Scots teen in bid for ‘life-changing’ bionic legs
Mark SweeneyImage copyrightMark Sweeney
Image caption Mark Sweeney has been a wheelchair user since an operation on his spinal cord when he was 11.

When Mark Sweeney was left paralysed from the waist down by an operation on his spinal cord, he and his family were left devastated.

Becoming a wheelchair user aged just 11, he was left angry and resentful, unable to ride his bike and play with his friends.

But now aged 18, the teenager is hoping to get back on his feet for the first time in seven years with the help of a “bionic suit”.

And the aspiring actor hopes the life-changing kit could even help him land his dream role in the BBC’s River City.

The technology is known as a ReWalk exoskeleton suit and it enables people with certain conditions to walk independently using “robotic legs”.

With the help of his family, Mr Sweeney, from Motherwell, is trying to raise the £80,000 needed to buy the hi-tech suit.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Kaye Adams programme of his reaction when he successfully tested the technology.

“The feeling is indescribable,” he said. “I was incapable of crying, I burst out laughing instead.”

Image copyrightMark Sweeney
Image caption Mr Sweeney said he quickly learned how to use a suit during testing.

Mr Sweeney was born with a series of spine and brain conditions, including Spina Bifida, and he spent much of his childhood in hospital, undergoing dozens of operations.

He was able to walk but his spinal cord became progressively weaker and after surgery on a cyst, he was left paralysed.

“I woke up in a blind panic because I couldn’t feel anything, I couldn’t move,” he recalled. “I immediately started questioning my mum, saying ‘what the hell has happened to me?'”

He said it led to him becoming more isolated. “The life I was leading, I was forced to stop,” he said. “I was doing everything a kid of that age would do, going out on my bike, playing with my friends, but I couldn’t do any of that.”

His mother, Margaret Sweeney, said her son was left “very, very angry and resentful” by his sudden paralysis and it had a dramatic effect on family life.

“Every single day in life the whole family is affected,” she said.

When she discovered an advert for the exoskeleton ReWalk suit online, she worked tirelessly to set up a “test-drive” for her son.

Acting career

Before he tried the device, he was warned that it could take three weeks of training before he would be able to walk successfully.

“On the first day, within three minutes of putting Mark in the suit, he got up and walked away,” said his mother.

Mr Sweeney, who is studying administration and IT at college, believes the suit could give him the independence he craves.

“Most people take their mobility for granted but once you lose it, you realise what it was you were able to do which you now can’t,” he said.

“It would make a lot of difference, it would make my life so much easier,” he added. “Even towards my possible acting career, it would open up so many gateways because I would be able to do more stuff.

“It would make my life so much more independent. I would be able to go places by myself without tiring out from pushing my chair or relying on someone else to push me.”

Spencer Watts uses an exoskeleton suit after securing funding from the Matt Hampson Foundation earlier this year. He is paralysed from the waist down after a motorbike accident as a teenager.

He told BBC Scotland it had transformed his life. “I’ve got two young children and just walking along to the park with them, looking down at them and them looking up at me is just awesome.”

Young people ‘experimenting more in bed’
Feet of a couple in bedImage copyrightGetty Images

Young people are taking part in a wider range of sexual practices, including anal sex, with opposite sex partners, research reveals.

Experts looked at responses to a national sex survey that has been carried out every 10 years since 1990 in the UK.

More than one in 10 millennial teenagers said they had tried anal sex by the age of 18.

By the age of 22 to 24, three in every 10 said they had tried it.

Vaginal and oral sex are still the most common types of sexual activity between young men and women, however.

The age that young people start having sex – vaginal, anal or oral – has not changed much in recent decades.

In the most recent survey, it was 16.

While the study in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows what types of sex people are having, it doesn’t shed light on why preferences are changing.

Experts can only speculate, but say society has become more accepting and less judgemental about sexual experimentation.

Breaking down taboos

Kaye Wellings, senior author and professor of sexual and reproductive health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “The changes in practices we see here are consistent with the widening of other aspects of young people’s sexual experience, and are perhaps not surprising given the rapidly changing social context and the ever-increasing number of influences on sexual behaviour.”

