Full face transplant lets firefighter finally feel like a ‘normal guy’ again

August 25, 2016

Just one year after receiving the world’s most extensive face transplant, a firefighter in Mississippi says he feels like a ’normal guy’ for the first time since a burning building collapsed on top of him 15 years ago, the Guardian reported this week.

Speaking to reporters at NYU Langone Medical Center, Patrick Hardison, 42, said, “I’m here today because I want others to see that there is hope beyond the injury.”

As a result of the surgery performed in August, 2015, he reported that he can now see, hear, eat and breathe normally. Moreover, he no longer worries about, “people pointing and staring or kids running away crying.”

Back in 2001, Patrick Hardison was a volunteer firefighter in Senatoba, Mississippi, when a burning building came crashing down on top of him.

In the years following, he underwent 71 reconstructive surgeries before receiving the transplant. 

According to a BBC News article, the history of face transplants is very recent, only dating back eleven years.

In 2005, a French woman received a partial face transplant to replace her nose, lips and chin. Since then, there have apparently been just under 40 face transplant surgeries conducted around the world.

Yet what set’s the surgery conducted on Hardison apart is that it is said to be the first transplant to include a scalp and functioning eyelids, the Guardian informs us.

Since the transplant, doctors have also apparently removed Hardison’s breathing and feeding tubes, and made a few adjustments to his features.

In terms of his appearance, the Mississippi firefighter now looks much like he once did. There are no scars on his face, and he once again has a mop of sandy brown hair. Only now his face is rounder and his eyes smaller than before.

The transplant has also made huge practical changes on his daily life.

Prior to the surgery, his field of vision was severely restricted, he said, because doctors had partially sewn shut his eyelids to protect his eyes. 

This has changed thanks to the transplant, as he is once again able to drive and live independently. 

According to Hardison, the effect on his emotional wellbeing has also been dramatic. 

“Before the transplant, every day I had to wake up and get myself motivated to face the world,” he said. 

Now, he said, “I’m pretty much back to being a normal guy doing normal activities. My life has changed, and it has been renewed.”

Back in June, on a trip to Disney World, he said, “I swam in the pool with my children for the first time in 15 years.”

At the news conference, Hardison was joined by four of his five children. His daughter Allison, 21, also noticed a marked difference in her father.

“After the injury he wasn’t normal on the inside. He was very unhappy.” She said. “Now he’s happy with himself and happy with life.”

The Mississippi firefighter, whose donor was a 26 year old artist said to have died in a bike accident in Brooklyn, has been lucky not to have faced any issues with his body rejecting the transplant. 

Eduardo Rodriguez, chairman of the plastic surgery department at Langone, puts this down to the medication, Hardison’s children, as well as his own strength. 

Rodriguez described the man as a “remarkable individual.”

Hardison said he hopes to meet with his donor’s family in the autumn.

 

Sources include: BBC News, Guardian

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Warmer ocean threatens California sea lion population

July 25, 2016
Photos of California sea lions

California sea lion harem at San Miguel Island rookery. Taken by Tony Orr (NOAA)

According to a recent Reuters article, biologists have reported worrying trends in the California sea lion population resulting from a warming ocean. This has seen both lower birth rates, and an alarming increase in young sea lions starving and being stranded on the beaches.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), since January this year, already over 2,000, mostly young sea lions have been found either dead or dying on the southern and central coasts of California.

This is apparently over twice the average number of stranded animals considered normal, yet comes nowhere near the record 4,600 beached sea lions found in 2015, predominantly in the first half of that year. (Of those animals beached in 2015, rescue teams were able to rehabilitate and release 1,300. The rest were already dead when found or died during rehabilitation.)

Rather than seeing this year’s reduction in stranded sea lions as a positive sign, however, NOAA biologists have proposed that this fall may in fact be a consequence of the declining birthrate. Both phenomena are thought to be due to rising ocean temperatures along the Pacific Coast, which has caused increasing scarcity in the sea lion’s food supply of sardines, anchovy and squid.

The California sea lion population has been estimated to be around 300,000; however this was prior to the dramatic rise in beached animals which began in 2013, the overall impact of which has not yet been calculated.

In contrast to other sea lion populations, California sea lions are not yet considered too be a species at risk. Nevertheless, if continued for a decade or more, this trend could pose “pretty dire consequences,” said NOAA’s Jeff Laake. 

According to Laake, “It’s all nutrition-based.” 

Scarcity of food around the island rookeries off Southern California has lead nursing mothers to venture further afield to feed their pups, which in turn has meant young sea lions being left on their own for greater periods of time. 

Normally, the pups fast for several days while their mothers are away, however, with longer to wait, many malnourished pups and juveniles stray from the islands in search of food, before being caught up in currents and washed up on mainland beaches.

The reproductive cycle of these marine mammals has also been severely affected. NOAA figures from the Santa Barbara coast in the Channel Islands show a 40 percent fall in sea lion births between 2014 and 2015. According to Reuters, this is also due to food-related stresses on adult female sea lions. The more energy required to find prey, the harder it is for them to successfully breed or carry their pups to term.

The rise in sea temperatures has been linked to a decline in winds which help bring cooler, nutrition-rich water from the depths of the Pacific up closer to the surface. It is unclear how long these conditions will persist and experts have postulated that this situation may have been exacerbated by the recent El Niño impact. 

In 1983, another El Niño year, California sea lion pup numbers on all rookery islands in the Channel Islands declined between 30 – 71 percent, according to the NOAA, and it took another 6 years before the recorded total born and that survived equalled those recorded in 1982. 

Sources include: Reuters and NOAA

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Hydrogen cars have the edge on Electric

June 5, 2014

Toyota Motor Corp will next year launch a hydrogen-powered car in the United States, Japan and Europe. For now, people at Toyota are calling it the 2015 FC car, for fuel-cell.

Hydrogen fuel-cell cars will cost significantly more than conventional cars and there are currently few refuelling stations. But Toyota believes that when they are compared to the other zero-emissions alternative, battery-powered electric vehicles, or EVs, fuel cells suddenly don’t look so bad.

Fuel-cell cars use a “stack” of cells that electro-chemically combine hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity that helps propel the car. Their only emission, apart from heat, is water vapor, they can run five times longer than battery electric cars, and it takes just minutes to fill the tank with hydrogen – far quicker than even the most rapid charger can recharge a battery electric car.

“With the 2015 FC car we think we’ve achieved a degree of dominance over our rivals,” Satoshi Ogiso, a Toyota managing director, said in a recent interview at the group’s global headquarters. “With the car, we make a first giant step” toward making fuel-cell vehicles practical for everyday use.

What’s more, executives and engineers say Toyota is willing to sell the car at a loss for a long while to popularize the new technology – just as it did with the Prius, which, with other hybrids, now accounts for 14 percent of Toyota’s annual sales, excluding group companies, of around 9 million vehicles.

As a result, drivers in key “green” markets such as California may be able to buy the car for a little more than $30,000-$40,000, after government subsidies – if management approves a pricing strategy put forward by a group of managers and engineers. General Motors Co’s Chevrolet Volt, a near-all-electric plug-in hybrid, for comparison, starts at around $35,000 in the United States.

“It really provides all the benefits of a plug-in EV without the range anxiety and without the time it takes to recharge it,” says Bill Fay, group vice president of the Toyota division, in a interview at the Chicago Auto Show.

Since most battery-powered cars are limited to about 100 miles per charge, the term “range anxiety” has come to mean the worries that owners face about running out of juice before they can limp home or to a public charging station. Hydrogen cars can go hundreds of miles on a fillup, and the fillup only takes about five minutes, Fay points out.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, the 67-year-old “father of the Prius” whose success catapulted him from mid-level engineer to Toyota board chairman, says technology inefficiencies will make the battery electric car little more than an “errands car” – a small run-around for shopping, dropping the kids at school and other short-haul chores.

As with battery electric cars, a major challenge for fuel-cell automakers is a lack of infrastructure, with few hydrogen fuel stations in the world. Estimates vary, but it costs about $2 million to build a single hydrogen fuel station in the United States, according to Toyota executives.

At present, California, the state that once had planned a “hydrogen highway” of stations, has nine. But the state has plans to vastly increase the network, says Bob Carter, a senior vice president for Toyota.

Studies have shown, he says, that fewer stations than might be expected can support the needs of a lot of drivers. As few as 68 is enough to meet the needs of drivers of 10,000 cars.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars, Carter says, will “fundamentally change” how America thinks about alternative fuel vehicles.

However, many automobile manufacturers are staking their future on battery electric cars including Nissan Motor Co, Tesla Motors Inc, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG,GM, Ford Motor Co and Chinese automakers backed by the country’s industrial policymakers. China offers generous purchase incentives for those buying battery electric cars and aims to have 5 million “new energy” vehicles – mostly all-electric and near all-electric plug-in hybrids – on the road by 2020.

Tesla chief Elon Musk has said hydrogen is an unsuitable fuel for cars. In a videotaped speech last year to employees and others at a new Tesla service center in Germany, Musk said: “Fuel-cell is so bullshit. Hydrogen is a quite dangerous gas. It’s suitable for the upper-stage rocket, but not for cars.”

Even Toyota only expects tens of thousands of fuel-cell cars to be sold each year a decade from now as the new technology will need time to gain traction. Ogiso says Toyota has cut the platinum use per car by more than two-thirds through nanotechnology and stack-design improvements, and he expects to trim that further. Engineer Hitoshi Nomasa said a hydrogen-powered Toyota SUV now uses around 30 grams of platinum in the fuel-cell, down from 100 grams previously. Platinum currently costs $1,437 an ounce (28 grams) on world markets.

Toyota has also borrowed spare parts from the Prius and other gasoline-electric hybrids it sells around the world. While the fuel-cell car uses hydrogen as fuel, it otherwise resembles the hybrid models as both use electricity to power their motors.

While costs have come down significantly, Toyota says a hydrogen car’s fuel-cell propulsion system alone still costs it close to $50,000 to produce. That’s partly why some Toyota money managers want a more conservative pricing strategy – of $50,000-$100,000 – said one individual on the 2015 FC car launch team.

“It might be tough to price it below $50,000,” Ogiso said. “But anything is possible at this point.”

 

Sources: USA Today, Business Insider, Toyota Co.

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Filipino becomes third certified language in San Francisco

April 4, 2014

Language barriers can be more than just frustrating. In fact, they can bring about a harmful disconnect between a community and its access to basic services

Until now, more than 10,000 Filipino residents of San Francisco had to put up with this problem – suffering delays in hospital treatment or forced to find their own interpreters and translators when trying to assert their rights as workers, due to their limited English proficiency. Many also felt excluded from the civic life in a vibrant city like San Francisco because of language capacity.

On 2nd April however, Filipino community members and advocates celebrated San Francisco’s certification of Filipino as the third language required for city communications, after months of urging officials to make the change.

In 2009, the city of San Francisco passed a new Language Access Ordinance (LAO), which requires improved language access for city residents, with certain requirements for populations which exceed a threshold of 10,000 limited English proficient or “LEP” community members. Using the latest Federal American Community Survey data for the years 2009-2013, the city’s planning department was able to verify that Tagalog speakers with limited English proficiency surpassed this threshold.

Filipino is the 1st language to be certified after the 2009 passage of the LAO, and will meet the same requirements as Spanish and Chinese, which were certified in 2000, before the LAO existed.

Rachel Ebora, a Filipino immigrant, native Tagalog speaker, and executive director of Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center said of the certification:

“We are delighted at the certification of Pilipino as the third language that the City of San Francisco is required to translate for its communications. To the over 10,000 Filipinos who speak this national language, our hope is that this certification will provide additional access to services and other resources to live in San Francisco.”

The LAO ordinance is an important San Francisco policy that requires the city’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs to identify “emerging” language populations and to ensure that residents are able to access translation services when needed in a timely manner. This will alleviate pressure on Filipinos who are staff at nonprofits, government employees, nurses and other healthcare professionals, and family members, including school-age children, all who speak some of the different Philippine languages, who have been translating for thousands of LEP Filipino residents without recognition of this additional service they are providing.

Without this new status, a type of language-based discrimination would continue to exist in the city.

Filipino’s have been present in San Francisco for nearly a century from the days of the Filipino farmworkers at the International Hotel until today. This is a long-overdue recognition of the continuing contributions of Filipinos in San Francisco,

Terrence Valen, FCC’s organizational director and president of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, said:

“For our Filipino community members and their families, the whole world opens up to them when they are able to communicate in their mother language. To keep San Francisco a welcoming city for immigrants, officially removing this language barrier is definitely is an important step in the right direction.”

Sources include: The FilAm SF; GMA News Online

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Culture and climate change: UNESCO World Heritage sites threatened by sea level rise

March 6, 2014

Concerns about climate change are often expressed in environmental and economic terms, but a new study has brought an “an additional dimension” to the discussion: that of culture and human heritage

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Although not on the coast, the Leaning Tower of Pisa could also be affected by increased sea levels, due to its low-lying situation, The Guardian reported. 

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sydney Opera House, the Statue of Liberty, and even Westminster Abbey could become victims of rising sea levels if current trends in global warming are maintained over the next two millenia, says a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, reported on by Science Daily.

19% (or 136) of the 740 UNESCO current World Heritage sites will be affected if the earth experiences a rise in temperature of a mere 3C, triggering extensive melting of ice sheets and glaciers. This is a temperature shift which, according to climate science experts, could very well occur within the next century.

The paper also makes clear that loss of territory is among other potential problems brought on by ever-rising sea levels: “at this warming level, 3–12 countries will experience a loss of more than half of their current land surface, 25–36 countries lose at least 10% of their territory, and 7% of the global population currently lives in regions that will be below local sea level.” These  would include low lying cities like Venice, Naples, Bruges, St Petersburg and Hamburg, as well as islands like the Maldives and the Bahamas.

A study which focuses on the cultural impact marks a distinct change in tact from the typical worries about costs and environmental systems, perhaps to appeal to those who remain sceptical about the subject of climate change. UNESCO’s mission is to contribute to the “identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity”. These sites represent the beauty of nature but also that beauty created by civilisation through art, architecture and infrastructure. And indeed, although two millenia seems rather a long way away, many currently existing world heritage sites are as old or older than this. Meaning some may sit up and take note despite the extent of the conjecture.

One may not need to justify the study’s importance any further however, as the lead author, Prof Ben Marzeion of the University of Innsbruck in Austria told the Guardian: “It’s relatively safe to say that we will see the first impacts at these sites in the 21st century,” and instructs that flood defences must be improved to mitigate these effects.

Sources: The Guardian, Science Daily, iopscience, Environmental Research Letters

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Japan launches precipitation-measuring satellite in bid to understand world’s weather

February 28, 2014

Following weeks of extreme and highly unpredictable weather all over the world, the launch of a new “precipitation measuring” satellite means we may from now on be more prepared…

Japan has successfully launched a rocket carrying a satellite built to track global rain- and snowfall, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The US-built “Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory” launched at 3.37am (Japan Standard Time) on Friday 28th February from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.  The satellite is part of an international initiative to help us better understand the world’s water cycle and its relationship to storms, droughts and climate change, and is designed to help meteorologists more confidently predict extreme weather such as storms and typhoons.

Steve Neeck, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for Earth science flight programs, said of the project:

“Why are we flying GPM? Rain and snowfall affect our daily lives in many ways … The distribution of precipitation … directly affects the availability of fresh water for sustaining life. Extreme precipitation events like hurricanes, blizzards, floods, droughts and landslides have significant socio-economic impacts on our society.”

Indeed, after months of volatile weather, including deadly snowfall in Japan, severe flooding in the UK and a life-threatening Arctic freeze in the US, the promise of a more comprehensive weather observation system could not come at a better time.

The mission to launch the GPM Core satellite has been in place for over a decade. As a continuation of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, which began in November 1997, GPM will, among other uses, improve the resolution of images gathered by the TRMM satellite.

JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency, and NASA, have collaborated on the project and together have invested over $1.2 billion creating the sophisticated technology.

Designed and built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, the GPM Core satellite weighs more than four tons fully fueled. It hosts two instruments to peer inside storms and through cloud layers from an altitude of more than 250 miles, acting like an X-ray for the clouds.

One of the instruments, the Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will scan the planet to acquire three-dimensional views of rain and snow showers.

The other, NASA’s GPM Microwave Imager, or GMI, built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. will measure the total precipitation suspended inside clouds and falling to Earth.

“The GMI will sense the total precipitation within all cloudlayers, including, for the first time, light rain and snowfall,” Neeck said. “The DPR will make detailed three-dimensional measurements of precipitation structures and rates as well as particle drop size.”

The information gathered by the Observatory will fill gaps in precipitation data over oceans, remote land masses and other undeveloped regions.

The spacecraft is set to become the centrepiece of a worldwide program to synthesize observations from disparate international satellites into a database of global rainfall and snowfall, which will be accessible every three hours.

Researchers plan to use data from the GPM Core Observatory to calibrate microwave measurements gathered from the network of already-flying international satellite missions (developed by the United States, Japan, France, India and Eumetsat, the European weather satellite agency), creating a uniform dataset scientists can rely on in their work.

“When scientists incorporate data from the international fleet, they can get a snapshot of all precipitation on Earth every three hours” said Gail Skofronick-Jackson, NASA’s deputy GPM project scientist.

In this way, said Riko Oki, JAXA’s lead scientist in the project, the data recorded by GPM Core Observatory “will be to the benefit of all.”

Sources include: space.com; The Japan Times

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More than meets the eye: Google reveals “smart contact lens” that measures glucose levels in body

January 17, 2014

Currently, there are 382 million diabetics across the world who must routinely monitor their blood glucose levels. By pricking their finger and putting a drop of blood onto a testing strip, sufferers can check for dangerous drops or spikes in these levels which can indicate either hypo- or hyperglycemia, and administer insulin accordingly. The days of this rather unpleasant method may soon be over however, as Google has come up with a rather simpler (and more transparent) way forward… 

The technology giant has spent the past 18 months developing a “smart contact lens” which measures the glucose level of tears, to help improve the lives of diabetics across the world. The lens uses a the “smallest glucose sensor ever made” and a miniature transmitter, embedded between two layers of lens material. 

When looking at the lens, two glitter-specks, loaded with tens of thousands of miniaturised transistors, are visible, along with a ringed hair thin antenna. Yet, these miniature electronics manage not to obscure vision as they lay outside of the area which covers the pupil and iris.

“We’re still really early on. We’re confident about how the technology is going so far. But there’s a huge amount of work left to do,” Mr Otis, project leader for the smart contact lens, said.”We’ve had to work really hard to develop tiny, low-powered electronics that operate on low levels of energy and really small glucose sensors”.

The firm is also looking at integrating LEDs which would light up when blood glucose levels have risen or fallen beyond a certain point.

The smart contact lens certainly has the same sci-fi, futuristic appeal as its lab fellows, a driverless car, Google Glass and Project Loon, which were all produced by the same Google X lab.

Although Google says the prototype will take at least five years to reach consumers, many think the revelation will bring a new wave of miniature technologies which target the healthcare sector. Manoj Menon of Frost & Sullivan commented that: “It is likely to spur a range of other innovations towards miniaturizing technology and using it in wearable devices to help people monitor their bodies better”

This may already be  happening. The Telegraph reports on a gadget called “Sensible Baby”, revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which monitors the temperature, orientation and movement of a sleeping baby and triggers a smartphone alarm if any problems are detected.

Similarly, Japanese firm Sony have recently filed a patent for a ‘SmartWig’ with uses that include healthcare. The wig uses a combination of sensors to help collect information on the temperature, pulse and blood pressure of the wearer.

Whatever will be next?

Sources include: BBC News; The Telegraph

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