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Gabrielle Giffords communicating with family, doctors say

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, wounded in the Arizona shooting rampage, has ‘used her hand to communicate’ and is yawning and rubbing her eyes. A neurosurgeon says sometimes doctors ‘are wise to acknowledge miracles.’

By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles TimesJanuary 13, 2011, 10:28 a.m.


U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has not only opened her eyes, but she also is communicating with her family, physicians said at a Thursday morning news conference.

“Her family has asked her very specific things, and she has used her hand to communicate with them,” said Dr. Michael Lemole, a neurosurgeon at Tucson’s University Medical Center and one of the surgeons who operated on Giffords after she was shot in the head Saturday morning. That implies that she has a good amount of cognitive functioning.

Lemole said he was there when Giffords first opened her eyes Wednesday evening in the presence of family members and some of her colleagues from Congress. “It was probably a combination of the unexpected but familiar that prompted her to open her eyes and caused her to look around. That implies that the part of the brain that let lets us awake from sleeping, the arousal center,” is functioning.

“That’s a very important step on her move forward.”

He said she opened her eyes again later in the evening in response to a television playing during the president’s speech at the university.

“That consistency is important,” he said. “We want to see things repeated over and over again.”

Lemole said it is the job of doctors to do their best for severely damaged patients, but sometimes, as in Giffords’ case, “we are wise to acknowledge miracles.”

Thursday morning, Giffords was acting more and more like someone waking up, said Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of trauma surgery at the medical center — yawning and rubbing her eyes. He said her eyes also are beginning to track movements, which is another good sign.

The next major hurdle, the doctors said, will be removing the breathing tube, but they are unlikely to do that for a few more days. They are using it to puff warm, moist air into her lungs to prevent fluid accumulation that could lead to pneumonia. Giffords is breathing on her own, however.

Once the tube is out, they will be able to assess her ability to speak.

Lemole said the team is beginning aggressive physical therapy, which includes having Giffords sit on the edge of her bed with her legs dangling over the side.

“She is able to move both of her legs to command. That’s huge,” Lemole said. “We say, ‘Gabrielle, lift your legs up,’ and she lifts both of them up.”

He said they hoped to get her into a chair Thursday or Friday.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times


Isabelle Caro: French model in anti-anorexia campaign dies

Isabelle CaroThe campaign gained Isabelle Caro widespread attention in Europe and the United States, and she spoke out often about her anorexia and the menace of eating disorders on the fashion industry. (Alberto Pellaschiar / Associated Press)
From the Associated PressDecember 30, 2010, 4:21 p.m.


Isabelle Caro, a French actress and model whose emaciated image in a shock Italian ad campaign helped rivet global attention on the problem of anorexia in the fashion world and beyond, has died at the age of 28.

Caro had said she began suffering from anorexia when she was 13, and she weighed about 59 pounds (27 kilograms) when the photos that made her famous were taken.

After a 21-year-old Brazilian model died from the eating disorder, Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani produced a 2007 campaign for an Italian fashion house that plastered newspapers and billboards with a naked picture of a spectral Caro looking over her shoulder at the camera, vertebrae and facial bones protruding under the slogan “No Anorexia.”

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The campaign gained Caro widespread attention in media in countries around Europe and in the United States, and she spoke out often about her anorexia and her efforts to recover, and the menace of eating disorders on the fashion industry.

Caro’s longtime acting instructor, Daniele Dubreuil-Prevot, told the AP on Wednesday that Caro died on Nov. 17 after returning to France from a job in Tokyo.

Dubreuil-Prevot said she did not know the cause of death but that Caro “had been sick for a long time” and spent years in and out of hospitals. Her death and her illness “are an absolute waste,” the acting teacher said.

Caro wrote a book published in France in 2008 titled “The Little Girl Who Didn’t Want to Get Fat,” served as a member of the jury on Top Model France, and worked periodically as a film and television actress. In one appearance, she was interviewed by Jessica Simpson for the VH1 show “The Price of Beauty.”

In one online video, Caro ends with words of advice for aspiring models: “Believe in life.”