Prof Cynthia Graham is a professor in sexual and reproductive health at the University of Southampton.

She said the internet and media might have played a role in breaking down sexual taboos.

“The internet means people can easily find and see things that they would not have been able to in the past.

“Anal sex is still pretty stigmatised, but attitudes appear to be changing. We know society has become more accepting of things like same sex behaviour overall. But there’s very little research out there about anal sex and motivation.”

She said more studies were needed to inform sex education and equip young people with the information they need for their sexual health.

NI child heart patients going to Dublin triple in number
Heart surgeryImage copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Twenty-three children travelled from Northern Ireland to Dublin for heart surgery so far this year

The number of children from Northern Ireland receiving heart surgery in Dublin has almost tripled this year.

Between January and September, 23 children travelled to Our Lady Children’s Hospital in Dublin, compared to just eight in all of 2016.

There has also been an increase in adolescent patients from the Republic travelling north for treatment.

Children’s heart surgery services at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) ceased in 2015.

Leading world heart specialists who attended a weekend conference in Belfast were told the all-island Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) Network is delivering better outcomes for children across Ireland.

Keynote speaker Dr Christopher Caldarone, from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, told BBC News NI that countries had a lot to learn from the network.

“I am looking forward to learning how the network is evolving here,” he said.

Image caption Dr Christopher Caldarone said countries had a lot to learn from the all-Ireland network

“We have a complex network in Ontario where we have patients cared for on four or five different sites.

“We use a lot of teleconferencing, a lot of sharing of information. We can learn from our colleagues in Belfast and Dublin who are already working together.”

Family close-by

A number of heart families also attended to share their experience.

Annette Savage and her daughter Rianna said the service meant that care was provided just 100 miles away.

Rianna, an 11-year-old pupil at St Louise’s Comprehensive College in Belfast, said being treated at Our Lady’s Hospital meant all her family could be close-by.

“Being in Dublin meant my two brothers could come and visit me. It also meant my mum and my dad could stay,” she said.

“The nurses were the same throughout my stay which was great because I got to know them. ”

Image caption Rianna Savage said being treated at Our Lady’s Hospital meant all her family could be close by

Rianna’s mum Annette said she could not imagine having to travel to England while leaving the rest of the family in Belfast.

“Initially Rianna had gone to have a stent inserted, but required emergency open heart surgery,” she said.

“We weren’t expecting it and while it was traumatic, not being too far from home was great in that family came down and, as I am diabetic, at the last minute they were able to bring me all my medication too.

“It was stressful – but it could have been worse. We just took the positive out of what was a bad situation.”

The CHD Network is the first integrated clinical network to operate on an island-wide basis.

It emerged following a commitment from the Irish government and NI Executive in 2015 to create a “world-class patient and family-centric CHD service for the island of Ireland”.

The network was launched after health ministers on both sides of the border accepted the recommendations of an international working group led by Dr John Mayer from Boston Children’s Hospital.

Image caption Heart specialists attended a weekend conference in Belfast

Dr Frank Casey, a consultant paediatric cardiologist in Belfast, said the past year has seen significant progress.

“We have worked very hard to accommodate the difficult group of patients, including the urgent and emergency patients and that was a very big worry for us in Belfast,” Dr Casey said.

“Also fewer have to travel to England so that is working for children and their families.”

Lars Nolke a Cardiologist at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Dublin’s Crumlin area said the network was proving a success.

“The surgical part of the programme is growing and will continue to grow as Crumlin continues to increase and we can extend our capacity,” he said.

Shaming Overweight Kids Only Makes Things Worse

MONDAY, Nov. 20, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Overweight kids who are shamed or stigmatized are more likely to binge eat or isolate themselves than to make positive changes such as losing weight, a leading pediatricians’ group says.

In a new policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers guidance to help parents, teachers, school officials and pediatricians assist overweight and obese children without making them feel bad about themselves.

“We see a growing problem regarding weight stigma. In a misguided attempt to get kids to change, people end up reinforcing negative coping behaviors,” said policy statement lead author Dr. Stephen Pont.

“We saw an opportunity to make providers aware of the stigma and to make the public aware of the weight stigma,” he added.

People often believe that by shaming an overweight person or child they can help motivate them to make healthy changes in their lives. But that’s definitely not what happens.

The statement authors said rather than motivating kids, stigmatizing them can worsen obesity by making children less likely to be physically active or to seek health care. It also makes binge eating and social isolation more likely, the statement said.

Weight stigma can dramatically affect the quality of life of young people.

Dr. Chris Karampahtsis is a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. He said he saw a previous study that compared quality of life for cancer patients versus quality of life for obese patients, and that cancer patients reported a better quality of life.

The new statement, published online Nov. 20 in the journal Pediatrics, is accompanied by a new study that focused on how society and the media aren’t helping to dampen the stigma overweight kids feel. What’s worse, the media is likely a significant contributor to young people’s weight problems in the first place.

This study, whose lead author is Dr. Eliana Perrin of Duke University School of Medicine, looked at 31 top-grossing G and PG-rated movies from 2012 to 2015.

The researchers found that all of the movies had obesity-promoting content. For example, 87 percent showed unhealthy food and 71 percent showed excessive portion sizes. Nearly two-thirds of the films showed people drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.

As these movies promote unhealthy behaviors that could lead to obesity, they also stigmatize kids who weigh too much, the researchers noted.

Eighty-four percent of the movies promoted weight-related stigma, such as a verbal insult on body weight. The researchers also noted that these weren’t isolated incidents, but themes that cropped up throughout the movies.

What can parents do to help their overweight kids deal with other kids and the media, and maybe even their own negative talk?

First, parents probably feel the need to correct dangerous behaviors quickly, Pont noted. Parents may default to behaviors they learned growing up and say things like, “Don’t eat that. You’ll get fat.”

“That makes the child feel poorly, and definitely not motivated to wash vegetables for a salad,” Pont said.

Parents need to be mindful of their word choices, he said, and they need to help their child make small changes.

“Let your child guide the ship and choose what to change. Maybe the family — yes, family, so you don’t isolate the kiddo — will start eating more fruits and vegetables,” Pont said.

“I think most parents approach weight with good intentions. Clearly, parents want to help their child maintain the best health they can. And they may not be aware that the way they approach the conversation may have the opposite effect,” said Karampahtsis, who wasn’t involved with the study.

“Approaching the topic of weight in an empathetic, sensitive manner is critical. Don’t call the child fat or obese. The goal is to motivate behavioral change to maintain good health,” he said.

Both experts said it’s a smart idea to involve the child’s doctor.

Sometimes kids don’t actually need to lose weight, Pont said. If they can avoid gaining weight, then their weight may normalize as they grow. Kids are still building bones and muscle, so it’s important they get the right nutrition to do so. The pediatrician can help you figure out what steps your child needs to take to live a healthier life, he noted.

Breast cancer tumours ‘larger’ in overweight women
Overweight woman's torsoImage copyrightGetty Images

Cancerous breast lumps are less likely to be detected in overweight or obese women before the tumour becomes large, a Swedish study has found.

These women may need more frequent mammograms to help spot early tumours, say researchers, but experts say more evidence is needed.

In the UK, women aged 50-70 are invited for screening every three years.

Some women judged to be at higher risk of breast cancer are already offered more frequent screening.

This might be a woman with a strong family history of breast cancer, for example.

Being overweight also increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, but it is not currently considered for setting breast screening intervals.

Obesity risk

The Karolinksa Institute study involved 2,012 women who developed breast cancer between 2001 and 2008.

The women had been receiving mammograms every 18 months to two years, as standard in Sweden.

The researchers looked at how large the tumours were at diagnosis, as well as the women’s body mass index (BMI), a measure of obesity.

The team found women who were overweight were more likely to have a larger tumour when detected either at their mammogram or between screenings.

This might be because their breasts were larger and therefore the tumour was harder to find, or because their tumours grew at a faster rate, the study’s lead author Fredrik Strand told the BBC.

Larger tumours tend to carry a worse prognosis.

More frequent screenings

Dr Strand said: “Our study suggests that when a clinician presents the pros and cons of breast cancer screening to the patient, having high BMI should be an important ‘pro’ argument.

“In addition, our findings suggest that women with high BMI should consider shorter time intervals between screenings.”

But Sophia Lowes, from Cancer Research UK, said the study, which is being presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, did not provide enough evidence to support changing how often women are screened.

“Breast screening has harms as well as benefits.

“It saves lives by helping detect breast cancer at an early stage, but harms include some women being diagnosed with a cancer that would never have caused them problems in their lifetime.

“The time between screening is designed to help the benefits outweigh the harms overall.”

‘Stillbirth was hardest day of my life’

Women are being advised to sleep on their side in the last three months of pregnancy to help prevent stillbirth.

Grace, a mother from Bradford in West Yorkshire, lost her first baby when she was 35 weeks pregnant.

Some cancer patients have PTSD years after diagnosis, study finds
Becki McGuinnessImage copyrightCarine Bea
Image caption Becki McGuinness suffers from PTSD after her cancer treatment left her infertile

A fifth of cancer patients experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a Malaysian study has found.

About one-third of these still had consistent or worsening PTSD four years after diagnosis.

The researchers said PTSD needed to be identified, monitored and treated early.

Becki McGuinness, who was diagnosed with bone cancer, said the resulting PTSD and depression were the biggest challenges for her.

Becki was treated with chemotherapy after being diagnosed at the age of 21. When it didn’t work, she was told she would need radiotherapy.

“By the time I’d finished radiotherapy, and a few months passed, my periods were stopping.

“It wasn’t until I was 23 that I found out that I’d gone through the menopause and was infertile,” she said.

‘I could have saved your fertility’

Becki was devastated – even more so when she found out it could have been prevented.

“I was waiting a whole month for my treatment. I later saw a gynaecologist who said, ‘If you’d only been sent to me I could have saved your fertility.'”

It left her with depression and PTSD, which she still lives with seven years on.

“I could take all the physical stuff. I could take even that I might die but when something’s taken away and it’s not your choice, that’s what I find quite stressful.

“If you take that person’s choice away, it’s like saying you’re not worth picking for yourself what you want for your future.”

Image copyrightCarine Bea

The team followed 469 patients with various types of cancer at one referral centre in Malaysia.

They tested them for PTSD after six months and then again four years after they’d been diagnosed. At six months, 21% had PTSD. This dropped to 6% four years on.

“Many cancer patients believe they need to adopt a ‘warrior mentality’, and remain positive and optimistic from diagnosis through treatment to stand a better chance of beating their cancer,” said the study’s lead author, Caryn Mei Hsien Chan.

“To these patients, seeking help for the emotional issues they face is akin to admitting weakness.

“There needs to be greater awareness that there is nothing wrong with getting help to manage the emotional upheaval – particularly depression, anxiety, and PTSD post-cancer.”

While the association between PTSD and cancer hasn’t been studied in the UK, government data shows one in five people with cancer report having moderate to severe mental health issues. Macmillan Cancer Support estimates this to be about 530,000 people with cancer in the UK.

Living in fear

Dr Chan also stressed that many patients lived in fear that their cancer may return.

The fear and depression can cause them to skip appointments as they trigger negative memories, which can be detrimental to their health.

The study also found patients with breast cancer – who received special dedicated support and counselling at the centre studied – were almost four times less likely to develop PTSD in the short term.

Dr Chan said: “We need psychological evaluation and support services for patients with cancer at an initial stage and at continued follow-ups because psychological well-being and mental health – and by extension, quality of life – are just as important as physical health.”

Dany Bell from Macmillan Cancer Support said: “It is tragic, but sadly not surprising, that so many people with cancer suffer from PTSD.

“While a common perception is that people should feel ‘lucky’ to have survived cancer, we often hear from people who felt that the support they received ‘dropped away’ when their treatment ended. The health and care system has a long way to go in terms of supporting people after cancer treatment.”


