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From Climate Change Denier to Climate Reality Leader

Climate

Sometimes the path to a life of purpose isn’t straight or narrow.

Like many Climate Reality Leaders out talking to all kinds of audiences about climate change, the Reverend Terry Gallagher is used to hearing people just dismiss the subject as alarmist hype. But when it happens, he can also afford to smile a little more than most leaders would. Why? Because he used to do the exact same thing.

Sometimes the path to a life of purpose isn’t straight or narrow.

So how does a climate change denier wind up an ordained minister and a Climate Reality Leader? The story starts when he was growing up on the west side of Cleveland and first felt called to a life of purpose. As a young Irish American, Terry heard the call as an invitation to join the Catholic ministry and become a minister. But as powerful as the call the ministry was, he found—like a lot of teenage boys before and after him—there was something even more powerful standing in the way of a life of celibacy. Namely, his attraction to girls.

So instead, Terry went to college and studied mechanical technology. When he graduated, a large chemical company offered him $25 per month more than a large steel company did, and the choice was obvious.

It was a choice that set Terry on the path to a 32-year career in the chemical industry, one that would see him rise from floor worker to workaholic plant manager overseeing two facilities. During that time he began to hear about climate change, but refused to listen. After all, he reasoned, there was no way human behavior could affect the Earth in such a profound way. The notion, he admits, “didn’t fit my worldview at the time,” and so his attitude was simply, “I ain’t gonna engage with you alarmists, so take your green and go away.” And when yet more environmental regulations came down to dictate what kind of emissions the plants could produce or how they could process chemicals, he did what everyone else did: grumble loudly—and comply.

Having to deal with these regulations, however, was the first step down the road to becoming a climate activist. At first, it was just a practical matter: being plant manager meant his neck was on the line when it came to compliance and he wasn’t about to risk it. So, he says, the first rule became that “Gallagher ain’t going to jail, so we’re going to operate these plants within the law or these plants ain’t going to operate.”

Before long, though, he began to see that running his plants this way, controlling their emissions and the kinds of processes they used, wasn’t just better for the environment. It was also leading to better product quality, safety and yields. And it got him thinking.

Meanwhile, just as Terry’s career as a chemical executive was lining up before him, life intervened and he once again heard the calling to a life of purpose and Christian ministry that had sounded decades earlier. Only this time he answered,entering the seminary to study and train as a minister and ultimately leaving his career in industry behind.

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But as he found, becoming a minister wasn’t the concluding chapter in his life’s story, but the starting point for a new book entirely. Most important, he still had questions about his purpose. His work as a local church pastor was deeply rewarding, but there was still something missing in his ministry. He needed a direction.

Which is how he began working with oppressed peoples around the world and how, six years after joining the ministry, he found himself in a remote Colombian village up in the Andes.

Terry was there as part of a Christian Peacemaker team standing in solidarity with gold miners protesting the threat of eviction by the Colombian army, an eviction, they suspected, motivated by plans for an international company to seize their mine. When his team arrived, they were taken on a tour to see the mine and the process of refining gold there. The rest of the team saw a community scratching a living out of the hillside and was awestruck. Terry, having run chemical plants for decades, saw the chemicals they were using and saw a community poisoning themselves, their children, and their land for generations to come, all without realizing it. Horrified, he began talking to the villagers about how running this mine was devastating their health and destroying the environment all around them. But as he did, he realized that this kind of practice—and the selective blindness that went with it—was far from limited to a village in the Andes. He knew he had to do something.

When Terry returned from Colombia, his first step was to return to the seminary to study. He knew the direction his ministry would take, focusing on ecological justice and waking faith and secular communities to the environmental crisis unfolding all around the world, and he needed to prepare.

Emerging from the seminary, Terry knew his ministry would mean reaching out to all kinds of audiences to tell the story of climate change and environmental degradation, and he began looking for tools and resources to help. So when he learned about the Climate Reality Leadership Corps and heard about an upcoming training, he jumped at the opportunity.

[ Related Video: Terry discusses his experience as a Climate Reality Leader]

Terry found in the Climate Reality Leadership Corps a “great source of positive energy and hope” and a community that shared his many of his values and concerns for ecological justice. And while much of his outreach since training has focused on engaging the Christian community, he encounters many of the same challenges other Leaders do speaking to secular audiences. As he says, “Christians, like most people, are trying their best to avoid this issue. I believe that this avoidance response is because people suspect that if this is a true crisis, then everything must change.”

Even still, he remains hopeful that things will change. In part, because when he talks to Christians about what climate change means for their children and for millions suffering around the world, the message begins to sink in. And once people understand the urgency of the situation, they want to know what they can do.

As for what Terry will do, he’s nothing if not ambitious, especially for a self-confessed introvert. After doing 40 presentations and other acts of outreach in 2014, he’s working to double that number this year. And with the UN climate talks beginning in November, he’s not thinking small either.

“My ministry of ecological justice is a ministry of education, advocacy and action,” he says, “So with that in mind, I already have purchased tickets and hotel to be there for the Paris [climate] talks. Now I just need to find a way to get invited to the discussion table.”

To learn more about how you can train with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and leading scientists and communicators to become a Climate Reality Leader, visit the Climate Reality Leadership Corps site. Applications for our next training in Miami from Sept. 28 - 30 are now open.

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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.

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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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