Uplifting News and Stories Gleaned from the Web

Archive for September, 2006

Real-Life Fairy Tale-See Video at the End (updated)

Real-Life Fairy Tale

A West Virginia woman discovers she’s an African princess.

By Elise Soukup

Sept. 25, 2006 issue – It’s something that every little girl fantasizes about … that the phone will ring and the voice on the other end of the line will tell her she’s not the lonely, gawky girl that she thought she was. That she is, in fact, a princess.

And that’s exactly what happened to Sarah Culberson. In 2004, 28-year old Culberson, a biracial woman who had been adopted by a white family in West Virginia as a baby—hired a private investigator to find her biological father. (Her mother, she had been informed a few years earlier, had died of breast cancer.) The investigator called back within three hours; the information he yielded was a shocker: her father was a member of the ruling family of the Mende tribe in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. She was, by birthright, a princess. “I just about fell off my seat,” says Culberson, an aspiring actress who had trained in San Francisco. “I mean, a princess. To be totally honest, it was really cool.”

If a bit frightening. Culberson was able to contact her father’s brother, who promised to pass on her contact information to her dad. Two weeks went by, time Culberson spent wondering if she’d be welcome in her father’s life—or his world. When he called, the first words he spoke to her were comforting: “He told me, ‘Please forgive me. I didn’t know how to find you,’” she says. “And then he said, ‘When can I meet you? I want you to come.’” In December, Culberson flew to his village, Bumpe. She brought along a filmmaker friend to record the reunion.

Culberson received a royal welcome. As she drove into the city, hundreds of villagers swarmed the car to welcome her. The women of the village, dressed identically in long, green dresses, sang and danced. And then she met her father, who—to her delight—had eyes similar to her own. “To look like some one is amazing,” says Culberson. “Most people take it for granted, but I grew up in a family where my sisters had blonde hair with green eyes. I stood out. For the first time to look like someone… it was the most beautiful gift in the whole world.”

But Culberson quickly discovered that being a princess wasn’t all diamonds, castles and princes. Bumpe had been nearly decimated by the country’s 11-year civil war. One of her aunts had been killed by rebels; another bore scars from being slashed in the neck with a machete. Her father had hidden in a small room outside of the village for four years while many of his friends were hunted—and slaughtered. Most people lived in poverty and the village’s school, where her father was headmaster, was in ruins.

Even still, the villagers were unbelievably generous. Before Culberson arrived, her father asked what kind of food she liked. She told him that she loved rice and chicken—not knowing that chicken is a delicacy in Bumpe. Most families have only one chicken, which they raise throughout the year and then save for a special occasion. But when news spread about her preference, people showed up every day—some traveling from nearby villages—to leave her a live chicken at her door. “I was so overwhelmed,” she says. “They have so little. I never would have asked for so much.”

Now Culberson is making it her mission to return the favor. When she returned to the United States, she established a foundation to raise funds to save her dad’s school; her goal is to have it completely rebuilt by fall, 2007. Her filmmaker friend has turned her quest into a feature-length documentary, “Bumpenya.” The film is still in production and Culberson hopes it will raise awareness for her cause. “My life and my priorities have completely changed,” says Culberson. “I don’t get upset at silly things anymore. My purpose now is to rebuild the school and bring peace to the people of Sierra Leone.” Or, in other words, to allow them to live happily ever after.

For more information about Bumpe, visit www.bumpenya.com



Teens Save 3 Friends From Sinking Car

Teens Save 3 Friends From Sinking Car

Boys Injure Themselves Saving 3; Best Friend Performs CPR

POSTED: 2:43 pm CDT September 14, 2006
UPDATED: 7:39 pm CDT September 14, 2006

LOCKPORT, Ill. — A group of Lockport teens sprung to the rescue of their pals in a submerged car Wednesday.

A car carrying Brent Walker, 15, Nick Lopezalles, 16, and his father, Frank Walker Lopezalles, lay upside down and steaming in the Illinois & Michigan Canal.

Their friends piled out of their car and came to their rescue.

Chris Murphy pulled off his shirt and shoes and waded into the canal near downtown Lockport, with Darius Allen in pursuit.

"I didn’t stop to think at all," Murphy told the Chicago Tribune Wednesday, recounting the harrowing incident from the day before. "I just did it."

Chris and Darius, both 15, broke three car windows using fists and elbows, they said.

"Then we opened up all the doors," Chris said, adding that he quickly pulled the 16-year-old driver from the murky water.

"He was blue and purple," Chris told the Tribune of his best friend. "His tongue was hanging out of his mouth. We put him on the back of (our) car."

Murphy said he thought he was dead, but Jesus Alejandre, 16, who had waded into the water behind his friends, yelled for them to apply CPR, so they did. Brent was revived.

Authorities said the victims were very lucky to have survived.