Her agent, Sylvie Fabregon, told The Associated Press that the Italian campaign was intended “to show what it is like to be anorexic.”

Some groups working with anorexics warned, however, that the attention paid to Caro did a disservice to others afflicted with the disorder.

Images of Caro appeared on so-called pro-ana, or pro-anorexia websites. On Wednesday, one posted a notice about her death and a photo of her, large blue-green eyes peering over a child-size upper arm, with the caption, “die young, stay pretty.”

However, concern over anorexia has not been matched by deeds.

The 2006 anorexia-linked death of the Brazilian model prompted efforts throughout the international fashion industry to address the health repercussions of using ultra-thin models — but no binding measures.

French fashion industry representatives signed a government-backed charter in 2008 pledging not to encourage eating disorders and to promote healthy body images by promoting “a diversity of body representations” and not showing “images of people that could help promote a model of extreme thinness.”

But London Fashion Week organizers dropped plans in 2008 for something more concrete, international health certificates for models, because industry executives around the world refused to cooperate.

In France, a bill that would have cracked down on websites that advise anorexics how to starve was passed by parliament’s lower house but never considered in the Senate.

Swiss singer Vincent Bigler and Caro had been working on a video for a song he wrote about anorexia called “J’ai fin,” a wordplay in French that means roughly “I am the end” but is pronounced identically to “I am hungry.”

Bigler said he penned the song after being so moved and worried by seeing Caro on television, and meant the lyrics to focus on hope and healing.

Caro “left me with many images, and much hope,” he said by telephone, describing her different moods and ideas as they worked on the project together.

Caro’s Facebook page, which quickly filled with condolences in several languages, says she was born Sept. 12, 1982. She took violin lessons and then acting lessons in Nantes and Versailles, according to Dubreuil-Prevot.

Caro’s father alerted a few close friends at the time of her death, and a funeral service was held in Paris, according to Dubreuil-Prevot. Her family could not be reached for comment.

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

In Times Square, many wish upon a wall

A wall at a visitor center where anyone can post a dream for the new year has proved a big hit. Among the wish list: world peace, snow, no bedbugs.

Wishing wallBrett Kelly of Washington state and Diana Valetin of San Diego add to the Wishing Wall at the Times Square visitors center. “It’s sort of all of humanity on this little board,” one person said. (Ray Stubblebine, Reuters / December 20, 2010)
By Tina Susman, Los Angeles TimesDecember 26, 2010


Reporting from New York —

Joe and Sabrina: If you’re out there, someone wants you to break up so she can date Joe.

And David: Please talk to your mother.

The holidays may be the time to spread good cheer, but the hopes posted on a wall in Times Square show that there’s plenty more to wish for in 2011 and that people aren’t ashamed to publicize their desires, be they world peace, a cure for cancer or someone else’s boyfriend.

The Wishing Wall, tucked inside a visitor center in the heart of Times Square, has proved such a hit that on a recent Sunday, Carolyn Driscoll scrambled to keep pace with people scrawling their wishes on colorful slips of paper and watching her pin them to the board.

In between finding spots for each wish, Driscoll answered curious visitors’ questions about the roughly 8-by-10-foot wall, whose contents will be tossed into the sky over Times Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve to flutter onto the crowd below.

“Does it cost anything?” one woman asked as she looked at the pens and bowl of different colored papers.

“Oh no. This is all very feel-good,” Driscoll replied cheerfully.

“Nothing’s free in this world,” the woman replied dryly.

Maybe that explains the many “win the lottery” wishes on the wall, which reads like a collage of the latest headlines, various soap opera plots, someone’s diary and a marriage counselor’s notes. “Soldiers all come home.” “I wish for a job.” “No more bedbugs!” “That my mother recovers from cancer.” ” Justin Bieber tickets.” “For my husband to get clean.”

“It’s sort of all of humanity on this little board,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, which oversees the famous confluence of busy avenues in central Manhattan. The wall is a tiny piece of Times Square’s massive and years-long transformation from a center of seediness to a neon mecca of shopping, entertainment and business venues.

“But it’s turned out to be the thing that really resonates,” Tompkins said.

With wishes flooding in, the wall has to be cleared at least twice a day to make way for new slips of paper. That falls to people like Driscoll, a publicity worker with the alliance, who also quickly scans each wish she is handed before posting it for the world to see. The man who scrawled his sexual desires on a paper was turned away. Most of the wishes, though, pass muster and range from short and impersonal — “Snow!” — to detailed and ambitious.

Megan Hogge, a high school swimmer from Gloucester, Va., wished to break the record in the 100-meter freestyle. Her friends, sisters Morganne, 16, and Helen Roundy, 20, wished to get in better shape, though both already looked every bit the cross-country runners they are. “But I wished for a six-pack,” said Morganne, who wrote “abs” in parenthesis to be clear that she seeks muscles, not beer.

Asked if they thought their wishes might come true, Helen said they had a better chance now. “Because writing it down makes you think about it more,” she explained as the strains of ” New York, New York” blasted through the crowded center.

“I don’t even know what to wish for. Pretty sad, eh?” Stacy Borland, a teacher from Toronto said before jotting down a heartfelt wish for all children to be loved and educated, along with an addendum: “P.S. A new Coach purse.”

Driscoll has a remarkable memory for the characters behind the wishes. The woman who wished for an end to bedbugs shuffled into the center on Dec. 17, her belongings gathered in a collection of bags, and talked politics for several minutes before delivering her apolitical wish. Written in neat capital letters, it landed at the center of the wall.

There was also the young man who arrived with an entourage of friends, whom he urged to go ahead of him. After they had delivered their wishes and moved on, he quickly scribbled his own: to drum up the nerve to come out as gay to his friends. Driscoll recalled a middle-aged man who scribbled intently on his piece of paper: “I wish my son will enter rehab because he won’t last another month.”

The woman who urged David to “talk to your mother” is David’s aunt. The aunt planned to post a photograph of her wish on her Facebook page in hopes David would see it and be moved to contact his mother.

Tompkins attributes the wall’s popularity to the power of rituals: in this case, the ushering in of a new year in the so-called crossroads of the world. Having your New Year’s wish shouted out to the world simultaneously adds to the sense that your dream is being heard, Tompkins said.

“People take some kind of comfort in these things that always happen, no matter what,” he said. “And this is one of the few rituals which isn’t tied into anything controversial,” he added.

Try telling that to Sabrina.

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Crystal Bowersox talks ‘American Idol,’ debut album, artistic freedom and sticking to her guns

December 24, 2010 |  2:00 pm

Crystal Crystal Bowersox, much like “American Idol” runners-up before her, including Adam Lambert, David Archuleta and, of course, Clay Aiken, proved that winning the hit music competition isn’t necessary; each proved more bankable than the winners of their respective seasons.

Though a sure favorite to win, “Mamasox” — as she was affectionately called by her adoring supporters — lost the title to Lee DeWyze.

When the 25-year-old’s debut album, “Farmer’s Daughter,” was released last week, she exceeded projected sales expectations — and outpaced DeWyze — by pushing roughly 58,000 copies of her record and landing at the No. 28 spot on Billboard’s 200 charts. It’s still a stark contrast from the blockbuster numbers of the “Idol” franchise from earlier years, though.

Bowersox, who won over mature audiences with her folksy guitar riffs and church house vocals, called up Pop & Hiss to chat about the album, sticking to her guns and avoiding the “Idol” curse.

When did you find time to record your debut album? You did the “Idol” tour and got married.

We started right after the “Idol” tour ended in August. I took a week off beforehand to gather my bearings. Then my husband, son and I went to New Jersey and lived in a hotel for the process. It was great. [The producers] promised to let me maintain my creativity and artistic freedom, and that was something that I was looking for.

How’d you maintain that artistic freedom without giving way to what seems to be the “American Idol” curse: when contestants’ debut albums venture far from the sound they showed viewers?

