Monday, Jan. 22, 2007

Book documents war hero’s actions

Winston Churchill dubbed it Operation Pedestal.

It was August 1942 and for the British Prime Minister, the massive naval exercise would become one of the most decisive challenges of World War II.

Although the tiny but strategic Mediterranean island of Malta was a pivotal base for Allied air and submarine attacks against Axis supply ships, the island suffered intense damage from enemy aircraft.

Adolf Hitler wanted the base as a means to reach the Middle East oil fields. In 1941 alone, he tried to bomb Malta’s population into submission more than 960 times.

By 1942, Malta was so desperately short of fuel, food and ammunition that Churchill, with the help of President Roosevelt, ordered a huge convoy of British and American ships to get supplies to the island.

The story of that operation and how the father of a New Fairfield man fought against immeasurable odds to ensure some of those supplies reached their destination is told in a new tome titled “At All Costs.”

“I’m glad it’s now all in one book,” said Jan Larsen, whose father, Frederick Larsen, was a 27-year-old merchant seaman serving with the convoy. “My father was a modest man who didn’t talk too much about what happened, but we’re very proud of what he did.”

Jan Larsen, a 67-year-old former corporate executive who retired in 1998, has lived in New Fairfield since 2002 with his wife, Teri.

His father was a junior third officer aboard one of 14 merchant vessels being escorted by nearly 50 warships when Operation Pedestal began.

The world’s then-biggest tanker, the S.S. Ohio, specifically requested by Churchill, was carrying 107,000 barrels of oil from Texas.

The convoy passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean on Aug. 10 before meeting enemy resistance. The fleet was then under constant air and sea attack and Larsen’s freighter, the Santa Elisa, was sunk by torpedoes.

From the deck of a British destroyer that rescued them, Larsen and another shipmate, 19-year-old Lonnie Dales, later saw the Ohio, burning and abandoned.

The book’s author, Sam Moses, described how the two injured men boarded the Ohio at night and how Larsen repaired the ship’s Bolfors single-barrel anti-aircraft gun on the stern.

It was from there that Larsen, Dales, and a handful of other volunteers spent several days fighting off attacks from German and Italian bombers.

One bomb finally blew out the bottom of the Ohio’s engine room, but Allied destroyers on either side managed to keep the tanker afloat and towed it into the Maltese harbor of Valletta.

“When we entered Valletta Harbor, we were saluted like a victorious naval ship,” Larsen said later. “Crowds of people were singin’ and shoutin’ and screamin,’ and it was quite a thrill comin’ in.”

Dales said, “They were playing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ for us.”

Roosevelt later presented Larsen and Dales with the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal “for heroism above and beyond the call of duty.”

Larsen’s citation, in part, said: “The magnificent courage of this young third officer constitutes a degree of heroism which will be an enduring inspiration to seamen of the United States Merchant Marine everywhere.”

Born in Newark, N.J., Frederick Larsen lost his Norwegian-born parents in the flu pandemic of 1918 and was raised in Norway by an aunt and uncle.

Larsen met his future wife, Minda, while training at a naval academy there and was away working on ships in the U.S. before their son was born.

“He was hoping to bring us over, but the Germans invaded Norway in 1940, and we couldn’t leave,” said Jan Larsen.

Jan and his mother were allowed to leave in 1942 under a prisoner of war exchange with the Germans, but Frederick Larsen did not know about their release until after he arrived in Malta.

After the war, Frederick Larsen spent 45 years as a sea captain with Delta Steamship Lines before retiring in 1983.

He died in 1995 at age 81. His wife, now 91, lives in Washington Township, N.J.

Last week, Moses, 59, who lives in White Salmon, Washington, said it was his agent’s idea to write the book.

“He had wanted someone to write the story for some years,” said Moses, who served in the U.S. Navy aboard a heavy cruiser during the war in Vietnam.

A feature writer for Sports Illustrated for 18 years, Moses is also the author of the acclaimed race car driving memoir “Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Idiots.”

Moses said he spent “two intense years” of writing and research for the Larsen book that included a 14-page letter he later wrote about the incident to a friend but never finished.

Moses, whose research took him to Europe and Malta, also credited Larsen’s action in part to the young man’s frustration over what had happened to his ship.

