Zero-calorie sweeteners might not be better than sugar: study

Making the switch from regular to diet soda might seem like a healthful choice — but according to a new study to be presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting, zero-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame and Ace-K might actually be worse. Or they might be better. Or they might be just as bad.

The bottom line? Right now, researchers just don’t know.

What they did manage to figure out was that artificial sweeteners like the kind found in Splenda and diet soda could have a surprisingly large effect on your metabolism and the lining of your blood vessels. Together, the observed effects of artificial sweeteners on test subjects — all of which were rats and cell cultures, not humans — resulted in a concerning number of risk factors for diabetes and metabolic disorders.

The rats and cell cultures involved in the study were placed in groups and fed multiple types of diets. Some were given large amounts of sugar (glucose, fructose, etc.) while others were given comparable amounts of artificial sweeteners (aspartame and Ace-K). After three weeks, the researchers observed differences in the concentrations of biochemicals, fats, and amino acids in blood samples.

“We observed that in moderation, your body has the machinery to handle sugar; it is when the system is overloaded over a long period of time that this machinery breaks down,” lead researcher Dr. Brian R. Hoffmann of the Medical College of Wisconsin said in a public release. “We also observed that replacing these sugars with non-caloric artificial sweeteners leads to negative changes in fat and energy metabolism.”

The team noted that while the study provides further insight on whether we should be utilizing these sugar replacements in our diets, the results do not definitively determine which option is better for your health.

“It is not as simple as ‘stop using artificial sweeteners’ being the key to solving overall health outcomes,” Hoffmann insisted. “If you chronically consume these foreign substances (as with sugar) the risk of negative health outcomes increases.”

So if you love snacking on something sweet, what’s your safest option?

“Although more study is warranted, this is not the first time the negative effects of artificial sweeteners have been seen in studies,” warns Jackie Arnett Elnahar, RD, Esq. “I recommend natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup.”

These are both easy to swap as a healthy way to sweeten your coffee or as a nutritious baking substitute.

“Raw honey and maple syrup both offer antioxidants, immune system benefits, minerals and phytonutrients,” Elnahar told us.

If you’re looking for more motivation to tone down your artificial sweetener intake, you might be interested to read these 18 other disturbing effects of drinking diet soda.

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6 New England towns to visit in May

With the arrival of May, New England towns are full of activities that embrace spring. Finally. 

Head to Newport for your only chance to see the triennial Volvo Ocean Race in North America. Here’s the premise of this insanely long race: Seven teams of racing sailors (including a USA/Denmark boat with three Americans) left Spain on Oct. 22, 2017 and are expected to reach the finish line in the Netherlands in late June 2018. In between, they will have crossed four oceans, spanned more than 45,000 nautical miles, and stopped in 12 cities. One of those cities is Newport, which they’ll arrive in on May 10. From May 8-20, Newport will transform Fort Adams State Park into an admissions-free Race Village full of sailing-themed activities, live music, food and beer, and a chance to meet the sailors and get up close to the racing boats. Visitors can take free sailing classes on Narragansett Bay, participate in hands-on activities in an ocean exploration zone, and step into a globe-shaped theater where a 3D movie will show what it’s like on board a racing boat.

After a weekend visit to Connecticut in 1938, the late First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about “an avenue of pink and white dogwood on Greenfield Hill such as I have never seen anywhere else in this country.” Attend Fairfield’s 83rd annual Dogwood Festival from May 11-13 and check out a craft show, a plant and garden boutique, and even a two-mile fun run. During a Friday luncheon, Kandi Carle, known as the “Victorian Lady,” will discuss fashion, life, and etiquette during the Victorian era.

Celebrate the “incredible edible dandelion” at the Remick Country Doctor Museum & Farm’s Dandelion Festival on May 19 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Festivalgoers will be able to sample dandelion wine and cordials, taste recipes that include the flower, and try out dandelion cosmetics. If guests are still hungry, they can roast hot dogs and s’mores at an open fire pit (no dandelions included).

Kites at a previous Bug Light Kite Festival in Maine.

Kites at a previous Bug Light Kite Festival in Maine.

Send your kite up into the sky with other colorful kites and a 143-year-old Maine lighthouse as the backdrop. The 9th Annual Bug Light Kite Festival will take place on May 19 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at South Portland’s Bug Light Park. The Portland Breakwater Light (also called Bug Light) was built in 1875 and is open to the public only a handful of times a year, according to the Rotary Club of South Portland/Cape Elizabeth, whose volunteers conduct tours and will do so all day during the festival. Outside the lighthouse, members of the Noreasters Kite Club and KONE (Kites Over New England) will provide kite-flying workshops, a kite repair area, kite races, and demonstrations of show kites. If you don’t have a kite, you can buy one at the South Portland Historical Society’s museum gift shop, located near the entrance to Bug Light Park. Also near the museum, look for the Maine Marimba Ensemble, which will perform between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and a barbecue area where you can fuel up after some serious flying adventures.

Browse the wares of more than 110 juried New England crafters and artisans on May 26 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. “It’s a great way to not only get out and meet your neighbors and meet new people, but you get to see crafters who have been working all winter on their inventory,” said event coordinator Diane Perry. If all that shopping makes you hungry, you can order Indian, Thai, seafood, fried dough, wood-fired pizza, barbecue, ice cream, and more from the food vendors and food trucks set up on School Street. Children’s activities will include a dunking booth, a bounce house, face painting, and a playground area. Local musicians and dancers will also perform throughout the day.

