Monday, May 26, 2008

Donkey Sent To Prison For Attack

A donkey has been sent to prison in southern Mexico for a brutal case of ass-ault and battery.

Donkey went ape
Donkey went ape

The animal was locked up at a local jail that normally holds people for public drunkenness and other disturbances after it bit and kicked two men near a ranch in the state of Chiapas.

The two victims accuse it of biting one of them in the chest and then kicking the other as he came to the rescue, fracturing his ankle.

Police said it took half a dozen men to control the enraged beast.

Police officer Sinar Gomez said the donkey would remain behind bars until its owner agreed to pay the men's medical bills.

"Around here, if someone commits a crime they are jailed," he said. "No matter who they are."

The owner said he would try to come to an arrangement to pay the men's bills, estimated at around £200.

Chiapas police have thrown animals in the clink before, including a bull that ate corn crops and destroyed two wooden market stalls in March.

In 2006, a dog was locked up for 12 days for biting someone.

Original here


A New York family struggles to give their son a ‘normal life’

By Joe Pompeo

The tracheostomy tube is one of the things that really makes Hunter different from the other kids. Inserted through a small hole in his neck, it creates an airway amid the tumors that clog his throat. He can’t breathe without it.
Then there is the gastric feeding tube that attaches to a hole in Hunter’s stomach, providing him with the nutrients he is unable to swallow. Though he’s recently been able to start drinking small bits of water, at age six, Hunter has never eaten a piece of food.

There’s also the hearing implant that snaps into his skull like a button just above his right ear; the 11 large boxes of medical supplies delivered to his home each month––syringes, tubes, feeding bags, nebulizer kits, you name it––and, not least of all, the large, inexplicable tumors that deform his body.

“What happened to me? Why is my face so messed up?” he’s recently begun to ask.

Hunter Cavanaugh suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes severe benign tumor growth in the face, head and neck. Though his condition closely resembles the more common disease neurofibromatosis, he lacks some of the features typically associated with it and has tested negative for the defective gene scientists have identified as its cause. This leaves Hunter in a state of diagnostic limbo. He doesn’t qualify for the clinical trials and experimental treatments being developed for people with neurofibromatosis, and there are no medicines that can help shrink his tumors, known as neurofibromas, or stop them from growing. For Hunter’s quality of life, this means round-the-clock care and frequent surgeries, like the operation two doctors at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center will perform in a few days to remove the excess tissue between his eyes.

To make matters worse, no private insurance companies will cover all of Hunter’s medical expenses—from the surgeries, to the seemingly endless string of tests and doctors’ visits, to the extensive supplies that facilitate his daily care (these alone cost roughly $9,000 a month). As a result, his parents have had to put him on Medicaid, which means their combined annual income must remain near the poverty level.

But despite all of this, one word best describes this young Manhattan resident: Happy.

“We’ve never had the ‘poor Hunter’ attitude, or seen him as a victim,” explains Bianca Cavanaugh, Hunter’s mother.

She says she and her husband, Eric, go out of their way to give their son as normal a life as possible. “He really is happier than most kids I know.”

It seems true. He almost always has a smile on his face. He enjoys going to school each day. He has an array of hobbies and interests: toys, books, movies and, like most boys his age, superheroes, Hunter’s favorite obsession (Bianca says he draws pictures of them “all day long”). And, he’s booked solid on playdates.

In a park near his home on the Upper West Side, Hunter runs around with his two best friends and the roughly 20 other children who are playing outside on this sunny afternoon in April. He mimics Superman on the swing set, swinging back and forth on his stomach with his arms outstretched and an excited grin on his face. The jungle gym seems to pose no challenge as he successfully traverses the monkey bars, and he laughs energetically while gliding down the spiral slide again and again and again.

For Bianca, who keeps an eye on Hunter while chatting with some mothers from the neighborhood, it’s just another Saturday on the playground. But six and a half years ago, she might not have expected to be here with him.

“They told us he was blind, deaf and retarded, and that he probably wouldn’t live past three months,” she recalls of that November morning in 2000 when Hunter’s birth went terribly awry. “There was an agonizing hour when we didn’t know if he was alive or dead.”

Until that day, Bianca’s pregnancy had no complications, and there were no signs that Hunter was anything but a normally developing infant. But after 21 hours of unsuccessful labor, she could tell something was wrong. The doctors saw that Hunter’s face was severely deformed as soon as they pulled him out during an emergency C-section. His heart temporarily stopped beating, and he needed the trach tube put in right away to help him breathe. He ended up having to spend more than the first year of his life in the hospital under 24-hour care.

Miraculously, after six months it became clear that Hunter wasn’t blind or retarded. On the contrary, he was “so normal, so responsive.” However, it had become obvious that he was almost entirely deaf. For Eric, who is a musician, the news was devastating.

“How is he going to listen to his daddy’s rock ’n’ roll if he can’t hear?” Eric cried, putting his head in his hands.

Still, Hunter was an otherwise healthy baby, and after 14 months, Bianca and Eric were finally able to take him home.

Though he was eligible for live-in nursing, they decided to care for him on their own. Would there even be room for a nurse in their small, rent-stabilized one-bedroom apartment?

Hunter had his first major surgery at 19 months. In a 14-hour procedure called a “debulking,” doctors removed the mass of excess tissue he was born with. To their dismay, it grew back almost immediately.

In 2002, a U.S. Army pathologist identified the tissue as isolated plexiform neurofibromas; rare tumors that are almost always benign, but do in some cases degenerate into cancer. They can also lead to other potentially dangerous health problems, like infringing on vital organs or compressing the spinal cord. The tumors are the cause of Hunter’s deafness and the reason he cannot eat food, and they recently threatened his vision when they began pressing on the optic nerve behind his left eye.

The initial conclusion was that Hunter must have NF1, the more common of two types of neurofibromatosis. But aside from the presence of neurofibromas, he had none of the other symptoms associated with the disease––like small, chocolate-like spots on the skin or freckling in the armpit and groin areas––and a blood sample taken in 2003 did not link him with the NF1 gene. Hunter also did not have any symptoms of NF2, a subset of NF1 which occurs 10 times less frequently, and for which scientists are farther behind in terms of developing experimental treatments and combative drugs.

Last year, the Canavaughs learned of a new, highly specific genetic test for NF1. They hoped it would detect what the initial blood test could not, and give Hunter an official diagnosis so he could qualify for clinical NF trials. So a second test for the NF1 gene was performed, the results came back in January: negative.

Saving Hunter With Surgery
Without a diagnosis, the only option for improving Hunter’s quality of life is surgical management, says pharmaceutical scientist Dr. Bill Knowles of the NF Cure Project, a nonprofit organization that works with pharmaceutical companies in applying cancer drugs to neurofibromatosis research. Even if some of the experimental treatments being developed might help Hunter, it is highly unlikely he would be approved for clinical trials since it cannot be proven that he has NF. It is even less likely that scientists any time soon will identify the defective gene responsible for Hunter’s condition, according to Knowles.

“The NF1 gene was discovered in 1990, but scientists were looking for it for years before that, and they’ve been studying NF1 for the entire century. So the money spent and the man-hours put in have been very large,” he explains. “How do you do that for Hunter? It would be mind-boggling.”

Dr. Bruce Korf, chair of the genetics department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is an expert on neurofibromatosis and a leading clinical researcher in the field. Over the 25 years he’s been treating NF patients, he’s seen “a couple dozen” who, like Hunter, had large, isolated plexiform neurofibromas, but otherwise did not fulfill the diagnostic criteria for NF1. He says if any of the drugs currently being tested on NF1 patients show promising results, he hopes that these “trials can be broadened reasonably quickly to accommodate others who have NF-like problems, yet don’t have definite NF1.” But he confirms that in the meantime, “there is currently no established mode of effective therapy other than surgery, and surgery can be very difficult and may not offer complete relief from symptoms.”

