Growing up, my childhood friend and neighbor, Johnny White, was born with Fragile X Syndrome — a genetic condition that causes a range of developmental problems. Johnny has always been a glass-half-full kind of guy and maintains a cheerfulness that’s contagious to be around, despite the everyday challenges he faces.
I remember Johnny’s favorite thing to do was blare the radio and get pumped up on the way to Special Olympics practice. Naturally, I couldn’t let him have all the fun so I started volunteering my time once a week to the organization.
While it might sound a little cliche, this was and still is the most rewarding thing I have ever done — we became a family, and I felt so lucky to be surrounded by such encouraging and optimistic people.
Now four years later, a working girl contributing to society, I can hardly remember the last time I stopped to cook a decent meal, let alone volunteer. However, this week being National Volunteer Week, I can’t help but consider the many organizations and causes that I would love to devote my time to.
That being said, I decided to do some research on the ways I can give back even with my busy schedule. Here is what I have come up with so far:
-Volunteering time at Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, the Special Olympics, afterschool tutoring, etc
-Helping plant flowers and pull weeds at the local church
-Raking leaves or shoveling snow for elderly neighbors
-Setting up a lemonade stand and donating the profits to charity
-Recycling cans and bottles found around the neighborhood
March is American Red Cross Month. This event has always held a special place in my heart as it’s purpose is to recognize the men and women of the Red Cross organization that selflessly devote their lives to helping others.
In addition to — providing 24-hour support to US military members, their families and veterans, collecting and distributing 40% of the nation’s blood supply, and training millions in first aid, water safety and other life-saving skills – the Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 natural and man-made disasters every year worldwide.
Even with today’s advanced technology, it’s not always possible to predict when a disaster lies ahead. However, there are ways in which we can prepare before tragedy strikes by giving ourselves the tools to survive and respond more efficiently.
This year, I am going to become a part of the Red Cross by, 1) donating blood — despite my fear of needles, and 2) coming up an emergency plan for my household.
Winter and hurricane seasons are likely our biggest threats in the New England area, so I am going to make sure my house has a flashlight and first-aid kit handy, along with batteries, plenty of spare blankets and enough food and water to last us at least 72 hours. Also, I’m going to regularly check to ensure that my Smart911 profile is up-to-date should I ever need to dial 9-1-1 but am unable to speak or have poor cell signal.
To date, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid feeling the wrath of any severe disasters that have impacted our nation (knocking *very hard* on wood). However, there’s no telling when it might be my turn – or anyone else’s for that matter – which is why it is so critically important that we stay prepared and do whatever we can to help others that haven’t been so lucky.
Learn more about how you can become a part of the Red Cross through your local Red Cross chapter or by visiting the “Ways to Help” page on the Red Cross website. For tips on how to better prepare your home for disaster, click here.
A couple weeks back, I was fighting for a spot on the couch alongside my mom and four brothers as we geared up to watch the infamous movie — Gone Girl. For those of you that haven’t seen it, you should because it’s awesome. Although I speak lightly when I say *spoiler alert* the brutal throat slashing of Amazing Amy’s long-time admirer, Desi Collings (aka Neil Patrick Harris), was a tough pill to swallow.
Fortunately for those of us that don’t take pleasure in watching people die a horrible death, the blood looked pretty fake, which was a subtle reminder that Neil is still alive somewhere in real life. My brother Sean on the other hand needed to give the movie a timeout and left the room.
Seconds later we heard a heart-stopping crash and a thud coming from inside the bathroom. Patrick, my oldest brother, and I leaped up off the couch and forced our way in to find Sean seizing on the floor, his face and neck covered in blood.
What happened next is sort of a blur. I guess that’s just your body’s way of protecting you from having nightmares for the rest of your life.
I remember Patrick screaming for someone to call 9-1-1 and me sprinting to pick up the first cell phone I could find sitting across the room. When you’re that scared, the simple act of dialing those three numbers feels impossible – your hands lacking response to the brain’s demands.
