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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald on Monday likened the significance of measuring the amount of time it takes veterans to receive healthcare from the department to waiting for rides at Disney parks, an attempt to downplay the value of the figures, which attracted widespread criticism from department critics and veterans' organizations.

"We should be measuring the veterans' satisfaction. I mean, what really counts is how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA," McDonald said to reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what's important?"

"What's important is what's your satisfaction with the experience," he continued. Disney is the parent company of ABC News.

According to department data, as of May 1, patients wait an average of seven days for primary care, 10 days for specialty care and four days for mental health care. The department drew fire two years ago when a whistleblower said that 40 veterans died waiting up to 21 months for care.

The head of the VA at the time, Eric Shinseki, resigned.

The comments were set upon immediately by politicians and advocacy groups.

This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those lines.

— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) May 23, 2016

Obama’s VA Secretary just said we shouldn't measure
wait times. Hillary says VA problems are not ‘widespread.’ I will take care of
our vets!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 23, 2016

"You can’t compare veteran healthcare to a tourist’s experience," House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Florida, said in an interview with ABC News, adding that he still supports McDonald.

"There's no question that Secretary McDonald still has my confidence, but he has got to quit singing the song of the status quo like he has done in many instances on accountability,” Miller continued.

The American Legion also took issue with the comments.

“The American Legion agrees that the VA Secretary’s analogy between Disneyland and VA wait times was an unfortunate comparison because people don’t die while waiting to go on Space Mountain,” National Commander Dale Barnett said in a statement.

McDonald, an Army veteran, was appointed and confirmed in 2014 amid efforts to reform VA care and reduce waiting times after reports that agency officials had doctored waiting time records, replacing Shinseki.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, sent a letter to McDonald Monday afternoon, criticizing the secretary for exhibiting "a severe lack of judgement drawing into question your ability to provide accountability within your agency."

The VA said in a statement that it takes the duty of serving veterans "seriously."

"We know that Veterans are still waiting too long for care. In our effort to determine how we can better meet Veterans’ needs, knowing that their satisfaction is our most important measure, we have heard them tell us that wait times alone are not the only indication of their experience with VA and that’s why we must transform the way we do business," the agency said in a statement.

"We have learned that figures measuring the wrong metric can cause unintended consequences and confusion like the 14 day measure back in 2014 that was central to employees managing to a metric rather than to the real need of our patients."

The agency says that it is the only healthcare system that publicly shares wait times.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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DigitalVision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Just a fraction of terminally-ill cancer patients fully understood their prognosis according to a new small study published today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Cornell University and Weill Cornell Medicine followed 178 cancer patients who were determined to be terminally ill. They interviewed each patient to see if they understood the gravity of their disease and their future prognosis.

Patients were asked what stage cancer they had, their current health status, how long they expected to live and if they had recently had a life-expectancy discussion with their doctor. Just 5 percent of the patients accurately answered all four questions about their disease and prognosis correctly. Additionally 23 percent of patients had a both recent and previous discussion about their life-expectancy with their doctor, according to the study.

Holly Prigerson, co-author and Director of the Center for Research on End of Life Care at Weill Cornell Medical Center, said it was a "shock" to see how few of the patients fully understood their prognoses. Prigerson said in some cases patients may not "hear" a terminal diagnosis if their physician avoids being blunt about their life expectancy or lack of treatment options.

"Our point is a lot of them don’t want to know, but they need to know basic information about the disease and illness and treatment options," said Prigerson told ABC News.

She emphasized that doctors themselves have a hard time telling a patient there's nothing left that can save his or her life, but patients should be given all information so they can make better decisions.

"It’s a difficult topic," said Prigerson. "Have patients understand, if that they are being offered treatment, it’s not a cure. And they really have months not years to live."

Prigerson said previous studies have dispelled the idea that terminal patients who are told the truth fare worse than other patients who aren't given full information about their conditions.

Dr. Barbara Daly, director of our clinical ethics program, at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, explained that these end-of-life conversations are difficult since some patients find the information itself "threatening."

"When you look at how people deal with information, some people deal with it by wanting more and more information," said Daly. "Some people deal with it and they see it as a threat in a sense so they don’t hear it."

Daly also said that some doctors speak in medical terms that can be confusing for a patient.

