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December 12th, 2012
12:39 PM ET

From 58 pounds to thriving: One woman's story

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds.  Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  This week we introduce you to Chelsea Roff, who had a stroke at 15 brought on by her severe anorexia. At the time she arrived at Children's Medical Center Dallas, she weighed 58 pounds. Now 23, Roff is a writer, speaker and yoga instructor. Portions of this article were originally published in the book 21st Century Yoga: Culture Politics and Practice and on Intent Blog, where Roff is managing editor.

The first emotion I remember is rage. It was a violent, fire-in-your-veins, so angry-you-could-kill-someone kind of rage. I wanted out. I wanted the pain to be over. I wanted to die. I was mad at myself for not having the courage to just do it quickly, angry at the hospital staff for thwarting my masked attempt.

I was convinced that I was “meant to” endure this, that my long, drawn-out starving to death would prove my willpower to God. In the days prior to my stroke, I’d had vivid hallucinations — of Jesus on a wooden cross outside my bedroom window and a satanic figure sneaking up under my bedroom covers to suffocate me at night. I thought I was meant to be a martyr. I thought God wanted me to die. FULL POST


December 5th, 2012
03:01 PM ET

Anti-cancer champion coach beats his own cancer

Editor's Note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds.  Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  This week we introduce you to Brigham Young University Men's Basketball Coach Dave Rose.   For the past two decades, he has been involved with a group called Coaches vs. Cancer. Being part of this group took on a whole new meaning for Rose over the past three years.  

In June of 2009, my wife and I went on vacation with our children and grandchildren to Disneyland.  At that time, I was very intense about my job, so my wife will say she had to drag me away from my team and coaching.  I'm so glad she did.  We had a wonderful time.  It was the perfect vacation with my whole family.

After Disneyland, things for me took a turn.  I became very sick on a flight from California to Las Vegas, and when we landed I was taken by ambulance to Spring Valley Hospital.  A CT scan showed there was a mass in my abdomen, so the doctors went in and removed it along with my spleen and part of my pancreas.  The next day they told us it was pancreatic cancer. FULL POST

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Filed under: Cancer • Conditions • Human Factor • Living Well

November 28th, 2012
09:57 AM ET

Gymnastics and acrobatics help performer rise above addiction

Editor's Note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship - they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  This week we introduce you to Joe Putignano, the "Crystal Man" in Cirque du Soleil's touring show "Totem."  He shares his story of how he was a rising gymnast with Olympic potential, who came crashing down into a life of alcohol, cocaine and heroin addiction.   After two life-threatening overdoses, he finally got clean, and says it was gymnastics that pulled him back to life.  

Spotlights drench over me in a warm glow, and in this illumination I can no longer hide my past from the world - any insecurities will be exposed to an audience of thousands.  In fear I hold my breath, binding myself to the band’s soft prelude, slowly unraveling myself from a tight spinning ball.  Evolutio means “unrolling” in Latin and is the theme of our Cirque du Soleil show Totem.  Evolution is the common thread in my life, from athlete to drug addict to performer.

The voice of my horrific past sings to me over the live music, and my memories of my life with heroin bleed into my performance.  I am reminded of the fine-tipped syringe I held in my hand with the small words printed “Use once and destroy.”  I feel a strong connection to that statement, envious of those who can use once, put it down, and not be destroyed by it. FULL POST


November 21st, 2012
10:01 AM ET

Lessons learned from surviving cancer 5 times

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  Chef Eric LeVine has won awards, written a cookbook and beat out three competitors to become a Food Network "Chopped" champion.  But his biggest battles have been with cancer. He's won five times, and in the process he's learned about the importance of support and the weight of the family burden that comes with those battles.

When I found out that I had cancer for the first time, I decided not to say anything to my family members for about six weeks.  Why?  That's the question my family asked me when I finally told them.

I had a lot to consider.  I had thought about the pressure and concern they would all have for me.  I thought about the weight that would put on them, the worry they would have and I just didn't want them to worry.  I have always been the one to carry my friends and family,  to help when I could, to be the strong one.  I didn't want to be perceived as needy or weak. It's just not in my DNA.

I never asked for help; I never wanted it, no matter how sick I was. I drove myself to treatments and asked everyone to just treat me as if nothing was wrong. FULL POST


November 14th, 2012
08:16 AM ET

Parkinson's didn't stop his space walk

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  As a teenager Rich Clifford dreamed of being an astronaut. After a successful career in the army, his dream of traveling into space came true.  Then he was diagnosed with a serious brain disorder - a secret he kept for 15 years.

It had been a little more than four months since completing my second space shuttle mission, STS-59, on the shuttle Endeavour.

I was finishing my annual flight physical at the Johnson Space Center Flight Medicine Clinic.  The words from the flight surgeon were as expected: I was in great condition with nothing of note.  Then I asked the doctor to look at my right shoulder because my racketball game was suffering.

He asked if I had pain. I told him I wasn't in pain, but my right arm did not swing naturally when I walked. This comment must have set off some alarm because he observed my walk down the hall and quickly said he would take me downtown to the Texas Medical Center the next day.
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November 9th, 2012
09:43 AM ET

Healing wounds, one tattoo at a time

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. Basma Hameed was severely burned as a toddler and lived with visible scars for a long time.  Then she found tattoos and a way to help others overcome their pain. 

After 16 years of constant surgeries and pain, nothing can compare to the pain of people's stares and comments.  Imagine going through so many surgeries, then meeting someone and the first thing they say is: "What happened to your face? Have you tried surgery?"

People could not accept my scars and the main reason was because I had not accepted them myself.  I couldn't accept that this accident did happen to me and this is my face forever.

I was in denial for so many years. I would lock myself in my bedroom and did not want to go outside because I was not comfortable with everyone's reactions.

I did not have anyone I could relate to growing up, and I did not look like what the media portrays as "beautiful."  I believed that if  you didn't look a certain way, then you could not be accepted and were not "normal." FULL POST


October 31st, 2012
11:50 AM ET

A tale of two transplants

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessedTwo years ago, we profiled singer Charity Tillemann-Dick, whose lungs were failing due to pulmonary hypertension.  But she survived thanks to a double-lung transplant.  This week Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports on how this soprano from Denver, Colorado, was facing death a second time because her lungs were failing again. Here, Tillemann-Dick writes about her struggle.

It was the worst of times.  I was afraid to go to sleep, fearing the next breath just wouldn’t come if I didn’t force my diaphragm down. The muscle is supposed to work involuntarily, but I think my diaphragm forgot that fact.

I had tubes coming out of my arms, wrists, chest and anywhere else you might be able to fit a tube.  My body ached.  My head pounded. I was miserable. Still, all I wanted was to live.  I wanted to wake up and see my husband.  I wanted to sit down at a meal and eat with my family. I wanted to stay up late gossiping with my mother and my sisters. I wanted to go outside and take a walk. I wanted to continue my life-long dream of being an opera singer.

I was waiting at The Cleveland Clinic for a lung transplant. But I wasn't waiting for my first. One year earlier, my body began to reject the first set of transplanted lungs and so I waited behind others, hoping a match would come but knowing it wasn’t a sure thing -– it wasn’t even likely. FULL POST


October 17th, 2012
07:36 AM ET

Drum Major hopes to change perception of visually impaired

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week, Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces us to 22-year-old college senior Paul Heddings, who leads one of the largest college marching bands in the United States.

September 7, 2007, is a day I will never forget.

That was the day I learned my life was going to change forever. I was 17 years old and leading a typical high school life in Carrollton, Missouri.

I loved sports, especially playing on my high school’s baseball team. I was also very invested in extracurricular activities like band, show choir and speech/debate.  I thought I had my life planned out before me when that day in September happened.

I went to the eye doctor thinking I needed a new contact lens prescription and instead was sent to the emergency room to undergo the first of several invasive surgeries.
FULL POST


October 10th, 2012
11:12 AM ET

Cancer doctor is also a cancer survivor

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. Dr. Alyssa Rieber has known since she was a child that she wanted to be a doctor. What type of doctor she became changed when she became a patient herself.

A simple goal brought Alyssa Rieber to attend medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, 15 years ago.

"Just helping people. And I know that sounds so trite and that's what everybody says, but that's really why I wanted to be a doctor was to help people."

Rieber says she loved the movie "Doc Hollywood" with Michael J. Fox, in which a doctor is sentenced to work in a small-town hospital.

"I was like, 'That's what I want to do.' So I was all ready to move out into a small town and take care of everybody and be the town doctor. And then during my first few months of med school, things shifted quite a bit (when) I was diagnosed with cancer."
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October 3rd, 2012
09:05 AM ET

'Lil JaXe' finds refuge in rap

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. Jake Zeldin, 13, endured a lot of bullying, from classmates and even some teachers, all because he has a severe stutter. Then he discovered rap. He took the stage at the "We Day" event in Toronto, Ontario, last month.

September 28, 2012, was the most awesome moment that I have ever experienced in my whole entire life. My first reaction was that I was so excited. I could not wait to get to the Air Canada Center and rock the stage.

After two weeks of practicing, I was about to go on the same stage as Jay-Z, Kanye West, Elton John and all of my other favorites. So many emotions were running through my head.

I started thinking about how different my life was a year ago - how it was so hard to get through a day because of the way people teased me and bullied me. All I wanted to do was to show people how well I could rap. It was the only thing I wanted to do.
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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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