Review Category : Health

Girl With High-Risk Leukemia Saved With Stem Cells From Umbilical Cord Donation

Courtesy Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service(MAPLE VALLEY, Wash.) — A Washington girl is celebrating being cancer-free after she was diagnosed with high-risk leukemia at just 9 years old. When doctors failed to find a traditional bone marrow or stem cell donor for transplant, they turned to stem cells taken from donated umbilical cords to try and save her life.

Jenna Gibson, now 12, kept catching colds and feeling sick when her mother took her to her pediatrician, who was immediately concerned.

“I’ll never forget these words,” recalled Gibson. “Our doctor knew her and…she turned around and looked at Jenna and said, ‘You don’t look well.”

After a battery of tests and blood work, Gibson said Jenna’s pediatrician told them to go straight to the Emergency Room at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Jenna was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and almost immediately put into chemotherapy.

“You don’t go home with this type of leukemia, it doesn’t work that way,” said Gibson. “The chemo they use on the body takes away your immune system.”

For over a month Jenna had to stay at the hospital with the family hoping that tests after her first treatment would show that the medication was working. But a month after she arrived, doctors told the family that Jenna had enough cancer cells remaining to make her high risk. She would need a bone marrow transplant to survive.

Gibson said the family was terrified because Jenna was adopted and there was little chance a sibling or family member could help her with a transplant.

“We knew her siblings would not be an option [which] is incredibly scary,” said Gibson. Gibson said they then learned match rates for minorities was also low, causing more complications for Jenna, who was born in Guatemala.

“Then to find out she was high-risk we were defeated even more,” said Gibson.

After weeks of searching with no luck, the medical staff at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center decided to try using stem cells taken from donated umbilical cords. While not as frequent an option, using stem cells from cord blood has become more popular in recent years.

Dr. Colleen Delany, director of the Cord Blood Transplant Program at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said it’s easier to treat children with cord blood because they are smaller and do not need as many stem cells and that it can be easier to find a donor because there aren’t as many markers that must be matched for a successful transplant.

“Cord blood is so naïve and uneducated it’s more tolerant to be in a new environment,” said Delany. “We can find a donor for nearly everyone to find a transplant.”

Delany and her team were able to find a cord blood match for Jenna that was a 6/6 match, when the search failed to find a traditional bone marrow donor.

“What blows me away is that cord blood went into the garbage…every day it is happening thousands and thousands of times, there is a woman out there somewhere who said donate it,” said Gibson. “It saved our daughter’s life.”

Jenna had to undergo radiation and three total rounds of chemotherapy before undergoing the transplant. Her immune system was purposely weakened so the new stem cells can restart her immune system from scratch.

“Her body is as vulnerable as it can possibly can be,” before the transplant, said Gibson. “Until the new cells can grow in her body a cold could be terminal.”

Delany said in earlier cases of cord blood transfusions patients, especially adults, took much longer to regrow their immune system. As a result, patients could have fatal complications even after their transplant as their immune system is weakened.

However in recent years Delany’s team have been able to give people transplants from two cord donors at the same time which has helped lower the amount of time it takes to regrow an protective immunity. She said at Fred Hutchinson the statistical outcomes for both traditional bone marrow transplants and cord blood transplants have been the same.

A second benefit of cord blood is that recipients tend to have less graft vs. host issues, where the body rejects the newly injected cells.

“[Cord blood has] been ultimately protected. It’s been inside the protection of the mother,” said Delany. “The immune system that comes with those bags of cells it hasn’t had to fight anything.”

Jenna had her transplant about three months after being diagnosed. While she did have some issues graft vs. host, it was minor compared to other leukemia patients.

“She was singing and dancing every single day after[the transplant] she did amazing,” said Gibson.

Gibson said she was so thankful that the cord blood was an option. Unlike a living donor, the medical team could just plan a day for transplant without having to coordinate for a donor. Additionally they did not have to continuously search for a bone marrow donor, meaning they didn’t have to keep treating Jenna to keep the cancer at bay.

“The fact that it was sitting there waiting for us,” said Gibson. “If you’re waiting for a donor then the cancer keeps growing.”

