Review Category : Health

White House, Congress Spar Over Funds to Combat Zika Virus

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The political battle over funding to stop the spread of the Zika virus appears to be at a standstill.

The nation’s top health officials say they need nearly $2 billion to fight Zika, but the request is stalled in Congress, and now the White House and Republican lawmakers are shuffling the blame across Pennsylvania Avenue.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, said he needs more budgetary information from the administration to address the crisis.

“The question here is what will they use the money for, in detail, and when?” he said.

But the White House said it has provided Republicans with all the necessary details and that Republican lawmakers are playing political games.

“They’ve had ample opportunity to collect information to ask questions of senior administration officials, to read letters, to read the legislative proposal that was put forward by the administration,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during Friday’s press briefing.

Rogers, who has directed his staff to begin early work on a supplemental funding bill, said the American people will “absolutely” receive the necessary funding to fight Zika.

“I assured [President Obama] that we want to be helpful and that we’re on the same team here. We want to fight this disease but we’ve got to do it the right way,” he said.

In a recent House Appropriations Committee hearing, Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to attach an amendment to fulfill President Obama’s full Zika request to an appropriations bill that cleared the committee, instead including a measure to allow unobligated funds to be used for Zika.

Democrats, led by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York, are now calling for special session on Zika funding with health officials.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Mother Hopes to Change Stigma Surrounding Addiction with Daughter’s Heartbreaking Obit

Courtesy Kathleen Errico(NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.) — A Massachusetts woman said she hoped to “reach one addict” by telling the story of her daughter’s overdose in her obituary.

Kathleen Errico, of North Andover, Massachusetts, wrote about her 23-year-old daughter’s drug addiction in the hopes she could reduce the stigma of addiction. Errico said her daughter, Kelsey Endicott, died of an accidental overdose after spending years battling her addiction.

“She had been sober for almost 10 months, but her disease still had a powerful hold on her,” Errico wrote. “We wish she had recognized the beauty and strength everyone else saw in her.”

Errico said she was surprised that the obituary went viral.

“I did it because I had suffered for so long and I had suffered in silence,” Errico told ABC News. “No one wants to shout from the rooftop that ‘hey, my daughter is a heroin addict.'”

Errico said Kelsey’s addiction issues started at age 13 or 14, and that she had been seeking help for years.

“I truly feel that she just grappled with something, something inside of her was broken at some point,” Errico said. “These people who are using…something triggers it.”

Heroin and opioid abuse have been a growing problem nationwide. In Massachusetts alone there has been an 18.8 percent increase in overdose deaths from 2013 to 2014. Nationwide heroin overdose deaths have tripled from an average of 1 per 100,000 to 3.4 per 100,000 in 2014. In February, President Barack Obama proposed devoting $1.1 billion to fight heroin and opioid abuse.

Kelsey’s addiction was so overwhelming that she lost custody of her toddler son after Errico called child protective services about her drug use.

“She wanted to get her son back and wanted to raise her son,” Errico noted. She said that Kelsey had looked for a rehab program for many months before she turned herself over to the court in an effort to get into a 28-day, court-ordered rehab program in 2104.

“It was very difficult for her to get the help for two reasons: the non-availability of the beds and [her] insurance,” Errico said.

Errico said Kelsey was really trying to beat her addiction.

“For 2 [sic] years she had not lived at home and literally transferred from program to program in order to get her life and son back,” Errico wrote in the obit. “She worked hard and fought the good fight eventually regaining custody of her beautiful baby boy Camden and finding that sobriety was a much better way to live, but the demon was still there.”

Errico said she hopes other families will be able to share their own struggles with addiction. And she wants strangers to think of her daughter as more than just an addict.

“She was a wonderful mother, she loved her son more than anything on the face of this earth,” said Errico. “She was funny, she was witty…but she grappled with addiction.”

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Doctors Use 3-D Models, Special Balloons to Separate Conjoined Sisters

iStock/Thinkstock(CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas) — Doctors at a Texas hospital explained Friday how they used 3-D modeling, injectable dye and special “balloons” to safely separate two conjoined sisters earlier this week.

Sisters Ximena and Scarlett Hernandez-Torres were born connected at the waist, sharing a colon and bladder — a 1 in 50 million chance — according to the Driscoll Children’s Hospital. After 11 months spent joined at the pelvis, the girls were separated in a marathon 12 hour surgery on Tuesday.

The sisters’ doctors talked today about the new technology that helped them with the complex procedure.

“If I had to use a cliché, it was like an orchestra,” said Dr. Haroon Patel, a urologist at Driscoll Children’s Hospital who treated the girls. “Everything just came together seamlessly.”

The doctors said they spent months studying the conjoined anatomy to understand how to best separate the infants. The girls were joined at the pelvis and had shared urinary and gastrointestinal systems. Their two pelvis structures were splayed open so that the girls were doing the “splits,” according the surgical team. The conjoined infants were two of triplet sisters.

Dr. Kevin Hopkins explained that to separate the girls, they used a profusion scanner, which allowed them to see how injectable dye traveled through the girls’ bloodstream and understand exactly how their system could be separated.

“I don’t want to make it seem like it was easy, but it certainly made our life easier,” Hopkins said Friday.

Scans with 3-D models of the girls’ internal organs were also used so that doctors could map out how to safely separate the girls’ shared urinary and gastrointestinal systems.

Additionally, balloon expanders were placed under the girls’ stomachs and slowly filled with water so that once they were separated, doctors would be able to use the expanded tissue to cover their wounds.

The girls were in surgery for a total of about 12 hours, but were separated after just three hours. While the sisters remain in intensive care today, they are in stable condition, Patel said. He explained the girls will likely need more follow-up procedures to help correct any problems or complications that may arise.

“They’re not out of the woods yet because there is a lot that still needs to be done,” Patel said.

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Your Body: Talcum Powder’s Ties to Ovarian Cancer

Hemera/ThinkstockBy DR. JENNIFER ASHTON, ABC News Senior Medical Contributor

For more than 15 years, research has shown a link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder. The theory is that the pathway goes up into the uterus, into the fallopian tubes and onto the ovaries, potentially causing damage.

But what we don’t know is if it’s the talc or a chemical in the powder that’s causing the problem.

When it comes to ovarian cancer, here are my tips:

  • Don’t use talcum powder in your groin area.
  • Taking the pill, having tubal ligation or a full-term pregnancy can all reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are bloating, pelvic pain and an increase in urination.

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CDC Confirms Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus Between Two Men

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) — Researchers have for the first time determined that the Zika virus can be sexually-transmitted between men, according to officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC officials said this mode of transmission “might contribute to more illness than was anticipated when the outbreak was first recognized.”

The CDC published its study in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report.

“Such cases highlight the need for clinicians to remain vigilant for and continue reporting any suspected cases of Zika virus infection to their state or local health departments,” according to the report. “This includes suspected infections in symptomatic persons without travel history, but who report unprotected sexual contact with a person who has traveled to an area with active Zika virus transmission.”

The transmission occurred when one man returned to Dallas, Texas, after a weeklong trip in Venezuela. Two days after arriving back in the U.S., the man developed classic symptoms of Zika virus including rash, fever and conjunctivitis. The man’s partner of 10 years developed symptoms five days later, including fever, fatigue and headache.

Medical officials confirmed both men had the Zika virus through blood tests. They determined that sexual contact was the most likely cause for the second man’s infection since he had not been in a country where the virus was being transmitted from mosquitoes to people.

Symptoms for both men cleared up in approximately a week, according to the report.

Earlier this week federal health officials declared there was enough evidence to conclude that Zika causes the birth defect microcephaly, which is characterized by an underdeveloped head and brain. Researchers and health officials said there is still much they do not know about the risks of the virus.

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Deaf Toddler Learns to Play Recorder for First Time and Has Amazing Reaction

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Learning to play the recorder is hard for any toddler. Still, when Ezra Somnitz, who has been deaf since birth, learned to play the wind instrument, he was so tickled he burst into a fit of laughter.

The heartwarming moment was caught on video by his mother, Melanie Redington Somnitz, and has since gone viral.

The Columbus, Ohio, mother of four told ABC News that 2-year-old Ezra “enjoys music in general and enjoys music done in sign language.”

He became interested in the recorder after seeing his older brother practice with it for school. Ezra later became overjoyed that he could play as well.

“The very first time he was surprised and shocked,” Redington Somnitz recalled. “Learning to blow, that’s a hard skill for any kid but being deaf it took extra practice.”

Redington Somnitz said once Ezra finally learned how to fill up his cheeks and blow into the recorder “he just thought that was the funniest thing ever.”

Redington Somnitz said although her son is deaf, he doesn’t see it as a disability because it’s very common in their family. In fact, her husband is deaf along with her in-laws, she said.

“The biggest difference is that we use American Sign Language. That’s the primary language in our home,” she explained.

She continued: “We’re very proud that Ezra is who he is. We want [Ezra] to be deaf and to be proud of his deafness.”

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Virtual Reality View of Surgery Live-Streamed for First Time to Audience Worldwide

Dr. Shafi Ahmed, Medical Realities(NEW YORK) — U.K. doctors turned the operating room into a virtual reality experience by using a special camera to live-stream a 360-degree view of a procedure to users worldwide.

Dr. Shafi Ahmed performed an operation to a live audience, all of whom could see the procedure feet away from the surgeon thanks to the new technology. The streaming event was launched by Medical Realities, co-founded by Ahmed, which aims to reduce the cost of medical training by utilizing new technology such as virtual reality.

Ahmed, a laparoscopic and colorectal surgeon, has worked with his team to create “Virtual Surgeon,” a pilot program that would allow medical students to practice surgeries inspired by actual operations before setting foot into an operating room. Ahmed showed Thursday how the training program can work by filming an actual operation with a 360-degree camera and streaming the footage to medical students and interested users.

“It’s as close as you can get to replicating it,” Ahmed told ABC News in a previous interview of virtual reality capabilities.

For Thursday’s procedure, Ahmed surgically removed cancerous tissue from a patient at the Barts Health Royal London Hospital.

The goal is to create content that allows a medical student to stand in the shoes of a veteran surgeon. The live-streamed surgery was just a first step for the team. They plan to create a library of operations all with a 360-degree view to be used as medical educational material, Ahmed said.

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Mom’s 15 Gallon Breast Milk Donation a Record for Texas Hospital

The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio(SAN ANTONIO) — When Mikah Duncan’s son was born three months premature, he was taken to the NICU at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and she was told there was nothing she could do to help — except pump breast milk.

“I couldn’t touch him, I couldn’t hold him,” Duncan told ABC News. “So I decided I was going to pump my heart out. It was all I could do.”

She named her son “Cash.” His early arrival was a complication resulting from Duncan’s shortened cervix. Surgery mid-pregnancy enabled Cash to continue to grow, but at 24 weeks, Duncan started to leak fluid. Cash was born one week later.

When she began pumping, Duncan said she was only able to get a syringe’s worth. But the hospital nurses were so encouraging, she said, that she kept at it, every two hours around the clock.

“My husband would wheel me down to the NICU to deliver this tiny bit of milk and I felt so defeated,” she said. “But I had to keep trying.”

Soon, Duncan said, the tiny bit went to 2 ounces, then 4, then 6. A NICU nurse told her she had plenty stored for Cash, and Duncan should start storing up at home.

“I realized that he probably wasn’t going to be able to eat everything I had stored at both the hospital and home,” she said. “So I decided to donate it.”

JoAnn King, a spokesperson for the hospital, said that when Cash was first born, Duncan had signed a consent form allowing him to receive donor milk if needed. That form, she said, came to mind when the subject of donation of the milk in the freezer came up.

“I was just hoping I’d have 100 ounces,” Duncan said. The hospital requires 100 ounces as the minimum amount to make a donation.

The amount Duncan actually donated was 15.5 gallons.

King said that once the breast milk was taken out and added up, she snapped a photo to capture the moment before the breast milk had any chance to thaw. She posted that photo to the hospital’s Facebook page, where King said it received very positive feedback. It was the largest single donation the hospital has ever collected.

As for Cash, he was released from the hospital on Tuesday. He is home with is parents and thriving. Duncan said she is so happy to donate to another child who may be in a similar situation as her son was.

“It feels amazing,” she said. “Just to help in some small way.”

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Ontario Providing Nearly $2 Million to Help First Nation With Suicide Crisis

Hemera/Thinkstock(ONTARIO, Canada) — An ongoing suicide crisis in the Attawapiskat First Nation has led Canadian leaders to pledge nearly $2 million to aid to help the embattled community. The announcement comes after dozens of people in the community have attempted suicide in recent months.

“We traveled to Attawapiskat to speak directly with the community and their leadership,” Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s minister of health and long-term care, and Tracy MacCharles, Ontario’s minister of children and youth services, said in a joint statement yesterday. “We heard from them how we can work together on short, medium and long-term solutions to address the serious challenges facing this community and their youth.”

The Ontario government said it will give $2 million in Canadian dollars to a youth regional coordination unit so that emergency health care personnel and support staff can be brought in to help the community. There have been 101 suicide attempts in the small community since September 2015, including 11 last Saturday, which led Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh to declare a state of emergency.

“We have been working around-the-clock over the past few days to do everything we can to make sure that the people of Attawapiskat have the supports they need. We will redouble our efforts to help chief and council deal with the terrible situation,” Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said in a statement Monday. “The numbers of suicide attempts experienced by this community are shocking and nothing short of a national tragedy.”

The Ontario government pledged to hire four psychological health workers and up to five nurses and two security staff to provide mental health support to the Aboriginal community 24 hours a day.

“This is a very tragic situation and our hearts go out to the people and families affected. Ontario is strongly committed to working together with the Attawapiskat community and with First Nations in Ontario alongside our federal partners,” Hoskins and MacCharles said in the statement announcing the aid.

The risk of suicide has long been an ongoing problem, according to the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), which includes the Attawapiskat. There have been at least two other states of emergency declared by NAN — in 1992 and 2013. A 1996 Canadian government report on suicide in aboriginal communities found four key contributors for the increased risk: mental illness, anxiety, schizophrenia and unresolved grief.

A January report by the Mushkegowuk Council, which is also part of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, reviewed a period from 2009 to 2011 when an estimated 600 Mushkegowuk people attempted suicide.

The report found 16 unresolved issues that may have contributed to the suicide attempts, including violence, bullying, education issues, housing issues, health issues, sexual abuse and substance abuse.

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Marine Wants to Provide PTSD Veterans With Service Dogs

House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform(WASHINGTON) — As Cole Lyle testified before Congress Thursday, his service dog, Kaya, was at his feet.

Lyle, a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

After several years taking prescribed sleep aids and antidepressants and even contemplating suicide, he said he decided to try a different kind of therapy: trained service dogs.

House Committee on Government Oversight and ReformService dogs are not provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, so Lyle tried to get a dog through local nonprofit groups.

The wait-times were over a year, and Lyle said he didn’t feel like he had time to wait.

He purchased Kaya and had her trained for PTSD symptoms by an Assistance Dogs International-accredited trainer. After spending $10,000 of his own money, he had the help he needed.

“The bad days are less frequent than they have ever been,” Lyle told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Lyle testified before the committee about the benefits he’s experienced since having Kaya, including how Kaya knows to wake him up when he’s suffering from a nightmare. The dog has reinvigorated his life with purpose, he said.

Now, he’s speaking out in the hopes that the VA will change its policy.

Currently, the VA does not provide benefits for PTSD or mental health dogs because they say the dogs are not known to be effective in overcoming specific functional limitations in veterans with PTSD.

A study commissioned by the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act was meant to assess the way the VA could use service dogs for treatment and rehabilitation for veterans. However, that study has been plagued with challenges that have only allowed 40 dogs to be paired with veterans, according to the House committee.

In 2012, the VA concluded it would not support service animals, citing a lack of evidence supporting the efficacy of mental health service dogs.

Dr. Michael Fallon, Chief Veterinary Medical Officer for the Office of Research and Development at the VA, echoed this sentiment at the hearing, saying “the benefits of service dogs in assisting people with mental health diagnoses have not been established in scientific literature.”

But Rory Diamond, the executive director of K9s for Warriors, told the committee that research already shows veterans with PTSD receive extraordinary benefits from service dogs.

Diamond said benefits for veterans include eliminating their use of medications, handling anxiety better, and reducing suicidal thoughts, nightmares, and night terrors.

“There are thousands of veteran suicides that could have been prevented if they would have had access to a service dog,” Diamond told Congress.

Steven Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation, testified that there is already significant scientific evidence to substantiate the use of service dogs for veterans with PTSD.

He pointed to several studies including research conducted by Purdue University on animal-assisted intervention for victims of trauma.

“People with PTSD often experience emotional numbing, yet the presence of an animal has been reported to elicit positive emotions and warmth,” that study concluded. “Animals have also been demonstrated as social facilitators that can connect people and reduce loneliness, which may assist individuals with PTSD break out of isolation and connect to the humans around them.”

A new bill, H.R. 4764, will direct the VA to carry out a five-year pilot program in which the agency will provide service dogs and veterinary health insurance to certain veterans who served on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and were diagnosed with, and continue to suffer from, PTSD.

For Lyle, this bill is a crucial step for veterans who are running out of options to combat PTSD.

“I believe that allowing veterans to fight PTSD without all options available to them is tantamount to sending our military to fight an enemy without a secondary weapon in their arsenal,” Lyle said.

Dr. Fallon concluded his opening testimony by saying that the VA offers a wide range of treatment options to treat PTSD and its symptoms and is using technologies to increase those offerings.

“VA remains open to new and innovative treatments for PTSD and supports research on these treatments as part of its portfolio on PTSD and related conditions,” he said.

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