Paralyzed Woman Writes Book Using Only Her Eyes

Locked-in syndrome is a condition where the person loses all muscle control or becomes entirely paralyzed, while maintaining most cognitive functions. In simple terms, this means they can still think and feel, but cannot move or speak. Some people, however, have found technological leads on how to help locked-in patients communicate, such as this nanoscience professor who created a computer interface that helps them identify letters and words using only their eyes.

Using a similar device, a woman diagnosed with the syndrome wrote an entire book about her experience. Mia Austin was only 21 years old when she suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed, but now at 29, she finished her book In the Blink of an Eye using only eye movement, a spelling chart at first, and eventually the specialized computer.

Her mother Carole, 62, recalls: “She [Austin] was in the hospital for around 14 months and writing poems and stories kept her alert and occupied. I think the idea [for the book] stemmed from there really.”

According to her father Rick, the book took about a year to write. Meanwhile, Mia’s siblings also helped in her process, especially with the spelling chart, which took a lot of energy and made Mia exhausted. Despite this, Mia just doesn’t seem to run out of achievements.

The book is by no means Austin’s only incredible feat of determination. She completed a criminology course at Wirral Metropolitan College in 2017 before signing up for a forensics course with the Open University. And this year she will begin another course in criminal justice.

Aside from academics, Mia is also incredibly engaged in charity work. She launched a campaign for disabled travellers. She participated in awareness projects for homelessness. She has been on aid missions to orphanages even outside the country.

In an interview with The Mirror, Austin explained her desire to give back to the charities that have supported her. She said: “I love to take part in new challenges to prove I can succeed despite my condition. I also want to support various charities because I have received help myself in the past.”

Mia’s story sort of robs us of any excuse to waste our energy today, doesn’t it? It could just as well inspire us to push our minds and bodies to the limit from here on out.

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Stay-at-Home Female Doctors Serve the Poor Online

Women have been slowly but surely breaking the barriers that have been set for them in the past centuries. A beauty queen with Down’s syndrome made history, single mothers run startup companies, more women are fighting back against sexual harassment and even lead hundreds of people to resuscitate a dead river.

Here’s to another amazing woman. A female Pakistani doctor recognized the odds stacked against physicians in her context, and acted to provide more flexible options for women in the medical industry. Dr. Iffat Aga founded a platform to connect home-based female doctors to poor communities.

Sehat Kahani is a revolutionary tele-health platform that connects at-home, out-of-work doctors who can provide quality health care to underprivileged patients in low and middle-income markets.

The organization currently constitutes a network of 14 facilities across Pakistan which have served more than 550,000 patients. When a patient visits the clinic, a nurse logs their basic medical history, and then doctors are called in to continue the consultation through a video conferencing system.

The percentage of women in local medical schools are higher than those of men, but less than half of these women eventually end up as practitioners because they believe they need to nurture their families first. Because of the responsibility weighing down on them, female doctors stop pursuing their careers.  Dr. Iffat knew this problem needed a solution, so she partnered up with women who similarly understood — and perhaps personally experienced — the crisis, and together they built Sehat Kehani.

With a vision to create an all-female health provider network, Sehat Kahani simultaneously promotes women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship, and the basic need for affordable, quality healthcare in rural and urban communities – all without the doctors ever having to leave their homes.

It is truly an inspirational balancing act to target both the issues of gender inequality and poverty at the same time. Women are not only fighting for their own rights; they are doing so in order to join larger fights.

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Former Patient Becomes Nurse At Childhood Hospital

After delivering her baby brother, 12-year-old Jacee Dellapena decided she wanted to be an OB-Gyn. These dreams are not so uncommon. For 24-year-old Montana Brown, realizing her dream of becoming a nurse doesn’t seem simple at all. A two-time cancer survivor, Brown decided she would pay it forward in the very hospital she was treated in.

When she was 2 years old, Brown was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of childhood cancer of the connective tissue. She underwent chemotherapy for a year at the AFLAC Cancer Center.

Brown had gone into remission, only to later find out, at the age of 15, that her cancer had returned. The same nurses that cared for her 13 years prior were once again by her side. Brown has since expressed her deepest gratitude for their compassion.

“The nurses here, as great as they were when I was 2… they were extremely loving and caring and compassionate. And, just the love they showed me and my family in our time of need just really helped me,” she said. “It helped me want to become as kind and as caring and as compassionate as they were for me.”

Brown has come full circle and is now a pediatric oncologist at the AFLAC Cancer Center. I suppose that sometimes, the best way to pay it forward is to have a look back.

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Why We Need to Celebrate the Smallpox Vaccine

In light of brilliant breakthroughs like gene alteration for genetic disorders, nanomachines to cure cancer cells, minimally invasive treatment procedures for epilepsy — no, the smallpox vaccine doesn’t seem like a big deal. It obviously isn’t a new medical discovery. In fact, last May 8 commemorates the fact that the world has been free of the illness for 38 years. But the reason we need to celebrate it is precisely because of the many successes that followed the 1980s smallpox eradication. And the need to counter the threats to these successes.

William Foege, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has written a book in 2011 called House on Fire where he explains just how he made it possible. He and other health workers wiped out smallpox — “by dreaming, being savvy in politics and unafraid to break the rules, and devising the brilliant ring vaccination strategy.”

Foege and his colleagues found that instead of using the vaccine on entire populations, it was more effective to distribute it among the demographic most at risk, which were the contacts of the infected. After being proven true in the smallpox case, this strategy on immunization was replicated on the prevention of other diseases or viruses such as measles, polio, malaria, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and others. Some have been nearly wiped out as well, while the incidence rates of some have significantly dropped.

However, a few decades later, people now face a dilemma. What about the now-debunked finding that vaccine causes autism? The anti-vaccine movement discredits the milestones of smallpox eradication and immunization. Does the use of vaccine actually pose more risk than benefit to humans? Well, it might be time to look back at history for answers regarding the progress of human health. William Foege, the man who developed the global strategy for vaccination, is still fighting for truth.

“I think vaccines are really the foundation of public health . . . By the early 1980s, [many of] our vaccine diseases had gone down to close to zero . . . So things were going quite well until Andrew Wakefield did his Lancet article [suggesting there’s a link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism] . . . He specifically said the MMR vaccine was the problem. He was disbarred in England because of the falsifications of his [data].”

Turns out, the research linking vaccines to autism is completely bogus that Wakefield even lost his medical license. But that hasn’t stopped parents all over the world from being paranoid. Foege understands that parents are only “trying to do the right thing,” but in doing so, they forget the risk of disease and focus on a completely false risk of the vaccine. This seems to make the anti-vaccine movement more of a health education issue, as people are just clearly misinformed.

38 years after smallpox eradication and other successes, vaccination has become a social problem more than a scientific one. In some countries, the public health debate even results in violence. But globally, more often than not, it results in the slower prevention and elimination of certain diseases. But Foege is still hopeful.

“I think we’re at the beginning of an eradication era — because of vaccines — and as we learn more and more about logistics, cold chains, how to develop vaccines that don’t require refrigeration, don’t require using needles and syringes, I think the future is very bright for disease eradication . . . You have to believe a disease can be eradicated . . . you have to put up with all the frustrations . . . you stick with your vision of what the last mile is.”

True enough, a disease can be eradicated. Smallpox is a testament to that. So celebrate the fact that you were born after it’s gone. Celebrate the fact that it led to much slimmer chances of measles in your lifetime. Now more than ever, we need to celebrate this feat, so that decades of medical history — thus, strong leads to medical progress — will not go down the laboratory drain.

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Less Invasive Epilepsy Treatment at Sourasky

Finding minimally invasive treatment procedures for significant illnesses have been the preoccupation of some of today’s medical breakthroughs, as exemplified by the research and development of light-activated methods in cancer treatment using nanomachines.

In Sourasky, minimally invasive procedures using advance laser and MRI technologies have been conducted in the treatment of epilepsy patients who are not responsive to medication. Offered in the neurosurgery department by Prof. Yitzhak Fried, Dr. Ido Strauss, and director of epilepsy service Dr. Firas Fahoum, it is the first time the procedure is being performed outside the US.

“If in the past we had to consider surgery in cases where the patient did not respond to medication, we can now make do with a minimally invasive procedure that is almost as successful as open surgery,” explained Strauss.

What made this possible is Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT) technology. A small optic fiber is inserted into a small hole in the skull, and is then connected to a device called the Visualase system. While this is happening, an MRI scanner monitors brain temperatures and the size of the ablated tissue. Compared with open surgery, this procedure is more keen on preserving the areas of the brain proximate to the ablated issue and responsible for other bodily functions.

“Today, we know that the source of the disorder that causes epileptic seizures is found in neural networks in the brain and that the attacks can be prevented by proper medical treatment,” explained Fahoum. “In most cases, patients are given medication to try to control the seizures. But if this doesn’t help, it is necessary to consider neurosurgical intervention, in cases where the area where the seizures begin is located and surgically removed. But seizures come as a surprise and may cause cumulative damage to the cognitive and mental functioning of the patients along with physical injuries when they fall to the ground.”

The use of LITT, Visualase, and MRI technologies provides a less invasive procedure to the other surgical options such as nerve pacemakers and neuromodulation, as well as the removal of the seizure’s focal point. Moreover, the therapeutic option also provides easier recovery and may even be offered to children with epilepsy.

Hopefully, it is time we have more and more medical breakthroughs of less and less invasive treatment procedures.

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Late Menopause May Benefit Women’s Memory

The past few years have seen an increase in various research studies about women’s health that have truly been a long time coming. One example is New Delhi’s move to proliferate biodegradable sanitary pads which not only addresses women’s reproductive needs but also the needs of our environment.

Recently, a new study led by Diana Kuh from University College London in the United Kingdom looked at how the late onset of menopause may benefit the memory of women later in their lives. By using data from 1,315 women, they found out that women whose menopause occurred naturally and later in life scored higher on the memory assessment tests that they conducted.

Kuh comments on the findings, saying, “The difference in verbal memory scores for a 10-year difference in the start of menopause was small — recalling only one additional word, but it’s possible that this benefit could translate to a reduced risk of dementia years later.”

However, she adds, “More research and follow-up are needed to determine whether that is the case.”

The study’s scope also included other aspects about the women’s health like whether they were taking hormone replacement therapy, whether they had a hysterectomy, their cognitive ability since childhood, as well as social factors like their education and line of work.

Kuh and her colleagues conclude: “Our findings suggest lifelong hormonal processes, not just short-term fluctuations during the menopause transition, may be associated with verbal memory, consistent with evidence from a variety of neurobiological studies.”

Of course, I agree with Dr. Kuh’s statement. Further research is definitely necessary. I also think, as seen in the recently-won fight for equal pay like in Nordic countries such as Iceland, that perhaps more and more institutions and organizations would see the importance of studying and addressing women’s concerns, as more and more women around the world push further for their rights.

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Elderly Man Cradles NICU Infants For A Living

It’s 2018 and we all know heroes don’t always wear capes. In fact, they also vary in age. You can be a budding 8-year-old lifeguard or a middle-aged charitable millionaire. Whatever the case, not one hero is like another. This retired grandpa is a champion to NICU babies — he cradles them for a living.

“There are a lot of benefits to that warm connection of being held—when a baby puts their face against your heartbeat, there’s a benefit there. I came to love it, but not just because of the connection with the babies, but the whole atmosphere of the hospital.” [said grandpa David Deutchman.]

Deutchman volunteers at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and has been doing so for 12 years. Prior to baby-cuddling, his official job title was in international business marketing. Now, the father of two is a dad to hundreds, if only for a day or so.

“I talk with mothers and sometimes I hold their hand, because holding a mom’s hand is just as important as holding a baby,” he says. “There’s a lot of stress for these parents. Having somebody tell them they can go get breakfast and assure them I’ll be there with their baby, it means something to them. It’s important.”

While NICU babies can be fussy, a bit of spit-up does little to faze Deutchman. I sure do wish he was my grandpa.

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Mediterranean Diet Prevents Heart and Brain Aging

Many people have different concepts of the best diet habits and what the best diet consists of. Here at our blog, I have written before about my personal stakes in maintaining a healthy diet and a co-worker has also said her piece on vegetarianism. Now, I consider myself far from a diet skeptic as I truly believe in having an eating regimen, but some fads just seem quite absurd, like surviving only on lemonade or grapefruit or baby food for weeks. A growing body of research agrees with me.

Scientists continue to affirm that this certain type of meal plan seems to be best: high consumption of vegetables, protein, and healthy fats; then low consumption of processed foods and refined carbs like white bread. This comes in various versions and labels as some people are completely vegetarian, while others choose to include eggs and dairy, or meat and fish, or all of the above, in their meals. But the base principle remains the same.

This Mediterranean diet or “plant-based” diet (or another label that you prefer) seems to be the healthiest.

In the latest issue of the Journal of Gerontology, scientists outline six recent studies of one version of the diet – the Mediterranean meal plan – and suggest that the eating regimen is closely linked to healthy aging, better mobility, a lower risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, and improved cognitive function.

One study says that a “plant-based” diet may help slow cognitive decline among people who’ve had a stroke, and provide protection of the brain against neurodegeneration (seen in diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s). As for the more physical benefits, this Mediterranean diet provides protein for the muscles, fiber for the digestive system, and vitamins for tissues and bones.

This balance is also key to keeping you full after a meal and energized throughout the day so you don’t feel the need to overeat, Nichola Whitehead, a registered dietician in the UK, previously told Business Insider. “You need to have a balanced meal — things like whole grains, fibre, and vegetables — in order to sustain your blood sugar. Empty calories [like white bread or white rice] give a temporary fix,” she said.

Her use of the word temporary echoes with me as I think about other dieting plans. A “crash diet” doesn’t sound as good when you focus on the word crash, doesn’t it? For me, dieting is best when planned well and executed mindfully. Science can attest to that.

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Your Tears May Replace Old Batteries

Due to shortages of natural resources like oils and fossil fuels, researchers are creating energy with alternative sources. From what it seems, our bodies may be more useful than we give them credit for. As a matter of fact, our sweat can power various electronics, including radios. In this case, so can our tears, as they have been found to contain a protein called lysozyme.

Lysozyme has an innate antibacterial property, as its main role is to protect against infection by breaking down bacterial cells. While many other known piezoelectric materials contain toxic elements like lead, Stapleton says lysozyme’s nontoxic, organic quality could make it useful to biomedical technology.

Big words aside, applying pressure to the protein creates a small electrical charge. That electrical charge can power medical devices such as pacemakers, and can eventually be used to replace old batteries. Head of study Aimee Stapleton explained that lysozymes crystallize, which make them hassle-free and thus make their usage relatively easy to develop.

“I was interested in lysozyme because it can be crystallized really easily, which makes it easier to study,” she says, “because crystallized structures tend to show piezoelectricity.”

The protein is apparently more conductive than other materials, which makes them a good alternative to replace old batteries with, but don’t worry — scientists aren’t going to start making people cry. Lysozymes are apparently also present in egg whites. Maybe chicken farmers are the ones who should be stoked.

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Yellow Peas Are The New Milk

In the food industry, nothing is what it seems. At Ava Winery, wine is grape-less. Popular distillery Misadventure and Co. is producing vodka made with food waste. Ripple is not far behind, introducing an entire line of dairy products made with yellow peas.

“The food system represents 20 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and dairy is one-quarter of that,” said [co-founder Neil] Renninger… “The impact is massive. More than beef, more than chicken, dairy is actually the largest contributor to emissions by volume. That challenge scratched my sustainability itch.”

Since its launch, Ripple has sold a healthy 2.5 million bottles of plant-based products. Renninger and partner Adam Lowry admitted that most plant food “sucks” because the industry doesn’t spend enough time doing research to create better food items. To be honest, I couldn’t agree more.

“Their idea of innovation is a brand extension . . . We saw huge potential for impact—a lot of white space in the world of food innovation through technology.”

Yellow peas, Ripple’s ingredient of choice, isn’t strongly flavored and is relatively inexpensive to grow. It also provides a sufficient amount of protein, significantly more than almond milk does. Eliminating 3.5 pounds of carbon emissions per 48-ounce bottle, Ripple has a lot to brag about.

“It’s not that we have the only pea milk on the market; what makes us unique is that, thanks to technology, we have the purest plant protein in the world,” says Renninger.

And with its pea milk currently coming in five different flavors, I can’t imagine Ripple is going out of business anytime soon.

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