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14 Passionate Young Leaders Inspiring a Just and Thriving Planet

Health + Wellness

It’s hard to believe 30 days of this invigorating and mobilizing global challenge has come to an end. For the past five years, the Bay Area-based non-profit Turning Green has hosted this worldwide competition, Project Green Challenge (PGC). Its goal is to inform, inspire and mobilize, to create a global call to action for college and high school students inspiring the transition from conventional to conscious living.

PGCer's protesting to get organic milk in Starbucks. Photo credit: Project Green Challenge

PGC engages youth by uniting them in a commitment to cultivate a healthy, just and thriving planet. PGC is comprised of 30 sustainability-themed challenges, focused on topics relevant to our daily lives including food, zero waste, fair trade, body and non-genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). There are up to four challenge opportunities at varying levels of engagement. Participants received points based upon completing the challenges and the top 20 daily submissions were awarded prizes.

Since its inception in 2011, PGC has given tens of thousands of powerful, dynamic, passionate young leaders from around the world an opportunity to step up to "be the change" in their own lives, on school campuses and in local communities.

Today, we are very proud to announce the PGC Class of 2015 finalists representing a tremendous display of student transformation and activism. This remarkable group of 14 young adults hail from high schools and universities across the U.S., as well as one team from the Netherlands, 50 Shades of Green. As the latter put it: "In one month, I have learned so much about the world. PGC was like an additional subject, learning about life and the impacts of the things we do, to nature and human health. It is incredible, to think back and realize that my knowledge expanded heavily–more than any other subject taught me in one month."

Finalist Megan from San Diego, celebrating the prize package she earned. Photo credit: Project Green Challenge

Another student finalist, Marina Qutab of University of Massachusetts Amherst, proclaimed, “[I’ve] learned that I am determined and nothing is going to stop me from changing the world.”

These students and their fellow finalists will be flown to San Francisco in late November to attend the PGC Finals, a three-day eco summit where they will have the opportunity to interact with esteemed environmental leaders, present their experiences from the 30-day Challenge and work together to create innovative platforms for social action. Past speakers have included: Annie Leonard, president and founder of the Story of Stuff Project and the current executive director of Greenpeace; Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group; Adam Werbach, co-founder of yerdle.com; Gavin Newsom, Lt. Gov. of California; and many more.

Finalist Missy, from Belmont University. Photo credit: Project Green Challenge

Based on presentations by the finalists, a panel of judges will select the Project Green Challenge Champion. The winner will receive a one-of-a-kind grand prize package worth more than $12,000, including a $5,000 Green Award from title sponsor Acure, as well as the opportunity to work with Turning Green and its partners in the coming year.

Finalists were asked to describe their experience in 5 words. Photo credit: Project Green Challenge

Here are some profound words from an incredible group of young and mobilized leaders:

  • "Project Green Challenge took my knowledge of environmental subjects, expanded on it, propelled me to action and helped me share what I learned with friends and acquaintances in creative ways so that they could also take action." —Claire, George Washington University, Washington, DC

  • "My school's food system isn't transparent, so until I know exactly where my food is coming from, I'm responsible for packing my own organic and vegan lunch, bringing my reusable silverware utensils and reusing cloth lunch bags and napkins. My peers, seeing me make changes in my own lifestyle, want to join me in being sustainable. We care about preserving the Earth." —Kendra, Jericho High School, Jericho, NY

  • “I was also shocked to learn about the toxins in our everyday products such as my bed sheets! You spend a third of your life in your bed and for your sheets to contribute to health problems is completely ridiculous. After learning that from the Space challenge I have invested in 100 percent organic cotton sheets and have never slept better!" —Julie, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois

The Project Green Challenge Class of 2015 finalists.

  • "During the challenge month we were more conscious of our resource usage and carbon footprints so we made some changes to our electricity usage. Since the weather is fantastic in the Ozark Mountains during October, we turned the AC off and just opened the windows for almost the whole month. Our electricity bill dropped from $55 to $28.” —Greatful Deadheaders, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas

  • "To say that I learned a lot this month is not even the tip of the iceberg. In some very important ways, I’ve transformed. I’ve started looking deliberately at my actions, and noting ways in which I can be the change, even if it will take time and sacrifices." —Reilly, Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio

  • "The whole experience as a PGC participant made me do things that I had never done before in my life. For example, I managed to conduct a great interview with the owner of a sustainable restaurant, even though I was so nervous I thought could faint. I had great conversations with farmers discussing the importance of sustainable agriculture. I excluded 95 percent of meat from my diet and as a result discovered new food, like lentils, which are a great source of protein." —Valeria, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • "Before PGC, I didn’t think there was anything else I could do to make my lifestyle more environmentally friendly. Boy was I wrong! I now know that I can save the environment by choosing specific cleaning products, cosmetics, foods, clothing, furniture, etc. As I have completed the PGC challenges and started doing things differently in more sustainable ways, people have also started to notice and ask questions. I now have the knowledge and confidence I need to answer these questions and further promote positive lifestyle changes!" —Tracey, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York

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By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

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The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

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