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Just Keep Rowing: 3,000 Miles in 70 days From Africa to South America

How often have I heard conversations like this at the local coffee shop? One person, let’s call him James, says to his friend while reading the news on his tablet: “More global warming and climate change? When will organizations become responsible?”

Still not done with his exasperation he says, “And look at these water crisis statistics with children dying from diarrhea. The world is drying up and what water we have left is making people sick. What is our government doing?”

I often want to politely suggest that while yes, he is exactly right to be concerned, we should not simply place the burden onto governments or big business to solve it. Indeed, keeping pressure on entities to change their ecologically harmful practices is important, but we all must accept some responsibility, and following that realization, take action.

Confession time. I was once like James, less aware of the global environmental dangers than I should have been, and casually believing that it was not my problem. Let people with power do something, I thought. I have since completely reversed my opinion on this. Sometimes it takes a hard hammer to get my thinking straight. In this case, it took an extreme athlete. How extreme? Well, she was the youngest person to ever row across an ocean entirely alone. I am speaking of Katie Spotz. I said I require big hammers!

Katie Spotz completed the 3,000 mile, 70 day journey from Africa to South America in 2010, and five years later, she remains the youngest person to have ever accomplished this.

Katie is notable for many reasons, but the cause for our first meeting was to discuss writing a book about her 2010 solo row across the Atlantic Ocean. She completed the 3,000 mile, 70 day journey from Africa to South America in 2010, and five years later, she remains the youngest person to have ever accomplished this. Katie made this journey not only because she excels at extreme challenges. Her goal was to raise funding and awareness about the global water crisis. She has now raised close to $275,000 for charitable projects, and has travelled to Kenya to see her clean water projects in action.

The two of us agreed at our first meeting to team up to write her story, and I am pleased to say the book is now done, and we call it Just Keep Rowing. The official book launch was Sept. 19, in Cleveland, Ohio at the Head of the Cuyahoga Regatta. There were more than 2,000 rowers competing that day, and in our tent near the finish line Katie and I signed books, and also shared information about the global water crisis.

We are donating a portion of the proceeds of our book to the non-profit group, H2O for Life. And we are currently two-thirds of the way towards raising funds for a clean water educational project in the Dominican Republic.

Now let me tell you about our book! Just Keep Rowing is divided into 70 short chapters, each associated with a day that Katie spent on the ocean. We group the days into four main parts. While the ocean rowing narrative is present in all of them, each of the parts emphasizes an essential life-changing idea. The first is to “Propel Yourself.” Here we talk about believing in our human potential and having faith that we can accomplish the impossible. Katie is the example of course, but we all have the inherent capability to grow the confidence we need to propel ourselves towards achieving our goals. Find your ocean and cross it!

We call part two “Russian Roulette,” which is a cryptic title, we know, but it is a harsh image that symbolizes the severe global water crisis. Here we emphasize that awareness and action are essential. With the high prevalence of waterborne disease in developing nations, taking a sip of water becomes much more like playing Russian Roulette than simply quenching a thirst. Water is essential to all of our lives, second only to air. It is also a finite resource, and currently we are not good stewards of our water supply. And that is putting it quite mildly.

In part three, “Our Bioluminescence,” we recount key moments when Katie’s interaction with the Atlantic Ocean fundamentally changed her in terms of seeing the beauty of the world. Ironically, being alone at sea helped her in understanding the intrinsic worth of every human being on this planet. We are all beacons of light, shining like the sun, and as a human race we can only become stronger if we take care of each other. We risk losing the race if we fail to do so. We have the power, within each of us, to make the world a better place.

Each of these three themes represents three weeks of Katie’s life on the Atlantic. The final part, “Climbing the Ladder,” covers her last week. It describes the end of her journey with fire, deadly storms, broken equipment and hundreds of extra miles of rowing before the shores of South America appeared before her. The final challenge was an unexpected ladder from her boat up to the pier. From that moment on, “just keep rowing” and “climbing the ladder” became her metaphors for life and guides for success.

Mark Bowles and Katie Spotz at a local event promoting their book.

Even though our book is published, Katie and I are not done with our collaboration. We have decided to form a company, and we call it One Drop Matters. The mission is to encourage everyone to feel empowered to make a positive change in the world. Big gestures are great, like rowing an ocean. But anyone can make a difference. Even a child.

Let me put on my bragging father hat for a moment. After hearing me talk (incessantly) about my work with Katie, my three daughters, Isabelle (age 15), and twins Emma and Sarah (age 6), decided to have a lemonade stand this past summer. Though they planned to raise one million dollars, they settled for $111, and they donated all of the profits to H2O for Life.

Seeing the pride in their faces, I realized one drop matters in more ways than one. While they raised a small amount of money, a flame to see the world outside themselves ignited. Like pebbles dropped onto a calm lake, their ripples of impact will hopefully continue throughout their lives.

We believe that Mother Teresa best articulated the message that drives our company. She said, "We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." A single drop of water has the power to create great change. And at the same time, our water is in grave danger. Katie and I simply suggest that we all Just Keep Rowing to promote the health and preserve the resources of our planet.

Mark Bowles, Ph.D. is a professor of history at American Military University and co-founder of One Drop Matters. You can learn more about Katie and Mark’s book at JustKeepRowing.com.

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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.

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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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Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"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."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

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.