Conjoined Twins Say They Have a 'Normal Life'

Courtesy TLC(NEW YORK) -- Abby and Brittany Hensel are close -- very close.  They may have two separate brains, hearts and sets of lungs, but they share everything else, including, as they say, "a normal life ... whatever that is."

The 22-year-olds from rural Minnesota are identical conjoined twins and their physiology has never stood in the way.  There are compromises that have to be made -- Abby controls the right side of the body and Brittany the left -- but they move with remarkable ease, riding a bike, dancing at parties and even driving a car.

Their updated story, Abby & Brittany, told in documentary form when they were 12 and again at 16, will air Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 10 p.m. on TLC.

When the twins were born in 1990, their parents were told the babies might not survive the night.  But by age 6, they were appearing on Oprah and the cover of Life magazine.

"People have been curious about us since we were born, for obvious reasons," say the twins in the first episode of the eight-week series.  "But our parents never let us use that as an excuse.  We were raised to believe we could do anything we wanted to do."

"The most amazing thing about us is we are like everyone else," they chime together.

The TLC docu-series follows the women's social lives as they prepare to graduate from Minnesota's Bethel College and embark on travel to Europe searching for a teaching job.

Conjoined twins occur once out of every 200,000 live births, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, but about 40 to 60 percent of them are stillborn and only about 35 percent survive one day.

Girls seem to do better medically.  About 70 percent of conjoined twins who survive are female.

Conjoined twins are genetically identical, and are, therefore, always the same sex.  They develop from the same fertilized egg, and they share the same amniotic cavity and placenta.

"All conjoined twinning is really uncommon," says Dr. Christopher Moir, a pediatric surgeon and medical director at the Mayo Clinic's Children's Center.  "But the chance of a mother delivering a set of conjoined twins and their surviving is one in a million."

Conjoining occurs in the earliest weeks of gestation, according to Moir, "sometimes before the mother even knows she is pregnant."

There are no genetic or environmental influences that cause conjoining, he says, "just a happy accident of embryos."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Teen with Autism Told Not to Use iPad During Plane Takeoff

Carly's brother Matthew Fleischmann (left) with Carly (center) and her mother Tammy Fleischmann (right) in October 2011. (Courtesy Arthur Fleischmann)(NEW YORK) -- A teenager with autism, flying on American Airlines, was nearly forced to turn off the iPad she uses to communicate.

Carly Fleischmann, who has been profiled on ABC News, was flying from Los Angeles to her home in Toronto on Aug. 10 when she was approached by a flight attendant who told her she needed to turn off her iPad during takeoff. The trouble is, if Fleischmann can't use her iPad, she can't communicate. Because of autism, she cannot speak.

Howard Dalal, Fleischmann's aide and lead therapist, was with Fleischmann on the flight. He told ABC News Fleischmann suffers from Oral Motor Apraxia, which means her thoughts are clear in her mind, but they get jumbled on the way to her mouth. She lacks the fine motor skills to use a pen, and only knows a little sign language. She types with one finger.

In an email, Fleischmann told ABC News, "I use the iPad like a prosthetic limb and not as a toy. I think that is what is blinding people on this issue."

Because the iPad is Carly's voice, it is paramount that she be able to use it, Dalal said. "If she was about to have a seizure, there is no way she could tell me without her iPad," he said.

In airplane mode, Fleischmann's iPad is fully operational for her communication needs. Dalal said that in Fleischmann's opinion, forcing her to turn off her iPad is akin to handcuffing a deaf person's hands to their chair.

In an emailed statement to ABC News, American Airlines said, "Our flight attendants are responsible for following U.S. Department of Transportation regulations on the accommodation of customers with disabilities. American's electronic device policy is designed to be in full compliance with the DOT. Likewise, Federal safety rules require the stowage of personal items during take-off and landing and prohibit the use of electronic devices at the same periods. We regret any discomfort Carly felt or difficulty this may cause customers."

The flight attendant who approached Fleischmann was eventually overruled by the pilot, who said Fleischmann could leave her iPad on. Dalal said they met up with the pilot again at customs in Toronto, and he told Dalal and Fleischmann that the policy was "ridiculous." Further, Dalal said that the pilot said the pilots themselves use iPads during takeoff and landing.

"There is virtually no evidence that any consumer electronics can or have had any deleterious effect on the aircraft systems, and least of all would be an iPad in airplane mode," said John Nance, ABC News aviation consultant. "The slavish 'we're just following orders' response of airline personnel in the face of unusual challenges is sad at best, and reprehensible at worst."

Dalal, at Fleischmann's request, set the timer on her iPad to see, if she had in fact been forced to turn it off, how long she would have been unable to communicate. The time: 50 minutes.

Dalal said that he and Fleischmann have never had a problem using her iPad on a flight before. In fact, on their way to Los Angeles, they flew on American Airlines and there was no issue.

Fleischmann posted her first complaint to American Airlines on Facebook. Her message reads, in part:

"I use my iPad during security to ask for further instructions, I use my iPad well [sic] waiting for my airplane and ask the reception people when the flights going to take off, I use my iPad on the airplane to tell them if there's something wrong with my seat or my seatbelt or with the airplane. I am begging you as a active passenger on your flights to change your policy when it comes to dealing with people with autism and other special needs."

In her email to ABC News, Fleischmann wrote she has reached out to the Federal Aviation Administration and the Human Rights Commission to see if they can sit down together to change this policy. They "...are eager to sit down. My goal is to get American Airlines support," she wrote.

In an email exchange with American Airlines dated Aug. 16 that Fleischmann forwarded to ABC News, a customer service representative said the airline is reviewing the situation and waiting to hear back from the flight crew, but that because of travel schedules, it may take several weeks. Fleischmann has asked to speak to someone in the corporate office, someone "higher up than a customer service representative," in order to facilitate the meeting, but said she has not yet been sent a name.

This is far from the first time that the issue of personal electronic devices on airplanes has come up, but it may be the first time it has come up in connection with a person with a disability that prohibits them from speaking without it. In March, the FAA said it aimed to bring together "key stakeholders" to have a discussion about personal electronic devices in flight.

Fleischmann and her father published the book Carly's Voice: Breaking Through Autism earlier this year.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Who’s Your Daddy? Mobile Truck Offers DNA Tests to Go

WABC(NEW YORK) -- In what may be a first anywhere, a “Who’s Your Daddy” truck is cruising New York City selling DNA tests to people who want to confirm their child’s paternity or even whether their parents are biologically related to them.

The brown and white RV, which is bedecked in eye-catching signs advertising its services, is more than just a moving billboard, according to driver and operator Jared Rosenthal. “The RV is set up to be a drug testing clinic and a DNA testing clinic,” he told ABC News. “It’s essentially a mobile office so while we’re working people will walk up and ask questions and sometimes even take a test right on board.”

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Rosenthal, who works at mobile and clinic based testing company Health Street, came up with the idea for the truck himself. "Necessity is the mother of invention,” he said. "I couldn’t afford to rent an office, so I thought, we can convert the RV to a mobile office. People love the artwork -- it makes them smile and they share it with their friends on social media and get in touch with people who maybe do need DNA tests.”

But it’s not all smiles aboard the Who’s Your Daddy Truck, which often plays host to the full spectrum of human emotions. “DNA really gets at a person’s identity, it gets to the core of their identity, who your parents are, who your children are, how you define yourself ethnically and culturally.” Rosenthal said, “The RV is a little more intimate than a clinic, clients tend to talk more. They tell us things, we experience some of these life-changing moments with them.”

Rosenthal brought up the story of one woman in her early 20s who came in for a test, only to find out that the people she believed to be her father and her three half-sisters was not related to her at all. In fact, the test revealed she was from an entirely different ethnic background. “When she found out her father wasn’t her biological father it totally rocked her identity to the core,” he said.

He recounted meeting an 18-year-old woman from another state who had contacted the man she believed to be her father living in New York. A DNA test at the truck proved it was true, bringing a broken family back together. “He began to form a relationship with this woman and it was great.” Rosenthal said. “They lost 18 years but they found each other.”

Drama aside, Rosenthal insists that the truck is much more than a mobile Maury (paternity testing is a common topic associated with the talk show hosted by Maury Povich), providing a service that is “very approachable, very accessible, and very available to the community.”

The DNA, drug, and alcohol tests, which range in price from $79 to $599 are available at the truck or at local health street clinics. Although based in New York, the organization has partnered with out-of-state clinics and the U.S. Consulate to provide testing in the event that one or more of the parties may live out of the state or country.

For more information on the Who’s Your Daddy Truck and Health Street visit their website.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mount Sinai Hospital Sued for Sex Discrimination

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A fired hospital technician claims she was the victim of sexist and anti-Semitic taunts while working at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Sandra Morris, 37, has sued the Manhattan medical center and two of her former supervisors for creating a hostile work environment, according to a lawsuit filed July 31 in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

"Miss Morris experienced mistreatment in the workplace that no employee should have to experience," said Morris' lawyer, Steven Warshawsky. "She's bringing this lawsuit to vindicate her legal rights and to ensure other employees are not subjected to same type of misconduct."

Morris worked as a cardiovascular perfusionist at Mount Sinai for nearly five years, during which times she claims her supervisors, cardiovascular perfusionist Ahmed Cercioglu and cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Ricardo Lazala, discriminated against her because of her gender and religion.

According to the suit, Morris "was told several times by Mr. Lazala and Mr. Cercioglu that she cannot work on [some] cases because she doesn't have a 'dick.'" And in July 2010, Cercioglu allegedly called Morris a "dumb Jew bitch" in front of other employees.

"Many of the incidents and issues alleged in the complaint were witnessed by other employees," said Warshawsky, adding that "several" co-workers would be called as witnesses in the case.

The suit also accuses Cercioglu of watching X-rated movies on his cell phone while operating the heart-lung machine – a pump that keeps heart patients alive during bypass surgery.

"This was so commonplace that other perfusionists routinely joked about his behavior," according to the suit.

Calls to Cercioglu and Lazala were not immediately returned. A spokesman for Mount Sinai declined to comment on the allegations because of the pending litigation, but said in a statement that the hospital "maintains strong policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment in the workplace and does not tolerate behavior that violates these policies. Mount Sinai is confident that Ms. Morris will not prevail on her claims."

Morris also claims she was paid less than what she was owed for overtime work, and is requesting back pay, compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering and attorney's fees. She is not challenging the hospital's decision to terminate her employment, which came as no surprise after six months of unpaid leave for an on-the-job injury, according to Warshawsky.

"That's not the issue in this case," he said. "The issue is workplace mistreatment and mismanagement."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Girl Mauled by Raccoon Undergoes Surgery to Repair Nose

WXYZ(DETROIT) -- A 10-year-old girl is recovering from the first of three major surgeries doctors hope will repair her face nearly 10 years after a raccoon attack nearly destroyed it.

A pet raccoon mutilated Charlotte Ponce when she was 3 months old, and she has so far undergone seven reconstructive surgeries to repair the damage.

“The pet raccoon somehow got into the house,” Charlotte’s adoptive mother, Sharon Ponce, told ABC News Detroit affiliate WXYZ. “And they assume the raccoon was probably after her bottle.”

The raccoon tore off Charlotte’s ear, upper lip and nose, WXYZ reported. Her parents lost custody of her and her older brother, Marshall, following the attack.

Her most-recent surgery, to create a lining for her nose, took a little more than eight hours. Doctors called the operation a success, and Charlotte is recovering in the children’s ICU. Wednesday’s surgery was expected to be the longest and riskiest, WXYZ reported, and followed a previous unsuccessful attempt at mounting ear and nose prosthetics.

Charlotte still has more surgeries ahead of her, but the attack she endured as an infant hasn’t diminished her love of animals.

A day before her surgery, Charlotte and her family visited the Detroit Zoo, the Royal Oak Patch reported.

“It’s a funny thing for someone who was attacked by an animal to love animals so much,” Charlotte’s adoptive father told the Royal Oak Patch.

Charlotte has a long road ahead of her but doctors expressed optimism about her recovery.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Egg Study Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study says eggs may be on par with cigarettes when it comes to heart health, but doctors and media critics say it’s not a fair comparison.

Researchers at Western University in Canada surveyed 1,200 patients about their egg and cigarette consumption and used ultrasound to measure the plaque in their arteries. They then concluded in the study, which was published in the journal Atherosclerosis, that people who ate more eggs over time had more plaque in their arteries, and equated eating eggs to smoking cigarettes.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr. David Spence, said in a press release that his study has shown that yolks make plaque build up more quickly in the arteries, “about two-thirds as much as smoking,” adding, “in the long haul, egg yolks are not okay for most Canadians.”

But cardiologists say the study shouldn’t be taken so seriously because the research is flawed.

“This is very poor quality research that should not influence patient’s dietary choices,” said Dr. Steven Nissen, who chairs the department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, in an email. “It is extremely important to understand the differences between ‘association’ and ‘causation.’”

Nissen said the researchers relied on patients to recall how many eggs they consumed, but asked them once and assumed it remained constant, which isn’t reliable. He said the way researchers measured patients’ plaque has come under “considerable criticism,” and that researchers failed to adjust for other dietary factors.

Dr. David Frid, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told ABC News he doesn’t think smoking should be equated with eating eggs because eggs have an indirect rather than direct impact on heart disease. The eggs have to first increase cholesterol to create plaque build-up. The impact of smoking on heart disease is direct because smoking causes arteries to become inflamed, which prompts the body to respond with plaque.

He said the study fails to take exercise or other dietary habits into account. Study participants could have consumed more salt, or they could have been on cholesterol-reducing drugs, too.

“It may be that people who consume a lot of eggs also consume a lot of other fatty foods,” Frid said, adding that how the egg is prepared should also be taken into account.

Dr. Jorge Plutzky, the Director of the Vascular Disease Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said that the study authors explained the limitations of their study, which includes the potential for other variables to mask results and errors inherent in having patients self-report their egg consumption.

He said what the study really does is generate “a clue or suggestion” that needs to be revisited. It is not conclusive.

Dr. Richard Besser, the Chief Health and Medical Editor, of ABC News, spoke about the egg study on Good Morning America Wednesday morning.

“Eggs keep getting a bum rap,” Besser said. “First they’re really good for you, and then they’re bad for you, and this is another one where they’re bad for you.  But there are a number of things that affect your cholesterol that they didn’t look at that people can really pay attention to.”

Besser suggested exercising, reducing saturated fats, and maintaining a healthy weight. He said an egg a day is fine, unless you have heart disease, in which case limiting consumption to four eggs a week is a good idea.

“Eggs are a great source of balanced protein and many vitamins,” he said. “If you do it in moderation, it’s a great part of your diet.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Face-Lift With Only Local Anesthetic?

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Identical twins Miki Keller and Donna Keller are inseparable. The 49-year-old sisters from Los Angeles live near each other, vacation together and even feel each other’s pain.

“When she broke her back in Spain, I felt it,” Donna told Good Morning America.

Now the twins are taking their closeness to another level, getting face-lifts together.

“I’ve noticed in the last couple of years everything was sagging, like the neck,” Miki said.  “I would see pictures of myself and go like, ‘Oh my god.’”

“I care about how I look.  I want to be attractive,” said Donna.  “I want to feel younger.  I want to match my attitude, so to speak.”

The twin sisters decided to not just go under the knife together but to undertake a kind of twin experiment.  Donna chose to have a traditional surgical face-lift under full anesthesia, a five-hour procedure, while Miki elected to try an experimental face-lift using only local anesthetic, meaning she would be wide awake during the hour-long operation.

Dr. Payman Simoni, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, Calif., has been performing anesthesia-free face-lifts for the past six years and said that patients can heal faster with the new technique.  He also said the face-lift results  appear more natural because the work is done while a patient is sitting up as opposed to lying down.

“Within an hour after they get their face-lift, they get up and walk on their own,” he said of his technique.

While Miki received a face-lift, eye lift, skin resurfacing and Botox at the hands of Simoni, her sister, Donna, turned to another board-certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, Dr. Ashkan Ghavami, for the traditional face-lift surgery.

Ghavami, founder of an eponymous plastic surgery clinic in Beverly Hills, performed a face-lift, eye lift, skin resurfacing and Botox on Donna, and also injected fat cells.

Eight weeks later, both sisters could see results and both had opinions of their respective procedures.

Donna, who underwent the five-hour procedure, said her recovery was initially “brutal,” but is happy with the results.

Miki, on the other hand, said the anesthesia-free route is “the only way to do it.”

“I would do it again.  I wish I would have done it sooner,” she said.  “We get compliments from our friends.  They say we haven’t changed the way we look, we just look better.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Genes May Be Key to Long, Dementia-Free Life

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A study published online Wednesday in the journal Neurology shows some evidence that protection from dementia clusters in families.

Lead investigator Jeremy M. Silverman, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and his colleagues examined 277 male veterans, aged 75 and older, who were free of dementia symptoms. They conducted blood tests to measure levels of a substance called C-reactive protein in the men's blood. Since high levels of C-reactive protein tend to correspond to high levels of dementia in younger elderly patients, some assume those elderly patients with high levels of C-reactive protein who do not develop dementia are somehow resistant to cognitive decline.

The researchers then interviewed 1,329 of the test subjects' relatives to assess their rates of dementia. What they found was that the rates of dementia in the families of patients who exhibited resistance was lower than the rate seen in families of patients who did not show resistance.

To validate these findings further, investigators repeated the study with an older group of 51 patients and surveyed 202 of their relatives. This group returned the same results. In both study populations, patients with resistance to dementia were over 30 percent less likely to have relatives with dementia.

Since C-reactive protein is not always linked to dementia, the conclusions drawn should be met with a critical eye.

"[Dementia] is a very complicated disorder, and the findings in a study like this need to be reproduced in other studies before they are going to be transformative," says Dr. Eric Larson, vice president for research at the Group Health Research Institute based in Seattle.

Still, while the study does not show exactly what is protective in these men, it offers some tantalizing possibilities for future investigation. Silverman's group is already examining the genes of other patients who seem to be protected from dementia and taking note of similarities.

"This study provides one more piece of evidence that 'the cure' may be staring at us from the faces of these survivors, if we could only make out specifically what it was," says Richard Coselli, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. "It also gives us further reason to be optimistic that a cure is not impossible... nature seems to have already found a way."  

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


CDC: Dip in Oral Sex Among Teens, But Numbers Still High

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released data on Thursday that revealed an overall decrease in oral sex among adolescents between 2002 and 2010, reflecting a similar small decline in vaginal intercourse within the same age group.

A drop in oral sex was seen among females, but the numbers of males engaged in the behavior was the same.

Experts said two-thirds of all youth between the ages of 15 and 24 had an experience with oral sex, risky behavior that the federal government said is contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The report, "Prevalence and Timing of Oral Sex With Opposite-Sex Partners Among Females and Males Aged 15-24 Years: United States," included data from the CDC's National Survey of Family Growth.  The data came from 6,346 interviews among young adults from 2007 to 2010.

In the youngest group, ages 15 to 19, which did not include married males, the report said that 41 percent of females and 47 percent of males had received oral sex.  Forty-three percent of girls in that group had given oral sex, while 35 percent of boys had.

For both sexes between the ages of 20 to 24, the numbers go up: 81 percent of females and 80 percent of males had engaged in oral sex.

Some data suggest that many adolescents engage in oral sex because they believe it is safer and preserves their virginity, according to a CDC 2009 fact sheet.

The CDC has taken an increased interest in the data because of the rise of sexually transmitted diseases, including a spike in HIV infection rates among males 13 to 29 years old. Although the risk for HIV/AIDS through oral sex is lower than vaginal intercourse or anal sex, according to the CDC, the transmission rates for genital herpes, gonorrhea and syphilis are considerably higher. Some studies have found that an increase in oral cancers in the United States is associated with the human papillomavirus, and researchers attribute that to the popularity of oral sex.

One of the findings of the NCHS report was that of those adolescents who'd had oral sex, only 5.1 percent of females and 6.5 percent of males stopped there.  The overwhelming majority of 15- to 24-year-olds went on to have vaginal intercourse. These findings underscore previous studies that found having oral sex was a strong indicator for engaging in sexual intercourse.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study: Chemotherapy During Pregnancy Doesn't Cause Complications

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- There is growing evidence that pregnant women with cancer aren't putting their babies at risk by undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

A new study that followed more than 400 pregnant women in Europe who were diagnosed with breast cancer, found little to no evidence of negative health effects on infants whose mothers underwent chemotherapy -- good news for the one in a thousand women who are pregnant and also suffering from cancer.

Infants whose mothers were treated with chemotherapy weighed less than those that weren't exposed to chemotherapy, but they were not at higher risk of birth defects, blood disorders or loss of hair.

According to the German Breast Group, which led the study, premature birth -- not the chemotherapy treatment -- was responsible for babies being born at a low birth weight and with other complications.

"More complications were reported in the group of infants exposed to chemotherapy than in the group not exposed to chemotherapy," the study said.  "However, most complications were reported in babies who were delivered prematurely, irrespective of exposure to chemotherapy."

Incidences of pregnant women with cancer are growing and it may be because many women are delaying childbirth until later in their lives.

"I would say it is an increasing problem because people are generally delaying pregnancy," said Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.  "Women want to have careers before they start a family, so women are getting pregnant later."

Additionally, pregnant women are often diagnosed with cancer at a more advanced stage because cancer symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for signs of pregnancy, making treatment more complex, Bernik said.

In the past, women have been told by their doctors that chemotherapy could harm their baby and were sometimes advised to terminate the pregnancy.  However, recent studies have found that chemotherapy treatment after the first trimester -- when most of the baby's critical growth occurs -- can be safe for baby and mother.

It was also initially feared that the high hormone levels present during pregnancy could cause a specific kind of hormone-sensitive breast cancer to reoccur.  But a recent, first-of-its-kind study found that it is safe for women to become pregnant after they were treated with this form of cancer -- which accounts for about 60 percent of all breast cancer cases.

The study by the German Breast Group confirmed other research indicating that chemotherapy treatments carry fewer risks to an unborn child than was originally assumed.  But more research needs to be done on the potential physical and mental effects of chemotherapy drugs on a child later in its life.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio