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Friday
Aug042017

'Supergirl' toddler marks end of chemo by ringing bell during special send-off from hospital

Courtesy of Roxana Meza(ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.) -- One little girl got a superhero send-off after finishing her last chemotherapy treatment at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Wednesday.

Emilie Meza, 1, donned a Supergirl costume and held her father's hand as she walked down the hospital’s hallway to cheers and congratulations from staff.

She then rang a celebratory bell to mark the end of her treatments.

“Oh, it was an amazing feeling,” Emilie’s mother, Roxana Meza, told ABC News. “There were tears in my eyes -- tears of joy. She’s gone through so much and she doesn’t know it because she’s so little. It was tough at a lot of points, but to feel accomplished that you’re getting past the chemo part of it is amazing."

Emilie was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia when she was 9 months old. She needed to undergo a bone marrow transplant but was unable to find a donor who would be a perfect match. So her father, Eduardo Meza, who was a half match, became her donor. That process was trickier and required extra safeguards, according to Dr. Benjamin Oshrine, Emilie’s attending transplant physician.

“With a half match, we have to take special precautions,” Oshrine told ABC News. “The first part of the transplant process she’s already completed, which is wiping her bone marrow clean with high-dose chemo and replacing it with donor’s bone marrow and immune system."

“It’s definitely been a journey already. There’s still a lot to do,” he added.

Although Emilie has completed chemotherapy, she and her parents must live in the nearby Ronald McDonald house so that her doctors can continue to closely monitor her.

But Emilie continues to amaze her parents.

“She is a supergirl,” Roxana Meza said. “She’s been through so much. She always smiles through all of the tough things and even on her bad days, she always pushes through.”

Oshrine said Emilie looked "vibrant and lively and her usual adorable self" while ringing the bell on Wednesday.

“To say the least, it’s heartwarming and adorable,” Oshrine said of Emilie's special send-off.


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Friday
Aug042017

First responders go in disguise as camp counselors to build trust with community kids

Courtesy Camp Rosenbaum(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- Campers at Camp Rosenbaum in Portland, Oregon, spend one week each summer horseback riding, fishing and hiking with counselors who answer to camp nicknames including “Granola,” “Waffles” and “Half-Pint.”

On the final day, those campers, at-risk youths between the ages of 9 and 11, learn that the counselors who slept in their bunks and taught them camp songs are first responders the other 51 weeks of the year.

The counselors are police officers, firefighters and members of the military who volunteer to spend time with the kids, all of whom must apply for the camp and live in subsidized housing in Oregon and Washington.

“I am a goof for a week building relationships with these young kids, showing them that they’re loved and they can do anything they set their mind to,” said Mike Rowe, public information officer for the Beaverton Police Department and a Camp Rosenbaum counselor for the past eight years.

He added, “If on day one I was in a uniform, then it’d be a negative experience because of maybe something family members said about police or maybe police have come to their house.”

The campers are assigned into groups with three counselors, who guide them through activities at the camp, located on a military training facility. When the counselors emerge on the last day dressed in uniform, the 175 kids all exclaim, “No way,” according to Rowe.

“You walk in and you see jaws dropping on the kids and these looks of amazement,” he said. “It’s just in amazement because they’re like we had a blast with these people, we had fun and it’s not like what our friends said about police.”

Vali Griffin’s 9-year-old son, Mark, attended Camp Rosenbaum for the first time this summer and now idolizes one of his counselors, a member of the U.S. Air Force.

“He was shocked at the end when he saw them all dressed and now he tells me, ‘Mommy he flies those big planes and everything,’” Griffin told ABC News. “Every day since he talks about this officer and how nice he was and how he misses him.”

She added of her son, who has a framed letter from the counselor hanging on his wall, “He needed this. He’s looking at things more positively now.”

The camp, founded by the late Brigadier General (Ret) Fred M. Rosenbaum, is free of charge for the campers. Each day focuses on a different citizenship trait, like loyalty and sharing, and the final theme is that good citizens are everywhere.

“In the beginning they’re kind of guarded and you watch them blossom as the days go on,” said Oregon National Guard tech sergeant and camp counselor Michelle Mularski. “They just open up and have fun.”

The weeklong camp also serves as some summer fun for the first responders giving their time as counselors.

“It is the hardest that I work all year long but it recharges my battery in terms of seeing that society is good,” Rowe said.

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Friday
Aug042017

New research shows fat shaming by doctors can be a health hazard

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The practice of fat shaming at the doctor's office can be harmful to both the mental and physical health of a patient, according to a comprehensive new review of research published Thursday.

"Disrespectful treatment and medical fat shaming" is "stressful and can cause patients to delay health care seeking or avoid interacting with providers," stated the abstract to the review published Thursday by Joan Chrisler and Angela Barney, researchers at Connecticut College's Department of Psychology.

The review examined 46 past studies, which looked at doctors' biases toward obesity and also compared patients' reports of fat shaming from their doctors with their health outcomes. Researchers found that fat shaming from a doctor can take a significant negative toll on a patient's health, as it can lead to decreased trust in their health care provider.

In extreme cases, it can also cause a doctor to assume that a patient's weight is responsible for a host of health conditions and lead to a misdiagnosis, researchers said.

The findings were presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, where Chrisler called fat shaming by a doctor a form of malpractice.

“Recommending different treatments for patients with the same condition based on their weight is unethical and a form of malpractice,” Chrisler said. “Research has shown that doctors repeatedly advise weight loss for fat patients while recommending CAT scans, blood work or physical therapy for other, average-weight patients.”

In the review, researchers called for better training for health care providers so that patients of all sizes are treated with respect.

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Thursday
Aug032017

3 baby girls born in 3 days with 3 heart surgeries celebrate birthday milestone

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Three baby girls with Down syndrome and heart conditions born in three consecutive days celebrated their first birthdays together in a joyful photo shoot.

After all three underwent surgeries to repair their congenital heart defects at Boston Children’s Hospital. Now happy and healthy, their mothers decided to celebrate the milestone together in a cake smash photo session dubbed "Three of Hearts."

"When we realized the connection between these three heart warriors, we knew that we had to celebrate in a big way," photographer Nicole Starr told ABC News. "We let them be the stars of the show with just a simple backdrop and classically simple cakes, and their unique personalities definitely stole the show."

The three girls -- Mae, Catherine, and Harper -- first met at a photo shoot celebrating breastfeeding for children with Down syndrome. That shoot was organized by Ella Gray Cullen, the founder of Julia's Way, a non-profit dedicated to helping families re-imagine life with Down syndrome. It was there that the girls' moms discovered their close connection.

"I couldn't believe it at the first photo shoot that our babies were born so close together," Aimee Kadehjian, Catherine's mother, told ABC News. "I thought the cake smash photo shoot would be a perfect opportunity to spread awareness that kids born with Down syndrome are just like all other kids and for the Julia's Way foundation."

Despite the girls' similarities, they all have their own little personalities.

Kadehjian called her daughter Catherine the "serious one."

Cristina Colanti, Mae's mom, said she's always "smiling and babbling."

Harper's mom, Michele Fox, said her daughter has brought "unconditional love, empathy, and compassion to all of us."

Given all the girls have been through in their first year, the mothers were eager to showcase how they are doing now.

Fox said Harper's surgery was difficult not only for the little girl but for her entire family.

"Her surgery was hard on us," Fox told ABC News. "She won't remember anything but I had a really hard time bonding with her until after the surgery."

For the babies and their mothers, the photo shoot was a way to celebrate an important milestone.

"What a journey they have been through in their first year of life," Colanti said. "It was truly worth celebrating."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Aug032017

Study finds cleaning your kitchen sponge may not keep it clean

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The kitchen sponge you use to wash dishes or clean the counters should be replaced each week, according to a new study.

The study, published online last month in Scientific Reports, also found that sponges that were regularly cleaned by their users did not contain any less bacteria than uncleaned sponges.

“Presumably, resistant bacteria survive the sanitation process and rapidly re–colonize the released niches until reaching a similar abundance as before the treatment,” the study concluded.

The researchers examined 14 sponges collected from private households in Germany in 2012 and seven new sponges purchased in local German stores in 2017. The used sponges had been cleaned by methods including heating in a microwave and rinsing with hot, soapy water.

Researchers found that kitchen sponges “harbor a higher bacterial diversity” than was previously known. Researchers concluded that cleaning sponges could actually make them dirtier, adding that it was "not advisable" to clean them for a prolonged period of time.

“From a long-term perspective, sponge sanitation methods appear not sufficient to effectively reduce the bacterial load in kitchen sponges and might even increase the shares of RG2-related bacteria,” the study said, referring to Risk Group 2, the type of microorganisms that may be associated with human disease.

The researchers recommended changing sponges weekly, however, they did not directly study what effects the frequency of changing out sponges would have.

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Thursday
Aug032017

Groundbreaking study demonstrates promise, controversy of gene editing in embryos

DigitalVision/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In a groundbreaking experiment, an international team of scientists on Wednesday officially reported the successful elimination of a genetic disease from human embryos.

It’s potentially a huge step for medicine, but also a controversial one. While these embryos, which a team led by researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University edited using a novel gene-editing procedure known as CRISPR-Cas9, were destroyed rather than implanted into a womb, some said this type of genetic manipulation opens the door to other possibilities in human engineering.

Below are answers to some of the common questions about this research.

What did this experiment show?

In short, this experiment showed that it is potentially possible to correct a genetic disease in an embryo with a high chance of success. In order to show this, the researchers created human embryos designed to have a specific genetic mutation responsible for a type of heart disease known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This genetic disease, which occurs in one out of 500 people, can cause sudden death and a host of other cardiac problems such as heart failure and arrhythmias.

Using a technique known as CRISPR-Cas9, the scientists were able to target the faulty genes as the cells in the embryo divided, swapping them out for a properly functioning form of the gene. What was novel about this study is that researchers were able to nudge the embryo to use its own native machinery to perform the repair with a high degree of efficiency using a correct form of the gene already present in the cell. In this particular experiment, the researchers used CRISPR-Cas9 on 58 embryos containing the mutation. After the procedure, they found that the mutation was corrected in 42 embryos -- a success rate of 72 percent.

Why is this important?

If a feat similar to that seen in this experiment could be achieved in an afflicted embryo that was allowed to develop into a person, it would prevent the condition in this individual. It would also prevent their future sons and daughters from inheriting this condition.

Moreover, there are thousands of genetic diseases, ranging from cystic fibrosis to sickle cell anemia, for which such a procedure could be relevant. Tests currently exist to diagnose many diseases prior to birth; however, at this time, there is no therapy in use that actually alters the DNA of embryos prior to birth. The use of such a technique would inevitably raise the prospect of exerting all kinds of control over human reproduction as well as a host of new ethical questions.

Is such gene editing likely to become reality?

It’s not likely, at least for now. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is barred from reviewing investigational medical studies involving editing of human embryos -- something that would be required in order to proceed with moving this research into practice. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health, which is an important source of science research funding in the United States, will not financially support research on gene editing of embryos. The research in this study was not supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health.

What lies ahead for gene-editing research?

Right now, it is unclear. Importantly, even though this experiment was considered to be successful, it is not known how this method would perform in other cases. For example, a case in which both copies of the gene were mutated rather than just one, which was the case in this experiment. Also, since the scientists destroyed these embryos at a very early stage of development, it is not possible to tell for sure how viable these embryos would actually have been in the long run or whether there would have been any unforeseen complications with their development.

But along with these scientific questions are also big ethical questions -- ones that will only be answered as scientists, ethicists and the public reflect further on this step.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Aug022017

Florida confirms its first sexually transmitted case of Zika in 2017

iStock/Thinkstock(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- Florida has confirmed the state's first sexually transmitted case of Zika for this year, health officials said.

The Florida Department of Health announced in a statement Tuesday that the case was reported in Pinellas County. A resident's partner showed symptoms of the mosquito-borne virus following a recent trip to Cuba. Both patients tested positive for Zika.

"There is no evidence of ongoing transmission of Zika by mosquitoes in any area of Florida," the health department said. "It is important to remember Zika can also be transmitted sexually and to take precautions if you or your partner traveled to an area where Zika is active."

There have been 118 Zika cases reported in Florida this year, with the majority linked to travel outside the continental United States. The locally acquired infections confirmed this year were all linked to exposure to the virus in 2016, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The Zika virus is most commonly transmitted via infected mosquitoes, but in rare cases has been transmitted through sexual contact. The virus usually results in minor symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain and pink eye. However, Zika has been found to cause devastating birth defects such as microcephaly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that men diagnosed with Zika wait six months before having unprotected sex so that they do not infect their partner. Infected men who have a pregnant partner are advised to wear barrier contraception for the duration of the pregnancy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not routinely test donated sperm for Zika, but it does forbid anonymous donors for six months if they have been diagnosed with the virus, traveled to an affected area or had sex with someone who may have been infected.

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Wednesday
Aug022017

How social media 'pressure' and depression may be linked in teens

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The haunting Instagram posts that an Ivy League college athlete posted shortly before she killed herself are raising questions over whether social media could be linked to depression, especially for teenage girls, according to the author of a new book.

In January 2014, 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania track star Madison Holleran's suicide rocked her community and college campus. Just hours before she jumped to her death, the freshman posted a photo on Instagram of the scenery at a local park in Philadelphia.

In the weeks before her suicide, on all of Holleran's social media platforms, she seemed to be a happy, healthy college student, showing no signs of her battle with depression in her curated online presence.

"Her Instagram feed is like the perfect college experience feed, and then if you go back, it's the perfect summer before college," Kate Fagan, an ESPNW columnist who wrote the upcoming book, Why Maddy Ran, that explores Holleran's battle with depression and how it may have been partly fueled by social media.

"It’s hard to consume her Instagram feed, because you do know the end of her specific story," Fagan said. "And they don’t match up."

Fagan, who spent two years investigating and researching Holleran's death while writing Why Maddy Ran, said Holleran knew that her social media presence was a false reflection of her real life.

"Her mom’s, like, 'I’m looking at your Instagram feed and you’re looking like you love college, like you went to that party,' and Madison says to her mom, 'Mom it’s just a picture.' And so it’s like Madison knew that her Instagram feed was a false reflection," Fagan said. "But she couldn’t see that her peers were maybe also reflecting something that wasn’t totally real."

Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist, told ABC News that other students may also find it difficult to differentiate between reality and what's on social media.  

"College students may find it difficult to say, ‘If I'm deleting and only showing my best self, everyone else may be as well,' " Taylor said.

Larissa May, a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University, told ABC News that when she was a college student, she suffered from depression that she said was triggered by social media.

"There's so much pressure to be at all the parties and look like you're having the best time of your life," May told ABC News.

"My sophomore year, I struggled with anxiety and depression, and social media was definitely a trigger for that," May said, adding, "I was always looking at everyone else's, trying to understand why were they so happy and why was I not."

During her senior year at Vanderbilt, May says she fought back, creating the school project "Half the Story,” which snowballed into a nationwide movement on social media that encourages college students to realize the truth behind filtered photos and posts.

Fagan said promoting these sorts of conversations may help other college students who are feeling the same way Holleran did.

"Maybe it would help if we had more honest conversations with other people about the reality of what social media really is, and then maybe you would have that planted in your mind when you looked at someone else’s feed," Fagan said.

Taylor added that "maintaining a healthy perspective" and "recognizing you don't have to be perfect to be happy" are also very important for the mental health of college students.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Aug012017

'The Banana-Leaf Ball' aims to teach children through play

ABCNews.com(NEW YORK) -- When children's book author Katie Smith Milway was looking for inspiration for her next project, she found a life lesson worth sharing in the form of a banana-leaf ball.

Made from twine and banana tree leaves, a banana-leaf ball can be as small as a softball or as large as a soccer ball, and is used as a homemade replacement for manufactured sports balls among East African boys and girls.

Through her professional network, Smith Milway got in touch with Johann Koss of the Right to Play program, whose volunteers coach sports for children in need worldwide.

Through Right to Play, she forged a long-distance connection with former refugee Benjamin Nzobonankira from Burundi. She adapted Nzobonankira's story of play with a banana-leaf ball for her latest children's book "The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World" (illustrated by Shane W. Evans).

Her own travels to refugee camps in Africa also helped her craft the book’s narrative and illustrative direction.

“You walk into a refugee camp and you find people with all kinds of skills,” Smith Milway told ABC News. “They've come from whatever their walk of life was. … You see people coming together and bringing their skills to a pretty, you know, a disadvantaged situation.”

The Banana-Leaf Ball” follows the story of a young refugee named Deo, inspired by Nzobonankira, whose family fled Burundi during civil unrest in the 1990s. In the book, Deo overcomes the hardships of refugee life and bullying in the camp by making banana-leaf balls to share and play soccer with the other children who lived nearby.

“My quest really is to introduce kids to world issues they can do something about,” Smith Milway said.

In a recent visit to P.S. 161 Pedro Albizu Campos School in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, Smith Milway shared the book with a group of children through a partnership with America Scores, a nonprofit that provides after-school programming to 10,000 urban youth in public and charter schools in 13 major cities across the United States and Canada.

“The central message of ‘The Banana-Leaf Ball’ is not just for refugee camps,” she said. “Honestly it's just as relevant to a playground here in Harlem where there are kids that don't trust each other and are not always nice to each other.”

Her focus throughout the book is the power of learning through play, she says, important for social and emotional intelligence development to succeed in both school and life.

“[‘The Banana-Leaf Ball’]
story directly relates to what we do every day in our program,” Shannon Schneeman, the executive director of America Scores in New York, said. “We emphasize students learning through play, learning teamwork through play, making friends through play and learning some harder lessons as well: conflict resolution, how to become a true leader on their team and in their school and in their greater community.”

During Smith Milway’s visits to America Scores programs, she often connects the students she is presenting to with Nzobonankira via Skype from his home country of Burundi, where he returned to after living in a Tanzania refugee camp for 15 years. He has since become a coach for Right to Play himself.

“We've been able to use Skype for him to actually come into the classroom and interact with kids and bring kids from Burundi in contact with kids from North America,” Smith Milway said. “You really see the power of play crossing an ocean. And they will do the same kind of trust-building games that we profile in the book.”

And Schneeman says America Scores’ emphasis on learning through play has been working. Through data analysis, Schneeman says the New York schools America Scores works with have seen improvements in attendance, and English and Language Arts test scores.

“I realized what [America Scores] did was exactly what I had written about,” Smith Milway said. “So it's really amazing to me to just see the incredible synergies there.”

Through the book and her presentations, Smith Milway says she hopes the children she reaches learn something helpful for their own growth and personal achievement, to live more successful lives.

“I hope that it helps them,” she said. “I hope it’s fun for them. I hope [the presentations] really makes the message more memorable to hear the author talk about it.”


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Tuesday
Aug012017

Grieving mom puts face to opioid crisis, one portrait at a time

ABCNews.com(CONCORD, N.H.) -- A mother in New Hampshire is using a paintbrush to heal from her daughter’s drug-related death and to help others who are suffering.

Anne Marie Zanfagna’s daughter, Jacqueline, died in October 2014 of a heroin overdose. Returning to oil painting as a form of therapy, the mother and artist began creating a joyful portrait of Jacqueline.

“It just started as something from my heart, but then I realized you can influence people when you have pictures to go along with the numbers so they can see our lost children,” Zanfagna told ABC affiliate WMUR-TV.

Her influence materialized into Angels of Addiction, an organization she conceived to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic. Zanfagna, who also paints portraits for people dealing with similar grief, has created 88 works of art since her daughter’s death.

“These are all my children now. I know them all very well on a spiritual level as I turn them into a beautiful portrait.”

The smiling faces of people whose lives ended due to addiction are currently on display at the New Hampshire State Library in Concord throughout August.

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