Feast on the shellfish to the sound of a 17-piece jazz band when this festival takes over Wareham’s Main Street on May 27 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. “Wareham is a real haven for very high-quality oysters that are exported throughout New England and beyond,” said Linda Burke, a volunteer for the festival. “It’s a great opportunity for people to try them and compare them to other oysters across the region.” Guests will also have the chance to taste oysters from places like Cape Cod and Rhode Island, she said. Not a fan of oysters? There will be plenty of other food options, such as lobster rolls, clam cakes, and pad Thai, Burke said. Beer and wine will also be served.


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McCain gets visits from friends, family after surgery



12:26 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A frail Sen. John McCain has been receiving a stream of visitors and good wishes at his Arizona ranch as he confronts the aftermath of brain cancer treatment and surgery.

Former Vice President Joe Biden sat with McCain for 90 minutes last Sunday, according to people close to both men. Biden followed McCain’s closest friends, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and retired Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who visited McCain at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix two weeks ago. McCain’s daughter, Meghan, tweeted Friday that she was heading to her father’s side.

“Going home to Arizona to be with my family,” she tweeted. “Thank you all again for your prayers, patience, understanding and compassion during this time. It means the world to me and my entire family.”

McCain, 81, had hoped to return to the Senate, where he’s served since 1987. He has been unable to do so after cancer treatment and surgery for an intestinal infection last month. Despite that, he’s finished work on a new book being released May 22, “The Restless Wave.” And he continued to advocate for a return to the days when partisans could disagree without demonizing each other.

“I’d like to see us recover our sense that we’re more alike than different,” McCain said in audio excerpts from his book reported by National Public Radio.

McCain has amplified his call for more civil politics since his diagnosis in July with glioblastoma. It is the same rare and aggressive brain cancer that felled his friend, Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, at age 77 in 2009, and Biden’s son Beau at 46 in 2015.

McCain hasn’t been seen in public since December, just before he was hospitalized for a viral infection at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Maryland. He then returned home to Arizona to recover, do physical therapy and continue cancer treatment at the Mayo Clinic. On December 17, his office issued a news release saying he was looking forward to returning to Washington in January.

McCain did not return.

He has primarily been staying at his family retreat south of Sedona, Arizona, a sprawling and secluded ranch house along tree-lined Oak Creek where he loves to have family gatherings and barbecue for friends. His daughter, Meghan, was married there in November to Ben Domenech, publisher of the online political and cultural magazine The Federalist. The senator has been known to lead nature tours featuring his extensive knowledge of dozens of species of birds on the property.

McCain’s family and staff have kept news of his condition and treatment private, with his office routinely saying it has no new information to share. In mid-April, it was announced that he had been hospitalized for intestinal surgery needed to stem an infection related to diverticulitis, a condition where the colon develops small bulges that can sometimes become infected.

At week’s end, McCain was recuperating, eating well and enjoying the ranch at full bloom, according to a person close to him.

The visits by Graham and Lieberman were confirmed to The Associated Press by people knowledgeable about the meetings, but who spoke on condition of anonymity to respect the family’s privacy.

His wife, Cindy McCain, tweeted April 23 that he had been released from the hospital, but no official word came from his Senate office.

“@SenJohnMcCain and I are home in our beloved Hidden Valley enjoying a glorious Arizona sunset,” the tweet said.


Fram and Kellman reported from Washington. Christie reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.


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Why did Bonnie Raitt cancel tour dates because of her health?

Health first.

Pop country star Bonnie Raitt announced that she won’t be joining James Taylor & His All Star Band for the first portion of a previously announced tour. They were to play the BB&T Center in Sunrise on May 11.

It seems Raitt, 68, is dealing with some medical issues and requires immediate surgery, according to a release, which adds that her unknown ailment was detected during her annual physical.

“The prognosis is good and a full recovery is expected.”

Raitt apologized for letting people down.

“I’m deeply sorry to have to disappoint my fans, James and colleagues with these cancellations. I was so looking forward to our tour, but I’m very grateful that the doctors feel this can be taken care of with surgery,” she said. “I’m feeling strong and am in great hands with my wonderful team.”

Some fans responded on Twitter.

“I saw Bonnie raitt trending and it almost gave me a heart attack,” wrote @gothicblackchic.

Chimed in @DeepRiverTM1996: “Please God. Don’t let anything happen to @bonnieraitt.”

Comedian Paula Poundstone tweeted: “Oh, no, I love you Bonnie Raitt. Take deep breaths, and drink lots of water.”

Raitt added that she expects to return to the second leg of the U.S. tour in June followed by a European tour the following month.

“Thank you all for your concern and understanding that the best gift you could give me is respecting my wish for privacy and giving me space to heal. Can’t wait to see you all back on the road again soon!”

Taylor, 70, also expressed his disappointment.

“This summer was to be Bonnie’s and my second summer touring together. We wanted to do it again because it was such good fun the first time, we didn’t want it to end,” said the “You’ve Got a Friend” singer. “Of course, there is no question as to the priority of your health, Bonnie. You will be constantly in our hearts and minds until we see you in June.”

The first leg of the tour, which is scheduled to kick off at the Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, on May 8, will now be an “Evening with James Taylor & His All-Star Band,” featuring two sets with a brief intermission.

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Weekend Recipe: Spaghetti Bolognese With Zucchini Noodles

This is a quick and easy dish I designed for the contestants on Biggest Loser Australia. It only takes 15 minutes to make, so it’s the perfect meal to prepare during a busy week.

My secret to the perfect Bolognese is to start by choosing quality ingredients. I use pasture-fed beef because I love the greater depth of flavor it gives to the overall dish. This Bolognese is also great using turkey mince for those who prefer a lighter meat. I use fresh, ripe Roma tomatoes when they are in season or alternatively, you can also use good quality organic tinned Roma tomatoes. Roma tomatoes are naturally sweeter than regular ones and they have more flesh and less juice, so they’re my favorite for tomato-based sauces.

I make vegetable spaghetti with zucchini and use that as a substitute for traditional heavy pastas. Zucchini makes the most perfect and healthy low-carb pasta and what I love about this vegetable is that it takes just one minute to cook and will absorb the flavor of any aromatics you add to the pan. You can also use other vegetables in making spaghetti such as carrots, leeks, pumpkin, sweet potatoes or a combination of all of them.

The best way to cook vegetable spaghetti is to briefly sauté them in a pan over medium heat with a little olive oil until softened, otherwise they become too watery if plunging into water. You can also add a spoonful of pesto and a generous handful of baby spinach, like I do, which enlivens the flavor and color. Finish off your Bolognese with freshly chopped parsley and a generous grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino.



  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 100g (3 1/2 oz) celery, finely diced
  • 300 g (10 1/2 oz) grass-fed beef mince
  • 800g (28 1/4 oz) ripe roma tomatoes, chopped or 2 x 400g (14 oz) tins roma tomatoes
  • 1-tablespoon tomato paste
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Grated Parmesan or pecorino to serve
  • Fresh chopped parsley to serve


  • 800g (28 1/4 oz) zucchini
  • 2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
  • 2 tablespoons pesto (See recipe below)


  • 60g (2 oz) basil leaves, chopped
  • 60 g (2 oz) parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons roasted walnuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan, grated
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 60 ml (2 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch sea salt and cracked pepper to taste


  1. Saute onion and garlic until softened in a good quality cast iron or stainless steel pan for 1 minute
  2. Add beef mince and cook through for 2 minutes until browned
  3. Add celery then tomatoes and mix through
  4. Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally then add the tomato paste
  5. Cook until the sauce is lovely and rich. You may need to add a splash of water (or red wine) if the sauce needs it
  6. Season to taste with a little flaked sea salt and pepper then remove from the heat and add a few spoons of parsley
  7. While the bolognese is cooking prepare your pesto and zucchini noodles

Combine pesto ingredients into a food processor or blender for 1 minute until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Alternatively, chop dry ingredients by hand using a large chef’s knife or Mezzaluna chopper then combine in a bowl with the olive oil, lemon and garlic.


  1. Run the zucchini along a mandolin to form nice long spaghetti strips, or alternatively use a julienne slicer
  2. Toss zucchini in a pan over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes with a little pesto and baby spinach
  3. Divide zucchini spaghetti onto serving bowls and top with Bolognese sauce, extra chopped parsley and grated Parmesan or pecorino
  4. Serve immediately and enjoy

Serves 4

NOTES + INSPIRATION: Layer bolognese sauce between roasted eggplant or fresh made spelt spelt flour crepes, then top with ricotta and parmesan before baking for 40 minutes for the most spectacular lasagne.

Vegetarians can use grated organic tempeh, extra veggies and a handful of walnuts in place of beef mince.

Teresa Cutter, founder of The Healthy Chef, is an author, nutritionist and classically trained chef. You can find more of Cutter’s tips and recipes on her website, app, eBooks and Instagram.

My main goal at The Healthy Chef is to get people cooking and eating healthier. Eat natural foods, focus on fresh fruits and vegetables and just keep it simple.” — Teresa Cutter

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Was BuzzFeed Right to Publish Accusations Against Donald Trump? – Room for Debate

Thanks to BuzzFeed the Untouchable Story Is Open to Discussion


BuzzFeed did the right thing when it chose to publish the dossier of unverified allegations about Donald Trump’s supposed entanglements with Russia. Some experts on media ethics were quick to argue otherwise this morning.

This kind of second-guessing generally proceeds from the underlying premise that journalistic ethics is some set of straightforward rules about right and wrong, which, when dutifully followed, will reliably produce good journalism. This is a deeply useless approach. Any decision to publish any piece of reporting involves balancing competing principles and coming to a conclusion that fits the subject matter, the broader context and the publication’s own mission and appetite for risk.

Whether the ultimate scandal turns out to be about Trump’s alleged conduct, his relations with Russia, his feud with the intelligence services or some combination, follow-up reporting will help the public sort through the dossier’s claims.

This case, in particular, is a good reminder of the fact that the flip side of deciding to publish something is deciding not to publish something. But journalists are rarely called to account for their errors of omission. Multiple news organizations reportedly had their hands on the Russia dossier for weeks, and before yesterday, even as the circle of public officials who deemed it a serious concern kept widening, none of those media outlets could figure out how to share it.

Now the untouchable story has become a matter of open discussion, whether the ultimate scandal turns out to be about Trump’s alleged conduct, his relations with Russia, his feud with the intelligence services or some combination of all of those. Follow-up reporting is helping the public sort through the dossier’s claims. BuzzFeed’s decision was the key to all of this.

Judgments about what and how and why to publish vary from publication to publication, and that variation is healthy and productive. What CNN and BuzzFeed executed last night was a classic high-low interaction: CNN reported that the dossier existed and that it was of great public importance; BuzzFeed produced the dossier. CNN’s vagueness was redeemed by BuzzFeed’s specificity, and BuzzFeed’s risk-taking was justified by CNN’s testimony about the ultimate news value.

Sometimes the transaction simply goes from low to high: A less respectable outlet publishes a story, and the subject of the story responds, and the subject’s response becomes a fact in the world that is safe for judicious publications to discuss in the open. Thus this morning’s Times was liberated to discuss “sex videos involving prostitutes with Mr. Trump,” or, more precisely, reports of memos describing those sex videos.

However the process unfolds, we know more today than we did yesterday, and tomorrow we will know more still. BuzzFeed’s rhetoric about “publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds” was maybe a little pious, but those of us at the former Gawker Media learned a painful lesson last year about what can happen when journalists talk about their mission less than piously.

Journalism is a rude business and we live in rude times. Blind appeals to principle won’t make things any nicer, but they could make things worse.

BuzzFeed Let Trump Cast a Shadow of Doubt on All Reporting


By publishing an unverified report alleging the Russians have compromising information on President-elect Donald J. Trump, BuzzFeed made it less likely that truth will be journalists’ only goal and less likely that when the truth surfaces, the public will believe it.

In his news conference on Wednesday morning, Trump conflated the work of BuzzFeed and CNN, although they were very different forms of reporting. He started by complimenting all the newsrooms that did not post the document, criticizing those who did without initially naming them, and suggesting that the reason for keeping it out of public view is because it is “fake news.”

Had BuzzFeed taken a different approach, the story today would be that intelligence officials were seriously concerned about the report.

To the untrained eye, it looked like he was making friends with the media by patting them on the back for doing the right thing by ignoring that ludicrous rumor that the Russians have a sex tape.

Here’s what really happened: BuzzFeed posted the dossier, noting that it was unverified and even highly problematic, about two hours after CNN began informing its viewers that the report existed, who had seen it and what the possible implications were to Trump’s ability to run the country.

Those are two distinct acts, with BuzzFeed merely showing its cards to the public, and CNN trying to build context and meaning through reporting and analysis.

But by lumping the two newsrooms together, Trump was able to cast the shadow of doubt on all the reporting that journalists are doing on the dossier. Now, anyone who might have been genuinely curious about the truth has reason to stop listening. If you hate Trump, you automatically assume it’s true. And if you love him, you assume this is one more example of unfair reporting.

Had BuzzFeed taken a different approach, the story today would be that senior intelligence officials were concerned enough about the report to brief the outgoing and incoming president. The follow-up stories would address how America’s senior most leaders were responding.

Instead, BuzzFeed said it wanted to give its readers the opportunity to decide for themselves. So now we’re all engaged in a charade of Spy Kids, trying to determine if the information is likely true or false. Yet average citizens don’t have the tools to sort through these claims.

But the most damaging result of BuzzFeed’s unfortunate decision is Trump’s newfound weapon to dismiss all journalists who criticize him as unfair and unethical. In painting the entire news media as a caricature of BuzzFeed, he undermines the efficacy of solid reporting and legitimate criticism. The president-elect is doing his best to diminish the role of journalism in our democracy. He doesn’t need any help.

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Cervical procedure to prevent cancer is causing complications

S. Nicole Lane shared her story with

Five months ago, I received a phone call from my OB-GYN informing me I had abnormal cells on my cervix and that a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) would be necessary to remove the cells and prevent cervical cancer.

I had gone in for a regular Pap, like I do every year, and was told that I needed a biopsy. When my results came back, my doctor told me they would need to use a low-voltage electrical current —  a LEEP — to remove the abnormal cells from my cervix.


The term “abnormal cells” originally shook me. I assumed these cells would eventually turn into cervical cancer, so I agreed to what I thought was a harmless and necessary procedure.

After the procedure was performed I began experiencing complicated symptoms — an infection, weakness, and pelvic pain — all of which challenged my recovery time.

I also became depressed. I felt an overwhelming numbness — not in my body, but in my mood and livelihood. Some days I struggled to even get out of bed.

Concerned, I Googled my symptoms and discovered several forums and personal blog postswhere women detailed a variety of complications. On the other hand, more detailed medical information was hard to find.

I continued digging and was shocked to learn that many “abnormal cells” may never lead to cancer. Instead, these so-called “abnormal” cells are similar to moles on your body and having them removed isn’t always necessary.

Cervical cancer is relatively rare, compared to other cancers. Approximately 0.6 percent of people will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in their lifetime.

I began reaching out to other women who were experiencing similar symptoms to my own following a LEEP and I discovered many others who had been affected in different ways.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Harrowing crisis sparks woman to action

AMBRIDGE, Pa. (AP) – Fingertips of her index and middle fingers rhythmically compress his tiny chest.

“Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”

Her baby, just several days shy of 9 months, isn’t breathing. He’s in cardiac arrest.

“Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive.”

Color drains from plump, rosy cheeks. Lips turn blue. Tiny body goes limp.

“Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”

Bridget Rohm is scared. Tears spill from her eyes. Though frantic, she focuses.

Now’s not the time to panic. Every second counts.

“Mama Bear” instinct kicks in.

She presses hard, fast on her baby’s chest.

The Ambridge mom’s thankful she took an infant CPR class.

“Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”


The repetitive drum loop of “Stayin’ Alive” – the Bee Gees’ classic song from “Saturday Night Fever” – pulses at 103 beats per minute, close to the 100 chest compressions per minute recommended by the American Heart Association when performing CPR.

“Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”

It plays over and over and over in her head.


‘Something was seriously wrong’

Clutter everywhere in the small apartment. Cheerful trappings of a newborn. Cuddly teddy bears. Plush elephants. Stuffed dogs. Storybooks. Colorful mobile spinning above a baby swing.

And something else. Jarring, actually.

An IV pole. Two fluid bags and a stethoscope hang from it. Snakelike, plastic tubing, too. One delivers constant oxygen. Another meds, nutrition and fluids pumped to a gastrostomy tube, also called a G-tube, directly into little Rycker Rohm-Deceder’s stomach. A monitor assesses oxygen saturation and heart rate.

This isn’t what Rohm, 26, imagined for her son, her first child.

She knew she was having a boy. Named him Rycker – a strong name, one she chose having watched a documentary series on TV’s A&E; network – before he was born.

Rycker would grow up to be strong, independent, successful.

“I mapped out his life for him,” Rohm said, while he was still in her womb. “I was all prepared to have a typical baby.”

A sonogram at 22 weeks confirmed her plan for “a healthy, baby boy,” she said.

Two weeks later, however, a fetal anatomy scan, a more detailed ultrasound to measure growth and development – face, brain, skull, spine, heart, limbs – revealed anomalies.

Lying on an ultrasound table, Rohm thought the scan was taking longer than it should. The technician commented that Rycker’s limbs were short, but Rohm thought nothing of it. She and fiancé Jeff Deceder aren’t statuesque.

Were there heart ailments in her family?

Rohm’s parents both died of heart attacks; she had a heart murmur.

“Why is she asking me this?” Rohm wondered.

A doctor wanted a closer look at Rycker’s heart. A fetal echocardiogram was scheduled a few weeks later.

Rohm asked for results.

“We’ll talk about it in the office,” the physician said.

“I knew at that point something was seriously wrong,” Rohm said.

In that room, walls closed in.

The diagnosis: Rycker had two holes between left and right heart chambers; valves controlling blood flow also weren’t developed. The fancy name, Rohm said, is atrioventricular septal defect. Each year, about 2,000 babies – 1 in 2,120 – are born with AVSD, estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rycker would need open-heart surgery, possibly immediately after birth.

But that wasn’t all.

He also has pulmonary hypertension – high blood pressure in arteries in his lungs and right side of the heart.

And it appeared Rycker had aortic coarctation, a narrowing of the large blood vessel branching off the heart, which would cause it to pump harder to force blood through the body.

The final blow: Meet with a genetic counselor.

Heart defects like Rycker’s often are common in babies with trisomy 21, abnormal cell division involving chromosome 21 more commonly known as Down syndrome.

Forty percent of all children with Down syndrome have congenital heart disease; of those, 40 percent have AVSD, according to

A sample of Rohm’s amniotic fluid – fluid surrounding the fetus in the uterus – confirmed what the genetic counselor suspected.

“I remember her calling,” Rohm said. “‘I’m sorry. Your son has trisomy 21.’”

Immediately, Rohm asked if she had done something to cause it, but was told “it was completely random.”

Emotions overwhelmed her – “probably some a mother shouldn’t have. I grieved the child that I was planning for; the one that I had imagined; the one that would grow up to be independent,” she said.

Now, she feels “silly” for thinking such.

Having immersed herself in the Down syndrome community, she’s seen so many children “grow up to be independent, get married, have jobs, graduate from high school, graduate from college, have their own businesses so I’m not as worried anymore.”


A difficult labor

July 19, Rohm was scheduled for induced labor at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh. Blood flow from umbilical cord to placenta was abnormal.

Labor was difficult – 12 hours.

Rohm planned to deliver naturally; it was not to be.

Contractions, now a minute apart, caused Rycker’s heart rate to decelerate with each one. Doctors were concerned for both mother and baby.

At 6:20 a.m., “everything got crazy,” Rohm said. “Tons of doctors came rushing in.”

Deceder remembered personnel “dragging her bed away, dressing me in a hospital gown, running us down the hall.”

Rohm received an epidural and within 4 minutes, Rycker was delivered via cesarean section.

“They brought him by her for 2 seconds,” Deceder said, before whisking him away to the neonatal intensive care unit. His heart rate kept dropping.

Within two hours, the 4-pound-9-ounce baby was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC where he spent the next 16 days.

“I saw him right before they transported him – about 5 to 10 minutes. He was hooked up to all kinds of machines. I could barely see him. I did touch his hand,” Rohm said.

The good news: The aortic narrowing wasn’t as bad as initially thought, Rohm said. But Rycker would still need to have open-heart surgery to repair those holes.

The plan was to let him grow a few months.

“The bigger he got the better the surgery would go,” Deceder said.

Surgery happened Jan. 9. About a month later, another surgery to insert a G-tube with Nissen (anti-reflux procedure).

“He was having trouble taking a bottle,” Rohm said, because of a swollen airway and thus not getting enough to eat. And he was also at risk for aspirating.

Parents hope within a few years, the G-tube can be reversed.


‘In God’s hands’

Rycker awakened from a nap around 3 p.m. April 9. He fussed.

Rohm tried giving him a bottle, but he cried – cried uncontrollably.

“That’s unlike him,” Rohm said. “He’s a very happy baby. He never gets like that. I knew something’s wrong.”

She picked him up. Tried to console him.

“He turned blue. His whole body. His face, his lips, his legs, his feet – everything. I remember him looking up at me with the blackest eyes. The only way I can think to describe it is like the devil was in him. His eyes were big and black and he looked scared.”

Rycker wasn’t breathing. His body went limp in his mother’s arms.

She nudged his chest. No response.

“I went into Mama Bear action,” Rohm said. “I put him on the floor and started doing compressions. I felt like I did them forever.”

Within two or three minutes, she estimated, Rycker wailed.

“It was the best sound. I never thought I’d be so happy to hear a baby wailing.”

Rohm called 911; called Deceder.

Rycker’s legs were still blue and he wasn’t fully alert, she said.

Police arrived first; then an ambulance crew.

His heart rate was low; lower half of his body limp.

Rycker, transported to Children’s Hospital, was admitted for four days.

Doctors attributed the episode to “pulmonary hypertension crisis,” Rohm said.

Heart and lungs work together to deliver oxygenated blood to the heart; return oxygen-depleted blood to the lungs. Pulmonary blood pressure is the pressure exerted to pump blood from the heart through lung arteries. High pulmonary pressure causes the heart to work harder.

Vessels leading to Rycker’s lungs aren’t fully developed, Deceder said, causing pressure to build up in the right side of the heart.

“They just seized up and closed up because the pressure was too high, which stopped his lungs, which stopped his heart,” he said.

Rycker’s pulmonary pressure is about the highest pediatric cardiologists at Children’s have seen, Deceder said.

The condition is being treated with medication, but if it doesn’t improve, Rycker may need a heart-lung transplant, something the couple doesn’t want to consider.

“The survival rate is too low,” Rohm said. “We just keep praying and put it in God’s hands.”


‘So much joy’

Rohm picks up her little bundle dressed in a red T-shirt. She wears one, too, part of the couple’s “I Wear Red for Rycker” awareness campaign.

“You are my sunshine, you are my sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray,” she coos.

And he is.

It wasn’t random, Rohm said, that her son was born with Down syndrome.

“God chose me to be Rycker’s mommy and chose me to help educate others to be a voice, not just for Rycker, but all those with Down syndrome and heart defects.”

Deceder agreed.

“He was meant to be ours.”

While acknowledging that caring for a child like Rycker is “the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Deceder and Rohm know they aren’t alone. They’re surrounded by a supportive and loving community that stretches around the globe.

Two months after Rycker’s birth, Rohm started blogging: “Rycker: The Ups and Downs.”

“At first, it was a way, I guess, to update my family, really tell our story, his diagnosis story and everything. I had no idea it would have grown to be as big as it is.”

Deceder pulls a stack of get-well and e-cards – he estimates at 1,000 – from “Greece, Germany, Singapore, Philippines, South Africa, Brazil, all over,” Rohm said, including the United States. And gifts, too. A crocheted, red blanket, stuffed toys, a “God Bless Rycker’s Heart” plaque.

“Total strangers,” she said.

The couple calls them “Rycker’s Heart Heroes” and to honor them, created a non-profit foundation to give back.

Rycker’s Heart Heroes Foundation gives support to and raises awareness for families affected by congenital heart disease by providing care packages to families during a hospital stay, Rohm said.

Part of the foundation also includes the Rycker Roo Project that supplies mamaRoos to pediatric cardiac intensive care units at Children’s Hospital, and soon to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, which reached out to the couple.

Postoperatively, Rycker was in a lot of pain and discomfort.

“We tried everything,” Rohm said. “Holding him, patting him, rocking him. Nothing worked.”

Nothing, except a mamaRoo, an infant seat with gentle up-and-down and side-to-side motions designed by 4moms, a consumer technology company headquartered in Pittsburgh.

“In 10 minutes, he fell right to sleep,” Rohm said.

Monetary donations will help buy new mamaRoos for hospitals, but the couple also seeks gently used mamaRoos from families whose children have outgrown them to give to other families with children affected by CHD.

Rohm said a seat costs around $250.

“A lot of families, after a hospital stay, can’t afford that,” she said.

So far, 10 new and used seats have been donated through the foundation, Rohm said.

When 4moms heard about the project, the company wanted to help, Rohm said. And so, every mamaRoo purchased for the Rycker Roo Project through the company’s website will receive a 30 percent discount.

Monetary donations can be made at

The couple plans a benefit spaghetti dinner from noon to 6 p.m. June 10 in the social hall of Good Samaritan Parish on Glenwood Avenue in Ambridge.

And Rohm advocates that all parents learn CPR.

Rycker is a blessing, Rohm said, who has “taught me so much.”

She called him “just perfect.”

“Look at him,” Deceder said, smiling at his son.

“So much joy. This is him all the time. We were blessed. He laughs all the time. He smiles with his infectious smile all the time. Those two hang out all the time. Just happy.”





Information from: Altoona Mirror, //

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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Iowa governor signs ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortion ban into law

(Reuters) – Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law on Friday a bill outlawing abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which often occurs at six weeks and before a woman even realizes she is pregnant, and Reynolds acknowledged the likelihood of a court challenge.

The annual March for Life concludes at the U.S. Supreme Court where it is met by pro-choice counter-protesters in Washington January 27, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

The measure, which Iowa’s Republican-controlled state legislature passed on Wednesday, is the most restrictive abortion ban in the United States.

“I understand and I anticipate that this will likely be challenged in court, and that courts may even put a hold on the law until it reaches the Supreme Court,” Reynolds, also a Republican, said at Friday’s bill-signing, surrounded by children.

“However, this is bigger than just a law,” she added. “This is about life. I’m not going to back down from who I am or what I believe in.”

Chants from protesters were audible in the room where Reynolds signed the bill, in a ceremony that was broadcast live.

State senators who backed the measure said earlier this week that they were aiming to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

Abortion opponents hoping to land the issue back in front of the nation’s top court believe the 5-4 conservative majority could sharply curtail abortion access or ban it outright.

At a rally in Des Moines outside the Capitol on Friday before Reynolds signed the bill, officials of Planned Parenthood, the women’s healthcare group and backer of abortion rights, said they would file a lawsuit to block the law.

“I am here to tell Governor Reynolds, We will see you in court,” Suzanna de Baca, president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told demonstrators. “We will challenge this law with absolutely everything we have on behalf of our patients, on behalf of your rights, because Iowa will not go back.”

Iowa is just the latest battleground in the fight over access to abortions.

Mississippi’s Republican governor in March signed into law a bill banning abortion after 15 weeks with some exceptions, sparking an immediate court challenge by abortion rights advocates.

A similar court challenge is under way in Kentucky, which in April enacted a ban on a common abortion procedure from the 11th week of pregnancy.

The Iowa law requires any woman seeking an abortion to undergo an abdominal ultrasound to screen for a fetal heartbeat. If one is detected, healthcare providers are barred from performing an abortion.

Among the few exceptions are if the woman was raped or a victim of incest and has reported that to authorities.

The bill would ban most abortions in the state and was passed in the final days of the Iowa legislative session.

(Restriction on later abortion by U.S. state

Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Leslie Adler

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Legendary Free Climber Alex Honnold On How To Control Fear

At 5.32am on 3rd June 2017, Alex Honnold began his pioneering ascent of El Capitan, a stark 900m turret of slippery granite in California’s Yosemite National Park. To give you a sense of scale, the towering Shard in London is the tallest building in the UK – and El Capitan is almost three times higher. But unlike other climbers clinging precariously to the wall that day, Honnold had no ropes, harnesses or safety protection. As the world’s leading practitioner of “free soloing” – an exhilaratingly pure but risk-laced type of climbing that involves ascending big walls without ropes, he was equipped only with a pair of climbing shoes and a bag of chalk.

After three hours and 56 minutes of physically gruelling and technically challenging manoeuvres up narrow cracks and fissures – sometimes balancing on ledges the width of matchboxes, at other times hanging only by his fingers above the immense void, and knowing every second that any mistake would lead to his death – Honnold hauled his body over the summit. He had become the first climber in history to climb “El Cap” without ropes – an achievement so groundbreaking that fellow climber Tommy Caldwell called it rock climbing’s equivalent of the Moon landings. National Geographic magazine described it simply as “the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport”.

Honnold, 32, who started climbing aged 11 in his local gym in Sacramento, had already earned a legendary reputation in the climbing community for his daring rope-free ascents, notably of Moonlight Buttress in Utah in 2008 and of the Triple Crown in Yosemite in 2012. However, his eye-catching ascent of El Cap earned him global recognition, wowing non-climbers and climbers alike.

What most intrigues people about Honnold isn’t just the physical fitness and technical skillset required to perform such astonishing climbs, but also the mental control and psychological preparation that makes those feats possible. How does he master fear, doubt and anxiety to excel in such high-pressure, life-or-death situations? And can his system work for the rest of us? We sat down with the man himself to discuss the surprisingly humble and human techniques behind his superhuman psychology.

What were the unique challenges you faced during your free solo ascent of El Capitan?

The main difficulty of El Cap – and there are a lot of difficulties – is the sheer size of it. I climbed it in four hours, which is the fastest it has ever been climbed but it is still not that fast. With four hours of continuous climbing, the fitness component is a challenge. But the first 300m are at quite a low angle, like a slab, which means you have your weight on your feet and there are no real handholds so it is really technical. It feels slippery and unsafe, so one of the main mental blocks was just that you feel like you could slip at any moment. Up higher, the part that was most physically difficult was where you have to pull [yourself up] really hard. So you have this combination of the insecure character of the climb, the difficulty of the climb and the size of the climb. There are a lot of different aspects to get your head around.

What is the emotional appeal of climbing without ropes, given its obvious dangers?

There are a lot of factors. The purity is a big part. The simplicity. The fact you don’t need a partner. I think when I first started to climb I didn’t know other climbers so part of it was just being too afraid to ask someone to belay me and going and doing stuff by myself instead. But definitely the challenge is part of it. There is the feeling of mastery and of working towards something that is really difficult. It is about perfecting your craft. And sometimes it is just more fun because you can cover more ground more quickly.

This climb was the pinnacle of your career. What does it represent to you?

Big solo climbs are what I am most proud of and after El Cap everything else pales in comparison. I loved doing the Fitz Roy route [a complete traverse of Patagonia’s Fitz Roy massif in 2014] with Tommy Caldwell. That is one of the things I am most proud of. I have done a couple of other big climbs in Patagonia which are pretty meaningful to me because they involved big days in the mountains. But I think I have always found soloing the most beautiful experience and El Cap has always been the impossible climb.

Photograph: Theadore Hesser

To free climb you need strong fingers, forearms and legs, a solid core, and immense flexibility and endurance. How did you prepare physically for the climb?

“Before this climb I was doing hiking and running because I knew in order to practise this route I would need to hike to the top over and over again so I needed good fitness. Now I am trying to focus less on that and more on difficult climbing instead. I want my legs to be smaller because I don’t need to hike up there all day. So my training fluctuates according to my goals. But the physical side is fairly straightforward. You have to be able to climb the route without falling, so first of all you have to be strong and fit enough to not get too tired when you work on it.