Now at 12, Jenna has been cancer-free for nearly two years. Gibson said the girl still has issues from her cancer and treatment including hormonal therapy to help her grow and extra screening since she will be at high risk for certain cancers.

“She’ll have the battle marks forever,” said Gibson. “I call them her victory marks [and tell her] ‘You beat this.'”

Delany said she hopes Jenna’s story will give hope to people who have been told they cannot get a transplant and encourage other women to donate cord blood–taken from umbilical cord and placenta after surgery–to public banks that are available for transplant.

“The most important thing to realize is we can find a donor for nearly everyone,” said Delany of the cord blood program.

Follow @ABCNewsRadio
Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

WHO Says C-Sections on the Rise, But Shouldn’t Happen Unless Medically Necessary

Courtesy Stephanie Dulli(NEW YORK) — Stephanie Dulli knew she needed a cesarean section shortly after learning that her unborn son was in a “jackknifed” position under her ribs, with his feet up over his head.

Even though it deviated from her birth plan, she made peace with the idea in a hurry after her husband asked the obstetrician what would have happened in “pioneer days” before c-sections were an option.

“The OB said they would have died in childbirth,” said Dulli, a mother of three in Washington, D.C. “I’m pretty grateful C-sections exist.”

Cesarean sections save lives, but the World Health Organization says they shouldn’t be performed unless they’re medically necessary. They’re necessary when the baby is in distress or in an abnormal position, or when the mother’s labor has become prolonged, the organization said, adding that c-sections should generally only happen in about 10 or 15 percent of births.

When c-sections are performed in about 10 percent of births, maternal and newborn deaths decrease, according to WHO. But when they occur in more than 10 percent of births, there’s no change in the mortality rates. Yet, C-section rates continue to rise in wealthy countries, WHO said.
In the United States, 32.7 percent of births are c-sections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Due to their increased cost, high rates of unnecessary cesarean sections can pull resources away from other services in overloaded and weak health systems,” WHO said in a news release Friday.

Dr. Marjorie Greenfield, chief of general obstetrics and gynecology at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland, said there are many factors that contribute to deciding to perform a c-section.

“A lot of people in the United States view labor as a minefield of disaster waiting to happen,” she said, adding that not everyone feels this way, but it includes patients and their doctors.

“Over the decades, cesareans have gotten safer. It’s safer now than it was in the 1940s,” thanks to better anesthesia, techniques, antibiotics and blood banking, she said. “That’s part of why I think we see it as a benign thing.”

She said some women fear complications from vaginal child birth such as incontinence and stretched organs, and believes moms are more likely to ask for c-sections on the East Coast than they do where she is in Ohio.

Greenfield said the health complications are about even between c-sections and vaginal births — if you only have one child. The risks increase with each sequential c-section because of scar tissue and other potential issues that can arise. But the risks decrease with each sequential vaginal birth, she said.

Sometimes, doctors will opt to do a c-section because patients often sue if they think a c-section hasn’t been done soon enough, but patients will rarely sue over an unnecessary c-section.

“If you were only looking at malpractice liability, you’re always better off having a lower threshold,” Greenfield. said.

Private practice obstetricians also do perform c-sections before they’re absolutely necessary labor is lasting longer than they expect, in part because of compassion, but also because they have other patients or need to go home to dinner and don’t have someone else available to step in.

Denise Schipani, a mother of two, said that she’s not sure she needed her c-section and wishes the doctors had let her wait to deliver vaginally. She labored for two days and felt too overwhelmed to make her own decision.

“I feel like after the first one, after my first son, I felt like I missed out on something powerful and personal,” Schipani said. “I felt like I was kind of lost in this long, painful hell of a day and a half then had surgery.”

She said if she could do it again, she would have asked for a midwife or a doula to stay with her and advocate on her behalf.

No matter what, Greenfield said people shouldn’t shame each other for choosing not to deliver vaginally.

“My feeling about it is women have the right to make decisions about their bodies,” Greenfield said. “Life is short, and everyone is just struggling to do their best.”

Follow @ABCNewsRadio
Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

‘Conversion Therapy’ Viewed as ‘Quackery’ by Gay Man Who Lived It

Courtesy of Mordechai Levovitz (NEW YORK) — Mordechai Levovitz, who says he underwent “conversion therapy” as a child, is “very glad” the White House and President Obama expressed support for a national petition asking to ban “LGBTQ+ conversion therapy.”

The petition asked the Obama administration to “enact Leelah’s Law to ban all LGBTQ+ conversion therapy” after 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn committed suicide by stepping in front of a tractor-trailer in December. Her suicide note was found on Tumblr, where she said she was taken to “very biased” Christian therapists after trying to come out as transgender to her mom, Carla Alcorn, who declined to comment to ABC News.

“I think that it’s really important and very encouraging to hear the leader of our free nation to take a stand against harming children,” Levovitz, 35, told ABC News Friday.

Levovitz, who said he is gay and an Orthodox Jew, works with other LGBTQ youth, many of whom have undergone or are in conversion therapy, through his New York-based organization Jewish Queer Youth. But he’s “still dealing with the trauma” of feeling “abnormal” and “ashamed,” he said.

“It’s hard to get rid of this negative messaging that’s sunk [in] with me that something is wrong with me,” Levovitz said. The American Psychological Association (APA) applauded the Obama administration’s support to ban conversion therapy in a press release Thursday.

“So-called reparative therapies are aimed at ‘fixing’ something that is not a mental illness and therefore does not require therapy,” APA’s president Dr. Barry S. Anton said. “There is insufficient scientific evidence that they work, and they have the potential to harm the client. APA has and will continue to call on mental health professionals to work to reduce misunderstanding about and prejudice toward gay and transgender people.”

Levovitz was 4 and living in Boston when his parents sent him to a therapist who tried to convert him because they were concerned he was going around telling people he “wanted to be a girl,” he said.

He loved playing with Barbies, his favorite color was pink and he liked everything that girls liked to do, Levovitz added.

The therapist, whom Levovitz declined to name, blamed his femininity on the Oedipus complex.

“He tried to get me to go to football and baseball games with my dad, but I clearly had no interest,” Levovitz said. “He tried to convince me how wonderful it was to be a boy and how I should stop limping my wrist and fluttering my eyes.”

When Levovitz later moved to New York City at age 11 in 1991, his parents took him to other therapists, who all latched onto the idea he was gay because of “a distant relationship” with his father, he said.

The American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, and said these kinds of “therapies” are “based on a view of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major mental health professions.”

The American Psychiatric Association’s latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which defines the standards of the field, does not include homosexuality.

Although Levovitz’s knowledge of conversion therapy are mostly within the Orthodox Jewish community, some experts say people likely to undergo this therapy come from numerous backgrounds.

“Although there’s no good sample data out there, based on my experience most people who undergo this kind of therapy are evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Mormons and other religious or conservative communities,” Clinton Anderson told ABC News Friday.

Anderson, who directs the APA’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns Office, said, “This is because these are the communities with generally negative attitudes to non-heterosexual identities,” he said.

Anderson added that many of these communities have their own networks of providers through which people receive referrals.

Proponents of so-called conversion therapy take a dim view on efforts to curtail it, whether locally or in Washington. “This is very consistent with the Obama Administration,” said Cathie Adams, president of Texas Eagle Forum, a volunteer organization that encourages conservative participation in public policy. “They constantly undermine traditional family values and freedom of speech.

“I support the freedom of speech, and I think on a voluntary basis, any person seeking this kind of counselor should be able to do so. This isn’t about the therapy itself, whether it actually works or not. It’s about if a person chooses to seek such therapy, they should have the right to do so.”

Christopher Doyle, a licensed professional therapist who directs the International Healing Foundation in Bowie, Maryland, said he believes the term “conversion therapy” is a misnomer.

“Youth that seek therapy for unwanted same-sex attractions or gender identity conflicts believe there are specific causes for their attractions, such as sexual abuse, and this therapy helps them resolve those causes and the desires that are a consequence,” he said.

“Counselors are not converting gay youth; they’re actually affirming their clients’ desires to live a heterosexual life.”

In Levovitz’s case, he said he doesn’t think his therapists were homophobic, but just wanted to take advantage of vulnerable people and families. “My parents paid thousands for them, and on what?” he asked.

But Levovitz doesn’t want people to judge his parents, he said, adding he believes they had the best of intentions and loved him. Levovitz’s parents declined to comment to ABC News.

Today, Levovitz works with over 800 kids at his nonprofit Jewish Queer Youth. He says that over time, he has seen the climate of acceptance improve for LGBTQ youth in his community. He estimates that 10 years ago, at least 60 percent of the kids in his program, which provides support and community building programs, had undergone some form of conversion or reparative therapy. Today, he thinks the number has gone down to about 30 percent, but he’s still concerned, he said.

“It’s quackery,” he said. “Every week there are kids who come to my organization traumatized and broken because their families sent them to therapists to try to change them and make them straight.”

And because conversion therapy isn’t sound science, therapy sessions vary greatly, he said.

Levovitz said he hopes Obama and the White House’s statement will help promote “work to engage religious people of good will on how to better deal with sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Follow @ABCNewsRadio
Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Allergy Season 2015: Jury Still Out on So-Called Pollen Vortex

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Spring has finally sprung in many places after a record-breaking winter, but you might be reaching for tissues more often than usual this year amid worries about a “pollen vortex.”

Some allergists say a harsher winter means an especially bad allergy season, but the jury’s still out on whether the science backs that up.

Manhattan allergist Dr. Cliff Bassett said “pollen vortex” isn’t exactly a scientific term, but he believes that wet winters lead to more pollen, and therefore, worse allergy seasons.

“Whenever you have a fall and winter with a lot of precipitation like we had in received in most places, the soil is moist,” said Bassett, explaining that this makes the plants and their root systems “very happy” and causes them to produce more pollen in the spring and summer.

On top of that, a late spring also results in what Bassett calls a “pollen tsunami” as a variety of pollen kicks in all at once.

“May is the new April, June is the new May,” he said. “Allergy misery is just around the corner.”

And the carbon dioxide in big cities tells the plants to produce three or four times more pollen, Bassett said, adding that it’s sticky, and adheres to eyeballs, causing itchy watery eyes.

A “pollen vortex” was thought to succeed the “polar vortex” of 2014, but a study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology last fall declared that it didn’t happen. In Ontario, Canada, pollen counts were actually lower than they’d been in 12 years, the researchers concluded.

“Our results showed the reported pollen burst failed to materialize last spring,” lead author aerobiologist James Anderson said in a statement. “Specifically, pollen levels of maple, juniper, birch, ash, mulberry and walnut were as much as four to five times lower than the average. The other tree pollen counts were within normal range.”

In Atlanta, they were lower than they’d been in 2013, but there were more high-pollen days, according ACAAI.

No matter what, Bassett suggested that people with allergies begin using their allergy nasal sprays before their symptoms begin to appear. He said in many cases this can reduce the amount of allergy medications patients will need to take overall. He also suggested learning what you’re allergic to, and checking pollen indexes to prepare for bad allergy days by exercising indoors, for instance.

Follow @ABCNewsRadio
Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Fit In Exercise with Harley Pasternak’s Five-Minute Workouts

Wavebreak Media / Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Time seems to be the number one reason so many of us say we don’t make it to the gym but it doesn’t have to be the case.

As part of the Good Morning America Yahoo Your Day series, GMA met up with Michele Promaulayko, Yahoo Health’s editor-in-chief, and celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak to bust fitness myths and demonstrate a quick, efficient workout routine.

Promaulayko says one fitness fallacy is that working out in a hot room equates to a greater calorie burn.

“That’s not true,” she said. “Your body burns more in a cold environment.”

A second myth is that by eating less food you will lose more weight.

“Of course, there’s an ideal number of calories you want to consume in a day,” Promaulayko said. “But you also don’t want to consume too few calories, because then your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. So you eat a little more, you burn more.”

A third myth is that doing crunches will lessen your belly fat.

“You can’t spot reduce,” Promaulayko said. “So what you want to do is burn fat all over your body and have a nice, clean diet and then those abs will be revealed.”

Pasternak, the author of 5 Pounds: The Breakthrough 5-Day Plan to Jump-Start Rapid Weight Loss (and Never Gain It Back!), showed ABC News’ Sara Haines a no-excuse workout that focuses on just one movement each day of the week.

“Each day of the week, we pick a different exercise that does a different part of the body so at the end of the seven days, you’ve hit all the major body parts,” Pasternak said. “You don’t even need to change. You don’t need to go to the gym.”

Pasternak says each of the below seven moves should only take five minutes out of your day each day:

MONDAY: Reverse Lunges

Start off with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step back with your right leg, drop your knee down and return. Rotate with the other leg.

TUESDAY: Superwoman

Lie face down on the ground with both your legs and your arms fully extended and off the ground. Raise your arms and legs up and down, never touching the ground. “Every time you come up, you’re working not only the erector spinae, but if you come to the very top, your glutes are contracting,” Pasternak said. “The higher the thighs go, the more the glutes are working.”

WEDNESDAY: Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension

Lie on a bench or elevated flat surface with a dumbbell or weighted item in each hand, arms extended above your head. Bring the dumbbells down on either side of your head and then back up, repeat. “Imagine that your fists are hammers and there’s a nail in the ceiling,” Pasternak said. “And nail them up all the way.”

THURSDAY: Stiff-Legged Dead Lift

Hold a dumbbell or weighted item in each hand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slide the dumbbells up and down your leg, pushing your butt back. Then bring your hips back to neutral. “This is all about feeling the hamstring stretch,” Pasternak said.

FRIDAY: Standing Dumbbell Curl Press

Hold a dumbbell or weighted item in each hand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Curl the dumbbells up, press them above your head, bring them back down and extend. “This is a good time saver,” Pasternak said. “It’s biceps, brachioradialis and shoulders all in one.”

SATURDAY: Single Arm Dumbbell Row

Stand in a lunge position with the dumbbell in your right arm and left forearm on your bent left thigh. Looking straight ahead, pull your right elbow up along your body. Repeat on the other side. “Imagine there’s a rope attached to your elbow. And we’re just dragging the elbow up along your body,” Pasternak said.

SUNDAY: Standing Dumbbell Side Bend

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a dumbbell or weighted item in your hand. Bend to the side opposite the dumbbell to work your obliques. Repeat on the other side.

Follow @ABCNewsRadio
Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Single Baby Boomer Women Are Happy, Empowered and Fit

Fuse/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Take no pity on single women who are 55 and older. Many of them say they’re having the time of their lives.

In a survey of so-called Baby Boomer women, Del Webb, the builder of adult communities, says that almost three-quarters of them claim to be happier now than when they were 35.

The same number also felt more empowered today than when they were much younger.

Del Webb broke the single women into four categories: never been married, separated, divorced and widowed and for the most part, the results were around the same for all the women 55 and up.

Most felt younger than their age and more active than when they were 35. In fact, eight in ten agreed that staying physically healthy is very important and almost seven in ten say it’s a top priority.

To that end, close to two-thirds of single women 55 and older say they exercise at least a few times a week.

Follow @ABCNewsRadio
Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Genes May Account for a Lack of Motivation in School

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Everyone wants their kids to do well in school but when they fall short of expectations, parents have a tendency to lash out at their children, their teachers or even society in general.

But guess what: parents might be the ones to blame for an underachieving student and it’s not even really their fault.

Stephen Petrill, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University, found out by studying 13,000 twins from six countries including the U.S., that genes might explain differences in a children’s motivation up to 50 percent of the time.

On top of that, Petrill says that non-shared environments rather than shared environment such as the same classroom and teachers, was a major factor.

Apparently, the results were pretty much the same among twins no matter what country they were from: the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany and Russia.

After being asked a series of questions regarding their studies and interests, identical twins’ answers were far more commonly matched than those of fraternal twins, suggesting a strong genetic component.

Petrill says that he and other researchers are not suggesting that it’s pointless to push children who aren’t motivated. Rather, it’s important to recognize personality differences that may affect motivation and determine how best to steer kids in the right direction.

Follow @ABCNewsRadio
Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

California’s Drought Could Increase Health Risks, Experts Say

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The ongoing California drought could cause more problems for state residents by creating favorable conditions for dangerous infectious diseases previously limited to hotter, drier climates, experts said.

The California Department of Public Health announced this week the state had a record-breaking number of deaths related to the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus in 2014, with 31 fatalities recorded.

The agency says that 801 cases of West Nile Virus were reported in 2014, the second-highest number of cases ever recorded, second only to 2005, when there were 880 reported cases.

The ongoing drought across much of California might have exacerbated cases, state health officials said, noting that areas with stagnating water become prime spots for mosquitoes to lay eggs.

A record number of birds were found to have the virus as well, with 60 birds testing positive for West Nile, health officials said.

“As birds and mosquitoes sought water, they came into closer contact and amplified the virus, particularly in urban areas,” California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Karen Smith said in a statement. “The lack of water could have caused some sources of water to stagnate, making the water sources more attractive for mosquitoes to lay eggs.”

Officials also said warmer temperatures might have led to an especially long mosquito season.

In addition to West Nile, the arid conditions could also mean increasing cases of Valley Fever in the state, health officials said.

The potentially fatal disease is caused by a fungus called Coccidioides that can grow in the soil and that can spread in the air through spores if soil dries out. While more than 60 percent of people exposed to the spores don’t have symptoms, people who start to develop the disease can have cough, fever, and headache, and in rare cases it can lead to death, experts said.

Art Reingold, professor of infectious disease at the University of California, Berkeley, said it’s possible that climate change could lead to ongoing drier conditions that would be favorable for more Valley Fever infections.

“It’s so clearly related to soil and dust — dust getting into the air…then that’s quite plausible,” he told ABC News.

Rates of Valley Fever infection steadily increased between 2001 and 2011, when reported numbers peaked at 5,182 cases before dropping off again, according to the state health department. In 2013, there were 3,298 reported cases of the disease. The increase in numbers has not officially been linked to drought conditions.

John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at University of Arizona, said that in Arizona, rain can initially help grow the fungus in the soil but if it’s followed by months of arid weather, the spores can start to float in the area and even travel hundreds of miles.

“There’s reason to think that it should apply also to California,” he said.

Follow @ABCNewsRadio
Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Ebola Patient Released from NIH Facility In Good Condition, Not Contagious

Photo by Mark Wilson/Newsmakers(BETHESDA, Md.) — The patient admitted last month to the National Institute of Health’s Clinical Center in Bethesda after falling ill with the Ebola virus while volunteering in West Africa has been released in good condition.

The patient’s identity was never released. On March 13, the individual was admitted to the facility after volunteering in Sierra Leone.

The NIH facility is one of four hospitals in the U.S. with isolation units set up to handle an Ebola patient. The patient released Thursday was the second to be successfully rehabilitated from Ebola at NIH, after Dallas nurse Nina Pham last year.

A press release from the NIH says that the patient is no longer contagious. The NIH said that the individual requested that no other information about the case be made public.

Follow @ABCNewsRadio
Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Mom Wakes Up from Coma to Find She’s Had Her Baby

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Sharista Giles was five months pregnant when a car accident left her in a coma in December.

Doctors originally told her family that the she would never wake up, but on Wednesday, the 20-year-old opened her eyes, her aunt told ABC News.

“The doctors were telling us there was nothing else they could do,” said Beverly Giles, 49, of Madisonville, Tennessee. “They already gave up hope. We never gave up. She’s fought this hard.”

Sharista’s family moved her to the Harriman Care and Rehabilitation Center in March, according to a Facebook page that Beverly Giles manages. The center called to tell them she was awake on Wednesday and they rushed to see her, she said.

“The whole place was packed out with family,” Giles said.

Doctors were forced to deliver the baby prematurely in January, but Sharista’s family hasn’t named him yet. For now, they call him “Baby L,” Giles said, adding that he was less than two pounds when he was born, but now weighs 6 pounds and 4 ounces.

Sharista blinked, gave her family members’ hands a squeeze when they tickled her and followed her father around with her eyes, Giles said.

“He showed her a picture of her baby, and she followed the picture,” she said. “When he turned around to put it back on the bulletin board, she turned her neck, her whole head trying to follow and find the picture again.”

It’s too soon to know Sharista’s prognosis, but Giles said the family hopes to bring Baby L to her when he is ready to leave the University of Tennessee Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Follow @ABCNewsRadio
Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →