Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The heart that grew back: 'Miracle' of girl whose heart healed itself after a third was removed in emergency operation

Aged four months, Kirsty Collier lay dying on the operating table with a serious heart defect.

Her surgeon had tried his best to correct the problem but thought the organ was so badly damaged that there was no hope.

As a last-ditch attempt to save Kirsty's life, he decided to cut away a third of her heart, enlarged because of her condition, in case that restarted it.

And against all the odds, it once again began to beat. For Professor Stephen Westaby, that, in itself, was a miracle. But ten years on, Kirsty's heart has proved even more of a surprise.

For it has healed itself in a way experts never thought possible, and is now the normal size and shape for a girl of her age – without a single telltale scar from the original surgery.

Kirsty was born with a rare heart condition, which is frequently fatal within the first three months of life. The defect meant that her left coronary artery, which carries blood to the heart muscle, was connected to the pulmonary artery instead of the aorta.

As a result, the organ was starved of oxygen and became enlarged. Kirsty had numerous heart attacks as a baby and her prospects seemed bleak.

As her condition became critical, Professor Westaby was called upon to carry out corrective surgery at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford.

But Kirsty was linked up to a heart lung bypass machine for the surgery – and when the surgical team attempted to get the heart to take over once again, they found it was so badly damaged that it was unable to pump blood again.

'We felt there was no hope at all,' Professor Westaby told Sky News.

A message was even sent to Kirsty's parents to warn them 'it was not going well'.

'She was essentially dead and was only resurrected by what I regarded at the time as a completely bizarre operation,' added Professor Westaby.

However, the surgeon had a hunch that reducing the size of Kirsty's heart would ease the pressure on the muscle, allowing it to contract properly.

And using scissors, he removed a large section of the muscle wall, stitched it back together, and hoped for the best.

'I have to confess I never thought it would work. It was an awful lot smaller.' But the baby's heart began beating again.

Today, Kirsty, of Cirencester, Gloucestershire, is a sporty tenyear- old who plays rugby at school. 'Her recovery is miraculous,' said Professor Westaby.

Her mother, Becky, 38, said: 'She's such a sporty girl. It's hard to imagine she was ill sometimes.' Recalling her first sight of Kirsty after the operation, she added: 'There she was, my tiny baby, with tubes everywhere. They said she'd take a step forward and a step back. But I could tell by looking at her that she would keep going.

It's amazing what she has overcome. 'She's such a brave little girl but and has never let her condition affect her life at all. I think that has been behind her recovery – she doesn't think about it.'

Kirsty's father Wayne, a computer- software salesman, said: 'It was a dark day when she went in the operating theatre. It's unbelievable. She has a normal life like any other girl.'

Professor Westaby said the results of a recent MRI scan of Kirsty's heart were 'fascinating' because of the extent the heart has healed itself. 'An adult heart wouldn't do that.'

As for Kirsty, she has refused to let her early problems shape her life. 'I don't want to be different to anyone else just because I've had a heart operation,' she said.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Is this the most fun job in the world? The man that travels the world testing holiday resort waterslides

Surely the envy of any desk-bound office worker, Tommy Lynch has travelled over 27,000 miles this year, for his job testing holiday resort waterslides.

Mr Lynch, 29, works for holiday giant First Choice, checking the height, speed, water quantity and landing of the flumes, as well as all safety aspects.

He said: 'I do have the best job in the world. No-one believes me when I tell them what I do.

'Some people sit in an office all day but I get to fly all over the world and slide down flumes.

'It can be a bit tough when it is chilly and you have to strip off and shoot down the flume but other than that it is great.
'There is so much more that goes into the flumes than people realise. The pools and slides are such an important part of the family holiday so it is vital everything is right.'

In 2008 Mr Lynch tested waterslides at holiday villages in Lanzarote, Majorca, Egypt, Turkey, the Costa Del Sol, Cyprus, Algarve, Dominican Republic and Mexico.

This year he will quality control First Choice's new splash resorts in Greece, Turkey, Florida, Jamaica and Ibiza.

His favourites flumes include the ultra modern design at the company's holiday village in Benalmadna on the Costa Del Sol, and the Aqua Fanasty park in Kusadasi.

Liverpool-born Mr Lynch, whose job title is lifestyle product development manager, was recruited to identify the very best pools to be featured in First Choice's new Splash Resort collection. He also ensures potential new resorts are up to the company's standard.

He said: 'There is a serious side to my job, which carries a lot of responsibility, but getting to check out the flumes is by far the best bit.'

A spokeswoman for the company said: 'At First Choice we understand how important swimming pools are to kids on holiday, which is why we appointed someone dedicated to finding the very best in the world.

'As you can imagine, there were no shortage of applicants for the job.

'Tommy takes his job very seriously and he has left no stone unturned in his pursuit of the world's coolest pools, trying and testing each and every flume, slide and wave machine on the way.'

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cat With Four Ears

Yoda The Cat With Four Ears

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Earth rising over the Moon

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A pair of white lion cubs make their wobbly world debut

A pair of rare white lion cubs have taken their first shaky steps in public just a day after they were born.

Video footage showed one bravely squeaking and wobbling across the enclosure until he was rescued by his mother. She deftly picked them up in her teeth and took them to a sheltered spot to suckle.

The two youngsters were born to parents Vambo and Kiara at Belgrade Zoo. White cubs are extremely rare because both parents must have the same particular recessive gene.

They are part of a subspecies unique to the Timbavati area of South Africa. Although around 50 white lions have been bred in zoos for their unusual colour, they have not been seen in the wild since 1994.

Serbia's capital was delighted to welcome their new residents.

Zoo director, Vuk Bojovic, said: 'We now have five white lions. They are very rare and they used to kill them in Africa.

'If white lions were born they treated them as a nature's fault and they used to bring a person to kill those lions.'

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Saturn's largest moon has 'active ice volcanoes'

Saturn's largest moon may have active ice volcanoes that spew ammonia and methane instead of lava, scientists say.

The international Cassini spacecraft took radar images that point recent to liquid flows on the surface of Titan.

The findings suggest the moon could contain active 'Cryovolcanoes', or icy volcanoes.

Rosaly Lopes, a Cassini radar team scientist, said: 'Cryovolcanoes are some of the most intriguing features in the solar system.

'To put them into perspective - if Mount Vesuvius had been a cryovolcano, its lava would have frozen the residents of Pompeii.'

Previous flybys and a probe sent to the surface in 2005 suggested ice volcanoes once existed on the moon.

But the latest data 'not only indicate that cryovolcanism has been going on on Titan in the recent geologic past, but might even be going on on Titan today,' Cassini scientist Jonathan Lunine from Arizona University said.

Titan is one of the few bodies in the solar system with a significant atmosphere.

Scientists believe methane gas breaks up in the atmosphere and forms clouds that rain methane. The source of the methane remains a mystery.

Scientists favouring the volcanic theory say methane eruptions from Titan's interior could explain the moon's smoggy atmosphere.

Data from the spectrometer instrument on Cassini found bright spots on two regions on Titan. In one of the regions, scientists found evidence of ammonia frost that they interpreted as coming from the interior.

The results were presented at an American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco but not everyone is convinced by the evidence.

Planetary scientist Jeff Moore of NASA's Ames Research Center said the results were intriguing, but inconclusive.

'Something is going on. Exactly what it is isn't clear,' he said.

The Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn and studying its rings and moons since 2004.

Today NASA revealed the craft had also found evidence of a crust forming on Enceladus.

The process, in which the surface splits and spreads apart is similar to that performed on the Earth, and increases the likelihood of a liquid-water sea beneath the surface.

Carolyn Porco, Cassini's imaging group team leader told the BBC: 'Bit by bit, we're accumulating evidence that there is liquid water on Enceladus'

New crusts on Enceladus are created by 'tiger stripes', cracks similar to those that split mid-ocean ridges on our own planet.

Dr Paul Helfenstein from Cornell University, who worked on the project said: On Enceladus what we see is a type of spreading but it is strongly asymmetric - it's like a conveyor belt.

'If it's true it's coming up from a convection well, it seems to be only pushing in one direction. It does happen on Earth, but only in very peculiar situations.'

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shaggy the antler-free reindeer gets an early Christmas present - a toupee

When Shaggy the reindeer lost his antlers he seemed destined to lose his job as the chief sleigh puller.

But rather than taking a place and the back of the herd, the two-year-old has been restored to his former glory thanks to this specially made reindeer toupee.

Owner Trevor Hill, 41, who takes his eight reindeer on trips to schools and special events, said the children would always ask where Shaggy's antlers were.
Align Center

So cleverly using the antlers which Shaggy lost the previous year, he has created a unique piece of headwear which allows him to proudly lead the line at the front of the sleigh.

Father-of-two, Mr Hill, from Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, said: 'Basically we couldn't go into the enclosure for about six weeks and had to wait until the rutting season had finished.

'After that his hormone levels started dropping and so did the antlers, which is quite embarrassing for a reindeer.

'It was such a shame for Shaggy because he had a smashing set of antlers this year and the other seven hadn't lost theirs. He really looked like the odd one out.

'All the kids had been asking where his antlers were as it is what they expect to see. It can be quite confusing for young children if they see a reindeer without his antlers.

We decided that we had to find a solution to the problem because it looks a bit like a vikings' hat. It is made from old antlers which were dropped last year and they were put into a head piece which we have strapped onto Shaggy's head.

'There is a bit of a toupe to it as well just so it covers up all the strapping and padding underneath.'

Mr Hill added how Shaggy was named by his two sons after their favourite cartoon character.

He said: 'We got Shaggy and Scooby imported from Sweden two years ago. We have now got the entire cast from Scooby Doo with Daphinie, Velma and Fred.

'There is another member of the team who is white so the boys called him Casper. Its great for the kids as they all can identify with cartoon characters.'

Mr Hill runs an animal sanctuary from his home and also houses wild birds and reptiles which are also taken to schools and events across the county.

The rutting season is the mating season which can result in a loss of hormones. This can then cause a drop in hormone levels and the loss of antlers.

Captive reindeer in this country are often kept enclosed during the rutting season as they can often become over aggressive and dangerous.

Male reindeer will normally lose their antlers by mid-December while females keep theirs until the spring.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Girls grandly blossom

Grandly blossom

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Scientists uncover 1,224 different species in first ever inventory of life at the poles

The world's first inventory of sea and land animals around a group of freezing Antarctic islands has uncovered some 1,224 species, it was revealed today.

A team from the British Antarctic Survey and University of Hamburg spent seven weeks on board the research vessel RRS James Clark Ross studying life on the South Orkney Islands, near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The survey - which saw experts combing the land, using scuba divers in the shallows and employing a special sledge with nets up to 1,500 metres long in waters around the island - revealed an area with more life than the Galapagos Islands, an area renowned for its unique species.

Scientists recorded marine and land species, including sea urchins, free-swimming worms, crustaceans, molluscs, mites and birds.

They also painstakingly examined over 100 years of historical records on the flora and fauna in this region.

Five species were also found to be completely new to science, including marine 'woodlice' and moss-like animals.

The team of 23 scientists believes the study provides an important benchmark to monitor how animals will respond to climate change in the future.

The oceans around Antarctica have increased by an average of 1°C in the last 50 years. The atmospheric temperature on the Antarctica Peninsula has increased by 2.5°C over the same time and is one of the most rapidly warming areas on the planet.

Lead author Dr David Barnes of the Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey (BAS), has revealed his findings in the Journal of Biogeography to be published this week.

He said: 'If we are to understand how these animals will respond to future change, a starting point like this is really important.

'We were amazed to find so many animals on these islands.

'Of the 1224 species recorded there were 50 types or genus of animals - many more than we’ve found in one place before.

'By having a benchmark of the animals that live here we can now monitor how they will respond to climate change, as they are in one of the most rapidly warming areas on the planet.

'This is the first time anybody has done an inventory like this in the polar regions.'

In an interview with the BBC, he added: 'There is a widely held belief that life is very rich in the tropics and decreases through temperate areas, through to polar regions, which are thought to be barren.

'That is partly because we see life from the land point of view - and when we see the Arctic and Antarctic, we just see ice.

'But below the surface of the sea, it is an incredibly rich environment, and diving there is a bit like diving on a coral reef.'

Studies of animal life around Antarctica often uncover new species as little is known about the area.

Dr Barnes told the BBC: 'This is some of the best-studied land anywhere in the Antarctic, because there have been biologists on it continuously for decades.

'Ironically - when you have a place where you don't find lots of new species, it tells you that you know the life that occurs there fairly well.'

Stefanie Kaiser, from the University of Hamburg, said: 'We never knew there were so many different species on and around these islands.

'This abundance of life was completely unexpected for a location in the polar regions, previously perceived to be poor in biodiversity.'

The study forms part of the Census of Marine Life (COML), a ten-year programme started in 2000 to assess the abundance and diversity of marine life in the world's oceans.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I am the Walrus... and I play the sax: Sara the jazz musician wows her audience

She's not too fond of scales. Except the kind that are on her midday meal of fish.

But Sara the walrus still does her music practice every day, under the watchful eye of her Russian trainer Sergiy.

Gripping the instrument firmly between her flippers, she blasts out a note loud enough to make her whiskers vibrate.

The musical mammal has become the main attraction at her home, the newly-opened Istanbul Dolphinarium.

Sara is particularly clever, as walruses go. She can strike a nonchalant pose, leaning on a worktop looking bored, with one flipper under her chin.

Her skills at mimicking humans extend to dressing up as a railway conductor and blowing a whistle. She can lie down and catch a rose when it is thrown to her. And she has become adept at games with balls and hoops.

She certainly has a much more exciting life than she would in the wild, where walruses spend most of their lives lying on sea ice and seeking out molluscs to eat.

They live for around 50 years in the wild.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The picture perfect storm: Photographs capture the terrifying beauty of clouds gathering over Greenland

These incredible photographs look more like a scene from the end of the world than a winter sunrise.

The dramatic pictures were taken in north west Greenland by British Arctic photographers Bryan and Cherry Alexander.

The award-winning photographic pair were staying in the Inuit community of Qaanaaq, about 800 miles from the North Pole, when the apocalyptic cloud colouring began over Inglefield Bay.

'It was just before dawn, around 10am, when an Inuit friend of mine whose house I was staying in came to my room and suggested that I take a look at the sky,' Mr Cherry said.

'I went outside and was stunned by the beautiful and dramatic cloud formation. I just couldn't believe my eyes. I have worked in the Arctic regularly for the past 37 years and I had never seen the sky like it.'

The pictures show a thin layer of medium-level cloud that has been pummeled by winds churned up between the glaciers below.

'You often see clouds repeating the shape of the ground below,' a spokeswoman from the Met Office said.

'The wind comes in from one side, is lifted up over the mountains and hits the clouds before coming down again. It's a dramatic example of what is known as an orographic effect.'

The angle of the rising sun helped to highlight the different colours and intricate patterns.

'It looked apocalyptic and like a scene from one of the Lord of the Rings movies,' Mr Cherry said.

'Because of the northern winter, the sun rises later and later the nearer you are to the North Pole. That's why even though the pictures were taken at dawn, it was actually ten in the morning.'

For Mr Cherry, it was a once-in-a-lifetime photographic event.

He said: 'I grabbed my cameras and photographed for about an hour as the cloud formation changed and the colour of the clouds turned from grey to pink as the rising sun's rays caught them.

'An hour or so later the drama was gone and it became just another cloudy autumn day in North Greenland.'

But it was not just the Alexanders who were blown away by the natural wonder unfolding in front of them.

Mr Cherry said: 'Just about everybody in the village was amazed, including an elderly Inuit hunter who told me that he had never seen anything like that before in his life.'

The Alexanders have travelled to the region almost every year since the early 1970s, exploring it extensively to document the life of the North's native peoples.

However, in all that time they said they had never seen anything close to the incredible skies they witnessed this autumn.

As the humble computer mouse turns 40, is it finally heading for the exit door?

It rose from humble beginnings to become an essential piece of computer hardware.

But as the computer mouse turns 40, there are signs that it could finally be heading for the big electronic scrapheap in the sky.

When Doug Engelbart's team at the Stanford Research Institute designed a computer controller encased in a carved-out wooden block, with wheels mounted on the underbelly, one researcher nicknamed it a 'mouse'.

But the name was never meant to stick.

'We thought that when it had escaped out to the world it would have a more dignified name,' Engelbart recalled later. 'But it didn't.'

Its birthday will be celebrated next week when Engelbart, now 83, returns to Stanford.

The invention was first shown to the world when he gave a presentation of a working network computer system in San Francisco on December 9, 1968, which is still revered as 'the dawn of interactive computing'.

According to The Observer newspaper, Engelbart first started making notes for the mouse in 1961, after deciding that he could do better than the standard gadget, a light pen which had been used on radar systems during the Second World War. 'We had a big heavy tracking ball - it was like a cannonball,' he said.

'We had several gadgets that ended up with pivots you could move around. We had a light panel you had to hold up right next to the screen so the computer could see it. And a joystick that you wiggle around to try to steer things.'

One of Engelbart's collaborators, Bill English, built an 'x-y positioning device' made from a wooden shell with wheels and a connecting cord, or 'tail', at the back. The cord got in the way when it was used, however, and so it was moved to the front.

'We set up our experiments and the mouse won in every category, even though it had never been used before,' Engelbart recalls on his website.

'It was faster, and with it people made fewer mistakes. Five or six of us were involved in these tests, but no one can remember who started calling it a mouse. I'm surprised the name stuck.'

The invention eventually took off when Apple paid $40,000 for the mouse patent for its Macintosh, in 1984, and it was eventually taken up by the mass PC market for use with Microsoft Windows.
By then Engelbart's patent had expired, meaning that he missed out on a potential fortune, although later mice used different mechanisms which could have been claimed not to infringe the original patent if the matter had ever gone to court.

The book Inventors and Inventions, published by Marshall Cavendish, tells how in 1989 Engelbart lost both his laboratory and his house - the latter burnt down while he and his family stood outside helpless.

But together with his daughter, he set up the Bootstrap Institute to promote his ideas, and in 1998 he was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Bill Clinton for 'creating the foundations of modern computing'.

Now the mouse faces a growing threat to its existence. Laptops which make no use of a mouse are an increasingly popular alternative to desktop computers for workers on the move, while Microsoft has invested millions of dollars in a coffee table-shaped 'Surface' computer which responds to natural hand gestures, touch and physical objects.

Steve Prentice, an analyst at technology research firm Gartner, told The Observer: 'I very much doubt that we'll be using the mouse in 40 years' time.

'They will be still be around in four or five years, but will they be the standard we see today? We're starting to see more complex and intuitive controls develop and the mouse will be left behind.'

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