Thalidomide Victims Believe an Apology Is Too Little Too Late

Photodisc/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Sometimes saying you are sorry isn't enough for the victims of the drug thalidomide, who feel insulted by an apology from the German company that made the drug used to combat morning sickness in pregnant mothers in the 50's.

It took fifty years for the German pharmaceutical company Gruenenthal, makers of thalidomide - the drug that caused birth defects in thousands of babies worldwide, to apologize.

For Nick Dobrik, a member of the U.K.'s Thalidomide Trust and a victim himself said, “We feel that a sincere genuine apology is one which actually admits wrong doing. The company hasn't done that and has really insulted thalidomiders.”

What the company chief executive did do, at the unveiling of a bronze statue symbolizing a child born without limbs because of thalidomide, was to ask forgiveness for not reaching out sooner, asking those with defects to regard their long silence as a sign of shock.

Gary Skyner, a campaigner and victim himself said, “This is an absolute insult for this fellow, fifty years on, to say that the shock is the reason it took him fifty years to apologize.”

Another insult was CEO Harald Stock's assertion that the drug's possible side effects could not be detected before it was marketed as a cure for morning sickness in expecting moms. That has been widely disputed, and in the opinion of many experts disproved.

Thalidomide, given to pregnant moms as a cure for morning sickness was never sold in the U.S., but millions of tablets were given to doctors during clinical testing programs. The drug was pulled from the worldwide market in 1961.
Due to the drug, more than 10,000 babies had been born with a range of disabilities including shortened arms and legs, blindness, deafness, heart problems and brain damage.   For every thalidomide baby that lived there were ten who died. Today there are between 5,000 to 6,000 sufferers still living with the effects of thalidomide.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Smoking After Stroke Triples Risk of Death Within One Year, Study Says

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study warns that smoking after a stroke triples the risk of death within a year, Health Day reports.

Researchers also found that the sooner stroke survivors took up the habit again, the risk for death within one year increased. Investigators from Italy looked at 921 patients who smoked regularly before experiencing an ischemic stroke, which occurs when blood flow is cut off to the brain. The patients all attended smoking-cessation counseling sessions during their hospital stays, and expressed motivation to not smoke after leaving the hospital, according to the report.

By the end of the first year, 53 percent of the patients had begun smoking again, with older patients and women being the most likely to relapse. Within one year, 89 patients passed away, which works out to a probability of death within one year at 9.6 percent, Health Day says.

A researcher said the study revealed that patients who take up smoking after leaving the hospital can increase their chance of death by as much as threefold, and patients who begin smoking within ten days of leaving the hospital can increase their risk of death within the first year by as many as five times.

The study was presented in Munich at the European Society of Cardiology's annual meeting.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Tanya Angus Has Hope in Growing Battle Against Gigantism

ABC News(LAS VEGAS) -- For the first time in a decade Tanya Angus, who is fighting a life-and-death battle against gigantism, has stopped growing. At seven feet and 400 pounds, she now has some hope.

Angus, a 33-year-old from Las Vegas, was diagnosed with acromegaly, a rare pituitary disorder that causes the body to produce too much growth hormone. It affects about 20,000 Americans.

Since 2010, when ABCNews.com first told her story, Angus has grown an inch taller and gained 30 pounds. Before the disease began its destructive course, she was only 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds.

But for the last year, she has been treated with a drug that has kept the levels of growth hormone in her blood in the normal range.

"This is such good news," Angus told ABC's Las Vegas affiliate KTNV.

Angus has grown so large that she can barely walk and a swimming pool is the only place where she is without pain because she can float there.

"It feels so, like, liberating," said Angus, who is being nearly crushed by her weight. She needs constant care from her family and friends.

Angus has a tumor on her pituitary gland but radiation and three surgeries have done nothing to stop her dangerous growth. One 13-hour operation nearly killed her, and another caused a stroke that took away most of her hearing.

As her body gets larger, so do her other organs. Her heart, lungs, joints and other parts of her body have also grown under the strain of this rare disease.

Doctors say it is one of the worst cases of acromegaly that they have ever seen. Her mother, Karen Strutynski, says it is the "worst in the world."

About 95 percent of the time, the condition is caused by a non-cancerous tumor on the pituitary gland, according to the Pituitary Network Association. Such is the case with Angus, but her tumor is wrapped around her carotid artery, and is inoperable.