You were hanging off a 900m wall of rock without ropes. The big question is: how do you control your fear?

I’m not trying to control the fear exactly. I try to prepare to the point where I’m not feeling afraid because if I was going to feel a lot of fear I wouldn’t go up there. In some ways fear indicates either a lack of preparation or that something has gone wrong. Even something unexpected happening that you haven’t foreseen is a lack of preparation to some extent.

It is not as if I take something very scary and suppress that fear and just do it anyway. I take something scary and I identify the reasons it is scary. I think through which ones are rational and which ones are not, I work through those things, and eventually I do it when it doesn’t feel scary any more.

What did your mental preparations involve?

There was a lot to it. The mental side is in both believing that it is possible and actually knowing how to do it, which means memorising all the sequences and practising, rehearsing and spending a lot of time up there.

How did you ensure you didn’t suffer any nerves or doubts during the climb?

I spent a lot of time considering variations to make sure there was no easier way to do it, partly so that when I got to a challenging section I wouldn’t be wondering in the back of my mind that maybe there was some better way go out on the right or something. I wanted to be 100% committed to what I was doing when I was up there so there was no possibility of hesitation or doubt. That isn’t super-obvious – you might not think that would be a part of my preparation. But it was important to close all those other doors so once I was on that path I knew that was the only path and there were no questions.

How do you react to unexpected scenarios during a climb?

I wouldn’t say I have a process but I deal with those things on a case-by-case situation. The underlying theme is always to rationally evaluate the situation because feeling fear is just a physiological response where there are a lot of things happening in your body. Your vision narrows, your pulse quickens and other things happen. But just because you are experiencing fear it doesn’t change the reality of the situation. It doesn’t mean you are more or less likely to fall off. It just means you think you are about to fall off. Sometimes that means you are in real danger and sometimes it doesn’t.

Being able to use that rational part of your brain, take a step back and evaluate what is going on and make the right decisions, that is the thing. That is a process which gets better with practice. And I have had a lot of practice now.

What was your mindset on the day of the climb?

The climb went more smoothly than I could have hoped for. It was perfect. It was almost like I had over-prepared and I could just show up and feel amazing. But I was still nervous in the morning, or maybe more excited? It’s hard to say exactly. I imagine it is similar to how any other athlete feels when they go into a big day. Going into the Olympics I am sure people are nervous and excited. They know they are prepared so they are excited for the moment.

I was sort of just on autopilot. I just did exactly what I was supposed to do. I did all my preparation on time in terms of packing my backpack and other things. I pre-made my breakfast so I just rolled out of bed, put on my clothes, ate my breakfast and I just went. There wasn’t any room to go off track.

Last year you volunteered for a MRI scan at the Medical University of South Carolina. The scientists discovered that your brain doesn’t react to fear in the same way as other people. What did you make of that discovery?

To some extent it doesn’t matter because I know who I am and I know what I like to do, so it doesn’t matter what somebody tells me about my brain. I know me. I am still me. I am still the same person. I think it was an interesting evaluation but the results are still ambiguous. You can take what you want from it. What I took from it was that I probably started slightly less susceptible to fear than the average person but then I deadened my response to it over time. Other people might look at the same results and they might say they mean I am a freak. But I just don’t think I am naturally like that. I think it comes from years of practice.

Do you find your approach of breaking down fear into rational and controllable components helps you in other areas of your life?

Yeah, I mean a rational evaluation of risk is helpful in all parts of life. For example, I enjoy a rollercoaster. It is fun. It is not scary at all. It is not risky at all. The only risk in a rollercoaster is if something goes wrong, if the rollercoaster breaks and you go flying out on the track, and that is not likely at all. So there is nothing to worry about. It makes sense to look at all life that way and keep risks in the right perspective.

You keep a journal. Does that help with your mental preparation too?

I have two journals going at any time. I have a climbing journal which I have formatted in the same way since 2005. Every single climb or outdoor activity goes into that journal. Then I have another journal which is more for training, lifestyle, to-do lists, goals and random things like keeping track of my diet and my day-to-day calisthenics and supplemental training. That journal is much more varied. I sometimes go a couple of months without writing in that, but my climbing journal has been maintained meticulously since 2005.

People around the world were amazed by your climbs. But what amazes you?

I still love watching climbing movies and reading climbing magazines and I am definitely inspired by other climbers – although personally I’m more inspired by feats of strength. When I see people do things in training, I’m like, “I can’t believe you can do a pull-up with your pinkie finger from that little hold! That is so crazy!” But that’s because the physical side has always been hard for me. I’m not naturally strong in the way some people are and maybe that is why people appreciate [my achievements], because the mental side doesn’t come easily to a lot of people. But I just want to see feats of strength. I can’t believe what people can do. It is crazy.

You’ve already taken climbing to a whole new level. What’s next?

There are a handful of climbs I want to do and tons of locations I would like to go to. I want to go climbing in areas I have never been so that means plenty of adventure travel. I am going to Antarctica this winter so that should be quite the life experience. It will be the seventh continent I have climbed in so it should be fun. But there are still plenty of things to do. It’s only been a few months since El Cap. By this time next year I will have a whole list planned again.

The North Face climber Alex Honnold is a part of the global Walls Are Meant For Climbing campaign, aimed at increasing the accessibility of the sport and bringing the climbing community together. Check out @thenorthfaceuk on Instagram.

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