XiXinXing/iStock/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) — Elysse Mata leaned over her 8-month-old conjoined twins, kissing their faces as tears streamed down her face and she whispered “I love you.”

The babies were about to undergo a skin-stretching surgery, the first step in their eventual separation at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. They share a chest wall, diaphragm, intestines, lungs, lining of the heart and pelvis.

Five hours later, it was over.

In recovery, the Mata family leaned over groggy Knatalye and Adeline, smoothing their hair back and kissing them in the recovery room.

“We are so thankful for the support and thoughts and prayers for our girls as they continue to grow, recover and prepare for the next step in their journey,” Mata said in a statement.

The twins will spend the next six to eight weeks recovering as a team of surgeons spanning six departments plans their separation, which is expected to take place early next year.

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iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) — Health officials are warning consumers to avoid eating caramel apples after linking the fall treats to a multi-state listeria outbreak that has been linked to at least four deaths.

Officials from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that at least 28 people from 10 states, including Minnesota, Arizona and Texas, have been infected with Listeriosis due to Listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria that can cause life-threatening illness.

Of those infected, five died and Listeriosis definitely contributed to at least four deaths, according to the CDC.

Out of an abundance of caution, the CDC warned all consumers to avoid eating prepackaged caramel apples while they investigate the outbreak alongside the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state health organizations.

The outbreak reported on Friday has infected people across a wide swath of the U.S. from North Carolina to California and across a large age range, from ages 7 to 92, according to the CDC.

Listeriosis is usually caused when a person ingests listeria monocytogenes bacteria and it can cause particular harm among the elderly people, pregnant women or anyone with a compromised immune system. Symptoms can include gastrointestinal distress, fever and muscle aches.

In severe cases, people can develop encephalitis, swelling of the brain, or bacterial meningitis, inflammation of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Of the 28 infected, three were children between the ages of 5 and 15 who developed severe meningitis symptoms, and nine cases involved either a pregnant women or a newborn infant, according to the CDC.

Fifteen of 18 sickened people who were interviewed by the CDC told investigators they ate prepackaged caramel apples before they were sickened.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said the outbreak is particularly troubling because Listeriosis can have a long incubation period from three to 70 days.

“We can anticipate that more illnesses will occur over time,” said Schaffner. “Even [if] the product is removed from the market a lot of these [caramel] apples have been consumed.”

Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer based in Seattle, said listeria can be a particularly difficult bacteria to control because its growth is not inhibited by refrigeration.

“I can see caramel apples sitting in your refrigerator for a long time,” he said. “Listeria has evolved and it has evolved to grow really well at refrigerated temperatures.”

The CDC reported the caramel apples can have a shelf life longer than a month and officials from the Minnesota Department of Health said they were concerned people may eat tainted apples left over from the fall.

The outbreak was first reported by the Minnesota Department of Health, which found four people between the ages of 59 and 90 had been infected. The four patients had eaten caramel apples during the months of October and November and all four were hospitalized. Two subsequently died after being infected.

Those sickened in Minnesota bought caramel apples from Cub Foods, Kwik Trip and Mike’s Discount Foods, which carried the Carnival and Kitchen Cravings brand of caramel apples, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The apples are no longer being carried in stores because they are a seasonal item.

Dr. Jay Ellingson, the corporate director of food safety and quality assurance for Kwik Trip stores, said the pre-packaged caramel apples have been off the shelves for weeks and the company has been working with state and federal authorities “to make sure public health is protected.”

A spokesperson from H. Brooks and Company, which released the Carnival brand caramel apples, told ABC News the company was aware of the situation and working with local health officials during the investigation.

Officials at Cub Foods and Mike’s Discount Foods could not immediately be reached for comment. A number for the Kitchen Cravings brand of apples could not immediately be found.

Listeriosis was linked to one of the worst food-borne outbreaks in recent years when 147 people became infected after eating tainted cantaloupe in 2011. Of those infected, at least 33 died.

In 2013, the CDC estimated approximately 1,600 illnesses and 260 deaths caused by Listeriosis occur annually in the United States.

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Creatas/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — New Year’s resolutions seem so full of promise on Jan. 1, but by the middle of the week, many people have already skipped the gym, eaten the stacked burger and been a jerk to their in-laws.

No one said goal-setting would be easy.

Fewer than one in five adults who made health-related New Year’s resolutions were able to make any significant strides in weight loss, healthier eating, exercise or stress reduction by March, according to a 2010 poll by the American Psychological Association.

Still, psychologists say there’s no time like the present to give your goals a try. And if you want to be a better version of yourself in 2015, there’s a science to conquering your resolutions.

Read on to find out how to stack the deck in your favor and do your New Year’s resolutions right this year:

Choose Your Goal Wisely

The key to accomplishing your goal is to make it concrete and easy to break down into pieces, said Jeff Janata, chief of psychology at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland. Weight loss is actually an example of a resolution that sets you up to fail.

“Weight loss really isn’t in our control,” Janata said, explaining that no matter how rigid the diet and exercise, weight loss naturally plateaus. “That’s one of the reasons people fail at weight loss. They focus on ‘I need to lose a certain number pounds per week.'”

Instead, cutting out fried foods or deciding to work out a few days a week are better goals, he said.

“Don’t start off with these grand resolutions,” said psychologist Joe Taravella, the supervisor of pediatric psychology at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation Center who also specializes in marital and family psychology.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up If You Mess Up

No matter how perfect the goal is, Janata said people are going to slip. But that doesn’t mean they should give up completely.

“Re-adjust the goal according to how difficult it is for you,” Janata said.

He advised taking 2015 goals week by week or day by day.

“I remind people that we’re human and we’re not perfect,” Taravella said. “We’re going to mess up throughout our entire lives.”

He said one bad day “doesn’t mean we’re total failures and all progress we made isn’t meaningful.”

Reward Yourself

Building in days off is an important part of goal-setting, Taravella said.

“Being totally rigid 24/7 is not sustainable over the long haul,” Taravella said.

Go Public

Want to make sure you nail your 2015 resolutions? Make them public, psychologists advised.

“Talk to people about what you’re doing, so you can be accountable,” Taravella said, explaining that you’ll be motivated to succeed because you won’t want to fail in front of your friends.

Make Sure You’re Doing It for the Right Reasons

Tackling a goal because someone told you to or because you simply think you “should” might backfire, Janata said. Sometimes, taking on a goal because of outside pressure just makes people want to rebel, he said.

“There’s an important distinction to be drawn between goals that we feel that we should accomplish and those we believe we truly want to accomplish,” he said. “Rarely do we attain goals unless we truly embrace the goal.”

So make sure you’re only picking goals because you’re ready and eager to fulfill them.

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iStock/Thinkstock(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) — A school took away an 8-year-old blind boy’s cane as punishment for acting up and replaced it with a pool noodle, his father told ABC News on Thursday.

Dakota Nafzinger, who was born with no eyes, was listening to his music on the school bus when the driver took it away from him, his father, Donald Nafzinger said. Dakota often taps his cane to the music, but this time, his father said he threw it in the air. Nafzinger said school officials told him they thought Dakota was getting violent.

Then they gave Dakota a foam pool noodle in its place and sent him home with it, Nafzinger said.

“It is his eyes,” Nafzinger, 35, told ABC News. “He said he was upset because that’s something he needs to get around with.”

Dakota was born with a rare condition called bilateral anophthalmia. Nafzinger said Dakota’s mother chose to call the local news media because she feared that “there weren’t caring people left in this world.”

“They shouldn’t treat my kid any different than the kids that have eyes,” said Nafzinger, who works in Kansas City, Missouri, as a stage hand. “My kid is normal except he doesn’t have eyes.”

The school district, North Kansas City Schools, admitted to the mistake and has since given Dakota his cane back. Nafzinger said not only was that a good outcome, but sharing the story has shown his family how many supporters they have.

“The District has reviewed the situation,” North Kansas City Schools wrote in a statement. “We regret that a mistake was made in making sure the student was in possession of his cane when he boarded the bus Monday evening. The District has apologized to the family and is working to rectify the situation. When we were made aware of the mistake, corrections were made. It is always the District’s policy when we become aware of situations like this, we thoroughly and immediately investigate to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — When blogger Marie Southard Ospina sent a photo of herself with no makeup and no clothes to photo editors in 21 countries around the world and asked them to Photoshop her, she said she was surprised by one thing most of the experts did not do to her image.

“I was surprised that only three out of 21 altered my weight and my bone structure,” Ospina told ABC News’ Juju Chang. “So that was nice to see.”

“[I thought] that the majority of the editors would slim me down and just make a very obviously airbrushed miniature version of me,” Ospina said.

The Manchester, U.K.- and New York City-based writer gave the beauty editors the instructions to simply “make me beautiful.”

“That was the tagline of the whole experiment,” said Ospina, who wrote about it on Bustle.com.

Ospina was inspired to do the experiment after seeing another journalist, Esther Honig, do something similar earlier this year. Honig sent her selfie to 25 countries around the world, asking people to make her beautiful using Photoshop.

“I was just fascinated by just how much people actually changed her bone structure and her weight, and she was already quite a slender woman,” Ospina said.

When it came to Ospina’s experiment, the results varied widely according to each country. Canada gave her a new hairdo while Jamaica gave her a darker tan.

Ospina said her favorite result came from Italy, where the editor glammed her up with some heavily Photoshopped makeup.

“I think, through these images, what I most saw is that beauty isn’t definable,” Ospina said. “It varies so much, not just from nation to nation but from person to person.”

“The biggest point of the experiment was to see and prove that people’s perception of beauty is very individual rather than just one basic norm,” she said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WESTMINSTER, Mass.) — For one 6-year-old girl in Westminster, Massachusetts, the best Christmas gift she received didn’t come in the form of a perfectly wrapped box with a bow under the tree. Instead, the special surprise came personally delivered from Santa himself — in the form of sign language.

For the first time in her life, Sadie Adam sat on Santa’s lap and the jolly-old-guy knew exactly what she was sharing, with no interpreter needed.

“I am glad I was able to communicate with Sadie,” Westminster’s police chief, Salvatore Albert, who has played Santa for 15 years, told ABC News. “It was amazing to see the smile on her face and her eyes wide open with joy that Santa knew sign language. I am going to try to learn more for next year.”

Sadie’s mom, Ronelle, taught Santa all the sign language he needed to know in order to prepare for her daughter’s visit on Dec. 6.

“She sat with me for about an hour,” said Albert. “I practiced it for three days.”

As Santa signed “Merry Christmas” to an unsuspecting Sadie, “her eyes were bright, wide open,” he told ABC affiliate WCVB.

“Santa knew my name. He knew how to sign it,” an ecstatic Sadie signed. “I told him what I wanted — a kitchen and a baby.”

“I knew she’d be surprised, so I was just so happy,” her mom said. “I instantly started tearing up.”

For little Sadie, who has been deaf most of her life, this is certainly a Christmas she’ll never forget.

“This is the first time anyone has had any special request of any kind,” said Albert. “I was very happy to be able to do it.”

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Blush Salon & Spa/Facebook(CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa) — An Iowa spa catered to a very special client when it gave a full “makeover” to a young cancer patient Wednesday.

Taryn Oberthein, 4, has spent much of the past year dealing with doctors and hospitals after she was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma cancer, according to ABC News affiliate KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Neuroblastoma is a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells in different areas in the body, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Taryn was surprised with a very special day at the Blush Salon & Spa in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The spa is a member of the Hello Gorgeous! non-profit that provides free makeovers and pampering to cancer patients.

Salon owner Susan Livingston told ABC News the girl started out a little “shy,” but quickly warmed up as she enjoyed a free manicure, facial and pedicure.

“Her mom said [later] that she wanted to do it every day,” Livingston said of the makeover day.

The day of pampering comes after a difficult year, when Taryn underwent chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and radiation to treat her cancer, according to KCRG-TV.

“It just think it would make her feel so special to have a day where she can just feel pretty,” Taryn’s mother, Tara Martin, told KCRG-TV.

The full pampering also included a special red carpet entrance, bouquet of flowers and even a little session with photographers, where Taryn was able to pose in her new look. She was even given her own wig specially made for pediatric patients.

“When we asked her what she wanted for her birthday, all she wanted was for her hair to grow back,” Martin told ABC News.

Martin said when the wig came out Taryn was initially a little afraid, but ended up enjoying her new accessory.

“She called it strutting her stuff,” Martin said. “She’s a pretty special little girl, she’s always got a smile on her face.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Two brains are better than one when it comes to tackling certain things, but a new study indicates that when it comes to weight loss, a person’s chance of shedding pounds is greater when they don’t team up with a partner.

In a study published in the journal Eating Behaviors, researchers assessed 50 overweight duos who made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, and found those who dieted together generally failed separately.

The researchers found that when a person was successful in regulating his or her diet and was able to eat healthier, that made their partner less confident in controlling his or her own food portions.

According to study author Jennifer Jill Harman, people “feel less confident achieving their goals when they see others succeeding at the same goals.”

For heterosexual couples, comparing weight loss can be even more frustrating, especially for women. Research at the Mayo Clinic has found that men tend to lose weight and keep it off easier than women because guys have more muscle, which helps burn off more calories and increase their metabolism.

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dolgachov/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Parents buying their teenage children cars should open up their wallet and opt for a new car instead of a used one, researchers say.

A study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and published in the journal Injury Prevention, looked at national data on drivers between the ages of 15 and 17 and drivers aged 35 to 50 who were killed in car accidents. The biggest difference, the study found, was the age of the cars.

An overwhelming majority — 82 percent — of the teenagers killed in crashes were driving vehicles that were more than six years old. Even more striking, 48 percent were driving vehicles 11 years old or older.

Those older cars, researchers say, were less likely to have safety features, such as electronic stability control and side air bags, which might have cut the rate of teens killed in crashes. In fact, researchers say, the rate of fatal crashes for teens is about three times that for adult drivers.

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Spotmatik/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A new report named the most and least prepared states in the country when it comes to infectious disease.

The report, put out by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, used ten indicators of preparedness to judge the states. At the top of the list of best prepared states? Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. On the other end of the spectrum, Arkansas finished at the bottom of the list.

Among the indicators used in the report are preparation for emerging threats, vaccinations, healthcare-associated infections, sexually-transmitted infections, food safety, core capabilities, integration of health care and public health and leadership and accountability. A state successful in a given indicator would receive one point.

The top five states, TFAH said, received just eight out of 10 possible points, while Arkansas received just two.

Among the biggest problems, the report indicated, were that just 14 percent of states vaccinate at least half of their population and only 16 states performed better than the national standardized infection ratio for central-line-associated bloodstream infections.

The full report can be found here.

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