Aug 13

Seven men were arraigned this month for the murder of a Pensacola, FL couple in their home. The slain couple, Byrd and Melanie Billings, were well-known in the community because in addition to their own four biological children, they had also adopted 13 special needs children. Nine of those children were sleeping in the house when their adoptive parents were murdered.

It’s difficult to imagine the traumatic effect this crime will have on those children, who are now orphaned once again. Author Chelsey Shannon can imagine it, unfortunately, at least a little bit. After losing her mother to cancer at the age of six, Chelsey came home from a normal school day when she was 13 years old to find out that her father had been murdered during a robbery attempt. Chelsey became an orphan and a teen in crisis just days before her 14th birthday.

“I thought I had known distraction before, but nothing compared to my total inability to consider anything else but my father and his death,” Shannon writes in her book, titled “Chelsey,” which recounts the murder of her father and her effort to rebuild her life as a teenager without parents.

“In the beginning, I’d thought the grief would kill me – that it would be just too much to bear,” Chelsey says in her book. “I was alone. My family told me again and again I was not, but without him, I was. I was no longer anyone’s child.”

Grief is a difficult emotional process for anyone. But psychologists have found that often when death is sudden or violent, those left behind often experience a different kind of grief called “traumatic bereavement,” which is more complex because of the additional fear and horror associated with the tragic nature of the incident that caused the death.

Although there are many national support groups available for parents who have lost children to crime, there is not as much support easily accessible to children who have lost parents to crime. And when crime leaves a child without any parents at all, like it did with the Billings children in Florida, there are additional feelings of abandonment and betrayal, and very few resources to help these children cope with the extreme complexity of their loss.

Shannon hopes that her book will be one of those resources. Because it contains some very personal writings that Shannon did as part of her own grief process, the book provides unique insights for children of crime victims and orphans. The teen author will also provided additional insights about her book, her struggles, and her emergence from grief during a live web conference event, which was broadcast on more than 30 websites, and has been viewed more than 1,000 times. The teen fielded more than 300 qestions and comments from viewers during that event.

There has been no official statements made yet about the fate of the nine Billings children, or if there is a will with provisions in it about the care of the children in the event that both parents would be murdered in their home by seven men dressed as ninjas. It’s just not the type of situation that most people plan for.

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Aug 12

This month the court of Morrow County, Oregon received a request to declare a West Nile virus state of emergency due to a sudden appearance of infected mosquitos there. West Nile is a pathogen that is native to Uganda, and can be transmitted to humans with a single mosquito bite.

Morrow county is a place that is near to the hometown of author, Emily Smucker. But West Nile virus is a disease that is not so dear to her heart, after she lost her senior year in high school to it.

In her newly released book, Smucker gives a detailed account of her struggle to survive the potentially deadly West Nile virus after she contracted it at the age of 17. What was thought at first to be just another “Emily flu,” turned into a serious chronic illness that the teenager is still struggling to overcome two years later.

While most people will experience no symptoms or mild effect after being bitten by West Nile infected mosquitos, others will experience severe and long-lasting effects which can include encephalitis, meningitis, and permanent damage to the central nervous system. If the virus spreads to the brain, death is a possibility as well.

Considering the worst possibilities of the virus, the severe fevers, headaches, and debilitating weakness that incapacitated Smucker were not the worst things that could have happened to her. Being isolated from her friends, missing every aspect of her senior year, and not being able to graduate, however, made it feel to Emily that the worst things that could have happened had actually happened. She was still a teenager, after all.

“Sometimes it feels like I’ll never be able to do anything in life, to go anywhere in life, because I’m sick all the time” Smucker wrote in her book. “And other times it feels like I am missing a huge chunk of life, and in place of that missing chunk is sickness.”

Smucker’s experiences with battling West Nile virus were documented on her blog while she was living through them. Her book is a memoir of sorts which gives readers an intimate look at the emotional, spiritual, and identity crises that chronic illness can create. The author provided more insights about the experiences documented in her book during an open web conference this month, which has been viewed by more than 1,000 people. The teen fielded about 300 questions and comments from participants during that event.

“The world would be an easier place if everyone I knew had gotten West Nile in their past, that way I wouldn’t have to spend so much time explaining to people what it was like,” Smucker wrote in her book. “So maybe someday someone else will have the same thing, and I’ll make their life a little easier, because I’ll know how to empathize.”

With the outbreak in Oregon this week, and other major West Nile outbreaks reported in California, Alberta, Canada, and even the Galapagos Islands this summer, unfortunately, Smucker may have to see that wish come true.

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Aug 11

A teenager in the UK has reportedly received that nation’s first successful eyelash transplant surgery, a miracle procedure that became necessary because the teen suffers from trichotillomania.

A condition with no definite cause, trichotillomania causes up to 11 million people in the U.S. to compulsively pull out their own hair. Sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, people with trichotillomania use their fingers to pluck out individual hairs from their head, their eyebrows, their pubic area, or in the case of the woman in Great Britain, from their eyelashes. Without intervention, the compulsive behavior can lead to bald spots, or the complete removal of hair from certain parts of the body.

Although it seems like the condition would have a psychological root cause, trichotillomania has been documented in patients as young as one year old. For Marni Bates, author of a new memoir about her own struggles with trichotillomania, hair-pulling was born out of a desire to be more attractive.

Marni convinced herself that pulling out her eyebrow hairs would make her more beautiful. By itself, eyebrow plucking is not an unusual thing, but when Marni’s hair-pulling also included her eyelashes and bangs, she knew her compulsion no longer had anything to do with a normal beauty regime.

After struggling with the condition all throughout high school, Marni is now successfully coping with it, and is working to raise awareness about the condition and the help that is available to other “trich teens.” In conjunction with the release of her autobiographical trichotillomania book, Marni answered questions about “trich” in a live web conference that was broadcast simultaneously on 30 websites. Marni fielded more than 300 questions and comments about trichotillomania from participants during that web event.

Currently there is no known cure for trichotillomania, but treatments similar to those used for patients with other obsessive compulsive disorders are often useful in helping to minimize the hair-pulling compulsion. Sometimes reconstructive surgery, like the eyelash transplant performed in Great Britain, is necessary to repair the long-term effects of the hair-pulling disorder.

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