I think a lot of that somewhat “Idol” curse has to do with the artist maybe not knowing what they want to do or maybe not standing up for things and basically lying back and doing what they’re told. I went into this with a clear idea of what I wanted artistically and I stuck to my guns. There was a little bit of pressure to do this or that, and I know what I’m comfortable doing. I just made it clear to everyone. I think everyone is very happy with the outcome. It’s similar to a child: You care for it and you work hard and you try to do all the right things and then you let it out into the world and hopefully it does well.

Listening to the album, it feels like the barefoot girl we saw every week on “Idol.”

It’s something I’m really proud of. I’m proud that it turned out the way it did. The album seems to take a country twist to it, as well as a classic rock twist.

What did you draw from? You spent a great deal of the year on a televised competition.

It’s all personal. Things that I had seen, or places that I had been or people that I know. I’m an observer by nature and I love people. I love meeting people and hearing stories. From recent experiences, the next album is definitely going to be a lot happier. I don’t have a lot to complain about now. Actually, I can’t think of anything to complain about. A lot of the songs were angsty — I’ve been through some tough times and I drew a lot of the inspiration from that.

Everything about you was such a departure from the typical mold of the “American Idol” contestant. Why go on a show like that to launch yourself?

It’s pretty much impossible to break into this business unless you know someone or someone owes you a favor. I mean, there are a lot of politics in the industry and it’s a pretty closed circle. They don’t want to let a lot of new guys in, so it’s been rough to get in. Without “Idol,” I would have continued to play music and I would have gone on small tours. There’s nothing that would have stopped me from doing this for a living. But through “Idol,” you gain an instant audience. It’s a really loving one, and at times it can be brutal — but for the most part very supportive and friendly. “American Idol” has given me everything I have right now. I’m standing in my garage looking at my car from Ford and my boxes of things because I just moved into a new place, and I just know this would have been impossible without trying out for the show. I have stability now. It’s incredible.

What’s been the toughest challenge of the past year?

The toughest part about the whole thing, I guess, would be the traveling. There is a lot of traveling, but it’s welcomed. I’m happy doing the running around and being tired. It’s an exhaustion that I’ve never felt before, but it’s enjoyable. I love every minute. It’s a hard thing to explain.

What about the easiest?

The easiest? All of it has been tough and fun. The easiest part is knowing that I’m putting my songs out there. My lyrics come straight from the heart. And I hope people are moved by it, and can link it to their own life. The album is out and hopefully it’s in the hands of listeners who just appreciate the honesty.

How do you think you’ve grown from the time you walked off the “Idol” stage to now?

From the beginning of “Idol” — and you can look at my audition video to now — I learned how to put on make-up and I learned how to put on high heels and I learned how to really perform at the drop of a hat. And doing that in such a short time. Taking a song from four minutes to changing it to a minute and 30 seconds. Doing everything so quickly. It makes you aware of everything and every little detail. You have to be on, and ready. It’s developed my performing skills. I feel like after getting through “Idol” and being a mother, there is nothing I can’t handle now.

— Gerrick D. Kennedy

Photo: Crystal Bowersox performs on “American Idol” in May. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox.

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Vaginal steam bath finds a place among Southern California spa options

A Korean treatment for the vaginal area is said to aid health and fertility. What’s missing is evidence.

la-he-v-steamNiki Han Schwarz and her husband, orthopedic surgeon Charles Schwarz, are determined to introduce vaginal steam baths to Southern California women. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
By Sari Heifetz, Special to the Los Angeles TimesDecember 20, 2010


Pungent steam rises from a boiling pot of a mugwort tea blended with wormwood and a variety of other herbs. Above it sits a nude woman on an open-seated stool, partaking in a centuries-old Korean remedy that is gaining a toehold in the West.

Vaginal steam baths, called chai-yok, are said to reduce stress, fight infections, clear hemorrhoids, regulate menstrual cycles and aid infertility, among many other health benefits. In Korea, many women steam regularly after their monthly periods.

There is folk wisdom — and even some logic — to support the idea that the carefully targeted steam may provide some physiological benefits for women. But there are no studies to document its effectiveness, and few American doctors have even heard of it.