"It takes a high level of skill to talk to people…to present it in a way where it’s understandable," said Daly. "Doctors...they literally forget how to talk like a normal person."

Daly said some medical centers are now using a designated person, such as a social worker or nurse practitioner, to talk to patients so that they fully understand their diagnosis and can get more time to talk about their disease.

Although the study didn't focus on finding a solution, the authors did come to the unsurprising conclusion that the patients who recently had an end-of-life conversation with the oncologist had a better understanding of their illness than others who didn't have this conversation. Daly said patients can take steps to ensure they understand their overall prognosis by bringing a family member to appointments and asking the doctor point blank questions.

"If the patient him or herself is comfortable saying 'Tell me how long you think I have to live?' or 'Tell me if you think the treatment is going to help?'" they will get better information, Daly said. "If we’re going to help people, it's part of the whole movement to get people to plan for their make their wishes known."

Due to the limited nature of the study the findings may not be generalizable for a larger population.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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Lupe Gonzalez/South Texas Veterans Health Care System(SAN ANTONIO) -- A Vietnam War veteran's last request to see his beloved horses was granted by the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital in San Antonio.

Roberto Gonzalez, from Premont, Texas, was drafted in 1970 and shot within four months of serving in Vietnam, Lupe Hernandez of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System told ABC News Monday. The resulting injuries left Gonzalez paralyzed.

"That did not stop Mr. Gonzalez from his passions, ranching and horses," Hernandez said. "He was the only paralyzed race horse trainer in Texas. He trained and raced horses for 30-40 years."

Hernandez continued: "Because he knew that the end was near and he would not be going home again, he requested through his wife that he see his horses one last time. His family brought two horses to the Spinal Cord Injury Center at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital."

Gonzalez's horses "Sugar" and "Ringo" were able to bring comfort to the vet, who Hernandez said is in very critical condition right now.

Gonzalez was one of the first patients at the VA Hospital when it first opened in 1974, Hernandez said.

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed, Ark.) -- A 19-year-old from Arkansas who has been in a wheelchair since last year stood up and walked at his high school graduation as his classmates, friends and family gave him a standing ovation.

Doug Haynes, of Bearden, Arkansas, set walking at his school’s May 20 graduation ceremony as his top goal after a surgery last November to treat the muscular dystrophy he has had since age 12 left him unable to walk.

“Doug is a very determined guy,” his mom, Robin Doherty, told ABC News. “He faces things head on and just attacks it.”

Haynes has undergone hours of physical and occupational therapy daily since the surgery, all while maintaining his course work so he could graduate on time. He told only his family, one classmate and the school’s principal about his plan to take his first steps to receive his diploma.

“If he got scared or nervous, we didn’t want people expecting it,” Doherty explained. “When they stood him up, I thought, 'Okay, he’s really going to do this.'”

Haynes was helped out of his wheelchair and across the stage to receive his diploma by his physical therapist. A classmate moved his wheelchair to the end of the stage.

The crowd inside the auditorium where the graduation was held gave Haynes a standing ovation. Most of them knew Haynes from when he was a boy and had watched him deal with muscular dystrophy.

“His town has rallied around him and provided so much support and become a big family for him,” said Cheryl Tucker Carlin, a family friend who captured the video of Haynes walking and posted it on Facebook.

Doherty described the moment as a “roller coaster of emotions” and said her son nearly got caught up in the crowd’s reaction as well.

“He said, ‘Mom, when they stood up I almost lost it,’” Doherty recalled of Haynes, who plans to start at a local work program now that he has graduated.

 Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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Courtesy Animal Avengers(NEW YORK) -- A tortoise has a second chance in life after a team of designers in Brazil custom-made a 3D shell for the reptile, who was badly burned in a fire.

The Animal Avengers, the animal rescue group that saved the tortoise, consists of a 3D designer (Cicero Moraes), four veterinarians (Roberto Fecchio, Rodrigo Rabello, Sergio Camargo and Matheus Rabello), and a dental surgeon (Paul Miamoto). The group combines technology with members' love for animals to create innovative ways to help maimed creatures. They have already saved seven animals that would have been euthanized, Moraes told ABC News.

"The tortoise Freddy was found alongside a road in early 2015. It had been the victim of a fire and its hull caught fire, losing 85 percent of its structure," Moraes said.

Freddy was taken to the vet Rodrigo Rabello, part of the Animal Avengers, in Brasilia, Moraes said.

Moraes explained that the tortoise was named Freddy because after the burn her "back looked like the face of Freddy Krueger."

Moraes said the process for printing a 3D tortoise shell is "relatively simple."

The 3D designers took photographs of Freddy and a healthy tortoise, and then used computer programming to design a custom prosthetic hull that was printed out, layer by layer, from a 3D printer. The prosthetic hull was then surgically attached to Freddy. An artist even hand-painted the outside of the shell so that it blended in with nature.

Moraes said his group had previously created a 3D printed toucan beak, goose beak, parrot beak and macaw beak.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Depression is one of the most common mental disorders, yet many people mask their symptoms or isolate themselves rather than share their mental health struggles publicly. But on Twitter, users are aiming to combat that isolation with the new hashtag #MyDepressionLooksLike, which is being used to share stories about depression.

Thousands of users have used the trending hashtag to share powerful stories about how their lives are affected and shaped by depression. It's an issue that remains a problem with an estimated 15.7 million of U.S. adults grappling with a depressive episode in 2014, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Some users write they are incapacitated by deep feelings of depression or anxiety. Others write about painful moments when they masked the depression in a smiling selfie or when they were out among friends.

Mary Alvord, a Maryland-based psychologist and director of the psychotherapy practice Alvord, Baker & Associates, told ABC News social media can be a powerful tool to help combat the stigma of mental illness and to inform people.

"For the most part the message, my message to teens [in treatment] is you’re not alone," Alvord told ABC News Monday. "I think social media platforms, while they can certainly be used in a negative way, they also have the potential to really help."

Alvord said that even though more attention is being paid to mental disorders like depression, many people don't understand what a depressive person looks like.

"I think people assume that depressives go around and talk about how sad they are," said Alvord, who explained that isolation and irritability are major signs of depression that are often overlooked. "Irritability is often a sign with depression that people don’t think about. It’s often associated with agitation and anger."

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- There's yet another reason to get up off of that couch.

Ohio State University researchers are warning of a new ailment they call "Dormant Butt Syndrome."

"It basically refers to the gluteus-maximus -- or the glute muscles -- just not functioning as efficiently as they should," says Dr. Chris Kolba, a physical therapist at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.

Kolba says the muscles in your behind are meant to support the rest of you and be a shock absorber. But when those muscles are too weak, the rest of your body tries to pick up the slack, which can cause back, hip and even knee pain.

The cure, he says, is to stay flexible and keep moving.

"Stretching the front of your thigh, stretching your hip flexor and then doing exercises to specifically activate the glutes and the lateral hips as well," Kolba explains.

And avoid sitting too long or sleeping in the fetal position.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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Courtesy of Glennon Doyle Melton(NEW YORK) — A mother, who says she has battled bulimia and struggled with body issues since childhood, was shocked when her 10-year-old daughter created a handwritten petition asking magazines to diversify their images.

Author Glennon Doyle Melton wrote in her now viral blog post about the moment her daughter Tish first approached her, asking: "Mama, the other girls are all skinny. Why am I different?"

Melton, 40, continued, "I stared at her and silently lost my mind. Ten is when I noticed my differentness, too. Ten is when I decided there was something wrong with me and became bulimic."

"The funny thing is I actually speak and write and talk about this kind of stuff a lot but in the moment when I really needed to have the words, it just all escaped me for a minute," Melton told ABC News.

Still, Melton eventually found the words and had a two-hour discussion about body image.

And after a quick stop at the bookstore, where she caught Tish staring at a magazine rack featuring thin blonde models, Melton realized that their discussion had helped Tish understand because soon Tish was yelling from her room, asking how to spell the word "petition."

As it turned out, Tish had handwritten a petition, saying "that magazines should not show beauty is most important on the outside. It is not. I think magazines should show girls who are strong, kind, brave, thoughtful, unique and show woman of all different types of hair and bodies."

Courtesy of Glennon Doyle Melton"All women should be treated equally," her petition concluded.

Melton said reading the petition was a moment of "utter joy."

"Girls either get sick or angry," she said. "You can take it internally and feel shame and feel like it's your problem and then get sick or you can see it as the world's problem and then you get angry. If we can raise a generation of girls who get pissed about it, things may change."

The mother of three also said she wants to encourage moms to talk to their daughters about the images they're consuming from different types of media, including magazines.

"Most of the mothers I talk with have the same body image problems, which is why it's so tricky. It's like, 'How do I talk to my daughter about this when I am this?' But we don't have to have it figured it out before we teach it," Melton said.

Melton added that Tish already has a few handwritten signatures on her petition — five and counting.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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Photodisc/ThinkstockBy DR. JENNIFER ASHTON, ABC News Senior Medical Contributor

Obesity has been a growing problem in the U.S. for decades, and increasingly, its effect is being felt globally, where overweight people now outnumber underweight people.

If you think you are obese, it's never too late to start making healthy choices. Here are three things you can do right now to get on the path to good health:

Take a holistic approach. Consider medical, nutritional and social help to assist you with your weight loss efforts.

Focus on habits rather than a number. If you have a lot of weight to lose, it can be easy to get discouraged. But remember: This a marathon, not a sprint.

Stop drinking your calories. Cutting lots of extra calories by avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages pays off big time. You can drop a pound a week just by drinking water.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A controversial plan to sell your organs legally is gaining momentum.

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) has proposed a program that offers financial incentives to those who donate kidneys. A plan that may help 100,000 Americans who are on a waitlist anxiously awaiting a new kidney, when every day at least 12 people die in the U.S. because there are not enough donors.

"You make it something like a pension contribution, or an education fund contribution, something that is non-transferable," he told ABC News about the cash incentives for kidneys.

The government-run pilot program would be tested for five years, and it could save Kyle McKinney, whose kidneys started failing him at age 15.

"I personally think it would be a great idea," McKinney, now a husband and father, said to ABC News.

The National Kidney Foundation argues, however, that organ donation with any kind of financial benefit is not a good idea.

"People who are poor may think differently about giving donation of a kidney if there is a financial reward for them to do," Dr. Jeffrey Berns, president of the National Kidney Foundation, told ABC News.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The state of New York may soon become the first in the nation to ban declawing cats.

A controversial legislative proposal was introduced in New York this week that would ban the procedure in the state. Some cat lovers and veterinarians believe that declawing is an inhuman procedure similar to amputating human limbs.

But one doctor tells ABC News declawing should be allowed, but as a last resort.

"There are circumstances when declawing may be indicated," American Veterinary Medical Association President Doctor Joseph Kinnarney, a vet in Greensboro, North Carolina, told ABC News. "But our stand is that it's really something that you really need to make sure that is warranted so you need to realize there's a risk with anesthesia, there's a risk of infection, there's a risk of pain."

When is declawing warranted?

"In the extreme circumstances where an elderly person who has a bleeding problem can't control the cats sitting in their lap and get a little nick and then bleed, I would rather do that, than have a cat removed from her life," he told ABC News.

Declawing is already illegal in Los Angeles and some other California cities. It's also banned in Australia, the U.K., and several other European countries.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- With “well over 500” cases of the Zika virus currently in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on “This Week” Sunday that “forceful preparation” will be critical to preventing further spread in the U.S. this summer.

“We already have Zika in the United States. But it is travel related,” Dr. Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The concern is that we will have local transmission; in other words, people who get infected in the United States, get bitten by a mosquito, but who have never left the continental United States. We fully expect that that will happen as we get to the more robust mosquito season in the next month or so.”

“We need to make sure that those local outbreaks don’t become sustained and don’t become disseminated,” Fauci added. “That’s the reason why we need to have a very, very forceful preparation right now before that happens.”

The Centers for Disease Control released new figures on Friday showing that 157 pregnant women in the continental U.S. show evidence of possible Zika virus infection, all related to travel outside the U.S. President Obama has requested Congress to allocate $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat the spread of the virus.

“This is something that is solvable. It is not something that we have to panic about. But it is something that we have to take seriously,” President Obama said Friday after meeting with Fauci and other top advisers tackling Zika. “This is not something where we can build a wall to prevent – mosquitoes don't go through customs. To the extent that we're not handling this thing on the front end, we're going to have bigger problems on the back end.”

A vaccine to combat Zika would be the main focus of government funding, according to Fauci, saying “We’re right now very aggressively developing the vaccine.”

The Senate passed a $1.1 billion plan to combat Zika on Thursday, while House Republicans have advanced a separate $622 million bill that shifts previously established funds to combat the spread of Ebola. While efforts to prevent a widespread Ebola outbreak from West Africa to the U.S. were successful, Fauci called the idea of shifting those funds away from Ebola “very foolhardy.”

“We may not see it in the front page of the newspapers… but we have the danger of cropping up of Ebola,” Fauci said. “We can't take our eye off the ball with Ebola. And that would really be robbing Peter to pay Paul and I think very foolhardy to do that.”

Asked whether concerns about Zika were being overhyped, ABC News’ Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said greater vigilance is always needed when dealing with a new virus.

“When there’s a new outbreak, a new infectious disease, you have to go all in, because you don’t know in the long run what it’s going to look like,” he said on “This Week.”

Concern surrounding the Zika virus has even prompted some countries and athletes to consider skipping the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, where the virus and potential birth defects were first spotlighted.

Dr. Besser urged pregnant women to follow CDC guidelines to not to travel to Brazil and other impacted countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean, and for those who plan on attending to be proactive to prevent mosquito bites.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed, Idaho) -- A U.S. Marine Corps veteran made history Thursday as the first ever combat-wounded amputee to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Staff Sgt. Charlie Linville, 30, climbed the 29,029-foot summit of the highest mountain on earth with a prosthetic leg after being involved in a blast in Afghanistan in 2011 that left him with serious injuries to his right food and hand.

Linville, a father of two from Boise, Idaho, decided to have his right leg amputated below the knee after rehabilitation and reconstructive surgeries, according to The Heroes Project , an organization that leads mountaineering expeditions with gravely wounded veterans and active service members. Linville and his climbing partners battled winds of up to 50 miles per hour during the nine hours it took them to reach Mt. Everest's summit.

This was Linville’s third attempt to reach the summit of Everest with The Heroes Project. The team canceled its climb in 2014 to honor the 18 Sherpas who died in an avalanche. Last year’s earthquake in Nepal ended the second attempt.

Also climbing Everest is former U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Chad Jukes, who lost his right leg in Iraq in December 2006 when an improvised explosive device (IED) struck his vehicle.

Jukes is climbing with a separate team -- the USX Veteran Everest Expedition -- which is believed to be about four days away from reaching Everest’s summit. The USX Veteran Everest Expedition's team aims to honor veterans and raise awareness about their mental health.

“I have found great satisfaction and great happiness in getting to the outdoors,” Jukes told ABC News Thursday by satellite phone at 21,000 feet elevation on Mount Everest. “I think that a lot of people can share in that healing power.”

Jukes said he was never worried about being first to summit and that it doesn’t matter to him. He always wanted to do this climb to bring awareness to veterans’ issues.

The USX Veteran Everest Expedition's climb is being led by Lt. Harold Earls the 4th, an active-duty soldier assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart in Georgia. Earls, 23, told ABC News the team is “feeling strong.”

“We are feeling really good, feeling strong and I think the team is going to be successful,” he said by satellite phone. “I think for our team, the fact that we are climbing for a cause makes it that much more meaningful and it and it is definitely what drives me.”

Earls continued, “We are raising awareness for soldiers’ mental health which is post-traumatic stress and soldier suicide so there are some staggering statistics. 22 veterans a day commit suicide, one active duty soldier a day commits suicide and that is more deaths per suicide than in the past five years in combat.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A Texas man was unknowingly photographed at his job last weekend as customers learned he was hearing-impaired and began writing down their food orders.

The picture documenting the kind act was shared over 21,000 times on Facebook in just a few days.

"The story going viral,” Taylor Pope, 20, wrote to ABC News. “[It’s] so heartwarming to know there are so many good people in the world that lets me be their inspiration.

“My job isn't always so fun but the only thing that makes it worth it is my co-workers and the customers."

Pope was working his job as cashier and team leader at a Whataburger fast-food restaurant May 15 in Denton, Texas, when a stranger, Kolbie Sanders, was observing nearby.

Sanders, 21, told ABC News she had gotten off her shift waiting tables and tending bar when she and her boyfriend decided to grab something to eat.

"Whataburger is the only place that's open late," she said. "I realized the drive-thru line was too long. The inside line was kind of long, too, but I was already there and was going to commit."

As Sanders got closer to the front of the line, she noticed cashier Pope mouthing to the customers, "I'm deaf," she said.

"He smiled and got a pen and paper out of his pocket, and the woman said, 'OK,' and she wrote her order down," Sanders recalled. "I thought that was very interesting because I work in the food-service industry and you don't come across nice and patient people that often."

"I wondered if someone was going to be mad and say something, but no one was," she said. "Everyone was polite and that's when I took the picture."

Sanders posted the photo on her Facebook page with a caption detailing the event. It read, in part:

"... after seeing so many people bully others on a daily basis, I can't tell you how refreshing it was to see these small acts of kindness demonstrated from so many different people. Seeing people forget their pride or their problems or even their hunger is something you don't see often. But at the end of the day, it's about others, not ourselves."

After the picture received an outpouring of support, media outlets came calling for interviews and that's when Sanders and Pope were able to meet, face to face.

"He and I text now, we're friends and it's pretty cool," Sanders said. "[Pope's] extremely shy, but you can tell by his eyes, he's very kind and sweet. [Whataburger] is one of the only places that would hire him because he's deaf. He's hoping that since this story's going viral, more people will be able to see the things he’s capable of doing."

Pope’s mother, Jennifer Pope, told ABC news that Sanders’ Facebook post has boosted her son's confidence.

"I think it’s wonderful," she said. "More of the fact that Kolbie took the time to write that and being so observant for what's going on. For Taylor, it gave him a sense of pride that the hard work he's done is paying off for him. He's struggled in the past to fit in, so it's great."

Jennifer Pope added: "It's been hard. He's totaled his car and taking an Uber right now. It's being the protective mom in me, wanting the best for him. Whataburger's been really great for him, but he kind of wants to go beyond that."

Her son said he has recently been promoted to team leader and is working hard in hopes of becoming manager.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday that there have been a few significant changes in the way it will be monitoring the number of women with Zika virus infections in the United States and U.S. territories.

Beginning now, the CDC will report the number of pregnant women with Zika virus infection from two new surveillance systems: the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry and the Puerto Rico Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System. Already, the case count of pregnant women with Zika virus has increased significantly under these new monitoring systems - but what does it really mean?

Here's what you need to know:

What are the new numbers?

As of May 12, 2016, two Zika virus infection surveillance systems are monitoring:

• 157 pregnant women in U.S. states with laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection • 122 pregnant women in U.S. territories with laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection

Why are these so much higher than the numbers we have been seeing?

Until Friday, the totals noted only 48 cases of pregnant women with Zika in U.S. states, and 65 such cases in U.S. territories. These numbers came from CDC reports that used a case definition established in consultation with the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists, which included only individuals who had laboratory test results and symptoms or pregnancy complications consistent with Zika.

However, recently published reports indicate that some pregnant women with laboratory evidence of a recent Zika infection without symptoms have delivered infants with microcephaly and other serious brain defects. Therefore, starting Friday, the CDC will report numbers of pregnant women with Zika from the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry and the Puerto Rico Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System, two systems designed to collect information about pregnancies and birth outcomes among women with any laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection, with or without symptoms.

When asked about the big jump in these numbers, the CDC stated: “We have been monitoring pregnant women with asymptomatic and symptomatic Zika infection since February. This is not a change in who we have been monitoring; the change is that we are now publicly reporting the number.”

Are all of these women still pregnant?

They are not, though the CDC notes that the majority of these cases are ongoing pregnancies. The CDC could not provide an exact number, however, on how many of these 279 women were still pregnant and how many were no longer pregnant for any reason.

How many adverse outcomes of pregnancy have been reported?

The CDC says it is not yet reporting the exact number of adverse outcomes (such as microcephaly, other birth defects and miscarriages) “out of concern for the privacy of those families.” The agency did mention that it was “aware of less than a dozen adverse outcomes [related to Zika]."

Is the CDC releasing the specific number of cases of microcephaly and other birth defects associated with Zika?

The agency has not at this point in time but it did not rule out the possibility that it would report these numbers in the future.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.











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