“Stem cell angels” says yoga instructor after getting vision back

June 6, 2016

Cool story out of Saskatoon. Go Science!

Diagnosed with glaucoma in his left eye last year, Kevin Naidoo, watched his vision deteriorate and it was affecting his work at Yerrama Yoga Sanctuary in the city, which he owns. His father was the one who suggested saving up for stem cell treatments. They wound up trying GoFundMe and soon raised more than enough for a trip to Thailand to get stem cell injections.

Over the course of a week, Naidoo received six stem cell injections in his spine and in both his eyes. And it meant he couldn’t use his eyes for anything so he relied on his parents to feed him, and escort him around the hospital. Naidoo said the experience really taught him a lot about himself.

“I couldn’t write, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch TV, I couldn’t do anything, I was left in meditation,” Naidoo said.

As doctors removed the wraps from his eyes. Naidoo said the results were so immediate, he thought he was dreaming.

They’ll continue to grow and improve his eyesight.

“I call them my little angels my little stem cells because I’m so grateful for all of these beautiful women in this world that had healthy babies and donated their stem cells to people who need treatment like me and I pray for them everyday.”

Science works, bitches! (Prayer, not so much.)

When parents pick prayer over health care

June 4, 2016

Children die, of course. This tragedy occurred in 2013 but is in Calgary court now. According to testimony, Emil and Rodica Radita returned from church to find their 15-year-old son not breathing. They waited 2 whole fucking hours before calling EMS, opting to pray over the boy instead. Apparently other church members were in the house at the time, doing the same.

Shauna Mitchell, an investigator from Medical Examiner’s office reportedly heard conflicting stories from witnesses and thought it was possible the boy was already dead before the parents left for church that evening.

The boy, a diabetic, died from bacterial sepsis due to complications from starvation and neglect.

Both Mitchell and Const. Larry Pugliese, the first police officer on the scene, said the boy was nothing but skin and bones when they saw him dead in his bed.

Pugliese said Alexandru was “like a skeleton.”

He said it was clear to him the teen was dead.

“The boy was extremely thin,” Pugliese told the Court of Queen’s Bench murder trial.

The parents also claim the boy didn’t want to go to a hospital earlier that day because he had a “bad experience” when he was 3.

The murder trial continues later this week so hopefully I’ll remember to update.

Back in May, the CBC reported on this story, mentioning the fact that the family once lived in British Columbia but left. Why, I wonder…

[They] had their son seized by social services in that province in 2004 after he nearly died from untreated diabetes — the same allegations they now face in relation to his death, according to prosecutor Susan Pepper.

So, this poor kid suffered for a hell of a long time. It’s appalling, to say the least.

The other story that was making the rounds lately was also from Alberta: 19-month-old Ezekiel died of untreated meningitis. That had nothing to with picking prayer over hospitals; that was all naturopathic bullshit masquerading as health care. (Although naming a baby Ezekiel probably means David and Collet Stephan are fairly familiar with the Bible as well.)

Despite the conviction, they remain unrepentant, painting themselves as persecuted and warning that the parenting police are out to get us all.


The message in the conviction is consistent with what our laws and courts have said over decades in cases with similar philosophical underpinnings – parents who refuse blood transfusion, vaccination, cancer treatment and other demonstrably beneficial medical treatments for their children in favour of prayer or other nonsense: As an adult, you can have beliefs, religious or otherwise, and you can raise your children according to those beliefs, no matter how wacky, but that does not obviate the obligation to provide the necessities of life. When a child’s health and well-being are compromised, the rules change, because a guardian has responsibilities as well as rights.


Billy Graham takes on illness and prayer

August 5, 2014

And probably not for the first time, but here’s the question as posed.

DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: What good does it do to pray for someone who’s facing a serious health crisis? They’ll either get better or they won’t, depending on how they respond to their medications or surgery. Just because we pray for someone doesn’t mean they’ll get better, in my opinion. — E.W.

DEAR E.W: As I read your letter, I couldn’t help but wonder if you’ve ever faced a serious health crisis, either in your own life or in the life of someone you love. When people do, I find, they almost always turn to prayer, even if they haven’t had much to do with God.

That’s the atheist in the foxhole logical fallacy, if I’m not mistaken. I’m not mistaken. It might not be in the list of logical fallacies, admittedly, but it’s a very common assumption made by religious people. And totally fallacious.