Becki couldn’t agree more. She said her mental health support was inadequate and the consequences remain with her.

“You see children and you try and block it out but realise the depression is something that will keep popping up,” she said.

Her cancer is now in remission but she stills lives in a lot of pain that prevents her from working.

She devotes time to campaigning for awareness for fertility preservation, to make sure others don’t have to go through what she has.

Becki said: “That’s given me the empowerment to deal with it a lot better than if I’d been sitting at home, thinking about it.

“I’ll keep raising the issue to make sure young people get their needs met.”

Why do so many US women die giving birth?

While progress has been made to curb death rates among women in other countries, the US has seen an increase since the year 2000.

For the BBC’s America First? series, the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool is exploring health and social issues where the US, the richest country in the world, does not perform well in international rankings.

Video by Franz Strasser; produced by Ashley Semler and filmed by Pete Murtaugh.

Women advised to sleep on side to help prevent stillbirth
Pregnant woman sleeping on her sideImage copyrightScience Photo Library

Women are being advised to sleep on their side in the last three months of pregnancy to help prevent stillbirth.

A study of just over 1,000 women found the risk doubles if women go to sleep on their backs in the third trimester.

The study looked into 291 pregnancies that ended in stillbirth and 735 women who had a live birth.

Researchers say the position in which women fall asleep in is most important – and they should not worry if they are on their back when they wake up.

About one in 225 pregnancies in the UK ends in stillbirth and the study authors estimate that about 130 babies’ lives a year could be saved if women went to sleep on their side.

The MiNESS study, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG) is the biggest of its kind, and confirms findings from smaller studies in New Zealand and Australia.

Is waking up on your back a problem?

Prof Alexander Heazell, clinical director at the Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, who led the research, advises women in their third trimester to sleep on their side for any episode of sleep, including daytime naps.

“What I don’t want is for women to wake up flat on their back and think ‘oh my goodness I’ve done something awful to my baby’.

“The question that we asked was very specifically what position people went to sleep in and that’s important as you spend longer in that position than you do in any other.

“And also you can’t do anything about the position that you wake up in but you can do something about the position you go to sleep.”

Tips for going to sleep on your side

  • Put a pillow or pillows behind your back to encourage side-sleeping
  • If you wake during the night, check your position and go back to sleep on your side
  • Pay the same attention to sleep position during the day as you would during the night
  • If you wake on your back during the night, don’t worry, just roll on to your side
  • The study didn’t find a difference in risk between right or left side

Source: Tommy’s charity

Researchers can’t say for certain why the risk of stillbirth is increased – but there is a lot of data that suggests when a woman is lying on her back, the combined weight of the baby and womb puts pressure on blood vessels which can then restrict blood flow and oxygen to the baby.

Edward Morris, from the BJOG, said the new research was “extremely welcome” .

“This is an important study which adds to the growing body of evidence that sleep position in late pregnancy is a modifiable risk factor for stillbirth.”

The pregnancy charity Tommy’s has started a campaign to raise awareness of the study and to encourage women to sleep on their side.

Image copyrightFamily photo
Image caption Michelle Cottle is 36 and lives in London – she is a clinical psychologist and writes an award-winning blog Dear Orla

Michelle Cottle’s baby Orla was stillborn at 37 weeks in 2016 after a healthy pregnancy where there were no signs that anything was wrong.

She writes a blog “Dear Orla” and hears from women who have been through the same experience.

Michelle, whose daughter Esme was born a year later, says practical advice like this for mothers is important to make them feel more in control.

“I really think it helps to empower people, as it feels like something you can go away and do with the hope of having a more healthy pregnancy and a better outcome than sadly lots of people do have.

“I look back now and I actually feel quite traumatised by my (second) pregnancy because it was a bit like living your worst nightmare every single day.

“Every time there’s maybe a quiet moment and you don’t know whether your baby is alive or not is absolutely terrifying.

“Night-time is the worst as well because a lot of people would say they believe that their baby died maybe when they were sleeping. I think that’s really scary because you have to sleep.

“So I think having clear things that can help you feel a bit more in control is really important for women.”