After the accident, Brent’s mother called her son’s high school to thank them for teaching CPR in class.

New Bionic Limbs Giving Mobility Back To Amputees

New Bionic Limbs Giving Mobility Back To Amputees

Recipient Says He’s Not Super-Human, Just Much Better Off

POSTED: 11:48 am CDT September 14, 2006
UPDATED: 2:29 pm CDT September 14, 2006

CHICAGO — Jesse Sullivan has two prosthetic arms, but he can climb a ladder at his house and roll on a fresh coat of paint. He’s also good with a weed-whacker, bending his elbow and rotating his forearm to guide the machine. He’s even mastered a more sensitive maneuver — hugging his grandchildren.

The motions are coordinated and smooth because his left arm is a bionic device controlled by his brain. He thinks, "Close hand," and electrical signals sent through surgically re-routed nerves make it happen.

Doctors describe Sullivan as the first amputee with a thought-controlled artificial arm.

Researchers encouraged Sullivan, who became an amputee in an industrial accident, not to go easy on his experimental limb.

"When I left, they said don’t bring it back looking new," the 59-year-old Sullivan said with a grin, his brow showing sweat beneath a fraying Dollywood amusement park cap. At times he been so rough with the bionic arm that it has broken, including once when he pulled the end off starting a lawnmower.

That prompted researchers to make improvements, part of a U.S. government initiative to refine artificial limbs that connect body and mind. The National Institutes of Health has supported the research, joined more recently by the military’s research-and-development wing, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Some 411 U.S. troops in Iraq and 37 in Afghanistan have had wounds that cost them at least one limb, the Army Medical Command says.

Although work that created Sullivan’s arm preceded the research by DARPA, he said he’s proud to test a type of bionic arm that soldiers could someday use.

"Those guys are heroes in my book," he said, "and they should have the best there is."

"We’re excited about collaborating with the military," said the developer of Sullivan’s arm, Dr. Todd Kuiken, director of neuroengineering at the Center for Artificial Limbs at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, one of 35 partners now in a DARPA project to develop a state-of-the-art arm.

Sullivan’s bionic arm represents an advance over typical artificial arms, like the right-arm prosthesis he uses, which has a hook and operates with sequential motions. There is no perceivable delay in the motions of Sullivan’s flesh-colored, plastic-like left arm. Until now, it has been nearly impossible to recreate the subtle and complex motion of a human arm.

"It is not as smooth as a normal arm but it works much smoother than a normal prosthesis," Kuiken said.

Sullivan lost his arms in May 2001 working as a utility lineman. He suffered electrical burns so severe that doctors had to amputate both his arms at the shoulder.

Seven weeks later, due to what Sullivan calls being in the right place at the right time, he was headed to meet the Chicago researchers.

"Jesse is an absolutely remarkable human being, with or without his injuries," Kuiken said.

Sullivan said his bionic arm isn’t much like the one test pilot Steve Austin got in the ’70s TV series "The Six Million Dollar Man." "I don’t really feel superhuman or anything," he said.

"It’s not magic," added his 4-year-old grandson, Luke Westlake, as he placed a nut in Sullivan’s grip and challenged Paw-Paw to crack it open.

Not magic but high-tech science makes the bionic arm work. A procedure called "muscle reinnervation," developed by Kuiken and used on five additional patients so far, is the key.

For Sullivan, it involved grafting shoulder nerves, which used to go to his arms, to his pectoral muscle. The grafts receive thought-generated impulses, and the muscle activity is picked up by electrodes; these relay the signals to the arm’s computer, which causes motors to move the elbow and hand, mimicking a normal arm.

"The nerves grow into the chest muscles, so when the patient thinks, ‘Close hand,’ a portion of the chest muscle contracts," according to an institute fact sheet.

Kuiken added: "Basically it is connecting the dots. Finding the nerves. We have to free the nerves and see how far they reach" and connect to muscles.

About three months after the surgery, Sullivan first noticed voluntary twitches in his pectoral muscle when he tried to bend his missing elbow, the institute said. By five months, he could activate four different areas of his major pectoral muscle.

Trying to flex his missing elbow would cause a strong contraction of the muscle area just beneath the clavicle. When he mentally closed his missing hand, a signal could be detected on the pectoral region below the clavicle, and when he tried to open his hand there was a separate signal. Extending his elbow and hand caused a contraction of the lower pectoral muscle.

When Sullivan’s chest was touched he "had a sensation of touch to different parts of his hand and arm," the institute said. "The patient had substituted sensation of touch, graded pressure, sharp-dull and thermal sensation."

Sullivan said of the thought-controlled arm: "When I use the new prosthesis I just do things. I don’t have to think about it."

Kuiken describes the procedure on Sullivan as the first time such a graft has been used to control an artificial limb.

