Review Category : Health

Oscar Pistorius’ Disability Could Be Factor in Sentence, Experts Say

Jemal Countess/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) — When the judge presiding over Oscar Pistorius’ case begins sentencing hearings next month, experts said that the paralympian’s disability could be a factor in whether he gets the maximum 15 years in prison or a much lighter sentence, even no prison at all.

Pistorius was cleared of murder in the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but convicted Friday of culpable homicide — roughly equivalent to manslaughter — and discharging a gun in a public area.

Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will decide on Pistorius’ sentence, set Oct. 13 for the hearings to begin. The maximum sentence for culpable homicide is 15 years.

“There is no prescribed sentence for culpable homicide in South African law. The sentence can be decided at the discretion of the judge based on the weight of evidence and circumstances surrounding the incident,” veteran defense lawyer Gordon Scheepers told ABC News.

“The circumstances in this case include the fact that Pistorius is a double amputee, who, according to all indications, has a fragile mental state,” Scheepers said.

A psychiatrist who has examined Pistorius said the paralympian known as the Blade Runner was being treated for depression and that he was in danger of becoming suicidal if he couldn’t continue his treatment.

If Masipa decides to send Pistorius to prison, he will not be the only disabled person to be incarcerated. Convicted rightwing killer Phil Kloppers, who is a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, was released earlier this year from the Leeuwkop Prison in Johannesburg, South Africa after spending 20 years behind bars.

Criminology professor Anni Hesselink, who regularly visits detainees in jail, told ABC News that there are several disabled prisoners in Pretoria’s Kgosi Mampuru II prison.

“One male inmate has an amputated leg and, as far as I have been able to establish, he has never complained about the treatment he has received in prison,” Hesselink said.

South Africa’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded and violent places, but the nature of Pistorius’ disability, and his vulnerable mental state, could afford him some extra protection.

“Pistorius’s prosthetic legs could be deemed potentially dangerous weapons. His celebrity status could also could make him the target of attacks, threats or extortion,” said Hesselink, adding that “this could mean that Pistorius will likely be kept largely separate from other prisoners.”

Scheepers said authorities would be careful not to be seen to be giving Pistorius special privileges, but his high-profile reputation would inevitably play a part.

“I think high-profile cases are more susceptible to special treatment because both the system itself gives them more attention and there’s more scrutiny to how they’re treated from outside,” he said.

Potentially difficult for an elite athlete who followed a meticulously balanced diet, Pistorius could be forced to live off prison meals made up often of little more than ground corn, stews and low-quality meat, although his disability may also mean he can request a special diet.

The Department of Correctional Services said in a statement this week that prisoners with disabilities could be entitled to separate rooms depending on the vulnerability caused by the disability.

“Inmates are accommodated in line with their type of disability. However, each case is based on its own merits,” said the department. The risk of the disabled inmate and his or her needs must be assessed within six hours of admission to prison.

Disabled prisoners are also given a chance of being granted medical parole.

Pistorius was born with fibular hemimelia, or the congenital absence of the fibula in both legs. When he was 11-months old, doctors amputated both legs below the knee.

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World Health Organization Needs More Ebola Health Workers

iStock/Thinkstock(GENEVA) — The World Health Organization (WHO) is asking for assistance from additional health workers as the Ebola death toll rises to 2,400 people out of 4,784 cases.

During a news conference in Geneva Friday, WHO director general Margaret Chan called for an unprecedented emergency response.

Libera, Sierra Leone and Guinea have the most desperate Ebola health situations.

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Fat Shaming Has No Upsides

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) — Just the term “fat shaming” alone should tip people off that it’s not the right thing to do around those who are overweight or obese. Yet, some people will go ahead anyway and make those with weight problems feel bad about themselves under the mistaken impression that it will somehow motivate them to go on a diet.

Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at University College London, says that five percent of the 3,000 participants she interviewed for her study have experienced fat shaming. In fact, some were even berated by their own physicians.

Tracking their attempts at losing weight, Wardle found that those who dealt with discrimination gained an average of two pounds over a four-year period while others who escaped harassment shed a pound-and-a-half.

Study researcher Sarah Jackson adds that fat shaming can lead to constant eating and a lack of interest in exercising due to embarrassment.

While there was no definitive cause-and-effect linking fat shaming to weight gain, a 2013 study showed that people who are discriminated against because of their girth are two-and-a-half times more likely to become obese.

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Children from Wealthy Families Also Have a Tough Time with Divorce

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Marital break-ups certainly have an effect on children but as a Georgetown University study points out, divorce can have a bigger impact on youngsters from wealthier families than those struggling to make ends meet.

Rebecca M. Ryan and her staff looked at children ages three to 12 with behavioral problems in families living well above, well below and hovering around the federal poverty line.

What they noticed was that youngsters five and younger from the higher income households tended to be more aggressive and defiant than their peers who weren’t as well off.

Ryan explains that it might be related to a sudden shift in economic fortunes compared to poorer families whose incomes aren’t affected nearly as much by the departure of a spouse.

However, children ages six and up seem to handle break-ups better, particularly when a new stepmother or stepfather is introduced into the equation, according to Ryan, because that tends to also improve financial status.

Nevertheless, the researchers say parents should keep a close watch on their children’s behavior during a split and try to remain in close contact with their kids. Parent education programs that teach coping skills are also recommended.

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Enterovirus Hits Special School for Kids with Asthma

Photodisc/Thinkstock(DENVER) — Enterovirus 68 has been sweeping through schools in 11 states this week. But a special school in Denver for mostly asthmatic children has been battling the rare virus for weeks — they just didn’t know what it was called.

About 20 percent of Morgridge Academy’s 84 students have contracted the respiratory illness that leaves asthmatic children wheezing, according to the school’s head nurse, Amy Schouten. Two of them were hospitalized, she said.

“That was before we had a name for the virus,” Schouten said, adding that none of the cases are confirmed, but they all seem to have the telltale symptoms of enterovirus 68.

Colorado is among nearly a dozen states to have confirmed cases of the rare enterovirus that starts out like the common cold but can quickly turn serious — especially in children with asthma.

Morgridge Academy is a school for chronically ill children from kindergarten through eighth grade on National Jewish Health’s campus in Denver, Colorado. Most of the children have severe asthma, Schouten said.

The children returned to school on Aug. 18. And while it’s not unusual for a cold to go around at the beginning of the year, this year’s bug was especially severe, Schouten said.

“We assumed it was just a first-of-the-school-year illness,” she said. “Kids come in and start getting to know each other. They share everything. Not just crayons and pencils but germs.”

But this year, students would come into school feeling fine, but by lunchtime they would need to go home with a fever, or to the hospital with breathing problems, Schouten said. Then, they would miss between four and six days of school.

For kids already used to carrying around albuterol inhalers, enterovirus is just another hurdle to jump, Schouten said.

“We do watch them like a hawk anyway,” Schouten said, adding that school staff members are sticklers for hand-washing. “We have been constantly getting on the kids about covering their coughs and their sneezes, preferably into their elbows.”

They’ve reminded children to take their regular medication on time, and to speak up when they don’t feel well.

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Depressed People Should Not Avoid Work

iStock/Thinkstock(MELBOURNE, Australia) — Sure, work can be depressing at times but the reasons for depression may be far more than just having a nagging boss.

And while no one wants to minimize the seriousness of this particular form of mental illness, researchers from University of Melbourne and the University of Tasmania believe one of the worst things depressed people can do is avoid going to work.

They point out that work has certain health benefits such as maintaining daily routines and receiving support from co-workers “while depression-related absence from work offers no significant improvement in employee health outcomes or quality of life.”

Employers should also be aware that depression-related absences cost them money as well, especially if they have to replace a chronically absent worker.

As a result, the researchers strongly recommend that employers institute strategies to assist those suffering from depression such as “offering flexible work-time and modification of tasks or working environment.”

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Hospitals Going Overboard on Dispensing Antibiotics

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) — If one antibiotic is effective in knocking out an infection, can several at once do the job even better?

That seems to be the prevailing attitude in a lot of hospitals these days but a new first-of-its kind study warns that doctors should pull back from prescribing multiple antibiotics because they might wind up being useless overkill.

According to Dr. Arjun Srinivasan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other researchers, about 75 percent of 500 hospitals studied kept patients on more than one antibiotic for more than two days even when additional medications are supposed to be dropped once an infection is identified.

The study also pointed to almost two dozen antibiotic combinations that should be rarely if ever used, even before doctors start them on patients.

Among the drawbacks of needless multiple antibiotics are side-effects such as diarrhea, not to mention that they all drive up hospital costs.

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CDC: Enterovirus 68 Confirmed in Seven States, Concern over Emergency Room Overcrowding

Credit: James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(NEW YORK) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed Enterovirus 68 in seven states, with at least 84 individuals infected.

On Thursday, the CDC confirmed the presence of the disease in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Montana. Confirmation of the disease’s presence in a state is helpful in that it allows doctors to more quickly diagnose who is critically ill. The number of cases, however, does not reflect the true spread of the disease, as testing is not done on every child who appears to have the disease.

Among the greatest threats posed by Enterovirus 68 is the flood of patients with even mild symptoms who are overwhelming emergency rooms around the country.

Nancy Burke, an administrator in the Emergency Department at Advocate Christ Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, said that there has been a jump in the number of people arriving at the emergency room due to fear. The hospital, Burke says, is at full capacity, which strains resources and resource management.

Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, Director of Infectious Diseases at Mercy Children’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, said that she feels the rush of children being brought to the emergency room with Enterovirus 68 symptoms has slowed in recent days.

Many of the children who have been brought to emergency rooms around the nation, hospitals say, do not test positive for the virus.

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Researchers Say Enzyme May Hold Key to Targeting Cancer Cells

Photokanok/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Researchers say they may have discovered a way to target cancer cells to more effectively treat leukemia.

In a study published in the journal Cell, researchers at Harvard University found that cancer cells are particularly dependent on one particular enzyme to survive. In laboratory mice who were genetically altered to avoid the presence of that enzyme in their systems, cancer cells failed to grow.

Researchers say that the elimination of the enzyme did not impact normal cells, as they were able to utilize a different enzyme for energy.

The study remains in the very preliminary phase, as testing has only been conducted on mice. Still, researchers believe that it may help them by pointing out that the way that cells metabolize energy could help in targeting cancer.

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Couple Completes Bucket List for Unborn Child

Courtesy Dan Haley(NEW YORK) — When you find out you’re pregnant, it’s not unusual for parents to start dreaming of all the places and experiences you want to share with your bundle of joy once they’re born.

Jenna and Dan Haley, of Philadelphia, had to get started on those plans much earlier than expected. At only 13 weeks, their unborn son, Shane, was diagnosed with anencephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born without parts of their brain and skull.

“We learned of his condition on April 10,” Dan, 25, told ABC News. “We were shocked and devastated. It’s definitely not something anyone ever expects to hear. As we learned more about his diagnosis we experienced pretty much every emotion you could imagine.”

Over time, however, the disheartened couple “accepted his condition for what it was, and decided to give Shane all the love we could while we have him with us,” the father said.

The Haleys learned the life expectancy for infants born with anencephaly is extremely short — generally ranging from mere hours to a few days — so their time with Shane would not only be precious, but limited.

“When we found out that Jenna was expecting, we would often talk about all of the places that we wanted to go as a family after Shane was born,” Dan recalled. “After his diagnosis and understanding that almost 100 percent of babies with anencephaly die shortly after birth, we decided to start visiting the places we had wanted to go with him while he was living in his mother’s womb.”

The couple made a bucket list of significant activities and locations they still wanted to share with Shane, from going to a Phillies game, visiting the Statue of Liberty and Times Square in New York City, to even taking their unborn son to enjoy a famous cheesesteak from Geno’s in Philadelphia, all while Jenna was pregnant.

“He’s still our little boy and even though he’s been given such a short life expectancy because of anencephaly, we wanted to make sure that we gave him a lifetime worth of adventures and love while he’s with us,” said Dan.

The proud parents-to-be have been chronicling their bucket list adventures on their Facebook page, Prayers for Shane, for the nearly 175,000 followers who’ve joined in to witness their journey and provide support, something for which the Haleys are so incredibly thankful.

“One thing we would want people to take away is that each human life is so valuable and that it’s so important to live each day to its fullest potential,” Dan explained. “Whether we live one hour or 100 years, our time here is limited. Make sure to enjoy the little things in life and hug those who mean the most to you. Choose to make the most of the hand you’re dealt and always look on the bright side of every situation and the world will be a better place because of it.”

And as for their growing boy who is due on Oct. 12, he can rest assured his parents are over the moon to meet him.

“We honestly just can’t wait to hold Shane in our arms and show him how much we love him,” said Dan. “It’s all in God’s hands and we will accept His will, but we just can’t wait to finally hold and hug our little man!”

As of early September, the Haleys had completed their entire bucket list for Shane.

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