Nevertheless, the two surgeons currently working with Hunter are optimistic. During a phone interview, one of them
outlines the goals of the three to four surgeries Hunter will have undergone by year’s end. The first of these, preserving Hunter’s vision by removing a tumor pushing on the optic nerve in his left eye, was achieved with the first of the operations in March. They also plan to alter Hunter’s nasal and oral cavities in such a way that his trach tube will no longer be necessary, position his eyes to become symmetrical and remove the substantial amount of sock tissue that so amorphously shapes his lower face.

“He’ll never be the way God should have made him, but we hope we can provide him with a life where he can interact with people in a more reasonable way,” says the surgeon, Dr. Peter Costantino, an internationally recognized expert in craniofacial tumor surgery who will operate on Hunter June 11 with Dr. Milton Waner, a “pioneer” in the treatment of vascular birthmarks and other head and neck malformations.

During this next operation, excess tissue from between Hunter’s eyes will be turned down into the bridge and tip of his nose, giving it bulk and shape (currently, his nose barely projects from his face). To complete the roughly four-hour surgery, an incision will be made literally down the center of Hunter’s face, as well as in his lips and gum line. During the first surgery, an incision was made from ear-to-ear across the top of his head, and the tissue of his entire forehead was peeled down exposing his temples and eye sockets.

How must Hunter feel in the hours leading up to such invasive procedures? “Fearless,” says Bianca. “Pictures from the day of the last surgery show us clowning around, putting on funny hospital outfits and pretending they were astronaut suits, just goofing off. We try to present the surgery to him as an exciting thing.”

Kids Can Be Cruel
Perhaps for Hunter, there are scarier things than surgery, like the kids who point, laugh and tease as he passes them by, or the ones who cry because his appearance frightens them; the people who stare when he’s out in public, or on the other hand, the people who can’t bring themselves to look at him. Which is worse?

Hunter had a hard time adjusting when he entered New York City’s American Sign Language and English Lower School, says Rose Werner, who was his preschool teacher for two years. When he came into the classroom, the other children asked questions like “Why is Hunter’s face fat?” or “What happened to his head?” But it wasn’t long before Hunter’s classmates grew quite fond of him, and he in turn “became comfortable with the school environment and was able to enter the classroom eagerly each morning…He was, and is well loved by his classmates and teachers alike.”

However, when Hunter began first grade this past fall, he started becoming furious when kids from other classes would stare at him in the hallways. He would confront them out of anger and sign the phrase, “I am ignoring you,” telling his parents that kids he didn’t know were “always looking at my face. Not nice!”

Dr. Laurence Pick is a Manhattan-based clinical neuropsychologist whose patients include children and other individuals with craniofacial malformations. He says these children run a greater risk of developing emotional issues based on their appearance, issues that sometimes manifest themselves in the form of anger, sadness, depression, irritability or oppositional behavior. And as these children enter adolescence and adulthood, they will more frequently experience life events that could exacerbate the already stressful experience of looking different.

“Just dealing with the social issues all teenagers deal with can lead to greater stress,” he says.

But Pick also points out that for many disfigured children, looking different never interferes with the ability to function and socialize. And with the support of their families, schools and communities, they often are able to deal with the psychological impact of disfigurement without needing therapy.

With the help of both therapy and support from his friends, teachers and family, Hunter was able to overcome his anger issues, and after his surgery in March, he couldn’t have been more excited to get back to school. His classmates couldn’t wait to see him either, Bianca says, and upon his return they asked about how he was feeling and what the surgery was like.

But more obstacles may lie ahead. Will Hunter’s friends stick by him as they get older and it’s not “cool” to be seen with the kid who has the weird-looking face? Will he find a girlfriend? Get married? Have children of his own? Will he ever face discrimination when applying for a job or be told he can’t do something because of the way he looks? Will people ever stop staring?

The Cavanaughs do sometimes wonder what the future holds for Hunter. But for the most part, they say, they try to stay “in the here and now,” smiling as their son hangs from the monkey bars on the playground, draws endless pictures of superheroes that adorn his bedroom walls, battles an imaginary swarm of villains with his plastic toy sword, plays with his new remote-controlled truck, which he says is “cool, but too big,” finishes his homework so he can watch some of Batman Returns 10 minutes before bedtime, and, above all, continues to be what he always has been: a very happy, very well-loved and very lucky little boy.