When I finally got a hold of a 9-1-1 dispatcher, time was running at a snail’s pace. Thanks to my one bar of cell service, the dispatcher struggled to hear the address of our location, even after I repeated it for a third time.
Unfortunately, Smart911 is not yet supported in my mom’s little slice of New Hampshire. But still, she was right to mention it. This is the exact type of situation where Smart911 could be lifesaving. In our case, the dispatcher could have used the information in my mom’s profile to retrieve our address and send help in half the time.
Thankfully, Sean’s injuries were not life threatening.
After seeing Neil Patrick Harris’s gruesome and untimely death, Sean fainted — his face colliding with a glass vanity on the bathroom wall as all 6 feet and 9 inches of him tumbled to the floor, which would explain the bloody crime scene that followed.
After a heavenly night’s stay in the hospital, Sean walked away with 20 stitches on his face, and we considered ourselves very lucky.
Meanwhile, I walked away from this experience having a new appreciation for ‘preparedness’ — and helmets.
It often takes an emergency for us to fully understand the importance of being prepared. Take my family’s experience as the perfect example and start preparing your loved ones by signing up for Smart911 at www.Smart911.com.
These days, it’s constantly debated whether or not helicopter parenting during playtime does more harm than good. But let’s face it, some of the toys I played with as a kid probably shouldn’t have been given to me in the first place. For example, the infamous Moon Shoes (A.K.A ankle breaking death traps), the Slip ‘n Slide, the Socker Boppers… I mean the list goes on and on.
While most toy manufacturers have become more & more safety conscious over the years, even the 2000’s era had its fair share of, shall we say, mishaps. Let’s look back at some of the most dangerous toy mishaps ever recorded during the 2000’s — some of which are sure to blow your mind!
Even though I loved my Razor scooter back in the day, I definitely remember taking a few hard spills and having some close encounters with oncoming traffic. Without a doubt, these things are dangerous. Introduced in the year 2000, the Razor Scooter sent 110,000 kids to the emergency room in 2001 alone. What baffles me even more is the fact that Razor came out with another model in 2009 that shoots sparks out of the back… because you know, only good things can come of that!
In 2001, Super Bang introduced the ‘Blast Balls’ which were two colorful balls that kids could smack together to hear a cap-gun-like noise and occasionally see some sparks… and, that’s it. Now as riveting as that sounds, they were only on the market for a short time before the first few reports of burn injuries and clothing catching fire began to surface. The Blast Balls ultimately led a very brief shelf life.
One would think if you are releasing a product designed to keep small children afloat, you would make sure it actually works. Apparently Aqua-Leisure didn’t feel the same obligation as their 2002 Inflatable Baby Boat posed a great risk of drowning. I’m sorry, what?! According to the CPSC, the leg strap in the seat of the baby boats were subject to tearing. While there were multiple reports of babies falling through the boat and into the water, none were seriously injured as a result.
Um, no thank you. Discounting the fact that I have a fear of being way too high and suddenly plunging to my death, nothing good can come from a slogan that reads, “Never Kite Higher Than You Are Willing To Fall.” After less than a year of being on the market, 2 deaths and 39 serious injuries were reported. A broken neck, a punctured lung, fractures to the chest and back, and facial lacerations were amongst the reported injuries. At no surprise, the Kite Tube was recalled in June 2006. Shucks!
This one makes my stomach turn. A toy aged for kids 3 and up, numerous cases were reported of children separating the building pieces and swallowing the “mega magnetic power” magnets. If more than one magnet is ingested, they would likely attract to each other inside the intestines and tear the intestinal wall or cause blockage, which can be fatal if not treated immediately. After its release in 2005, Magnetix became responsible for 1 child’s death, 1 aspiration, and 27 intestinal injuries with emergency surgery needed in all but 1 case. For very good reason, the toy was recalled in 2006.