“He was a survivor, on another ship, and he felt helpless,” said Moses. “He wasn’t the type of man who liked being in that position. He knew all about tankers and he knew all about repairing guns, so he did something about it.”

Moses said it was well-documented that if the Ohio had not reached Malta with its much-needed supplies, the island would likely have fallen.

“They were only 18 days away from surrendering,” he said.

Moses’ book has earned praise from Mark Whitmore, director of collections at the Imperial War Museum in London.

“Sam Moses has skillfully blended the vivid recollections of many eyewitnesses with a wealth of original documentary research to produce an immensely readable and authoritative account of this crucial operation,” Whitmore said.

Jan Larsen’s personal memories of his father are filled with images of a devoted, loving man.

“He was a sea captain and away a lot, but he loved his family and was very generous,” said Larsen. “He was extremely well liked by his peers because of who he was although he never talked much about it. He was especially devoted to my mother. They were very much in love.”

At All Costs” by Sam Moses is published by Random House and is available in hardback for $25.95.

Cheating death, living a miracle

John McClellan stepped out of the passenger side of his family’s car Sunday evening and walked up the path to the Family Worship Center — no cane, no wheelchair and not even a shoulder to lean on.

Some people at the center were surprised to see him move so easily, knowing that only four months ago he was shot in the head while serving in Iraq. About 125 well-wishers gathered Sunday to honor and meet McClellan and his family.

Joan Rawsen, McClellan’s next-door neighbor who has known him since he was born, came to the celebration service to “give thanks for all the good will that has come his way to help him heal.”

McClellan, 20, a Hickman High School graduate, is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head he suffered in September 2006. He was hit by a round from an AK-47 while serving with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Echo Company in Haditha, Iraq.

This is the second injury he received while serving in the Middle East. In October 2005, while in Afghanistan, McClellan was shot twice in the right arm.

After undergoing an operation in Badal, Iraq, McClellan was transferred to a medical center in Germany, followed by a 3½-week stay at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

McClellan is still undergoing a variety of therapies, making progress and keeping his sense of humor.

“I just went skydiving yesterday,” he said. “I’m just kidding. The left side of my face is working better, and my memory is getting better.”

As friends and family gathered around McClellan to hug him and speak with him, his mother, Connie McClellan, asked her son to smile for them to show the degree of progress.

Shortly after his injury, doctors, family and friends were unsure as to the level of his recovery, fearing mental and physical impairment, and possibly death. He soon showed signs of improvement, however, and underwent physical therapy at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla.

In November 2006, McClellan returned to Columbia to a crowd of supporters, friends and family.

“It’s pretty cool,” McClellan said of the service Sunday night. “It’s a chance for me to thank everyone for what they have done.”

Avon saleswoman succeeds despite hearing loss

Muriel Raine can’t hear the ding-dong of the doorbells she rings, but being hearing-impaired hasn’t kept her from building a successful Avon business.

In a field in which listening is as important as talking, Raine has twice earned Avon’s President Club Award, an honor reserved for associates who sell at least $10,100 worth of the cosmetics product.

“She’s amazing,” said Raine’s unit leader, Mary Van Valkenburg, a Village Mira Mesa resident. “I don’t know how she does it.”

Raine’s success is attributed to her listening abilities, which have nothing to do with her inability to hear.

“I introduce myself and tell them that I am hearing-impaired. Then I offer them a book,” said Raine, who picks up limited sounds through a hearing aid. “As long as they look at me while they’re talking, I’m OK. I’m pretty good at reading lips.”

That talent has served Muriel well through the past 35 years.

“I had hearing in both ears throughout childhood, and into my 20s, but it was limited, and it started slowly going downhill,” said Raine, who began her Avon career within a year of moving from California to Lady Lake in 2002.

Muriel had sure traveled a long way from Maple Plains, Minn., where she was a quiet schoolgirl who had to sit in the front row to hear her teacher.

“I used to be pretty shy when I was younger,” Raine said.

Her timidity can be traced to the fifth grade, when she was fitted with her first hearing aid.

“It was one of those box things that you wore around your neck,” Raine recalled. “The sounds coming out of it were all scratchy and it was noisy. I was so embarrassed I put it in my desk and refused to wear it.”

Fortunately, technology had advanced by the time Raine became an insurance underwriter.

“Didn’t wear a hearing aid again until I was in my 20s,” she said. “ I made it a point to check out hearing aids and I was fitted with a behind-the-ear model when I was around 27. I’ve had various kinds ever since.”

Ironically, Raine has become more self-assured as her hearing has diminished.

“Over the years, I found I enjoyed being around people, being out in the public and hearing their stories,” she said.

Raine also enjoys talking to people on the telephone, which is as easy as reading an Avon catalog. Taking orders is a snap for Raine, who uses a CapTel phone, which shows caller’s words on an LCD screen.

The boxes of Avon products scattered on the floor of her office attest to Raine’s listening ability, people skills and dedication. But as with most accomplished sales people, success didn’t arrive overnight.

“In the beginning, I waited for them to call me, but not many did. It was discouraging,” she said. “I’ve learned to check back with people because so many are busy. It’s hard to catch people at home.”

Fortunately, she had a supportive unit leader in Van Valkenburg.

“She helped me through it,” Raine said. “If I had a problem with an order or a bill, she’d make the call to Avon for me.”

And there was another benefit to working with Van Valkenburg.

“When I first started with her, I had gotten a few girls who were hearing-impaired, so I gave them to Muriel, and she just ran with it,” Van Valkenburg recalled. “And she’s been going strong ever since.”

Today, about a quarter of Raine’s customers are hearing-impaired. You might say that Raine receives a lot of “word-of-eyes” business.

And she’s doing pretty well with hearing customers as well. She’s developed a loyal client base through bowling and church.

Of course, Raine is always looking for new customers, and new ways to reach them.

“She attends all my unit meetings, which is remarkable because it’s hard for hearing-impaired people to attend meetings and get something out of it since nobody signs,” said Van Valkenburg, who tries to direct her words at Muriel when addressing the group.

Muriel still sits in the front of the classroom, but these days, those around her don’t think of her as handicapped.

“I’m just glad she’s in my unit,” said Van Valkenburg.

Friday, Jan. 19, 2007

Lifesaver’s harrowing rescue of three-year-old

Lifesaver Keith Hennessy never wants to repeat the dramatic resuscitation that saved Ali Ben Brahim’s life.

“I thought to myself I’m not going home tonight and sitting in my bed and knowing that he died under my watch.”

The three-year-old was found face down in a 1.2-metre-deep pool at Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre last Friday after his mother left him briefly to go to the toilet.

The family thanked Kilbirnie pool staff this week, delivering flowers to Mr Hennessy.

“I’m just so glad he is alive,” his father, Ben Brahim, said. “It could have been such a tragedy. We are just so grateful.”

Ali had been in a flotation ring in the main pool where children were playing on a giant inflatable.

A sibling had been left to watch over Ali, but had not noticed him slip through the ring, Mr Hennessy said.

The child was believed to have spent a minute submerged before he was noticed by another swimmer and pulled from the water.

“His arms and face had gone completely blue,” Mr Hennessy said.

The lifeguard began cpr, but after the first round of 30 compressions Ali still had no pulse. Water was pouring out of his lungs “like a fountain” and his mother was frantic.

Ali was still without a pulse after more than a minute, but his eyes finally began to open before he had a fit and had to be put into a “butterfly grip” to prise his mouth open.

“I gave him two more breaths and his colour came back and then he started to scream his head off.”

Mr Hennessy, who has worked as a lifeguard for nearly two years, said it was his first life-and-death rescue.

“I was very grateful to be able to do it, but I wouldn’t ever go through that again, especially a young child – it was harrowing.”

Wellington City Council pool manager Julian Todd said the accident was the most serious at its pools this summer.

The near-tragedy was a reminder that adults must watch children under eight years at all times in water, he said.

Friends to rescue in emergency call drama

Friends and neighbours rallied around a popular newsagent when he collapsed and was rushed to hospital.

Alan Devereux, of A and G News, in Friars Street, Sudbury, returned from his paper round early last Friday morning barely able to walk.

Wife Gill immediately called for an ambulance and watched in horror as her husband was whisked to West Suffolk Hospital complaining of severe stomach pains.

Gill was preparing to close the shop and find her own way to the Bury St Edmunds hospital when kind-hearted neighbours, Brian and Pauline Suggate, and son Sam, stepped in to help.

Brian and Sam, from the near-by Paulie’s Café, offered to run the shop so Gill could be with her husband.

“You certainly know who your friends are when you need them the most,” said Mrs Devereux.

Mr Suggate added: “It was all a bit of a rush, I took the dog to the groomers, where it had an appointment and Sam looked after the shop. But we were happy to help out.”
With the Suggates manning the shop, another friend, taxi driver David Brett, ensured Mrs Devereux was at her husband’s bedside in no time at all.

“He was an absolute gem,” said Mrs Devereux.

Mr Brett took her to West Suffolk Hospital where she waited with her husband until he was discharged later in the day.

Doctors diagnosed Mr Devereux’s pain had been caused by kidney stones. He is now back at home and grateful to everyone who showed their support.

“Everyone who helped us was absolutely fantastic,” said Mrs Devereux. “I dialled 999 and by the time I put the phone down the ambulance was here.

“We sometimes only hear the bad side of the NHS but we can’t thank them enough.”

Friday, Jan. 12, 2007

Disabled man living his dream

Janice Fialka unveiled a new documentary featuring her cognitively disabled son at schools and seminars across the country. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, but one comment from a teacher proved to Fialka her family’s investment was a success.

“In Baltimore an early childhood teacher came up and said ‘I have to apologize to the family of a 4-year old with Down Syndrome,'” Fialka said. “She said ‘I told them to be more realistic about their dreams for him. Now I have to tell them I’m sorry.'”

The story of Micah Fialka-Feldman, a 22-year-old Oakland University student, is meant to show parents, educators and the disabled anything is possible.

The 25-minute documentary titled “Through the same door” will premier locally at 2 p.m. Jan. 21 in the auditorium at Berkley High School, 2325 Catalpa, with an introduction by Elizabeth Bauer, a member of the state Board of Education.

Bauer will discuss universal education at the premier, something about which Huntington Woods’ residents Fialka, her husband Richard Feldman and their son have plenty to say.

Fialka-Feldman wrote in an essay titled “I wanted to go to college and my dream came true.” A lot of people didn’t think he could go to college, but because family and friends believed in him he learned how to take public transportation to campus and found teachers who helped him pick the best classes.

“I think I will learn a lot,” Fialka-Feldman wrote. “I volunteer at the child care center on the campus. I am also in the social work club and Hillel, which is a Jewish organization. I am learning how to be a leader and how to do community service. I know my way around the campus and I have lunch with friends. I like being a college student … I am happy. My dream came true.”

His enthusiasm is on display in the documentary, which Fialka-Feldman’s parents commissioned from an independent local filmmaker. Fialka-Feldman was taped for 33 hours with his friends, in class, and with teachers, and footage was whittled down to the essentials. The film won rave reviews from educators and the disabled community.

“This video shows us living, breathing inclusion in action,” wrote Mara Sapon-Shevin, Ed.D., of Syracuse University in a review. “A must-see for all students, teachers, parents and the community. I plan to show it to all of the future teachers. Thank you for making this film. We all need it.”

The title of the film came from a day when Fialka-Feldman, who was enrolled in a first grade special education program, told his parents he wanted to walk through the same door as the rest of the kids at his school. It led to him becoming the first student with cognitive disabilities in mainstream classrooms in Berkley.

Though he can’t read or write on his own, Fialka-Feldman reached astounding heights with the help of voice recognition computer software, tutors, and the embrace of his community.

At Berkley High School, Fialka-Feldman won varsity letters in cross country and track, was a member of the homecoming court, and won the Social Studies Department Award for civic involvement. In 2004 he received the Michigan “Yes, I Can” award for self-advocacy.

He finished high school in 2003 with a certificate of attendance, took a 10-day trip through Israel with friends last year, and enrolled at Oakland University through the Transitions Program, which is geared to helping the disabled go from high school to college.

“He’s not matriculated, he’s a guest student,” Fialka said. “You receive services up to age 26 through the state of Michigan … We’ve always believed in full inclusion.”

Fialka-Feldman enrolls in three classes at a time, mostly about politics, posts essays online about his own life, politics and disability and lectures to educators around the country.

He may be disabled, but he’s not shy. Micah Fialka-Feldman learned fast the only way to get what you want is to ask for it.

“He finds peers either through the teacher or he stands up in class and says ‘I have a disability, will anyone tutor me?'” Fialka said. “Sometimes he takes the same test as other students, other times the teacher modifies it for him … He’s the happiest kid in the world. Everyone should be so happy.”

Thursday, Jan. 11, 2007

3-year-old boy saves grandmother’s life

In an instant, 3-year-old Luca Gasbarrino went from rambunctious little devil to Nonni’s guardian angel.

It was surprising to his parents, Janelle and Lenny, since he’s a boy who’s used to getting in trouble.

“I was impressed because he’s two weeks removed from cutting his own hair,” Lenny Gasbarrino jokes.

“I didn’t know he had it in him,” Janelle laughs. “As you can see he’s a typical three-year-old rambuctious little boy.”

The active little Luca was with the grandfather when he heard the beeping of 66-year old Patricia Rennie’s respirator. Her hose had slipped out. Luca rode his scooter into her room to see what was wrong.

“My mom says she mouthed to him, ‘Go get your grandfather,'” Janelle says.

When Luca couldn’t find his grandfather, he took action.

“I put the tube back on,” he remembers.

“He knows he’s not allowed to go in there and touch any of that machinery, that equipment, because her life depends on it,” says Lenny. “But he just knew at that time it was okay to go up there and take matters in his own hands.”

That’s how the little devil became an angel in his family’s eyes.

“He really did end up saving her life,” Janelle says. “He’s her little guardian angel.”

Human fireball: Miracle man

Doctors gave Tim Attwater a 20 per cent chance of surviving after an exploding can of paint thinners turned him into a human fireball.

The freak accident on July 8, last year left the popular Eaglehawk man with about 85 per cent burns to his body and he was in a medically induced coma for seven weeks.

But less than six months on, Tim is back on his feet and has returned home to fiancee Sharon and their three sons, James, 6, Connor, 4, and two-year-old Brayden.

Tim’s comeback from the brink of death has been credited to the swift work of Bendigo paramedics and hospital staff as well as his action after the accident, which he learned from a first aid course he had just completed.

He now wants to raise awareness of the dangers of keeping cans of thinners that are not full in hot areas.

The accident happened after Tim went into the shed to put some more wood on a securely-covered fire.

He was about four metres away from the thinners can, which was less than half full.

The heat caused the container to explode.

“The liquid hit me,” Tim said.

“Once it got a naked flame, I turned into a fireball.

“I got out of the shed and I stopped, dropped and rolled.”

He used his hands to shield his face from the flames.

“I shed my clothes as I was going,”

Tim said.

He got in the shower with warm running water while Sharon called an ambulance.

Rural Ambulance Victoria mica paramedic Eric Lee said Tim did all the right things.

He remembers talking to Tim straight after the accident.

“Often you find these patients – I’ve been to a number like that and

I’m sure it’s the same for the other paramedics – they’re talking to you, you just know that that’s the last time they’ll talk to someone,” he said.

The paramedics put Tim on a clean sheet then onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.

“The extent of his burns meant it was difficult for us to get an IV (intravenous drip) into him to give him pain relief,” he said.

“We did gave him pain relief that he inhaled and we took him to hospital.

“During that time, he was still conscious of what was going on.

“In hospital, that’s when they took over the care and put him in a medically-induced sleep.”

Tim was flown from Bendigo Hospital to the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne where he eventually came out of the coma.

While he could remember the accident, he did not realise the severity of his burns, particularly the damage to his arms and legs.

“I said (to the nurse) can I go home,” Tim recalled.

It has been and still is a slow road to recovery.

He has had skin grafts and requires further surgery to his hands.

Tim’s burns mean he must wear a protective body suit 23 hours a day.

He was discharged from hospital on November 30, last year and has only been walking for about 10 weeks.

But the fact he is walking at all is an amazing feat which he puts down to the good work of paramedics and hospital staff.

Caring for others is my resolution

Everybody’s family is dysfunctional. I’m sure anyone reading this could trade stories for hours about how their family would win any contest that picked the most dysfunctional of all. I know I have plenty I could share that would both amuse and shock at the same time.

It also pretty much goes without saying that families fight – sometimes a lot. My family had what we all refer to now as a “misunderstanding” a few weeks before Christmas that seemed like it would never end.

But, as cheesy as it might sound, we all love each other and realized this even during the misunderstanding. Family is essentially one of the bedrocks of any society. After all, they are the people you are bound to by blood, genetics and even law.

Family is too important to cast aside over minor disputes and, yes, misunderstandings. Good family members will always be there for one another no matter what.

Unfortunately, a lot of times we all take our families for granted. Sometimes it takes something tragic to make us appreciate the people surrounding us.

Last week, my family found out that my dad’s younger sister – my aunt Angel – has breast cancer. Even as common as it is (one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer), it’s shocking when it hits that close to home.

Angel and I have always been close. She was only 11 when I was born, so she still lived with my grandparents, which is where I stayed most of the time while my mom and dad were at work.

She used to entertain and dance for me when I was a baby. Then as I got older, she’d help me build houses out of Lincoln Logs and other exciting constructions with Tinker Toys. No one can build a house with Lincoln Logs like Angel can.

When I was in seventh grade, she worked at my school. I remember spending the night with her often and riding with her to school. She also let me watch movies my mom and dad wouldn’t let me watch.

I’ll never forget the two of us renting Scream and then turning it off because we were both so scared. It didn’t help that we both tried to scare each other after her apartment was completely dark. The movie was much better in the daylight.

Being a working college student means there isn’t as much time to spend with your family as you were able to do as a kid. Fortunately, my family lives in Tuscaloosa. I still see them often, and even though Angel and I aren’t able to hang out a lot, we’re still close.

I don’t know that there’s a week that’s gone by during which we haven’t at least called each other to talk about our favorite show, “Grey’s Anatomy.” My grandmother gave both of us season two of the show and DVD, and I told Angel we should watch it together. I then laughed as we both realized the chance of her getting her three kids settled and us both actually having free time at the same time would be nearly impossible.

Though families don’t always get along and though Angel and I might have had some differences before doesn’t mean there isn’t love there.

The beginning of a new year always brings about new promises and resolutions. I only have one that I am adamant about keeping. I’m going to show the people in my life how much I love them and how much I appreciate them, and I’m going to be a kinder person to everyone. Besides, isn’t that easier than eating healthy and exercising?

It really isn’t that hard to show people that you care. It only takes simple acts.

On Sunday, my family’s church had a special prayer service for Angel. Before I even got there, I was overwhelmed with love and compassion. My best friend Heather offered to go with me even though she is really involved in her church, and it meant so much to me.

As we walked in the doors, I noticed several people wearing pink clothes and almost everyone in the church was wearing a pink ribbon to show their support for Angel. I know it meant a lot to her, and it definitely meant a lot to our family, including me.

It’s touching and refreshing to know someone cares. It is my wish that Angel and everyone else in my family knows how much I care about them this year, and I’m going to do everything I can to show it.

It is also my wish that during this hard time you will keep Angel, her husband Johnny, their three kids and the rest of our family in your prayers. This is going to be a difficult journey for her and for all of us. But our family is filled with love, and that makes us strong enough to handle even the toughest situation.

Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007

Forgotten keepsakes returned: Couple receive anniversary surprise

Mouse droppings and rats’ nests covered a trunk Bob Kincheloe discovered in McLouth this past week.

Kincheloe didn’t think much of the trunk he found in an old barn that he was dismantling for his friend Melody Barnes.

On Saturday, Barnes and Kincheloe decided to open the trunk. As they scraped away the layers of muck, they discovered a treasure trove. Inside were photos, letters, stock certificates and a marriage license.

The papers were makings of the story of a couple’s life together.

Kincheloe and Barnes found two last names on documents in the trunk and headed toward the local phone book. When they got to Bud and Betty Lukens, of Lawrence, they’d found the owners.

Kincheloe and Barnes made a trip to Lawrence to return what they had found. That was Sunday, two days before the Lukens were to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.

Appropriately, among the papers that were found was the letter Bud had written to Betty’s parents, informing them of his intention to marry their daughter. Their marriage certificate also was in the trunk.

The trunk had been lost when, two years ago, the Lukens sold their farm, which included the barn, because Bud’s eyesight had deteriorated to the point that he could hardly see the road to make the drive from his home in Lawrence. Macular degeneration has degraded Bud’s sight to the point that he can’t even read the long-lost letter he wrote to his wife’s parents.

Monday night, as Betty, 84, read the letter aloud, she couldn’t help but get emotional at the words her husband, now 86, wrote. She thought the letter was lost to time.

“I’m sure your greatest concern is essentially mine: her future happiness,” she read. She paused and insisted she couldn’t read any more, but she pressed on.

The letter, which covered the front and back of two pages, was written on Dec. 7, 1941. Bud was sure the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor meant he’d be in the Army soon. He wanted to marry Betty before that happened. They married Jan. 9, 1942, in California.

Bud served in the Army from 1945 to 1947, and afterward the couple returned to Kansas. They bought the farm and lived in McLouth until moving to Lawrence so their two daughters could go to high school here. Bud, however, made the daily half-hour drive to McLouth to take care of his livelihood.

By the time Bud sold the farm, he couldn’t see well enough to make sure they’d taken everything they wanted.

The Lukens sold the farm “as is.” From the clothes to the cattle, if it was at the farm, the Lukens left it behind. They didn’t realize they’d left those keepsakes there, too.

Barnes bought the barn from the person who purchased — and still owns — the farm from the Lukens. When Barnes and Kincheloe discovered what was in the box, they knew someone would want to get the items back.

“We organized it for them. We were just so happy to get their family history back to them,” Barnes said.

“We figured their grandkids would want these photos and letters. It seemed like the right thing to do,” Kincheloe said.

The Lukens have four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

The photos and letters and other memories couldn’t have been returned at a better time. Though they sold the barn only two years ago, the trunk had been in the barn, and unseen, much longer.

As the couple celebrated their anniversary, the two couldn’t quite agree on why their marriage had been so successful.

Bud, with a laugh, said their time apart made their time together better.

Betty, however, had a more romantic opinion.

“We’re terribly attracted to each other, and we always have been,” Betty said. “That’s what’s kept us together.”

The miracle worker

A guy in a black Saturn pulls up to a gas station on Bank St. at Riverside Dr.

After gassing up, he goes inside and asks attendant Gamal Jebahi if he’s got a loonie for change.

Jebahi slowly pulls himself up from his seat and fishes for a loonie in the small pile of cash by the register.

“I’ll give you $1 and a penny,” Jebahi says. “It’s not much, but save it, it’s a blessing. God be with you.”

Welcome to Riverside Gas, where one gets more than just a full tank.

Jebahi, 48, is known as the “miracle man” after surviving a horrific gas explosion that set him on fire at his station on Dec. 31, 2004.

After two years of being closed, he reopened on Christmas Day.

“I feel joy of being active, of seeing life in front of me,” he says, looking out. “The little light of hope I had one time is now getting bigger and bigger.”

A navy toque covers his scarred head. Black sunglasses protect his damaged eyes. When he walks, he hobbles, struggling to keep his balance.

He was working on a vehicle at the time of the explosion and remembers little from that day.

“All I remember is a bright light,” he says. “I didn’t hear anything. No explosion, no sound.”

It was said he’d never survive, that he’d live out his life in a vegetative state.

There is no burn centre in Ottawa and Jebahi was rushed to a Toronto hospital, where he remained for nine months.

For the first four months, he was in a coma. When he came out of it, he had traumatic hallucinations for two months.

“I would be screaming,” he recalls. “I would see myself on the side of a building and someone would be pushing me off. In my mind it was real.”

He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t eat and would vomit after taking a few bites of food.

“The worst thing in life is having no control over the things you do,” he says. “So anything you can do by yourself is a gift, it’s a big reward.”

So far he’s had 144 surgeries with more on the way. He can barely hear out of his left ear and his eyes are severely damaged.

Inside his mouth is darkness, he’s lost so many teeth.

Plans to get married and bring his bride over from his native Lebanon were crushed. The wedding was called off.

Instead, his mother and brother travelled to Canada to care for him.

“I would be the biggest fool on earth if I think I could do this without the help of God, the one who is stronger than all,” Jebahi says.

Jebahi says he’s always been spiritual but now feels more strongly that he’s found his purpose.

On a day of freezing rain, when all the shops were closed, a distraught woman searching for salt entered the gas bar and asked for help. He gave her his last bag for free.

If a customer is short some change for gas, he’ll trust the person to come back another time to pay.


His kindness hasn’t gone unnoticed and he was flooded by letters from customers during his recovery.