Several years ago I had this weird body experience in the middle of the night, a strange fluttery sensation in my chest, under my rib cage that woke me up and kept me from falling asleep again. Instead, I drove my car to the hospital emergency and when describing the sensation to the doctor on call I literally said, “It vibrates my chest as if an alien installed a beeper in there and someone’s calling it.” They kept me attached to some kind of machine overnight and encouraged me to relax and for the next couple days I wore a monitor of sorts that recorded whatever my heart was doing, I guess, and sent a report somewhere, perhaps to the doctor in my home town, since hers was the name I’d given when I came in. It only happened for a few hours and I’ve never experienced the sensation again and never got a call back about anything amiss. The description I gave at the time is still apt for what it felt like. Bzzzzht. bzzzsht. Bzzzsht…. Weird. Totally weird. Not frightening, just weird.

I remember laying on the bed in Emergency that night with the electrodes attached and the oxygen piped in through my nose and the intern reminding me to relax and the notion of praying to any particular god at the time was completely absent from my brain. No sense at all that some deity had to be called upon to get me through the night and keep me from stressing out. I just trusted the doctors.

Why is this? One reason, I believe, is because we all know that even with the best medical care, things can go wrong, and healing is not assured. In addition, some situations are so serious that there seems to be little or no hope of recovery. We also know that our bodies and our minds are very closely connected, and if a person is very discouraged or doesn’t want to live, their recovery is doubtful. Why shouldn’t we pray for them?

Because study after study after double-blind study demonstrates the complete and total lack of proof that prayer works.

Positive thinking and the placebo effect though: scientifically proven to be useful and beneficial to mood, attitude and sense of pain improvement.

Your question, however, suggests to me that the real reason for your letter is that you simply don’t believe God answers prayer or that he cares for us. You may not even believe he exists, or at least you’re uncertain about it.

And then he resorts to the old “Take Jesus into your heart” canard that ends the majority of his advice columns.

People can bounce back from illnesses in amazing ways. Ways that’ll seem pretty damned miraculous, but are really just demonstrations for how awesome our immune system is, or the field of medicine itself that took a risk with a patient that paid off, like Jeanna Giese who actually survived a bout of rabies – a disease assumed to have no cure.

I’m not really sure how to end this one. People who don’t seem to have any major health issues can suddenly die, too. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I suspect religions exist to help people deal with that randomness. It’s soothing to tell a person that God chose them to die because of whatever ludicrous reason. Create meaning out of something meaningless. Shit happens. The universe doesn’t care and certainly evolution doesn’t really give a damn who lives long enough to pass genes along. There’s no intelligence in either one. That’s a frightening prospect for some.

I don’t have kids but Dad’s brother married Mom’s sister and they had three kids. Those cousins of mine are nearly siblings to me and they all have children. Evolutionarily speaking, our mutual genes are set for another go-around and my input into the collective gene pool would be kind of redundant. I share enough genes with them and their children anyway. We’re covered. Evolution doesn’t have a set plan for humanity. Mutations just happen and over time enough of them will benefit the human species and give us an edge. I’m satisfied with that. Or, we’ll mutate into something else before other genes cause our downfall. It’s all up in the air…

The One Minion Search Party – “are plastic surgeons playing god”

May 16, 2012

I’m at odds with the world of plastic surgery. I wrote a piece in 2011 focused on the dilemma a British woman found herself in after botched work . (She never got the £54 million she thought she deserved, though.) I’m generally appalled by the lengths to which some women will go to look fitter, younger, more mutant or less ethnic. (It affects guys, too. I mean, what the hell, Kenny Rogers? What the merry flipping Ken doll hell?) Some people are addicted to plastic surgery and are never satisfied with their latest run under the knife. Bigger butts, shorter toes, changing the shape of the chin or nose or jaw or cheeks… Facelifts and vagina lifts.. I don’t think there’s an area of the body immune to one’s notion of “room for improvement.”

Earlier this month I got a kick out of story regarding a new television series set in Miami in 1959 and the hellish time the casting people had finding women who didn’t have boob jobs.

Producers discovered many women of South Florida have been surgically enhanced beyond anything natural to the late 1950s.

“I’ve actually had better luck finding synchronized swimming groups than I did finding real boobs,” said Bill Marinella, local extras casting director. “We did a lot of research and reached out to burlesque clubs and just finding people on the beach and literally walking up to them on the street and saying, ‘Hey, you look like you’re right out of The Great Gatsby.’ ”

I suppose it’d be impossible to separate the sense of self worth from the judgement of one’s looks (or at least the suspicion that looks are being judged). I know there are women who claim boob jobs made them more confident, or made people take them more seriously. Hell, older successful women can’t even walk out the door sans makeup without some media outlet making a story out of it. Small wonder people will hurry to a doctor to erase the signs of aging. Every minor physical “flaw” is a reason to pick on someone…

It boosts my mood to see young girls taking popular magazines to task for their portrayals of women. Like 14 year old Julia Bluhm and her protest against Seventeen:

Julia’s journey from smalltown Maine to midtown Manhattan began less than two weeks ago, when she took her cause to Change.org, an activist forum, and set up her petition online. She was joined by six other teen girls and young women affiliated as she is with SPARK, a national organization that pushes back against sexualized images of girls in the media.

Julia made her case in detail at the top of her online petition, saying unrealistic images “can lead to eating disorders, dieting, depression, and low self esteem”:

“To girls today, the word ‘pretty’ means skinny and blemish-free. Why is that, when so few girls actually fit into such a narrow category? It’s because the media tells us that ‘pretty’ girls are impossibly thin with perfect skin.”

Those who run the mag assured her that they do their best to portray their models as authentic as possible but other magazines can’t make the same claim. Any lady-aimed rags you look at while in line at the grocery store will either feature immaculate women on the cover or flaunt the worst possible pictures of other women in order to mock the cellulite or the lack of “put-together” while out running errands. It’s a constant bombardment and a constant reminder that women apparently only exist to be admired for their beauty or insulted when they don’t accentuate their beauty.

But getting back to the plastic surgery part of this now – there are good reasons to have properly trained plastic surgeons. There are legitimate reasons beyond pure vanity to hire them; skin grafts for burn victims and fixing cleft palates are two uses that come to mind. There are probably others. I’d never say there’s no need for them but I think needs should be weighed in terms beyond “I want to be prettier!” I’ll quote the Daily Mail article I linked to above:

Rightly, the judge decided this was an over-inflated amount. But even to have granted a ninth of that sum seems to me excessive. Who’s to say the company wouldn’t have failed anyway? After all, it seems to have survived for years after her cosmetic surgery — failing only in 2009, when we were in the grip of recession.

I wouldn’t wish Penny Johnson’s experience on anyone. She certainly deserves much sympathy. But what a shame that she’s not telling the world that she will give most of that money to a charity for facially deformed children.

If only she just rolled up her sleeves and went back to work, she could prove to us all that there really is more to life than just a pretty face.

Yeah, if only. Unfortunately, it’d take more than one person to pull that off. Everybody would have to make the effort and it’s hard to say if there’d be much in the way of incentives for trying.

Birth control in a university vending machine? Why not?

February 8, 2012

$25 a pop for Plan B, the morning after pill, seems a bit steep for the heavily sexually active university student, but if condoms are also offered at least someone could potentially plan ahead.

A university in Pennsylvania hit the news recently because of this topic. They’ve had the machine in place for a couple years but Shippensburg is small and out of mind for most news making. Until now.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is contacting state officials and the university to gather facts, agency spokeswoman Stephanie Yao said Tuesday.

The FDA’s sudden interest took place amid a furor over religious rights and access to birth control. An official resigned from the nation’s largest breast cancer charity Tuesday over Planned Parenthood funding, and Republican presidential candidates attacked the Obama administration for a recent ruling requiring church-affiliated employers to provide birth control.

Consumers have long been able to insert a few coins for the likes of aspirin, ibuprofen, antacids and other common over-the-counter remedies. But some experts see a worrisome trend in making drugs like Plan B, which is kept behind the pharmacy counter, available in a vending machine.

Alexandra Stern, a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, said she wasn’t questioning a woman’s right to have access to Plan B, but whether making it so easily available is a good idea.

A student is quoted in the article saying she likes the idea because the town is small and students would be embarrassed to go to the local pharmacy to ask for the pill. Having it accessible on campus is a good move in her eyes, and mine as well. The vending machine also stocks condoms so it’s not like somebody couldn’t plan ahead and thus never have to spend $25 after a whoops. But what about a girl who’s been raped? Is she really going to want to go somewhere public? Better a morning after pill acquired privately than having to hunt for an abortion clinic a month or so later. Would a town boasting 6000 permanent residents even have one? The school is out in the mountains, around 130 miles from either Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, according to the article. Hardly ideal for a girl who finds herself in that situation.

Taking Plan B within 72 hours of rape, condom failure or just forgetting regular contraception can cut the chances of pregnancy by up to 89 percent. It works best if taken within 24 hours. Some religious conservatives consider the emergency contraceptive tantamount to an abortion drug.

It shouldn’t matter what they think. They can think the moon is green cheese and being out on a full moon night will make you smell like Limberger but they can’t stop people from going out. They can’t stop people from having unprotected sex. They can’t stop people from taking a pill to avoid an unwanted future. They want to, but they can’t. They really can’t. They need to be reminded of that on a daily basis, apparently. It doesn’t matter what they think. The pill exists and the pill is legal. Long live the pill. It needs to remain a choice for those who think they need it, no matter how much the righteous might disapprove. Fuck the righteous. Take the pill.

Prior to bringing it in, the school’s health center ran a survey and discovered that 85% of students were in favour of the idea. The machine is only accessible to staff and students and, until recently, there were kids on campus who had no idea the thing even existed.

In December, the Obama administration’s top health official overruled her own drug regulators and stopped the Plan B pill from moving onto drugstore shelves next to condoms and other items. It remains available behind pharmacy counters.

Denise Bradley, a spokeswoman for Teva Pharmaceuticals, which makes Plan B, said in a statement that it sells the product only to “licensed pharmacies or other licensed healthcare clinics, which are required to follow federal guidelines for the distribution of pharmaceutical products.”

On whether the machine might violate the law, “I don’t have a definite yes or no,” said Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees the state pharmacy board. If a person younger than 17 used the machine, it “potentially could be a violation,” he said.

And a check of ages at the school put everyone over 17, so that’s not a problem. There is concern that having the pill handy would mean victims of sexual assault won’t bother getting other help but that sounds like something the health center itself could work on as a project. Remind potential buyers that it’s a physical fix, but not entirely a mental one. If there’s concern that students will take it without knowing about possible side effects or dangers, perhaps the center should have an information night and invite kids in once a semester or something to explain how the pill works and what to think about before going ahead and buying it. Rather than be passive and hope kids will come in to ask questions, they could actively encourage health education and involvement. If they already do some of that, perhaps this will provide them with the incentive to do more.

Jesus loves thin people more so lose weight for Jesus

February 1, 2012

I don’t know if it pays to remind people, but I’m pretty sure part of the reason Jesus stayed so thin was all the damn walking around he did long before cars were invented, and all the junk food he didn’t eat because it didn’t exist and all the work he did instead of sitting on his ass watching Jersey Shore.

A Virginia congregation has lost a bit of weight over the past few years by following a weight-loss challenge issued by the senior pastor of their church. Steve Reynolds of Capital Baptist Church in Annandale lost over a hundred pounds of his own and claims the number of pounds lost by members is around 12,000. The cynic in me wonders if he counts backsliders and the dead. They could count toward weight loss, too, since they aren’t coming around to be weighed anymore. “Mrs. Henderson weighed 150 pounds, maysherestinpeace…”

Joking aside, he’s the author of a book called Bod4God and the idea is a good one in terms of getting people to commit to an achievable health goal and encouraging them to stick with it. It’s part of why Weight Watchers and other groups like it remain popular. (Often with the same people coming back after the pounds do.) TODAY Health goes into more detail about the program, which uses the first commandment “Thou shalt have no gods but me” as its starting point.

In contemporary Christian churches, this verse is usually interpreted to mean simply, “Put God first.” Reynolds believes that some American Christians who struggle with their weight may be unwittingly valuing food over their faith.

I wouldn’t say valuing food is the problem. I think valuing good food over shitty food is where the emphasis should be so far as that goes. I’ve been ordering a bag of vegetables and grains from the Saskatoon’s CHEP group for over a year now. Initially set up to help inner city families get access to sorely needed fresh produce, they’ve expanded their service so more people can benefit should they wish. They deliver twice a month and the result has been me finding new recipes for onions and beets so I can use them up before they deliver more. You should have seen the size of the cabbage I was given in the fall. It was the size of a basketball. That took some inventive cooking to get et…

Coming back to the article, it lists a few other interesting tidbits, specifically a study involving young people, church, and future weight gain. It sounded familiar and sure enough, I’ve mentioned it before. I’d never blame my mass on 7 years of Mass, mind you. It had a lot more to do with my lunch bag and the “Cuban Lunch” chocolate nut bar that featured prominently (for what seems like years, but probably wasn’t), and my natural proclivity toward reading rather than running.

More research points toward the usefulness of group involvement for losing weight and it’s evident from others that picking a noble purpose (in this case, honouring God through weight loss) also helps focus attention on the follow-through.

“It gives you power to know that you’re never alone, that God is with you,” Reynolds says. “And that he gives you that motivation and that willpower that you need.”

I remember overhearing a woman at Walmart once who was talking about how much weight she lost and credited God for the miracle. I felt like asking her if the 20 pounds fell off her body overnight because that’d be the real miracle. Deciding to eat better and exercise isn’t a miracle in the making, it’s just good sense. If people think they need belief in god to keep motivated, believe in god, then. If that’s a help, it’s a help. My interest in weight loss is less about dress size and more about improving my overall health and fitness. I’ve been bouncing around the same minor losses and gains for the past few months but I’m really looking forward to long walks outside again and I think I’m going to invest in a decent bike soon. My last one was cheap and terrible and I let it get stolen. Sorry to whoever was daft enough to take it.

Billy Graham has pneumonia

December 4, 2011

Not uncommon for a man his age (93) but so far his spirits are fine, even if his lungs are not.

Doctors at the hospital in Asheville said Graham was able to stand and walk Friday during a physical therapy session.

Dr. Mark Hellreich, a pulmonologist treating Graham, said he’s making good clinical progress and looks better since treatment with antibiotics began.

Graham has suffered from several ailments in recent years. He was admitted to the hospital Wednesday night after suffering from congestion, a cough and a slight fever that was later diagnosed as pneumonia.

I have a history in this blog of mocking challenging his advice. It’s kind of been a once-a-month habit for me to put an atheist spin on various questions “asked” on his column. (I put that in quotations because it’s been debated that questions are assembled by staff and aren’t specific letters sent to him.) If he takes a turn for the worse, he’ll be missed for that reason, if nothing else.

In 2007, Christopher Hitchens called him a “self-conscious fraud” who didn’t believe what he preached and was instead in it for the money. Time Magazine took Hitchens to task for that, suggesting that his proof for that was erroneous. The article further notes that Graham has since apologized for his comments and attitude toward Jews back in 1972.

When we asked Graham about the conversation, his shame was obvious, and he confessed to the other fault at work that day — his sycophancy, the courtier’s habit of trying to win favor with the king by embracing even his most odious ideas. “I think I was just trying to agree with what he[Richard Nixon] said or something,” Graham told us. Hitchens may reject Graham’s many apologies if he chooses, and discount his remorse more evidence of fraud. But rational people should have a hard time accepting Hitchens’ characterization of Graham as “a disgustingly evil man.”

His preaching on radio and television reached millions and there’s little doubt he changed lives; Wikipedia notes the number his staff reports: at least 3.2 million born-again Christians on account of his efforts. Not evil, maybe, but people could debate the good, depending on what kind of Christians they ultimately became. I don’t like to come down on the group as a whole because that’s how unfair generalizations start. Of course there are terrific and kind people who happen to be Christians, just as there are terrific and kind people who happen to be atheists.

His last Crusade was held in New York in June of 2005. His health had already been an issue, with water on the brain, Parkinson’s and prostate cancer on top of that. He was expected to speak each of the three nights to a crowd of 70,000 or so and here it’s reported that 250,000 turned out to hear him over those days. He’s always been open to all stripes of Christians coming by, too, not just the Baptists. The Fox article linked to at the start of this paragraph also notes his unwillingness to paint Islam with a dirty brush.

his son, Franklin Graham…called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion,” the elder Graham has refused to join in and denounce it.

“He simply will not engage in the demonizing of Islam,” Cox said. “[He believes] that the real struggle in the clash of civilizations is in poverty and disease.”

He’s contradicted himself in terms of who should get into heaven, though, according to the In Plain Site article linked in the same paragraph. The author of that mentions Graham saying God will decide and it’s not up to men to say, and that he’s also said that people need Jesus in order to get there.

Either way, I’m sure Graham expects he’ll get there in the end. Whenever the end is.