I remember my first easy bake oven! They were so much fun to play with and made you feel all grown up, that is until you had the pleasure of burning yourself like I did, multiple times. In May 2006, Hasbro released a model that was by far its worst. The pink and purple oven made a habit out of trapping children’s fingers in the front opening and burning them. There were 29 reports of children getting their hands or fingers caught, 1 needing a partial finger amputation due to severe burns. Yikes!
In 2007, CBS released the CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit which gave kids a chance to be real-life forensic investigators! Little did they know the dust included to analyze fingerprints contained up to 7% of one of the deadliest forms of Asbestos, a hazardous mineral fiber that is capable of causing lung cancer later in life from a single exposure. Now imagine all the kids that brushed the toxic dust all over their houses, on every doorknob and every counter top — the toy manufacturer is now bankrupt, as they should be.
Named the 2007 toy of the year, Aqua Dots consisted of tiny beads that could be assembled into different designs and set permanently with just a drop of water. While it sounds harmless, reports surfaced quickly of children swallowing the beads, then later becoming dizzy and vomiting numerous times before slipping into a comatose state. WHAT?! The glue coating on the beads that is activated by water contained chemicals that metabolized into gamma-hydroxybutyrate — otherwise known as the date rape drug. Aqua Dots was on the market for less than 8 months before being recalled.
2010’s Colossal Water Balls looked and felt just like candy, so it should have come as no surprise that kids would attempt to swallow them! When the marble-sized toy is ingested, it could expand inside a child’s body to over 400x its original size, leading to severe discomfort, vomiting, dehydration, even death. Impossible for doctors to see in an x-ray, the balls could only be surgically removed. They were taken out of stores everywhere in 2012.
Let’s face it — these things are pretty awesome. The Bouncy House has become a staple for kid parties since its debut in the late 1960’s and continues to increase in popularity. Only until recently has the public has begun to realize the risks associated with kids playing in Bouncy Houses.
Every day, an average of 31 children are treated in emergency rooms for Bouncy House related injuries. What’s most concerning is in the past 4 years more than 30 people that have been hurt when Bouncy Houses were swept away by strong gusts of wind, two of them severely injured. Watch the video and see for yourself!
– James Swartz, W.A.T.C.H. Group
November is American Diabetes Awareness Month. Nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. What’s more, another 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and don’t even know it.
As the numbers continue to grow, the American Diabetes Association designed an awareness campaign aimed to educate the nation about issues surrounding diabetes and the many people impacted.
My sister Melissa was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 7. Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that prevents the body from being able to use its naturally produced insulin efficiently.
While our family had no history and little knowledge of the disease, it took weeks for my parents to recognize the symptoms as something more serious than just typical growing pains.
The reality – Diabetes is more common among children than meningitis. Among the 2,000 children diagnosed with Diabetes each year, 10 will die because the early signs go undetected by parents and doctors.
Symptoms of Diabetes may include:
-Being very thirsty
-Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
-Frequent skin, bladder or gum infections
-Wounds that don’t heal
-Extreme unexplained fatigue
In my sister’s case, I can remember her suddenly being thirsty all the time and drinking massive amounts of water throughout the day. One morning on our way to church, Melissa forgot her water bottle at home and immediately started having a nervous breakdown. Despite what I initially thought was a dramatic cry for attention, my parents knew something wasn’t right.
Later that day, doctors concluded Melissa had Type 1 Diabetes.
Life with Diabetes.
“I remember feeling like it was somehow mom and dad’s fault that I couldn’t be like every other kid, and it was tough even as I got older,” Melissa explained, “I mean, a 14 year old girl should be worrying about school, boys and makeup, but those things tend to take the backseat when you’re living with Diabetes.”
As an adult, Melissa came to accept the disease and chose to sustain a healthy lifestyle by eating right, exercising and doing the things she loves. What’s more, on August 6, 2012, she gave birth to her first child – my niece, the most beautiful little girl in the world – Miss Kyra Nicole!
When I asked if she had any tips for parents of a newly diagnosed Diabetic, she said, “Don’t let diabetes take over you or your child’s life. Educate yourselves about the illness, then let your child be in control. Having control over the disease will make them feel empowered and independent like a normal kid, and that is so important.”
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in honor of the event we would like to highlight stories of survivors who have exhibited exceptional courage, perseverance and ultimate victory. Here is the third in a our 3 part series featuring unique survivor stories that are truly inspiring.
As Carol Stevens prepares to celebrate her 90th birthday, she recalls when she was diagnosed with breast cancer some 57 years ago.
In 1957, Carol’s family practitioner was concerned that her oldest daughter may have a brain tumor.
While visiting with a cancer specialist in New York City, Carol conveniently arranged to have a lump in her breast examined as well. Miraculously, test results revealed that Carol’s daughter did not have a tumor; Sadly, Carol wasn’t so lucky.
Surviving Breast Cancer in the 50’s
Due to the extreme surgical treatments practiced by surgeons in the 50’s, Carol underwent surgery that removed her entire breast, lymph nodes, muscles of the chest wall, and ovaries. Carol’s only thought at the time was how lucky she felt that they caught it when they did, and that her daughter would live on cancer-free.
Doctors deemed the surgery unsuccessful and gave Carol just 5 years to live.
At the young age of 33 years old, Carol refused to accept this fate. She would not let this disease define her. She was determined go on living a happy life with her husband and four beautiful children until her very last day on earth.
It’s hard to imagine how one might persevere after receiving such heart-wrenching news. Carol did more than that. After her four children grew older, she went back to school and earned her master’s degree in education. Starting off as a remedial reading specialist, Carol retired from the school system as a dynamic administrator in the district at the age of 69. For many years after, Carol spent her time fulfilling lifelong dreams of traveling and seeing the world, including a trip to Africa to ride on an Elephant’s back.
Carol is now celebrating her 90th birthday and lives every day for the saying, “NEVER GIVE UP.”
Carol’s Words of Wisdom
“I feel extremely excited getting ready to celebrate my 90th birthday. No way under God’s green earth did I think I would live this long. But I have an active, healthy, wonderful life, and a wonderful family.” – Carol Stevens, Breast Cancer Survivor
“I was told when I got home not to get tired. Every 2 weeks, hire a babysitter and go out to dinner with my husband. And put up my feet for 10 minutes every day.” – Carol Stevens, Breast Cancer Survivor
“You get up every morning and count your blessings. I have something on my computer that says there is a reason God limits our days: to make each one precious. And that’s what I do.” – Carol Stevens, Breast Cancer Survivor
“If you don’t have any belief in life, this makes you have it because I have been so lucky and so healthy. Being 90 to me is almost unbelievable. I’m still actively working and driving and doing everything.” – Carol Stevens, Breast Cancer Survivor
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in honor of the event we would like to highlight stories of survivors who have exhibited exceptional courage, perseverance and ultimate victory. Here is the second in a our 3 part series featuring unique survivor stories that are truly inspiring.
Bob Doe always led an active and healthy life. In October 2001, the proud father of two girls caved to his wife’s nagging and went to see the family doctor about an inverting nipple on his right chest.
Bob’s doctor performed a visual examination and determined his diet was a likely explanation. To be sure, Bob’s doctor referred him to a specialist physician. The specialist also failed to perform a physical examination on Bob and ultimately discussed diet as a possible solution.
Months later, Bob went for a second opinion, this time seeing his wife’s practitioner, a woman, who treated his symptoms through surgery. Results from the surgery and a fine needle biopsy revealed a malignant form of breast cancer.
Road to Recovery
The surgeon didn’t waste any time in performing a full mastectomy followed by six months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. During each chemo session, Bob wondered what might have been had the medical profession been more knowledgeable about male breast cancer and caught it sooner.
After facing such a devastating diagnosis, Bob believes he survived for a reason. Today, he strives to help change the general perception that breast cancer is a women’s disease, and hopes that such knowledge will save the lives of other unsuspecting men – just like him.
In the Word of Male Breast Cancer Survivors
“[Breast cancer] is a lonely road for men. Services are generally not prepared for it and find it challenging. The language used for breast cancer tends to be restricted to women. Changing some of the language would help inform the community.” – Bob Doe, Breast Cancer Survivor
“I never felt sorry for myself; someone is always worse off somewhere, but I have tried to raise awareness that men get breast cancer too.” – Lionel, Breast Cancer Survivor
“Eighteen weeks of chemo and five weeks of radiotherapy is a life experience that allows you to understand what others are going through.” – Lionel, Breast Cancer Survivor
“I just want fellows to be AWARE. Self-examination is a must and PLEASE see a doctor immediately if you detect a lump.” – Mark Foster, Breast Cancer Survivor
“Men can get breast cancer too – and there is no shame in that.” – Mark Foster, Breast Cancer Survivor
“Male breast cancer is NOT a ‘sissy’ thing – it can happen to anyone.” – Mark Foster, Breast Cancer Survivor
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in honor of the event we would like to highlight stories of survivors who have exhibited exceptional courage, perseverance and ultimate victory. Here is the first in a our 3 part series featuring unique survivor stories that are truly inspiring.
Identical Twin Sisters: Kristen Maurer & Kelly McCarthy
Kelly McCarthy, 34, was eight months pregnant with her first child when she found a lump in her breast. Initially thinking it was breast milk, Kelly was later diagnosed with stage 11B breast cancer, just one week before the arrival of her first born son.
Although Kelly found comfort and happiness in becoming a new mommy, her twin sister Kristen was utterly devastated by the news, “I bent over and sobbed,” Kristen says. “By far I took the news harder.”
Kristen’s odds of contracting the disease dramatically increased with her sister’s diagnosis. After months of convincing, Kristen set out to have herself examined, but the mammogram came back negative. To be sure, Kristen received an MRI which would later reveal stage 0 cancer.
Life in Recovery
In June 2012, Kristen and Kelly each made the difficult decision to remove both breasts. Kristen was first to undergo surgery with a double mastectomy and immediate breast reconstruction. With Kelly’s condition further along and far more aggressive, her road to recovery would prove to be much longer.
Kelly first endured chemotherapy and radiation treatment followed by a single mastectomy with plans to remove her other breast. Two years later, after facing numerous rounds of radiation treatment and surgery, Kelly was ready for her second mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
Due to tissue damage, Kelly’s surgeon feared they would not be able to make room for implants. Because of this, Kristen and Kelly are to be the first identical twins to undergo surgery that will transplant Kristen’s tissue and fat to rebuild Kelly’s breasts.
Today, the future is bright and full of endless possibilities for both Kelly and Kristen as they live their lives with new breasts, a newfound inner strength, and 100% cancer-free.
Kristen & Kelly’s Words of Encouragement
“We’re both giggly and happy-go-lucky. It wasn’t like that the entire time, but when times are tough you have to find the humor in something or you’ll go nuts.” – Kelly McCarthy, Breast Cancer Survivor
“You’re saying good-bye to your old life and hello to a new one of chemo and surgery. It’s okay to cry, but, like I told Kelly when she’d get down, you have to pull up your britches and move on.” – Kristen Maurer, Breast Cancer Survivor
“We were 32 and healthy when we were diagnosed. You can’t assume that it can’t happen to me. If you think something’s wrong, get it checked out; do your self-exams. Even if you’re unsure of what you find, get it checked out anyway.” – Kelly McCarthy, Breast Cancer Survivor“Our journey with cancer will always be there. It’s part of us, and we’re okay with that.” – Kelly McCarthy, Breast Cancer Survivor
The major ice storm that struck the Northeast in December, 2008 was described as the worst storm of the decade. A state of emergency was declared in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and parts of Maine.
While I had heard that ice storms were capable of producing enough damage to shut down entire cities, seeing the destruction with my own eyes was an experience I was completely unprepared for. Large, sturdy trees snapped like twigs, utility poles pummeled to the ground one after the other. It was like being in a war movie – man vs. nature.
The storm left over 1.25 million homes and businesses without power, complicated by the fact that roads were completely inaccessible to both citizens and response crews. Our home in a tiny town in Southern New Hampshire was without electricity or running water for 9 days; and yet, we were still considered one of the lucky ones.
In a press conference during the aftermath, Martin Murray, the primary spokesperson for utility Public Service in New Hampshire, said, “This is the absolute, most significant power restoration effort we’ve ever had. There has never been a storm before that has affected more customers.”
We were fortunate enough to own a house with a gas powered fireplace which just heated the house enough to prevent the pipes from bursting. Even those with backup generators were only in good spirits for so long as most gas stations were amongst the millions without power. The stations that were open (and still had gas left to sell) were swarmed with cars lining up for miles – each waiting to get gas to fuel their generators.
Initially, life without power was okay, but as the days wore on, it was very trying – each day feeling more hellish than the last. Playing games in front of the fireplace totally lost its charm after about 2-3 days. We showered at friends’ houses and offered our refrigerated food to anyone that had room for it.
Once the roads were passable, we routinely went to Starbucks to eat breakfast and charge our mobile phones. It’s amazing how quickly the most trivial tasks become a privilege in the wake of a disaster. I even found myself sneaking into the Starbucks public bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. Although, I really knew I hit a rock bottom when I found myself with my kids – showerless – spending the entire afternoon at Chuck E Cheese just to pass the time.
They say inside every dark cloud there’s a silver lining, of course some are harder to find than others. The silver lining in this case was the way our community came together to support one another. Everyone genuinely helped everyone. Some folks graciously opened their doors to others, while electrical crew members from all over the country volunteered their services to help repair our region. Despite the mounds of ice surrounding us, it was truly heartwarming.
On the 9th day, I was making my way back from the gas station in a blizzard to meet a friend who was lending us a generator they no longer needed. As I got closer to home, I saw… YESSS! A utility truck! The man, bless his heart, was a crew member from Canada working away in the midst of the storm. With Christmas only days away, I don’t know if my emotions were high or if I was just way overdue for a decent shower, but I couldn’t help but notice how closely he resembled Santa Claus – truly. I know it sounds silly, but he was my Santa Claus angel – who spoke mostly French.
While storms of this magnitude are pretty unusual, we realized there was much we could have done to be better prepared, both on a state level and an individual level. For instance, the state now hires crew members during the chilly season to routinely trim trees to clear areas around power lines and homes.
As for my family, we have since purchased a generator and always remain fully stocked on emergency supplies such as food, candles, flashlights and batteries. And of course, when I joined the Smart911 team I immediately created a Safety Profile for my household.
After having gone through such a destructive weather experience, the value that Smart911 can bring in an emergency was obvious to me. I love the idea that by simply including my address details in my Safety Profile emergency responders will be able to locate my home even if roads and street signs are damaged. What’s more, I included my car information and emergency contacts to ensure 9-1-1 will be able to help me if I’m ever stuck on the road in a snow storm.
At the end of the day, no matter how prepared we are, there is simply no escaping the stomach-turning feeling we all get when a new storm rolls through and the lights begin to flicker. Take it from me, it’s better to prepare before an emergency strikes than to wait and be forced to learn the hard way.
To learn more about how you can prepare for weather disasters, go to: www.smart911.com/AreYouPrepared
Written by Devan Weed, Smart911 Community Marketing Specialist
& Tanya Weed, Guest Blogger