Original here

Teacher lets Morningside students vote out classmate, 5

Alex Barton

Photo provided by the family

Alex Barton

— Melissa Barton said she is considering legal action after her son's kindergarten teacher led his classmates to vote him out of class.

After each classmate was allowed to say what they didn't like about Barton's 5-year-old son, Alex, his Morningside Elementary teacher Wendy Portillo said they were going to take a vote, Barton said.

By a 14 to 2 margin, the students voted Alex — who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism — out of the class.

Melissa Barton filed a complaint with Morningside's school resource officer, who investigated the matter, Port St. Lucie Department spokeswoman Michelle Steele said. But the state attorney's office concluded the matter did not meet the criteria for emotional child abuse, so no criminal charges will be filed, Steele said.

Port St. Lucie Police no longer are investigating, but police officials are documenting the complaint, she said.

Steele said the teacher confirmed the incident took place.

Portillo could not be reached for comment Friday.

Steele said the boy had been sent to the principal's office because of disciplinary issues. When he returned, Portillo made him go to the front of the room as a form of punishment, she said.

Barton said her son is in the process of being diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism. Alex began the testing process in February at the suggestion of Morningside Principal Marcia Cully.

Children diagnosed with Asperger's often exhibit social isolation and eccentric behavior..

Alex has had disciplinary issues because of his disability, Barton said. After the family moved into the area and Alex and his sibling arrived at the school in January, Alex spent much of the time in the principal's office, she said.

He also had problems at his last school, but he did not have issues during his two years of preschool, Barton said.

School and district officials have met with Barton and her son to create an individual education plan to address his difficulties, she said. Portillo attended these meetings, Barton said.

Barton said after the vote, Portillo asked Alex how he felt.

"He said, 'I feel sad,' " Barton said.

Alex left the classroom and spent the rest of the day in the nurse's office, she said.

Barton said when she came to pick up her son at the school Wednesday, he was leaving the nurse's office.

"He was shaken up," she said.

Barton said the nurse told her to talk with Portillo, who told her what happened.

Alex hasn't been back to school since then, and Barton said he won't be returning. He starts screaming when she brings him with her to drop off his sibling at school.

Thursday night, his mother heard him saying "I'm not special" over and over.

Barton said Alex is reliving the incident.

The other students said he was "disgusting" and "annoying," Barton said.

"He was incredibly upset," Barton said. "The only friend he has ever made in his life was forced to do this."

St. Lucie School's spokeswoman Janice Karst said the district is investigating the incident, but could not make any further comment.

Vern Melvin, Department of Children and Families circuit administrator, confirmed the agency is investigating an allegation of abuse at Morningside but said he could not elaborate.

Original here

Science probe for 'space pistols'

Iron for the guns was thought to have come from Argentina

Given pride of place in an unassuming museum on the East Coast of America is a pair of 200-year-old duelling pistols shrouded in mystery.

The intricately decorated guns were said to have been forged from the iron of a fallen meteorite.

They were a unique gift from the commander of a South American region, which would later become Argentina, to the fourth US president, James Madison.

"Permit me therefore to present to your Excellency... a specimen of the first essays of the manufacture of arms established in the provinces of Buenos Ayres and Tucuman," wrote General Ignacio Alvarez in an accompanying 14-page letter.

Over time, they passed into the hands of Madison's successor - James Monroe - and are now on display at a museum dedicated to him.

Since that time, the story of their origin has gone unquestioned.

Now, scientists armed with a battery of hi-tech machines have probed the pistols in unprecedented detail.

Their findings cast doubt on the accepted theory of their origins and have thrown up a whole new set of questions for historians about the guns and the motives of the original protagonists.

"It's made the mystery even more mysterious," Meghan Budinger, curator at the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library, told BBC News.

Atomic probe

To uncover the secrets of the pistols, they were sent on a world tour of some of the most advanced microscopes and scanners.

Neutrons blasted at sample
Neutrons created by accelerating protons to near light-speed
Pulses of protons smash into block of tungsten, dislodging neutrons from the nuclei of its atoms.
20,000 trillion neutrons dislodged each second
Neutrons channelled into beams and directed at sample of interest
Neutrons bounce off the molecular structure and collected by sensors which record position and energy
Scattering tells scientists about how target atoms are organised

They underwent X-ray fluorescence to reveal their surface detail, and were passed through a CT scanner to reveal their inner workings.

But the key test - whether they were forged from a lump of metal from space - was performed at the ISIS neutron source in Oxfordshire, UK.

The colossal machine is able to probe matter at the atomic level, giving scientists unique insights into the structure and make-up of materials.

"We give a different picture of what the world looks like," said Professor Andrew Taylor, director of ISIS.

The facility, owned and operated by the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), is currently being expanded to add the so-called Second Target Station, which will give the super-scope even more capability.

It is more commonly used by scientists designing and testing new materials, such as those used in the Airbus A380 and the turbine blades found in Rolls Royce jet engines.

"We didn't set out to build a tool for archaeology," said Professor Taylor.

However, its abilities are ideally suited to probing historical artefacts.

"What my neutron beams tell you are where atoms are and what atoms do," said Professor Taylor. "We try to understand at a microscopic level the structure, arrangement and forces that hold materials together."

Crucially, this process is non-destructive.

"Without [ISIS], we'd have to take a hacksaw and cut chunks out of the artefact to look at under the microscope," explained Dr Evelyne Godfrey, who carried out the study.

'Funny stuff'

The machine was used to compare Monroe's pistols to a fragment of a meteorite from the Campo del Cielo crater in Argentina; the supposed origin of the metals from which they were forged.

Airbus wing being tested at ISIS
ISIS has been used to test and develop materials for the Airbus A380

The results were conclusive.

"They were completely different," Dr Godfrey told BBC News. "There were differences in microstructures, there were differences in carbon content, there were differences in chemical composition.

"We can say for sure they weren't made from meteoritic iron."

The results came as a blow to the museum.

"The results weren't quite what we were hoping," said Ms Budinger, diplomatically.

But, whilst the tests closed one chapter for the pistols, it opened another, packed full of new questions.

Curators of the objects had always assumed that the handles of the pistols were made of silver, but ISIS showed that this too was not the case.

"They were brass - and it was a funny type of brass, too," explained Dr Godfrey.

The closest match was a distinctive alloy exported from Southeast Asia at around the time.

"It looks just like silver but is cheaper - so they were making tableware and replacing silver in other objects," said Dr Godfrey.

Other tests revealed that the guns were not just ceremonial - as previously thought - but were fully functioning arms.

Questions, questions

"It brings up all kinds of questions," said Ms Budinger.

"What exactly was General Alvarez's motivation? He wrote this very flowery letter saying how much he admired the United States and how much he admired Madison but then he gives them a gift that was not where he said it was from and it was made from cheaper materials."

There is a possibility that the General was duped - that he was told the pistols were made of meteoritic iron and gifted them in good faith.

"He may not have known what he was giving to Madison - at the time there would have been no way to prove it one way or the other," said Ms Budinger.

The partially solved mystery could stop there; but the research team have one further avenue to explore.

A third pistol is mentioned in General Alvarez's letter that was also supposedly forged from Campo del Cielo iron.

"We're trying to track that down," explained Ms Budinger.

If it is located and can be put through the same battery of tests as the first pair it could finally give historians clues to the real origin of the pistols.

"If it looks exactly the same that tells us that all three pistols were manufactured by the same person and that either General Alverez was duped or that it means he was lying and that none of the pistols were made from the Campo del Cielo crater.

"If the third pistol is different entirely then I think we have fairly good evidence that our pistols may not be the Madison pistols at all," said Ms Budinger

"In which case it's a whole new mystery."

Original here

What Old People Do For Fun