Gregory Clark, associate professor of bioengineering and prosthetics researcher at the University of Utah, agreed, adding that a conventional prosthetic limb is "limited in a number of ways in the types of movements. Moreover, it can do only one of those movements at any particular moment."

Clark said a natural arm is capable of 22 discrete movements. Sullivan’s bionic limb is capable of four right now, though researchers are working to make them better.

"Four is wonderful," Clark said.

Sullivan said his bionic arm allows him to rotate his upper arm, bend his elbow, rotate his wrist, and open and close his hand — in some instances simultaneously.

He and Kuiken attended a Washington, D.C., news conference Thursday with Claudia Mitchell, the first woman to receive the bionic arm. The 26-year-old Mitchell was injured in a motorcycle accident after she left the Marines in 2004.

"I don’t have to put a lot of thought into it. I just say open and it happens," Mitchell said. "I can reach up and grab that cup and reach right back down … I can hold veggies while I chop them, I can hold a pan."

Trying his new arm at increasingly challenging tasks, Sullivan acknowledges he has good days and bad ones.

"At first, I couldn’t watch when he tried doing this stuff," said Sullivan’s wife of 22 years, Carolyn.

She said she first thought after the accident that he was going to die. She gave up her catering business to tend to him around the clock.

But eventually he forced her to occasionally run errands and leave him alone.

"He finally got mad and yelled at me and told me to go to the store," she said, laughing.

Enormous lifestyle adjustments that the injuries and rehabilitation required were not as hard as might be expected, she said.

"For some reason, we just sort of rolled into it. I just knew he wasn’t going to let anything keep him down," she said.

She said medication helps control his pain, and sometimes he resorts to self hypnosis. "They taught him how to do that," she said, adding she doesn’t consider herself to be a caretaker.

"I do all the yard work," Jesse Sullivan said. "I take out the garbage."

He can even hold a fork to eat.

And there’s another task the bionic grandfather of 10 looks forward to mastering: casting a fishing line.


Men Donating Kidneys in Four-way Swap

Men donating kidneys in four-way swap

The two men are giving their organs to each other’s wives

Updated: 7:39 p.m. CT Sept 12, 2006

LEBANON, N.H. – Two men are donating kidneys to each other’s wives in a four-way surgical swap at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital on Wednesday. It is the first time such a swap among healthy, living donors and patients with kidney failure has taken place at the hospital.

Jody Pardoe, 43, will receive a kidney from a stranger who has compatible blood and tissue types. Meanwhile, her husband Peter has turned out to be a compatible donor for the other man’s wife. They do not know the identities of the other couple.

It will be Jody’s second kidney transplant since 1991, and she hopes it will allow her to live without regular dialysis. Yet she has mixed feelings because she is concerned for her husband.

"I feel guilty about Peter giving up his kidney," she said. "I can’t say enough about what Peter is doing. It’s not as if he’s giving it to me. He’s giving it to a stranger so that I can have a better life. I love him more now than I ever did."

For Peter, 43, the donation is just part of being married. When he learned of the hospital’s program allowing healthy family members to donate a kidney in exchange for a transplanted organ from another healthy donor, he signed on.

"I had no second thoughts or qualms about it. I was just doing it for Jody. Anything I could do to make her life a little more normal," he said.

The Pardoes were ready to go through a similar swap two years ago, but it fell through when they learned the donor kidney had an extra artery that would have led to a 25 percent loss in kidney function for Jody.

They returned to the transplant waiting list while the hospital searched for a compatible donor. That search was more difficult because Jody has type B blood, which is shared by only 3 percent of the population.

"It was disappointing, but we never gave up hope," said Peter.

Two surgical teams, led by Dr. David Axelrod and Dr. John Seign, will begin by removing healthy kidneys from the two men, a procedure that should last two or three hours. Then they will perform the transplants, which take about the same amount of time.

"We have a certain responsibility to the donor, because here are healthy people coming in with this extraordinary gift," Axelrod said. "The day is really centered around donor safety."

The hospital performs about 60 kidney transplants each year and boasts a 98 percent survival rate after the first year. Transplants from living donors — whether relatives or strangers — do better than organs donated by someone who has died, Axelrod said.

The first kidney swap took place at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore in 2001, and the first swap in New England was at a Boston hospital in 2002. Since then, there have been about 100 paired kidney exchanges.

"It takes a lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of faith," said Axelrod. "People have to have faith that the quality of the kidney one is getting is as good as one they are giving."

Jody Pardoe is not concerned with making history, but she hopes other people in her situation will understand they have alternatives to signing up on a regional organ donation waiting list or finding a relative who is willing and able to donate.

"What I hope is that this opens the door for others, because there are so many people in need waiting for transplants," she said.

Bride holds charity event after fiance cheats-MSNBC.com


Bride holds charity event after fiance cheats – MSNBC.com

What’s the address? I’ll send a donation! What a cool lady! Good riddence to the loser! 

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