis, drove to a local Home Depot to purchase a window A/C for Hatley out of their own pockets. When they arrived, the store's managers insisted on contributing $150 toward the unit.

Weir and his colleagues then installed the unit in Hatley's house until they could figure out how to pay someone to repair his central air.

"He was grateful," Weir said. "His smile is infectious and he's a World War II vet and he shouldn't have to be with no A/C. Once in a while, we see people where we can do something that makes them feel better and it makes us feel better too."

Hatley's story aired on the local news in Fort Worth. Watching was Matt Ketchum, owner of the Lone Star Refrigeration company based in Red Oak, Texas.

"In the story, they were trying to figure out how to get the [central] air fixed," Ketchum told ABC News. "I called the Fort Worth Police Department that night telling them we'll donate our time and materials."

"My brother is law enforcement as well," he added. "My employees are veterans. Something clicked to have me help."

Ketchum repaired Hatley's central air system free of charge.

Hatley was appreciative of the kindness shown toward him over the two days, Ketchum said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jun132017

Teen dances to the beat after lifesaving heart transplant

iStock/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) -- A teenage heart transplant survivor is enjoying viral fame after he was captured on video dancing to celebrate both his heart transplant and his hospital discharge.

Amari Hall, 15, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, received a heart transplant in March at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

Just six days after the transplant, he surprised everyone when he began dancing in his hospital bed.

As Amari started to dance, so did the nurses, doctor and relatives who supported him and saved his life.

“I picked up my camera, I wanted to show the world what a huge heart warrior he was,” said Amari’s aunt, Charawn Hunter, who posted the video on Facebook originally to share with family around the world. "He’s like a 50-year-old man in a 15-year-old’s body. He has such a whole spirit."

Amari, who also loves to rap, had been hospitalized since December awaiting a transplant. The teenager was born with a heart defect -- hypoplastic left heart syndrome -- that required him to undergo four surgeries prior to his transplant.

When Amari's health began to fail last year, it was he who convinced his more nervous parents it was time to move forward with the transplant.

"He stopped me during the conversation [with doctors] and he said, ‘Wait, wait, wait. I need to ask mom something. What are you afraid of? It’s my time. I need to have this done so let’s get it over with,'" recalled Amari's mom, Juaquinna Hall. "He’s always been this fighter, this go-getter."

Amari could not walk for nearly a month after the approximately 16-hour operation and required extensive rehabilitation to regain his strength. The sight of his literally busting out of his hospital room's door May 22 to go home was even more meaningful.

Recalling the sight weeks later, Amari's mom was left speechless. And Amari lived up to his reputation by dancing his way out of the hospital, too.

"That's Amari," Hall said.

As he recovers, Amari is looking forward to a future of doing more of what he loves, dancing.

“I want to be dancing with the ladies,” said Amari, who was strong enough to take his girlfriend on a date last weekend to celebrate her birthday.

Amari will continue to be closely monitored by doctors and undergo regular heart biopsies, in addition to taking medicine to prevent his body’s immune system from rejecting his new heart.

“It is critical that Amari comply and take his immunosuppression medications for the rest of his life,” Amari’s transplant cardiologist, Carissa Baker-Smith, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a statement. “Amari and his parents know that he has to take it every day at the right time without fail. A few days of forgetting could be life-threatening.”

The positive feedback Amari, who plans to return to high school in August, has seen on social media has also helped the teen come to terms with his life-changing and lifesaving surgery.

"He would tell me he had regrets and once said, ‘I hate that I made this decision,’ because it was three months before an organ was made available," Hall said. "After all of this has been going on, he told [his aunt] yesterday, 'I’m glad I had my heart transplant.'"

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