Review Category : Health

FDA Recommends Ending Ban on Blood Donations from Gay Men

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In a major shift, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday that it will recommend changing the controversial policy that bans gay men from donating blood.

A statement released from FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the agency would recommend allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they have abstained from sex with men for at least one year.

Currently, men who have had sex with other men since 1977 are banned from ever donating blood in the U.S. The ban dates back to 1983 and was started after doctors realized the AIDS virus could be transmitted through blood transfusions.

The FDA decided to advise changing the policy after a number of epidemiologic studies showed no adverse effects on blood supply with a one-year deferral, according to Dr. Peter Marks, the deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Marks estimated that half of the men who currently can’t donate blood due to the policy would become eligible to be blood donors.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the changed policy does not do enough to address discrimination.

“The FDA’s proposal must be seen as part of an ongoing process and not an end point,” ACLU Legislative Representative Ian Thompson said in a statement. “The reality for most gay and bisexual men — including those in committed, monogamous relationships — is that this proposal will continue to function as a de facto lifetime ban. Criteria for determining blood donor eligibility should be based on science, not outdated, discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions.”

In recent weeks, health organizations have increasingly pressured the FDA to recommend changing the policy.

Last month, the American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers and AABB, a non-profit representing institutions and individuals in transfusion medicine field, have supported ending the ban calling it “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”

In November, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability voted 16 to 2 to recommend allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they have abstained from sex with men for at least one year.

In an interview last month after Department of Health and Human Service’s announcement, Ryan Yezak, the founder of the National Gay Blood Drive, which has fought the ban with annual protests since 2013, said he was heartened by the changes but said there was more work to do.

“I think…voting in favor of a one year deferral instead of lifetime ban is a huge step in the right direction,” Yezak told ABC in an earlier interview. “Our whole goal is eliminating sexual orientation from the blood donation process altogether.”

The policy will not change immediately, instead the FDA will issue the first draft guidance on the policy and then they will face a comment period before the policy change can be official. According to the American Red Cross, the risk of HIV in a unit of donated blood is 1 in 1.5 million donated units.

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Santa Makes Special Visit to Children’s Hospital Burn Unit

Akron Children’s Hospital(AKRON, Ohio) — Jim Hipp is the perfect Santa Claus for the annual holiday party at the burn unit held at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, and it isn’t because he has the white beard and the red suit. It’s because he is a burn survivor.

Fifteen years ago, Hipp was working as an industrial electrician in Georgia when a fire ignited, causing nearly 14,000 volts of electricity to surge through his body. With 52 percent of his body badly burned, he was placed in a medically induced coma and eventually flown to Akron to complete treatment.

In 2004, at the urging of two fire fighter friends, he decided to give back to the hospital that helped him heal by playing Santa at their annual Holiday party.

The children have embraced him with open arms, he said. “They say, ‘Oh look, he’s hurt too’ and they will touch my face,” Hipp added.

Hipp, who has undergone more than 90 surgeries to correct some of his disfigurement, said he believes working with the children at Akron Children’s Hospital is the greatest thing he’s ever done in his life.

“I see their faces when I come out as Santa and they don’t care that you’re burned,” he said. “They just care that you’re Santa.”

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Santa Makes Special Visit to Children’s Hospital Burn Unit

Akron Children’s Hospital(AKRON, Ohio) — Jim Hipp is the perfect Santa Claus for the annual holiday party at the burn unit held at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, and it isn’t because he has the white beard and the red suit. It’s because he is a burn survivor.

Fifteen years ago, Hipp was working as an industrial electrician in Georgia when a fire ignited, causing nearly 14,000 volts of electricity to surge through his body. With 52 percent of his body badly burned, he was placed in a medically induced coma and eventually flown to Akron to complete treatment.

In 2004, at the urging of two fire fighter friends, he decided to give back to the hospital that helped him heal by playing Santa at their annual Holiday party.

The children have embraced him with open arms, he said. “They say, ‘Oh look, he’s hurt too’ and they will touch my face,” Hipp added.

Hipp, who has undergone more than 90 surgeries to correct some of his disfigurement, said he believes working with the children at Akron Children’s Hospital is the greatest thing he’s ever done in his life.

“I see their faces when I come out as Santa and they don’t care that you’re burned,” he said. “They just care that you’re Santa.”

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Mom of Two, Man with Muscular Dystrophy Lose More than Half Their Body Weight

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Patty Pena has struggled with her weight since she was in elementary school.

The 40-year-old administrator at Chicago Bulls College Prep, an inner-city charter school in Chicago, said when she was a child, her mother would have to buy her clothes in the women’s section of department stores.

She gained even more weight in college, and ended up weighing 252 pounds.

A member of what she calls “the clean plate club,” the mother of two would often eat more than her own dinner.

“If my kids had food leftover…I’d say, ‘Well, why am I going to throw that out? It’s perfectly fine,’” she said.

Pena told ABC News’ Good Morning America she knew she had to take charge when her school introduced a fitness initiative to help students get healthy.

“I said I can’t have them…need some support from me and me not be able to give that to them, because I myself was so overweight so I said, I have to do it,” she said.

Her story, and the stories of others who’ve also shed a lot of weight, is detailed in People magazine’s annual “Half their Size” edition, which is out on newsstands Tuesday.

Pena worked out, starting off slowly and realistically and finding activities that she liked. Before she started losing the weight, her mobility was limited, so she would walk in place, do squats and run in place all while watching her favorite TV shows. She joined Weight Watchers to modify her diet.

Pena also joined a gym, but said she found the environment there so judgmental that after one class she cried in her car.

That’s when she decided to work out with the students at her school during their physical education classes.

Pena lost 132 pounds, and now tips the scale at 120.

For Carlos Romero of Seattle, food was a source of comfort. His weight ballooned to 437 pounds.

“I was always overeating,” the 31-year-old told GMA.

It wasn’t until Romero, an operations analyst, was diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy — a disease that causes progressive skeletal muscle weakness — that he decided to turn his life around.

“I saw it as an opportunity to inspire people that were struggling with obesity…and muscular dystrophy,” he said of the diagnosis he received two years ago.

Romero has since become a para-athlete. He does cardio and resistance training three times per week, and goes climbing up to six times per week.

Romero lost 225 pounds, and now weighs 212. He has also become active in two organizations — FSH Society and The Friends of FSH Research — working to find a treatment for facioscapulohumeral, or FSH.

“We’re actually making progress towards the first treatments,” Romero said.

During their appearance on GMA Tuesday, Romero and Pena talked about how they maintained their commitment to their new lifestyles during the holidays, when they’re surrounded by family and lot of food.

Romero recommended that people hit the gym before a big holiday meal, rather than afterward.

“I think it’s really easy for people to promise themselves that they’re going to work off those calories afterwards but it usually doesn’t happen, so I believe in getting the work done first, before you reward yourself,” Romero said.

Romero suggested that families have a fun Zumba or class or dance party after a big holiday dinner.

“We get moving in our house,” Romero said. “We put on some music and we have a Zumba party or we just get out of our chairs and we just walk around.”

“We enjoy each other’s company a lot more,” she said.

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Doctors Reveal Views on Ethical Decisions

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — It’s no exaggeration to say that many doctors are regularly faced with life-and-death situations.

In Medscape’s annual ethics report of over 21,000 American and European physicians, 19 percent admitted that they would continue giving life-sustaining therapy to a patient who is likely beyond saving. However, 46 percent said their decision to do so would be entirely based on an individual’s situation.

Interestingly, one in two doctors would consider treating someone if there was some chance of them pulling through even if family members were opposed to it. About 22 percent said they would definitely make that choice.

Asked about other ethical dilemmas, twenty percent of the survey respondents would go out of their way to present a terminal diagnosis in the best possible light if it meant giving their patient some hope of survival.

As for the dicey subject of life support, 86 percent don’t think patients are kept alive longer than they should be.

Meanwhile, for the first time, just over half of physicians now support doctor-assisted suicide.

The Medscape survey also asked questions about abortion with 44 percent admitting they would terminate a pregnancy even if it went against their personal beliefs while one in seven said an individual’s situation would guide their decision.

In addition, one in four doctors support the legality of abortions after 20 weeks while a third said their decision would be contingent on the circumstances.

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It’s Hard Thinking Fast on Fast Foods

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Americans’ taste for fast food may be having the unintended consequence of slowing down their thinking processes.

According to Ohio State University researcher Dr. Kelly Purtell, a steady diet of fast food by kids has been linked to poorer academic outcomes based on a three-year study of 8,500 school children, starting at age ten.

When their scores in math, science and reading were measured at age 13, students who had meals at McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and KFC anywhere from a couple of times a week to every day of the week tested lower than youngsters who never ate fast food.

Scientists believe that young brains may be slowed from a lack of iron associated with the consumption of fast food. Previous research has also shown that learning processes are affected by foods loaded in sugar and fat.

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FDA Approves Melanoma Drug

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted accelerated approval for a new treatment for patients with melanoma that is either advanced or non-operable.

According to an FDA press release, melanoma is the fifth-most common form of cancer in the U.S. The National Cancer Institute estimates that melanoma, which forms in the skin’s pigment, will kill 9,710 Americans this year, and 76,100 will be diagnosed with the disease.

Opdivo is the seventh melanoma drug approved by the FDA in the last three years.

The new drug works by inhibiting a protein on cancer cells that blocks the immune system from attacking the tumors. The FDA says the safety of Opdivo was tested among 268 participants in a trial study. The most common side effects were rash, itching, cough, upper respiratory tract infection and fluid retention.

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CDC Director Sees ‘Real Momentum and Real Progress’ in Ebola Fight in West Africa

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday that there has been “real momentum and real progress” in the fight against the spread of Ebola in West Africa, but that more work still needs to be done.

“There’s a world of difference between what it was like when I was there in August and September, and what it’s like now,” Frieden said. Still, while he called the international response “inspiring,” he noted that the challenge remains “sobering.”

“Until they get to zero, we in the U.S. will not be safe from other potential imported cases,” Frieden acknowledged.

Of the three most heavily impacted countries in West Africa — Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — Frieden said that as of Monday, “Liberia has the upper hand against the virus.”

Still, Frieden declined to provide a projection regarding the timeframe in which the outbreaks of Ebola in Western Africa could be ended.

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How Hairstylist, Marketing Executive Shed About Half Their Body Weight

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — For Conner Rensch, weight has been a lifelong struggle.

“I knew I was overweight when I was 6 years old,” Rensch, now 25, said.

A chronic overeater, Rensch dieted for the first time when she was in the third grade. By the time she was in the eighth grade, Rensch weighed more than 200 pounds, and she tipped the scale at 271 pounds after her freshman year in college.

She knew she had to do something. She looked into the mirror and resolved to not be overweight anymore. Through determination and hard work she lost 130 pounds.

Her story, and the stories of others who’ve also shed a lot of weight, is detailed in People magazine’s special “Half their Size” edition.

Rensch, a hairstylist, told ABC News’ Good Morning America she resolved to change the way she ate. For her, a typical dinner consisted of three big bowls of creamy chicken pasta with fried chicken, a small loaf of sourdough bread and a piece of cheesecake.

Now, her typical dinner is ½ a cup of whole wheat pasta, blended cottage cheese as a sauce with a little pepper and salt, 4 ounces of grilled chicken and a little broccoli. She eats five to six small meals a day to keep her metabolism going, and tries to balance protein, fat and carbs at each meal.

She also follows a strict exercise routine that includes weight-lifting four days a week. In addition to modifying her diet, she did a lot of cardio, kickboxing and interval training to lose the weight.

Rensch went from 271 pounds to 141 pounds, and says she has a whole new level of confidence about dating and her work.

“I’m just happier,” Rensch said Monday on GMA. “I can be myself without this covering me up. I think that’s the best thing about it.”

For 40-year-old Mark Bryant, weight didn’t become a problem until later in life. A sales and marketing executive for a dietary supplement manufacturer, he never exercised any discipline in his diet.

“When I graduated from high school I was about 185 pounds…over the next 10 years gained about 250,” the married father of three told GMA.

At his heaviest, Bryant weighed 442 pounds.

“Lunch would typically be a couple of hamburgers and large fries and a milkshake and then dinner would be an extra-large pizza with garlic butter sauce and ranch,” he said.

His turning point came after he went to the hospital suffering from chest pains. Bryant was only having an anxiety attack, but a cardiologist gave him a wakeup call.

“The cardiologist told me, ‘If you don’t change your ways real quick, you’re not going to live to see your daughters get married,’” he said.

The scare motivated him into changing his life, and he lost 261 pounds.

Bryant, who now weighs 181 pounds, started off by counting calories. Now, instead of an extra-large pizza, his dinner consists of lightly sauced, grilled teriyaki chicken along with a big plate of steamed broccoli topped with a light olive oil drizzle and Parmesan cheese.

Like Rensch, he, too, works out. He lifts weights, bikes and does high-intensity interval training on the bike. His regimen includes about two hours of training a day, four days a week.

“It was a gradual process,” Bryant said of his transformation.

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How Scarlett Johansson Maintains Her Figure over the Holidays

ABC/Lorenzo Bevilaqua(LOS ANGELES) — The holidays are the one time of the year everyone throws caution to the wind and eats whatever they want while getting together with friends and family. Scarlett Johansson is no different.

But the actress, 30, does have a plan of action on how to stay in shape, especially after welcoming a baby girl with husband Romain Dauriac earlier this year.

“I make sure I hit the gym a lot before the holidays,” the Avengers star told People magazine. “Then I don’t feel guilty about over-indulging!”

Johansson also dished about her family’s holiday traditions and what makes the time so special.

“The smell of rice pud­ding always reminds me of the holidays. My father makes a traditional Danish pudding with a cherry sauce that is totally decadent and delicious,” she said. “And, my family cooks a Christmas pudding every year that is like a tapioca sort of a pudding with a cherry sauce, warm fruit sauce. It cooks like for the entire day before and the entire house smells like vanilla, because the recipe calls for fresh vanilla.”

Finally, she revealed her favorite movie to watch during the break. “My favorite holiday movie is Home Alone 2, believe it or not!” Johansson added.

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