Dr. Laurence Katznelson, professor of medicine and neurosurgery at Stanford University Hospital in California and medical director of its pituitary center, did not treat Angus but serves as medical advisor to the online Acromegaly Community.

"Everything gets thicker and the facial features become abnormal," he told ABCNews.com last year when Angus was speaking at a national conference.

Fluid accumulates in the body, causing stress on multiple systems in the body. Patients are more prone to cardiac conditions, hypertension and diabetes.

"They are in a lot of pain because they get severe headaches and their joints can be swollen and develop premature osteoarthritis," he said. "Their mortality rate is two to four times greater than the general population."

The disease is not hereditary and happens, "sporadically," he said.

"There is such a slow onset," said Katznelson. "Patients don't present with, 'I am getting bigger.' You look at photos and their history over 10 years and you see it. But when we look in the mirror every day, we don't see the changes."

At 21, Angus was a beautiful young woman who rode horses, danced and had a boyfriend. But one day, she noticed changes in her 5-foot-8-inch frame: Her shoes didn't quite fit, her jeans were too tight and her hands got bigger.

"She was perfectly normal, but by age 22 she had grown three inches," said her mother. "Nobody knew what was going on."

Angus, who lived in Michigan and was a supervisor at a WalMart, began to worry when even her face and head got larger. Her bosses also noticed -- and fired her. And her boyfriend left when his parents began to ask, "Is she a man?'"

Tanya decided to return home in 2002. When her sister picked her up at the airport, she "freaked out," because she didn't recognize Tanya.

The doctor took one look and diagnosed acromegaly.

But now, say Angus and her mother, new treatments are promising. "This gives us renewed hope," said Strutynsk.

And Angus, who has agreed to be part of a documentary on acromegaly, says she too feels optimistic, and encouraged by others.

"I read emails that people send in saying, 'You're my inspiration,' or, 'You are so strong.' If I am helping other people, I feel I can do anything."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


PSA Educates About Dwarfism Awareness Month 

Little People of America/ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Little People of America has declared October National Dwarfism Awareness Month. With this PSA, the nationwide support group hopes to raise positive awareness and clarify common misconceptions about dwarfism.



Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Oldest US Mom of Twins Is 65 and 'More Excited' Than Ever

Frieda Birnbaum(NEW YORK) -- When it comes to taking motherhood to an extreme, Frieda Birnbaum is unsurpassed -- literally.  In 2007, at age 60, she became the oldest American woman to give birth to twins.

Today, at age 65, the New Jersey woman says she's still going strong, chasing after her two five-year-old boys -- Josh and Jarrett -- and also caring for her 12-year-old son, Ari.  Birnbaum had her first child when she was 26, but says she feels more energetic now than she did back then.

"I am definitely more energetic," she told 20/20's Elizabeth Vargas.  "We have to redefine age, 'cause it's changed."

Although Birnbaum may be an outlier, it's clear that the average age of motherhood is on the rise.  As more women focus on their careers in their 20s and 30s, they are increasingly putting off motherhood, and the overall U.S. birth rate has declined.  But women in their early 40s are bucking the trend, seeing the highest birth rates for their age group since 1967, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Birnbaum and her husband, Ken, first became parents 35 years ago, when she gave birth to their son Jaeson.  Four years later, she had her second child, Alana.

After their children grew up, the Birnbaums became empty-nesters -- and they didn't like it.

"I had this biological urge that couldn't be stopped.  When I saw a baby, I just wanted to take that baby away and run. You know, hold it and hug it," Frieda Birnbaum said.  "As you get older, I've found I have more of an urge to have children than when I was younger."

Birnbaum says she became pregnant naturally in her forties but miscarried.  Then she began in vitro fertilization treatments; she will not disclose whether she used her own eggs or donor eggs.  At 53, she gave birth to her third child, Ari.

"It was just such a wonderful experience.  I said, 'You know what?  I mean, we could do it again,'" said Ken Birnbaum.

The Birnbaums decided to pursue IVF again when Frieda was in her late 50s, but there was a hitch.  Doctors in the United States refused to perform the procedure because of her age.

And they weren't the only ones voicing disapproval.

"Jaeson was angry at me," Frieda said of her oldest son, who is now in his 30s and has two children of his own.  "(He) said we were crazy."

Birnbaum was able to get pregnant with the twins at age 59 with the help of a clinic in South Africa, where she said doctors seemed less concerned about her age.  When pressed, Birnbaum admits she "may have" told doctors that she was younger than she was.

Watch the full story Friday night on ABC's 20/20 at 9 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Campers Question Yosemite National Park's Response to Hantavirus

Hemera/Thinkstock(YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif.) -- Although Yosemite National Park has closed 91 cabins to prevent visitors from getting a deadly airborne disease called hantavirus, it's not clear whether park officials have done enough to prevent the disease and inform guests -- or whether they're spreading accurate information.

A hantavirus outbreak this summer has sickened four park visitors, killing two of them.  The disease comes from inhaling or ingesting particles of mouse feces or urine and has a 40 percent mortality rate.

Although it's not clear how long the virus survives outside the mouse's body, Dr. William Schaffner, the chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said that when the mouse feces and urine dry, they become more dangerous because they can easily be carried into the air and breathed in.

But Schaffner's information directly conflicts with what Yosemite park ranger Kari Cobb told ABC News on Wednesday.

"As soon as it hits sunlight or dries, then it kills the virus," she said.  "It's something that has to be contacted relatively quickly after leaving the mouse's body."

She was not available on a subsequent call to her office to discuss where she got her information.

Despite an email sent out this week to warn 3,000 campers who stayed in the mouse-infested cabins, this isn't the first time Yosemite has had a hantavirus case originate on its campgrounds.

A 54-year-old woman was hospitalized in Sept. 2010 after 10 days of "abdominal pain, fever, nausea and shortness of breath", according to a 2010 California Department of Public Health (CDPH) annual report.  She was diagnosed with hantavirus about two weeks after a visit to Yosemite, and noted that she saw mouse droppings on a table and watched one or two mice run across the floor.

The woman survived, but her illness sparked a hantavirus risk assessment for the park's Tulane Meadows campsite, which California Watch posted online.  CDPH concluded that the park lacked a protocol for mouse prevention, was using inadequate sterilization methods, and had tents with gaps between the walls and the floor or other openings that could allow mice to get inside.

The document also suggested providing each cabin with hantavirus information, which would warn them to avoid contact with mice and report infestations to park rangers.

But campers, including Salomon Varela, who visited the park days before officials announced that a camper exposed to hantavirus at Yosemite died, said no such information was provided.

"I would have liked at least a warning so I could have been vigilant about it," said Varela, who brought his 2-year-old son and allowed him to play in the dirt and under the tent during their trip.

Varela said he read about the disease when he got home, the same day his son came down with a 102-degree fever.  He took the toddler to the doctor's office and waited three days for the fever to subside before he could relax.

He likened the situation to beach lifeguards who see a shark in the water but don't tell the swimmers.

"Where's the huge sign?" Valerna said.  "They're warning people about the falling rocks, the bear, to stay on the trail.  Why not the virus outbreak?"

Cobb said park officials didn't know about the hantavirus cases during the dates Varela visited Curry Village -- Aug. 12, 13 and 14.  Park officials found out on Aug. 16, the same day they sent out the news release, she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Strong Female Characters May Negate Effects of Violent Media

Getty Images(LAREDO, Texas) -- Sexual and violent content on TV may not affect viewers’ attitudes as much as we thought as long as there are strong leading ladies around to save the day, a new study finds.

Study researcher Christopher Ferguson, assistant professor at Texas A&M International University, dubs this the “Buffy Effect,” named after the popular TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The small study included 150 college students at a southern university who agreed to participate in exchange for extra credit.  The group was equally comprised of men and women, and 95 percent of the students were Hispanic.  The average age of the participants was 21.

The students were randomly assigned to watch an entire episode of one of the following: a neutral show without sexual or violent content, a sexually violent show with negative depictions of women, or a sexually violent show featuring strong independent female characters.

The neutral category included 7th Heaven and Gilmore Girls.  Neither of these episodes showed any sex or violence, but rather focused on dramatic or humorous situations between family members.

The Tudors and Masters of Horror comprised the sexually violent shows with weaker female characters category.  These shows depicted sexual aggression toward women, largely in environments where female characters were objectified and dehumanized.

Finally, the sexually violent shows with strong female characters were Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Law and Order: SVU.  While both episodes included sexual violence, they also portrayed heroines fighting back successfully against violence directed at them.

After watching the assigned show, participants were asked to complete several surveys to assess their attitudes toward women, depression and anxiety.  The study assessed depression and anxiety with standard scales used in psychiatry.  To assess attitudes toward women, participants responded to a modernized version of a validated scale used in multiple prior studies in this area.

The study found that women who watched sexually violent media were more anxious, and males who watched sexually violent media had more negative attitudes toward women, but only when strong female leads were not present.

Interestingly, males were least anxious after watching negative female depictions and most anxious with positive female depictions.

Ferguson postulates in the study that the negative depictions may be uncovering negative stereotypes some men may have about women, while the positive illustrations may be challenging those stereotypes.

Surprisingly, women’s negative attitudes towards women were highest among viewers of the neutral shows, even more so than the violent shows with subordinate portrayals of women.

“Negative portrayals of women in sexually violent media may actually provoke a kind of mild ‘backlash’ reaction at such negative portrayals, fostering a sense of female solidarity,” Ferguson writes in the study.

Sarah Coyne, assistant professor in the school of family life at Brigham Young University, was not involved with this study, but she has done research in the past dealing with violence in the media.

“I resonate with the author when he says strong positive females can be good for the media,” Coyne said.  “I think it was a well-done study.”

But don’t gear up for a Law and Order: SVU marathon just yet.  The study had many limitations, so the results cannot be applied to the general population.

First of all, it was very small, and there was significant answer variation among the individual participants.  Second, the fact that most of the participants were of the same ethnic group suggests that cultural factors could have been at play.  Finally, the participants were not surveyed before watching the shows, so it is unclear if and how much the shows were really responsible for the differences between groups.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Who Gets the Attention on Dating Websites?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When it comes to hair color, men are more inclined to favor blondes on a dating website over all other hues and are six percent more likely to choose golden locks over brunettes, finds Twoo.com, a site that tries to unite lonely hearts in the United Kingdom.

According to the survey, blondes make up 27.2 percent of the most popular profiles, even though just 24.6 percent of the women on the dating site are fair-haired.  On the other hand, while 39.2 percent of the total profiles on Twoo.com are brunettes, they comprised 35.8 percent of the most popular profiles.

Overall, male respondents rated their preferences in hair color in this order: blondes, black hair, redheads and brunettes.

As for what else men want, 27 percent said curvy women, compared to 2 percent who desire lithe super model figures.  Men also picked nice eyes and cute smiles by 22 percent and 20 percent, respectively.  A good backside only got 8 percent of the vote and attractive breasts garnered 7 percent.

As for what women want, one in four said a guy with nice eyes was the most attractive quality and 22 percent gave their nod to a sexy smile.  Only 2 percent of women rated six pack abs higher than any other male feature.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Medical Opt-Out Rates for Vaccines Vary by State

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Rates of medical exemptions from vaccination requirements are higher in states where exemptions are easier to get, potentially compromising immunity and posing a threat to other children, according to public health experts at Emory University.

In addition, states with stringent standards for non-medical exemptions found a higher rate of medical exemptions. In other words, parents may be seeking medical exemptions when it is harder to receive non-medical exemptions.

The researchers evaluated medical exemptions from kindergarten entry requirements for every state between 2004 and 2010, and came up with a total of 87,631 medical exemptions nationwide. Standards allowing medical exemptions from school immunization requirements were inconsistent from state to state.

The study was published Thursday in the Journal of Infectious Disease.

The investigators concluded that medical exemptions should be monitored and evaluated continually to ensure they are used appropriately.

"The appropriate use of medical exemptions is important to maintaining sufficient herd immunity," Saad Omer, assistant professor of global health, epidemiology, and pediatrics at Emory University Schools of Public Health and Medicine, writes in the study. Herd immunity refers to the resistance to the spread of infectious disease in a group because susceptible members are few. It explains how non-vaccinated people are protected when a significant portion of a population is vaccinated. "More importantly, they add to existing pockets of susceptibility. It is known that immunizations exemptors cluster geographically, increasing the possibility for local areas of increased disease incidence."

With herd immunity, infections are unlikely to transfer from person to person because most people are immune. This then disrupts the chain of transmission that could infect a person who did not receive a vaccine or did not respond to it.

People with compromised immune systems, such as infants, the elderly, cancer patients, or people with other immune disorders, are typically protected by herd immunity. Also protected are those who, for one reason or another, can't, for medical reasons, get vaccinated.

"Children with valid medical exemption need to be protected ... by insuring high coverage rates among the rest of the population," write Daniel Salmon and Dr. Neal Halsey at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in an editorial that accompanies the article.

However, a certain threshold is required to establish herd immunity -- and the exemptions to school immunizations may compromise the ability of a community to attain this level of vaccination.

Most doctors urge parents to weigh very seriously their decision to opt for non-medical exemptions, especially in light of the agreement among physicians about their safety and effectiveness. The widely discredited theory of an association between vaccinations and autism, though debunked, persists in the culture today.

While experts recognize the autonomy of parents to make decisions regarding their children's healthcare, doctors believe that counseling may alleviate parents' concerns.

"I think all eligible children should receive recommended vaccines, but I also recognize the right of parents to make this choice -- to the extent that it does not cause harm in others," said Dr. Gregory Poland, professor of medicine, infectious disease, molecular pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at Mayo Clinic and Foundation. "For this reason, I think it is imperative that anyone seeking an exemption for any reason should be required to have adequate education and counseling about vaccines and have an opportunity to have questions answered and misperceptions debunked."

"Many children have been terribly harmed and families and communities scarred by the oft times capricious and uninformed rejection of vaccines based on false information."

Experts agree that physicians should pay strict attention to the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


How Old Is Too Old to Drive?

Hemera/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- A driver who will be 101 in September backed out of a parking lot near an elementary school in Los Angeles, plowing into 11 people, including nine children.  Fortunately no one died as a result of the incident on Wednesday, but it highlights the challenge that aging drivers and their families face in deciding when it’s time to get off the road.

Although they only account for about nine percent of the population, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show senior drivers account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

A recent report by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found the rate of deaths involving drivers 75 to 84 is about three per million miles driven -- on par with teen drivers. Once they pass age 85, vehicular fatality rates jump to nearly four times that of teens.

Richard Nix, executive director of Agingcare.com, says many senior drivers don’t realize their eyesight, hearing and reflexes aren’t as sharp as they used to be. They may be taking medication that impairs judgment, memory or coordination, or suffer from arthritis or Alzheimer’s. Consequently they may not realize it when they blow past a stop sign, forget to signal a right turn or confuse the gas pedal with the brake.

Even when they admit to themselves that they’re driving skills may not be up to par, some older drivers are still reluctant to hand over their keys. According to Nix, loss of driving privileges is a difficult and emotional issue for many.

“People have been driving their whole life and have trouble believing they’re incapable of continuing,” he said. “They feel like their independence has been taken away.”

And Nix points out, it’s frequently a difficult subject for loved ones to face as well. They may feel a pang of fear every time their elderly parent gets behind the wheel but are reluctant to confront them for fear of hurting their feelings.

Nix says that if need be enlist the help of other family members, friends or their physician when a loved one presents a danger on the road. In some cases, it may even be appropriate to take legal action, though laws vary from state to state.

Whether an elderly driver comes to the conclusion on their own that it’s time to surrender their license or they’re forced to do so, it’s a big moment and it can be devastating. But the consequences of not doing so may be even more devastating.

Agingcare.com offers the following advice for senior drivers to evaluate when it’s time to stop driving:

  • Conditions like cataracts and glaucoma can diminish sight and hamper driving ability. An eye doctor can help establish whether your sight is good enough to drive safely.
  • Many older drivers no longer have the strength or dexterity to handle a car. They may shrink in height so much they can no longer see over the windshield. This is especially true for seniors who do little or no physical activity.
  • Alzheimer’s can impair memory and judgment. Diabetics risk falling into a coma while driving. Even if you have long periods of time when health issues cause no problems, why risk it?
  • Medications, especially multiple medications, can greatly impair driving ability. Your doctor should advise you of the dangers your medications present while driving.
  • If the minor fender-benders are adding up or you simply feel less confident about driving, it’s OK to admit it to yourself that your driving days are over.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio