Rock Center correspondent Kate Snow tweeted this picture from the vigil and memorial service in Newtown, Connecticut where she reported for a special edition of Dateline anchored by Brian Williams and Lester Holt.
Rock Center correspondent Kate Snow tweeted this picture from the vigil and memorial service in Newtown, Connecticut where she reported for a special edition of Dateline anchored by Brian Williams and Lester Holt.
By Kate Snow, Deirdre Cohen, Sarah Koch, Nina Tyler
For Stephan Perez, attending the prestigious Columbia University was more than just a dream; it was a goal he set his sights on when he was only 13 years old and a goal he willed himself to achieve.
“I enrolled into all A.P. and honors classes. And that was my vision. I had only one goal. I woke up in the morning, it was Columbia. I went to sleep at night and it was Columbia,” said Perez in an interview set to air Thursday at 10pm/9c on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams.
The Georgia-bred teenager worked tirelessly over the next few years and even stopped playing sports in order to focus all of his attention on his academics. His hard work finally paid off when he learned not only had he been accepted to his dream school, he received a Gates Millennium Scholarship that would pay for his tuition expenses.
But his inspirational rise to the top would end in a disastrous fall. It’s a cautionary tale for driven students and their parents.
Perez entered Columbia and before long began to feel overwhelmed by the pace and workload. But just as he started to adjust, Perez suffered a big emotional blow. His grandmother died. One night after his grandmother’s funeral he was in the library with a friend, studying for midterms and struggling to concentrate.
“I tell him, you know, ‘I can't concentrate. Like, I just can't do it.’ He said, ‘This is what you need’ and pulls out this pill,” Perez said.
It was an Adderall pill. Adderall is the prescription medication commonly prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but the stimulant has become increasingly popular among ambitious high school and college students looking to focus for extended periods of time and perform better academically. ADHD drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin boost levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, chemicals associated with attention and behavior, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. For someone with ADHD, characterized by impulse control difficulties and inattention, the medications are calming. For people without the disorder, the drugs can be dangerous, especially if not monitored by a doctor.
His decision to take Adderall ended up changing his life. That night Perez says he powered through his work and was capable of reading for eight hours nonstop—absorbing all of the information. Before long, he said he asked his friend how he could get his own Adderall prescription.
“He said, "Go to Health Services. Tell them that you're having trouble studying, focusing. You're going to meet with a psychologist. They'll ask you a couple questions. And you'll get a prescription like that. They give it out like it's candy."
Perez says he met with a psychologist on campus and filled out a short questionnaire with questions like ‘were you fidgety as a child?’ Then, he met with a psychiatrist for what he said was no more than 10 minutes. He walked out with a prescription.
In a statement to NBC News, Columbia University said that its student health service uses “…a detailed clinical protocol for evaluation of ADHD and related conditions…” and takes a “…holistic approach toward treatment for ADHD, including short-term counseling…”
But Perez soon experienced negative side-effects from taking Adderall. The drug caused him to have bad mood swings, so when he didn’t need to study he didn’t always take the pills, leaving him with extra pills that he would give away. After a while, Perez began selling his extra pills to students on campus for anywhere from $10 to $30 per pill.
Perez had no idea at the time that some of those sales had been to an undercover police officer, nor did he know that his life would completely unravel; using Adderall as a study drug would destroy his Ivy League career.
In 2010, Perez, along with four other students, were arrested in a drug bust on Columbia's campus dubbed Operation Ivy League. Perez pleaded guilty to selling Adderall and did 300 hours of community service. He was permitted to take his final exams to complete the first semester of his junior year.
By David Finch
Author, 'The Journal of Best Practices'
It was a mild Tuesday morning in April and I was making the same breakfast I’d made every day for more than a year: eggs scrambled with cheese, oatmeal with fresh grapes—grapes help take my mind off the fact that my mouth is full of oats, which, at the risk of offending you horses out there, are truly disgusting—tea, and orange juice. Just another morning, really, except that there was an NBC news crew standing in my kitchen, filming everything I was doing.
The day before, I had met with a producer from NBC who briefed me on what the week would entail. We would shoot footage of my normal daily life for about a day and a half, and this would be used to supplement the story when it aired on Rock Center with Brian Williams. Once that was out of the way, my wife Kristen and I would sit down with NBC’s Kate Snow—one of the most thoughtful people on the planet—and talk about Asperger Syndrome, how it affects me and many others, and the lengths to which Kristen and I have gone to rebuild our struggling marriage after we learned that I fit within the parameters of this relatively mild form of autism.
Courtesy of David Finch
David Finch cooking breakfast as Rock Center cameras roll.
One thing that was never mentioned, however, was how much I would learn while spending a week in the company of a major television news organization. I learned, for instance, that it takes a shockingly large amount of footage to capture a grown man going about his day. Especially when that grown man keeps looking directly into the camera he’s been told a thousand times to ignore and displaying copies of his New York Times best-selling book for no legitimate reason.
I also learned that, in the estimation of NBC Universal, I am the single most fascinating person on the planet—something I’ve been desperately trying to convince my wife of for years. When I flip my underpants into the air with my big toe, spin around, catch them, and shoot them into the laundry basket, Kristen can’t bring herself to give me a high-five. NBC sends in a film crew.
Underpants-related shenanigans is one thing, but neither Kristen nor I could believe that my procedure for making breakfast would make for riveting television. I’m no Kevin Jonas. But NBC thought differently, and at 7:30 in the morning—an hour at which I’m typically disoriented and hostile—there I stood among three strangers and thousands of dollars worth of cameras, lights, and boom mics, scrambling my eggs and investing every ounce of energy I had into acting casual. Now I’m going to reach for the shredded cheese, I thought, errantly—but quite casually—reaching for my tea cup. Curses, I seem to have grabbed my tea cup. It’s okay. Just set down your tea cup and reach for the shredded cheese like it’s no big deal. Frick, dropped my tea cup. Double frick, just looked at the camera.
Having a camera rolling made me aware of my normal breakfast-making procedure, which caused me to screw it up time and time again. I felt as though I were a professional golfer forced to put conscious thought into his swing. I started boiling tea water after putting my eggs in the pan, rather than before. Duh! I forgot to wash my grapes individually and had to settle for washing them as a bunch. Unthinkable! I opened the oatmeal but forgot to grab a bowl to put it in. Triple frick!
I get it. This all sounds absurd. That’s because most people—and by “most” I mean 87 out of 88, according to the latest autism figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—making breakfast is not as much a critical process as it is a means to an end. Eggs are cooked, bread is toasted, cereal is mined for toys then poured, then the meal is eaten and immediately forgotten about. But my brain is wired differently—it deems most things a procedure. Even breakfast. When I am able to execute the procedure without disruption, the outcome is reliable and my mind stays calm. These eggs were prepared properly. Proceed to shower.
But when the process is disrupted, all hell breaks loose. If I were to throw caution to the wind and try toasting some bread while cooking the eggs, the eggs may burn, causing them to taste different or feel wrong in my mouth. This is an unacceptable outcome. I understand that other people have real problems, but to me and my Asperger-ish mind, an unexpected outcome in something as supposedly banal as eggs or (Heaven help me) oatmeal causes my mind to spiral into a panic. It bumps my train from the tracks and I spend the rest of the day trying to recover, brooding over what could have been. . . had my eggs not burned.
None of this makes me a bad person, of course, just different. But this sort of dependence upon routines and procedures wasn’t winning me any awards as a husband early on in my marriage, before Kristen and I knew I had Asperger’s. Nor was it helping me as a father. An important part of being married and raising children is knowing how to go with the flow, a function for which I was not factory-programmed. As evidenced by this footage gathered last April, in which I’m preparing food with the intensity and procedural precision of a bomb defuser. Or trying to, anyway.
What can I say? It’s just really hard to scramble an egg while being shot in HD. By the time I finished stumbling through my doomed breakfast routine more than an hour after we began, I was already spent. I felt discombobulated and confused. Though I liked them all very much, I was ready for everyone to go back to New York. But we had only just begun. There was plenty more footage to shoot, plenty more situations in which I’d be forced to act casual. Many more hours to pretend I wasn’t going completely insane. Which is hard to do when you’re surrounded by people wearing shirts with peacocks on them.
As we continued shooting, the question posed to me repeatedly throughout the day was, “What would you normally be doing right now?” The producer wanted to capture me doing what I typically do throughout the day: compulsively flicking light switches on and off, sitting in solitude and fleshing out story ideas in my notebook, and staring at my own penmanship. Oh, you know, the usual. With the NBC crew hanging around, it occurred to me that this was really all I ever did on a weekday when I wasn’t lecturing somewhere or on a firm writing deadline. I couldn’t help but think that my life was a lot smaller than I ever would have imagined. And what was up with all the light-switch flicking?
After filming me staring at a wall for the better part of an hour, the crew was delighted to learn that it was time for my weekly coffee date with Kristen. Once a week, Kristen and I make time to meet for coffee or go for a long walk while the kids are in school. These morning dates give us an opportunity to reconnect and talk about whatever is on our minds—an opportunity to spend some good hours together.
Explaining this out loud to the NBC news producer made me remember how fortunate Kristen and I are to be able to do stuff like this. Not just because we can find time during the day, but because we actually want to. While there is a lot of good that comes with being wired as I am, certain characteristics of Asperger’s made being a worthy partner for Kristen more than a little difficult for me. By our third year of marriage we had grown apart, mostly because it appeared I no longer cared about her, even though we’d been best friends since high school. We continued treading difficult, confusing waters until our fifth year of marriage, when we learned that I have Asperger’s.
With that discovery, we were handed invaluable information about why some things were such a challenge for me. Things like processing Kristen’s perspective and emotions; anticipating, understanding, and being responsive to her needs; making a simple breakfast in under ninety minutes. These sorts of “quirks” had taken a serious toll on our relationship. But with my diagnosis and with Kristen as my guide to the neurotypical world, I could learn new behaviors that would not only make me a better husband and father, but also a happier, more fulfilled person. So, I did. We committed to restoring our marriage and our best friendship, and now, four years later, Kristen and I are dating each other again and having the time of our lives. Not a bad outcome for a guy who sits around staring at the wall all morning.
Seeing my life through the lens of a camera reminded me how fortunate I am to be living a life that I love, and how hard Kristen and I have worked to get here. But although I’d come a long way in being the husband and father I wanted to be, my life was still profoundly limited and controlled by obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, and rigid routines. These are not exactly signifiers of wellness, but rather symptoms of a self-tormenting disorder. I had always known this, but I became acutely aware of just how difficult I was making things for myself when a microphone was clipped to my shirt and I was asked to narrate my typical minute-by-minute routines to Kate Snow for two solid days. I couldn’t eat burned eggs. I had to wear a certain pair of pants. Before turning off a light, exiting a room, opening a door, shutting a door, locking a door, unlocking a door, turning off my phone, closing a faucet, closing a drawer, setting down any object whatsoever, or punctuating the end of a handwritten sentence—and that’s only part of the list—I had to perform a specific mental ritual in a specific manner. No wonder NBC thought I was interesting. As I explained to Kate that week, any deviation from the usual ritual could result in chaos, and few things are more torturous to someone with Asperger’s than chaos.
For some reason, saying all this out loud into a camera (and into the stunned eyes of an NBC news correspondent who had seen a lot in her career), knowing that my wackiness would be broadcast to a national audience, made things click for me: My life does not need to be this hard. This torment, I thought, lives and dies by my permission, by my choices. It ends now.
I felt an immediate need to liberate myself from my own nonsense. I didn’t want to be the person who believed that a certain pair of pants could do magical things in his life. I made up my mind after NBC left to stop the obsessive thinking, abandon the compulsive behaviors, and free myself from my addiction to routine. And just like that, a new journey was underway.
A few months later, NBC returned to follow up on our story and to see how everything had been going since our first interviews. As they wired me for sound and checked the lighting on their cameras, I wondered what it was they were hoping to capture this time around. I imagined the camera trained on my hand as I thoughtlessly turned off a light switch and exited a room, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Wait till they see how boring I am now.
By Alison O'Brien
It happens in a lot of new relationships. Every day, you learn something new about each other. It happened with David and Kristen Finch.
“David was quirky,” Kristen said. “Always just very sweet and funny, [and] kind of nerdy, but in a cute nerdy way.”
“Very sexy nerd,” David interjected and, smiling, Kristen agreed.
The two met while attending high school in their small Illinois town and after years as friends, David and Kristen began dating. To Kristen, he was “super boyfriend” – a go with the flow guy who was the life of any social gathering.
“He was entertaining the whole room,” said Kristen, age 35. “And it got people laughing.”
But, when they married in 2003, the laughter stopped. Kristen was confused.
“I thought, what happened?” she said. “You know, it was almost like night and day after we got married.”
Once they were living together, David’s actions, once quirky to Kristen now seemed strange. They began to put a strain on their marriage. David, then in his twenties, was obsessed with daily rituals. He would take an hour to make his breakfast. He’d meticulously wash and cut grapes, make his oatmeal and tea. When it came to his eggs, he would line up the carton making it parallel to the countertop and carefully scramble his eggs to make sure the consistency was the same from one day to the next.
David, who was working as an engineer, had an outfit for each season. In the winter, he’d wear a sweatshirt with Eastern printed on it and track pants. In the summer, he’d wear a t-shirt and shorts that became so worn, they developed holes. Every day, he had to wear the same clothes because if he didn’t, David said he “would silently freak out.”
David Finch staring at rooftops, one of the rituals that helps calm him.
“Tension would mount and I couldn't say anything. Pretty soon I'd start snapping at people,” he explained in an interview with Kate Snow airing Thursday, Sept. 27 at 10pm/9c on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams.
The rituals would continue until bedtime. Every night, David would stare out the window at his neighbors’ rooftops. He found the symmetry calming.
“I have a physiological response,” he said. “My shoulders relax. My head calms down and it's kind of nice.”
But it wasn’t so nice for Kristen. While she took care of the house and their two children, daughter Emily and son Parker, David was fixated on himself. When things didn’t go exactly as planned, he’d obsess endlessly. It happened one Thanksgiving when there was garlic in the mashed potatoes. According to David, garlic didn’t belong in the mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner.
“I would sit there and I would complain about it,” David recounted. “And I'd bring it up constantly to Kristen. And then she would get on my case, because she would be very confused. She thinks I look like a baby and I think this is completely unfair, but I don't know how else to react. And so that would set me off.”
In recalling the incident, Kristen said, “I’m thinking how am I going to do this the rest of my life?”
Things were spiraling out of control until March 13, 2008. Kristen, a speech therapist who works with autistic children, was doing research for a client when she came across an online quiz. It was a test of Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder characterized by repetitive tendencies, obsessive interest in several narrow subjects, difficulty reading the emotions of others and social difficulties. When she started reading the questions, Kristen says, she realized her husband had Asperger’s.
“All of a sudden, the light bulb went off,” she said.
David Finch on Asperger's Diagnosis at 31: It was a 'moment of self-recognition'
She had David take the quiz, but didn’t tell him why or what it was about. The questions ranged from “Do you find it vitally important to remain undisturbed when you’re focusing on your special interests?” to “Do you feel tortured by certain clothes?” The longer the quiz went on, the more personally revealing the questions – and his answers – were.
At the end, the computer tallied his score - 155 out of 200 possible points – and determined it is likely he had Asperger’s. He cried.
“I cried because it was this moment of self-recognition I had never had before,” he said.
A doctor confirmed his diagnosis and, at age 31, David finally had a reason for his behaviors, and an idea of what may be causing his marriage to suffer. In the same way he obsessed over his neighbor’s rooftops, he was now obsessed with fixing himself and his marriage to Kristen. He decided on his own that he needed to modify his behavior.
“I wanted to change,” he said. “I wanted to learn how to manage these behaviors. To give myself a better life, to get our marriage back on track and to earn back Kristen's friendship; to be a better dad and to have a more fulfilling life.”
But David didn’t keep that news to himself. Instead, he decided to go public with his story, writing a memoir which became a New York Times best-seller called “The Journal of Best Practices.”
It’s not a self-help book, but a book about his journey of self-discovery and his efforts to save his marriage to Kristen. It grew from notes he wrote reminding himself to break out of his head and be more responsive to those around him, be a present husband and father, and pay attention to the needs of other people. He even wrote reminders about simple needs such as not to change the radio station when Kristen is singing along, and as important as taking initiative and being a dad.
“I’ve made being a better husband, the husband that I want to be, my special interest,” the 35-year-old David said. “And it’s paying off.”
He’s seeing results in many areas of his life. One note, “parties are supposed to be fun,” reminds David to be good, worthy company at a party. While that may seem like a no-brainer to most, it is a difficult task for David as people with Asperger’s often have a difficult time in social situations. Before his diagnosis, the way David would cope in a group was to mimic the behavior of people who he thought did a great job of fitting in. His favorite role was “the comedian.”
“In order to socialize, I found it was easiest just to get people laughing,” David Finch said. “I would do these ridiculous stunts and jokes, and people loved this.”
But getting people laughing, he found, was exhausting and not entirely fulfilling.
“I would keep that up at like manic, frenetic pace for like an hour, and then I would leave the party,” he said.
So David began studying not just the great humorists, but great communicators. One of his favorite people to study is radio shock jock, Howard Stern.
“Howard’s really an amazingly effective communicator,” he said. “What I’m taking away is his system for engaging his listener.”
By adopting his pacing and voice modulation, and taking cues from his body language, David says he has become better company.
“What I can do is I can give them a couple of minutes of that [humor], and then I can slow it down,” David Finch said. “I can get rid of the shtick and I can really engage in a nice conversation.”
David calls this behavior modification, unlearning old behaviors and learning new ones. He is adamant that he is not curing Asperger’s, nor does he believe one should. He simply says that he wanted to change and has made it a priority. Now, four years after his diagnosis, David says he’s still a work in progress, and Kristen says they met in the middle to put their marriage back on track.
“I guess that was why when we got the diagnosis that I knew that we were going to be ok, because I knew we were both willing to change to make it work,” she said.
When Juleen Jackson met her husband, Al, he was not the man she had pictured marrying. The African-American Al Jackson was gripping a beer at a bar.
"I was holding my beer and I had the beer of a buddy out on the dance floor," Al Jackson told Kate Snow in an interview airing Thursday, Aug. 23 at 10pm/9c on Rock Center's hour-long look at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 'Mormon in America.'
Al and Juleen Jackson hit it off instantly.
"We dated for about three weeks and she said, 'If you really like me, you're really going to like my church," Al Jackson said.
Al, raised a Southern Baptist, converted to the Mormon faith. Now married nearly 20 years, the couple have five children and live in a traditional Mormon household in Salt Lake City, Utah. They read scripture daily and spend three hours in church every Sunday. They’re trying to raise their family with Mormon values in a world that can seem so secular and sexual.
"It's hard to sit down and watch a ballgame with my son because of the commercials. They sexualize everything," Al Jackson said. "We take every opportunity we can to teach our children and hopefully, they're able to make good decisions when they're out on their own."
Of the family's commitment to their Mormon values which include not drinking alcohol or having caffeine, Juleen Jackson said, "I don't see so much of it as, you know, a uniformity code that we all have to kind of march to...I want to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to live the commandments of the Lord..and they bring me happiness. I'm not doing anything I don't want to do."
Editor's Note: Rock Center's in-depth look at the Mormon faith, 'Mormon in America,' airs Thursday, Aug. 23 at 10pm/9c on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams.
By Catherine Olian
Petra Anderson, one the victims of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, is recovering far better than her family or her doctors could have hoped for. The 22-year-old, who was studying music and composition, was hit by a shotgun blast. One of the pellets went in through her nose, right through the middle of her brain and all the way to the back of her skull, says Dr. Michael Rauzzino, a neurosurgeon at the Medical Center of Aurora who is treating Petra Anderson.
Miraculously, says Dr. Rauzzino, the pellet missed all the major blood vessels in Petra’s brain.
“Never in my entire career have I seen a case where a bullet’s traversed the entire brain like this and not caused severe damage or death,” Rauzzino said.
Petra is already walking and talking, her family says, and Dr. Rauzzino is hopeful that “she’s going to make a very good recovery from this.”
While Petra’s prognosis is good, recovery from a brain injury can take months or even years of rehabilitation and that’s expensive. The Andersons have some insurance, Petra’s sister Chloe told us, but they’re worried it won’t be enough to cover the mounting medical bills.
“The bills that will come in will be crippling,” Chloe Anderson said. In Colorado, nearly one out of every three people are either uninsured or under-insured, according to The Colorado Trust, a health care advocacy group.
To raise money, Chloe and a friend of Petra’s set up a website and created a video to reach out to strangers for help, both for their family and for other victims of the shooting.
“I wanted to do something to help my sister and potentially help other people who are affected by this”, Chloe Anderson said.
Even before the shooting, the Anderson family was scrambling to pay medical expenses for Petra’s mother, Kim, who is suffering from advanced breast cancer and whose only hope is experimental treatment.
“It’s not covered because it’s in clinical trials still”, says Chloe Anderson. As sick as Kim is, she has been working two jobs so that she and her children can have medical insurance.
Caleb Medley, a 23-year-old aspiring stand-up comic who was critically injured in the attack, has no insurance at all, according to his brother. He was watching the movie with his wife, Katie, who was 9 months pregnant, when a bullet ripped through his face and into his brain. He’s in the hospital, fighting for his life.
Dr. Comilla Sasson works at the University of Colorado Hospital and treated Caleb Medley and 22 other victims the night of the shooting. She says the seriously injured could be facing healthcare costs of “hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars.”
Caleb’s family had one piece of good news; Caleb’s wife Katie gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Hugo, in the same hospital where Caleb is being treated. His friends also set up a website to raise money. So did friends of Farrah Soudani, 22, who was also shot and is uninsured.
Some of the hospitals in Aurora say they’ll help the victims with their medical expenses. As for the Anderson family, they are grateful for all the support they’ve received from strangers through their website; they’ve already received pledges of more than $200,000 dollars.
“We’ve heard from people in China, we’ve heard from people in South America,” says Chloe. “It’s incredible.”
To see how you can help the Aurora victims check out the sites below:
On assignment for Dateline NBC, Rock Center correspondent Kate Snow profiles one of twelve victims of the shooting in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Jessica Ghawi was an aspiring sports writer and had even escaped a previous encounter with a gunman in Toronto last month. Friends say Ghawi had an infectious attitude that everyone loved.
By Catherine Olian
They are the youngest victims of the prescription drug epidemic, tiny babies born already addicted to the drugs their mothers were taking when they were pregnant. More than13,000 babies a year are born in America addicted to prescription painkillers like OxyContin, hydrocodone and other narcotic drugs, according to a recent study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Rock Center visited three hospitals and spoke to doctors at many more. These babies may seem normal at birth, but within days they start having symptoms like severe shaking, tremors and more.
“They vomit. They have diarrhea. They'll often have fever, sweating…extreme irritability,” said Dr. Mary Newport, the director of the neonatal unit at the Spring Hill Regional Hospital north of Tampa, Fla., in an interview airing Thursday at 10pm/9c on NBC.
The newborns also have trouble sleeping, feeding and they often shriek in pain, their bodies craving the medication they’re addicted to. The number of babies born this way has increased dramatically over the past five years, Dr. Newport said. This year she expects to treat nearly 20 times the number of infants going through withdrawal than she did in 2007.
“It’s terrible,” Newport said. “We sometimes feel that we have a neonatal drug rehabilitation unit.”
A baby experiencing withdrawal from painkillers
Annabella was just a few weeks old and she couldn’t stop crying. The only way the nurses could treat her symptoms was to give her morphine, a narcotic similar to the drug her mother took. As shocking as it may seem to give a baby multiple doses of morphine a day, Dr.Newport said, “if we don’t treat the baby…the baby will develop seizures and the baby can die.” Death can result from violent seizures, Dr. Newport said, that cause the baby to stop breathing, cutting off oxygen to the baby’s heart and other vital organs.
Many women become addicted to painkillers after they’ve been prescribed them by their doctors. Others, like Annabella’s mother, 20-year-old Katelynn Yost, start taking painkillers recreationally, never thinking they’ll become addicts.
“I thought I was going to stay in school and go to college,” Yost said. “I didn’t think I would end up doing drugs and being addicted to them.”
When she unexpectedly got pregnant, Yost decided to get drug treatment for the sake of her child.
“I want to be there for my baby now and help her have a good life,” she said. But first, Annabella had to go through the painful stages of withdrawal. “I know it’s all my fault,” Yost said. ”I’m the one that did it to her. It really hurts.”
There are no easy answers for pregnant addicts. Even if they want to get off the drugs quickly, doctors advise them not to. Going cold turkey could cause them to miscarry. Instead, the women are switched from the painkillers they are on to methadone or buprenorphine, drugs that keep them stable and help curb their cravings. Unfortunately, these drugs can also cause severe withdrawal symptoms in newborns.
Treating pregnant women addicted to prescription meds
“You’re told either you can take the methadone and your child could be born addicted, or you detox, stop taking everything and your baby could die,” one pregnant addict told us. Either way, “I’m deathly scared.”
The sheer volume of babies born addicted is putting a strain on the healthcare system. Healthy newborns typically stay in the hospital for a few days, but these babies stay weeks and sometimes months, at an average cost of more than $50,000 per child, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Doctors at the Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia told us that sometimes the neonatal unit is so full of babies going through withdrawal that newborns with other problems like prematurity have to be turned away due to lack of space.
Dr. David Chaffin, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Marshall University Medical Center participated in a multi-hospital study that had a stunning result: at least 10 percent of all babies in West Virginia are born with prescription narcotics in their systems. He calls painkiller addiction among pregnant women “a monstrous tidal wave” with no end in sight.
As for little Annabella Yost, she finished going through withdrawal. She’s off all drugs and her mother says she’s doing well. The outlook for these babies is guardedly optimistic, but until large scale, long-term studies of these kids have been completed, no one really knows if they’ll have problems later in life.
All that the doctors can say for sure is that as long as women keep abusing prescription pain pills and doctors keep overprescribing them, expect to see more and more babies suffer the consequences.
“They are the innocent victims,” Dr. Newport told us. “They had no control over it and yet they suffer tremendously for it.”
In the neonatal unit at The Children's Hospital in Ft. Myers, Fla. five of the 55 newborn babies were born in withdrawal from the prescription drugs their mothers were taking while pregnant.
What's happening in Florida is happening nationwide. In hospitals across America, there’s an epidemic of babies born experiencing withdrawal symptoms from the prescription painkillers their mothers were addicted to. To ease the babies’ withdrawal symptoms, they are sometimes given morphine and methadone.
Rock Center correspondent Kate Snow reports this Thursday, July 5 at 10pm/9c.
By Anna Schecter
A 30-year-old Ohio man is the first accuser of former Penn State football Coach Jerry Sandusky to speak publicly about the sexual abuse he says he endured.
Travis Weaver, in an exclusive interview broadcast Thursday on NBC's Rock Center, said Sandusky performed oral sex on him in the upstairs bedroom of the Sandusky home, right across the hall from Sandusky’s wife, Dottie.
Weaver said Dottie Sandusky never witnessed firsthand any of the abuse but he suspects she had an idea of what was going on.
“How could you not know?” asked Weaver in the interview.
The trial has grabbed headlines for the past two weeks. Though graphic details from the testimonies of eight of his accusers have been reported, none of the alleged victims of Sandusky has spoken publicly until now.
Weaver has testified in front of a grand jury but was not called as a witness in the current trial. He said he is prepared to testify in the future if needed. He has spoken to both state and federal authorities.
Sandusky is facing 48 charges relating to child sex abuse. He has maintained his innocence. Attorneys gave their closing arguments June 21. At the time of this publishing, no verdict had yet been reached.
Weaver said he had never told anyone of the abuse and had buried the memories deep down. He says he thought he was the only victim until he saw reports that Sandusky had been arrested on charges of molesting other boys last fall.
“I was shocked. I couldn't believe he just kept doing it to all these other kids,” Weaver said.
Weaver said he feels guilty about the young men who said they were abused after him.
“I wish I would have said something to him. I think if I had said something to him a lot of this stuff wouldn't 'a happened to all these other kids,” he said.
His attorney, Jeff Anderson, has represented dozens of victims of sexual abuse, many of whom were abused by Catholic priests.
“Speaking out is part of the process. Travis is helping other children by telling his story. He is helping to protect other kids,” said Anderson.
Weaver said he met Sandusky in 1992 at the Penn State outdoor swimming pool when he was ten years old. He was there with his younger brother as part of a Second Mile summer camp.
“It was like meeting my hero,” he said.
The sexual abuse began to occur gradually, he said, and started in the Penn State locker room.
“After the shower was over…he'd dry me off with a towel. He'd say he was trying to wrestle with me....and then it progressed into oral sex,” he said.
Weaver said Sandusky abused him more than 100 times in the Penn State locker room, at the Sandusky home, and even in a hotel in Pasadena, California where Weaver and the Sandusky family stayed while on a trip to the Rose Bowl.
“We went to a professional football game, and [Sandusky and I] left early and went back to the hotel. And he performed oral sex on me in the hotel,” Weaver said.
Dottie Sandusky testified in court that her husband is innocent. She said she never witnessed inappropriate contact between her husband and young boys.
Weaver said that when he was 14, he moved away from the State College area to get away from Sandusky.
Weaver has filed a civil suit against Sandusky, Penn State and the Second Mile, alleging that the institutions could have done more to stop the abuse.
Sandusky’s attorneys could not be reached for immediate comment on this story.
A spokesman for Penn State declined to comment on this story. In November 2011, the university’s Board of Trustees issued a statement saying it was outraged by the horrifying details contained in the Grand Jury report, which included the testimonies of eight accusers, aged 18 to 28.
“We cannot begin to express the combination of sorrow and anger that we feel about the allegations surrounding Jerry Sandusky. We hear those of you who feel betrayed and we want to assure all of you that the Board will take swift, decisive action,” the Board of Trustees said.
The Second Mile charity declared bankruptcy after losing significant funding in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. Second Mile Acting CEO David Woodle said his organization is continuing to cooperate fully with the Attorney General's investigation and will adhere to its legal responsibilities throughout this process.
The charity released a statement in November stating that to its knowledge, all the alleged incidents occurred outside of its programs and events.
“Our highest priority always has been and will continue to be the safety and well-being of the children participating in our programs. We encourage program participants to report any allegations of abuse and/or inappropriate sexual activity wherever it has occurred, and we take any such reports directly to Child Protective Services. We have many policies and procedures designed to protect our participants, including employee and volunteer background checks, training and supervision of our activities,” the statement said.
Rock Center's Nina Tyler contributed to this report.
Doing daily neck strengthening exercises can help protect girls who play collision sports from getting concussions, said Dr. Bob Cantu, a neurosurgeon and leading concussion researcher.
Recent studies show that girls are reporting twice as many concussions as boys in the sports they both play.
Dr. Cantu said that if done regularly and properly, these exercises can help prevent more concussions than any product on the market, according to the scientific evidence to date.
The exercises can be done easily at home – simply by pressing one's head against one’s hand, in different directions. It can also be done with a partner or even with a band or machine as long as the exercise creates resistance.
"That can make a significant difference in reducing the acceleration the head sees, and in that sense, reducing your chance of having a concussion," Dr. Cantu said.
Girls who strengthen their necks and then brace for impact when they see a ball or another player coming at them will be more protected than those that don't, he explained.
Dr. Cantu recommends girls who play collision sports do these exercises - several sets of 10 in each direction - every day.
"If you can bring yourself to do them twice a day, that's fine, but once every day is enough," he said.
Amid the new wave of concussion awareness, a growing number of schools and medical providers are now instituting a concussion evaluation system to not only better detect concussions, but also determine when an athlete can return to play. Part of the evaluation involves a neurocognitive assessment that's done through a computer test. One of the most widely used computer tests is the ImPACT Test.
Young players take the test when they're healthy in order to get a baseline reading. If they have a concussion, they can take the test again to see how their score compares to their own normal cognitive function. Many districts require students to keep taking the ImPACT test until their scores are back up to normal levels. The test is one tool that can assist doctors in making return to play decisions.
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Natasha Helmick spent six years playing soccer wearing a headband, believing the head gear would prolong her soccer career by preventing concussions. Helmick, 20, said that the headgear inflated her belief that she was safer on the field and she began to play more aggressively.
“I had extra confidence, man, that extra boost of confidence. I was ready to go. I went out there and played so much harder,” Helmick told Kate Snow in an interview airing Thursday at 10pm/9 c on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams.
She chose a popular brand of head gear made by Full 90 Sports.
“The benefit of wearing our head gear is that it significantly reduces the impact forces reaching your head,” said Jeff Skeen, founder and CEO of Full 90 Sports.
Skeen said that he’s sold half a million of their headbands, which cover a two inch section of the head that includes the forehead and temples. Their F90 Premier Headguard costs up to $45 and promises soccer players they can “stay in the game” and reduce the probability of a concussion by over 50 percent.
Skeen, a former helmet manufacturer, devised the headband after his daughter suffered a concussion while playing soccer.
“I thought to myself, ‘Well, there’s a simple biomechanical solution to that and that is, put something soft in between the two hard objects that are going to hit each other. So I decided to make her just a padded headband,” Skeen told Snow.
Courtesy of the Helmick Family
For Helmick, the head guard gave her family confidence that she was being better protected from head injuries, but she suffered at least five concussions while wearing the headband. A star player in Texas, she was sidelined over a year ago. Leading concussion experts say that there is no convincing evidence that head gear prevents concussions.
“My problem with the headbands is that they’re primarily marketed as a concussion-reduction device. That is something that there is no proof that they are,” said Dr. Bob Cantu, a neurosurgeon and leading concussion researcher.
Cantu is one of a dozen leading concussion experts that told Rock Center that there is no convincing scientific evidence that wearing head gear on the soccer field prevents concussions. They said that it might prevent cuts and bruises.
Skeen, the maker of the Full 90 head gear, disputes those claims. He stands by his products and says that that two independent studies support his product.
At the request of Full 90 Sports, we spoke to a few doctors who say they recommend the headgear to their patients because they say it might disperse the forces to the head in a collision; but even those doctors agreed, there is no definite evidence that headgear reduces the risk of concussions in soccer.
Skeen says that he wishes there were more studies about the use of head gear to prevent concussions.
“I think they’re right, there is not enough evidence. I’d like there to be more evidence,” Skeen said. “And that’s what I want. I want indisputable evidence. ..I’m here to try to reduce injuries, not sell product.”