“It sounds like voodoo medicine that sometimes works,” said Dr. Vicken Sahakian, medical director of Pacific Fertility Center in Los Angeles.

Niki Han Schwarz believes it worked for her. After five steams, she found she had fewer body aches and more energy. She also became pregnant eight months ago at the age of 45 after attempting to conceive for three years.

Han Schwarz and her husband, orthopedic surgeon Charles Schwarz, are determined to introduce vaginal steam baths to Southern California women. Their Santa Monica spa, Tikkun Holistic Spa, offers a 30-minute V-Steam treatment for $50. (The identical treatment is available for men, to steam the perineal area.)

At Daengki Spa in Koreatown, a 45-minute V-Herbal Therapy treatment can be had for $20 a squat. The steam includes a mixture of 14 herbs imported from Korea by spa manager Jin Young. The spa’s website claims the treatment will “rid the body of toxins” and help women with menstrual cramps, bladder infections, kidney problems and fertility issues. “It is a traditional Korean health remedy,” according to the website.

Across the country, chai-yok treatments are not easy to find. They are available in a scattering of alternative holistic health centers. The flashy Juvenex Spa in Manhattan offers its 30-minute Gyno Spa Cure for $75. A complete setup for a do-it-yourself steam — open-seated stool, boiler and herbs — can be purchased online at for $330.

The two predominant herbs in the steam bath mixture are mugwort and wormwood. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) has been used in Eastern medicine for hundreds of years to balance female hormones. It contains natural antibiotics and antifungal agents, according to herbalists and alternative medicine journals. It is also said to stimulate the production of hormones to maintain uterine health, protect the uterus from ulcers and tumors, stimulate menstrual discharge and ease fatigue, headaches, abdominal discomfort and nausea, among other claims.

Wormwood (Artemisia herba), an antimicrobial “cooling herb,” is also popular in Eastern medicine. It has been used historically to induce uterine contractions and treat bladder infections, fevers, open sores, constipation, diarrhea, hepatitis, jaundice, eczema and parasitic infections. The leaves and young shoots are antibacterial and antiviral, and they also relax the blood vessels and promote the discharge of bile, according to historical tradition.

Neither herb has been subjected to the rigorous analysis used to vet Western medicines. But Han Schwarz says she and her husband became persuaded by the herbs’ healing abilities after conducting a fact-finding mission in South Korea. They discovered that people there used the herbs to aid digestive disorders and immune system strength, for reduction of headaches and pain from inflammatory conditions, to improve energy, to regulate the menstrual cycle and hormones, and to detoxify the uterus.

One of their clients, Sherman Oaks-based writer Lanee Neil, said she prefers the V-Steam to the harshness of a douche and thinks of it as a “facial” for her private area.

“It’s a simple, relaxing treatment,” says Neil, who hopes it will help her become pregnant. “You can imagine people doing this in the forest somewhere.”

Tae-Cheong Choo, who teaches at Samra University of Oriental Medicine in Los Angeles, strongly endorses chai-yok treatment, especially for gynecological problems and infertility. He says he used to administer it to his patients in Korea, but he doesn’t have the time to prepare the formula here.

“Many infertility problems are related to coldness and stagnation,” Choo says. “The chai-yok treatment is effective for coldness or poor circulation in the lower part of the body because it increases the blood circulation, and blood supplies nutrition, so the more blood supply, the faster the healing process.”

Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Women’s Care of Beverly Hills Medical Group, says the idea of steaming the pelvic area is “not insane.” The heat boosts circulation, and the increased blood flow brings more oxygen and “immune factors” to the region, she says.

However, she notes, it’s impossible to say whether the herbal steam does any good.

“Most of these kinds of treatments are not put through intensive clinical trials, so it becomes challenging to evaluate the actual impact they have,” she says. In addition, traditional practices like chai-yok “have been cut off from the larger system they grew out of, including factors of cultural and family life, diet, environment, etc. There’s a bigger picture that we’re really missing.”

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Positive Mood Seems to Boost Creativity

Mon, Dec 20, 2010

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MONDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) — People who are seeking creative inspiration should try to look on the bright side, the results of a new study suggest.

Canadian researchers used happy or sad video and music clips to put participants into different moods and then had them learn to classify sets of pictures with visually complex patterns.

People in a happy mood were better able to learn a rule to classify the patterns than those with sad or neutral moods, said Ruby Nadler, a graduate student at the University of Western Ontario, and colleagues.

The happy music used in the study was a lively Mozart piece, while the happy video featured a laughing baby. The sad music was from the movie Schindler’s List, and the sad video was from a news report about an earthquake.

“If you have a project where you want to think innovatively, or you have a problem to carefully consider, being in a positive mood can help you to do that,” Nadler said in an Association for Psychological Science news release.

The findings, published in the Dec. 15 issue of the journal Psychological Science, may explain why some people watch funny videos on their computers at work.

“I think people are unconsciously trying to put themselves in a positive mood,” Nadler suggested.

More information

To learn about the anatomy of the brain, see the Whole Brain Atlas.

Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Secret Santa spreads joy, disbelief in Kansas City


Tue Dec 14, 9:45 pm ET

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Secret Santa II hit the streets Tuesday in a long-standing Kansas City tradition of handing out $100 bills — sometimes several at a time — to unsuspecting strangers in thrift stores, food pantries and shelters.

Some people gasped in surprise. Some wanted to know if the $100 bill the tall man in the red cap offered was fake. Others wept.

[Related: Inexpensive Secret Santa gifts for co-workers]

Secret Santa II has seen a lot of reactions since taking over where his mentor, Kansas City’s original Secret Santa, Larry Stewart, left off when he died in 2007 at age 58. Like Stewart, who gave away more than $1 million to strangers each December in mostly $100 bills, this Secret Santa prefers to stay anonymous.

A fake white beard taped to his face, Secret Santa II handed out about $10,000 in total Tuesday. Recipients included a police officer with terminal cancer, a homeless man pushing a rickety old shopping cart, an 81-year-old woman who had recently told her 27 grandchildren she wouldn’t be able to afford any Christmas gifts, and Bernadette Turner, a 32-year-old unemployed mother of two.

“It’s hard to come by,” Turner said looking in disbelief at the $200 Secret Santa had given her.

Then one of Santa’s “elves” — another tall man in a red cap — sidled up to next to Turner, asked a few questions, and handed her an additional $100. Turner, whose children are 3 and 8, was overcome.

“I can only afford one gift for each child. But now ….” she said, wiping tears from her cheeks and reaching out for a hug.

[Related: Cheap stocking stuffers for kids]

“Do you believe in Santa Claus?” Capt. Ray Wynn of the Kansas City, Mo., Fire Department, asked from a few feet away. Wynn had followed Stewart on many “sleigh rides” around the country and now follows this Secret Santa, providing stories, memories and amusing sound effects.

“I do now,” Turner said. “I do now.”

Secret Santa II took over from Stewart about the time the recession hit and the economy went into a tailspin. Like Stewart, this Secret Santa doesn’t talk about his own finances, where those $100 bills come from and if — like for so many people now — they’ve been harder to come by.

Come December, he just fills his pockets with money, dons his red cap and heads out looking for people to make really happy.

He will likely hand out about $40,000 this December. He says he’ll go “till the money runs out.”

“The recession, unemployment. This is the time you don’t want to stop. You don’t want to back off,” he said.

He walked up to Peggy Potter, 59, of Kansas City, Kan., who was looking at some framed prints at a thrift store. He made some small talk, put his arm around her and within minutes she was crying. Her son died about a year and a half ago. Her husband died in July and her daughter died soon after that.

[Related: 12 geek stocking stuffers for less than $10]

“I’m just … today’s been a rough day for me, just thinking about my loved ones,” she said. “I’ve been having a hard time paying for all the funerals.”

Santa gave her $200, listened more, hugged her, and told her the poster she was holding had special meaning. It was a photo of two hands, one large, one small. Words printed at the bottom could have been written by Secret Santa, the original or the current one.

It said: “Kindness in giving creates love.”