There’s a clipboard by the cash, his “Goodwill Wish List” for customers to sign.

“Glad to see you back in high spirits as always!” reads one.

So far, he’s got about 30 signatures. When he hits 100, he’s going to take it to the city and lobby for Ottawa’s own burn centre.

Until then, he’s playing the “survival game.”

“The boat could sink, or I can try to salvage what I can,” he says.

It’s going to be a tough journey, but he knows he’ll be okay.

People pray in whatever way, he says and God shows His miracles every day.

“I’m here,” Jebahi says. “My mind is here, and that’s what’s important. One word is ‘hope,’ and there’s always hope.”

Monday, Jan. 8, 2007

Icebound loon takes hint, heads south

Lake Rescue lived up to its name Sunday afternoon when two residents broke a channel through the softened ice on the lake to rescue a loon marooned in a small pool of open water.

Frank Wingate and Wayne Fisher went out in a small boat to break the channel, hoping that the loon would follow them out to open water and depart for its wintering grounds.

They were successful, but only after they left the loon to its privacy, according to Wingate.

Wingate and Fisher went out at about 1 p.m. to the shaded cove near Fisher’s home and they chopped the punky ice and forced their metal boat through the three-quarter inch ice. The bird, which was watching their approach, would keep as far away from them as possible in its small swimming pool, or dive briefly under the water.

Wingate and Fisher kept their distance from the loon, while exhorting it to escape to its freedom.

“Come on, bird,” they could be heard urging from shore.

The loon would occasionally let out one of its wails and rise up out of the water, and flap its wings.

After about an hour of gentle long-distance coaxing, the men decided they were cold and the bird might want its privacy.

“The loon is happy where he is,” Wingate said. “This guy isn’t going anywhere.”

But Wingate was happily proved wrong about an hour later.

“The loon has gone — it’s very exciting and we’re very happy,” Wingate reported shortly after 4 p.m., after he and Fisher had gone home to watch playoff football.

Wingate said the bird got caught in the cove between Carpenter’s Point and Monroe Point on Dec. 30, when Lake Rescue finally iced over. The bird kept a small area open by its constant swimming, he said.

On Friday, George Scribner, a Vermont Fish and Wildlife game warden, tried to catch the loon by going out with his kayak and a net. But the bird proved too active for Scribner to catch.

Plans to have the Ludlow Fire Department do a training exercise to rescue the bird on Saturday morning were cancelled Friday night because the bird’s opening was too big for a successful capture, according to Ludlow Fire Chief Peter Kolenda.

But on Sunday morning, Wingate and Fisher decided that the mild temperatures of the weekend and Saturday’s rain had opened up more territory on the clear sections of Lake Rescue and it was worth a try to break a channel and coax the reluctant bird through it.

Wingate, the president of the Lake Rescue Association, said he consulted regularly during the past week with Eric Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Loon Recovery Project, a joint effort of the Vermont Institute of Natural Science and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Hanson, reached Sunday evening at his Craftsbury home, said it wasn’t that unusual for a young loon to get caught during the icing-in of a lake. He said that young loons, which is what the Lake Rescue loon probably was, typically migrate after their parents. Usually young loons band together and migrate together, he said. The cold doesn’t bother them, he said.

According to Wingate, the young loon’s parents left the lake in early December, but he stayed behind.

Hanson said that loons from Vermont spend the winter in the ocean off New England. Originally it was thought that New England loons traveled to the coast of North Carolina, but research, including banding and satellite telemetry, showed they wintered off New England.

He said when he traveled to Nantucket last March, he saw loons in the ocean there.

Hanson said that Scribner had planned on netting the loon and bringing it to Lake Bomoseen or Lake Champlain, where there is plenty of open water. Loons typically need at least 200 feet of open water to take off, he said, because they are such heavy birds. Loons really prefer to live in 10- to 20-acre lakes so they have plenty of room to take off, he said.

Friday, Jan. 5, 2007

Baldwins receive a Christmas miracle

In March 1978, when Travis Baldwin was 8 years old, he was diagnosed with diabetes. Travis, now 36, has lived with the disease 29 years, and it destroyed his pancreas. In addition, his kidneys started failing about 11 years ago. A transplant was the only option left for Travis, but his name was down the list a long way. But would he receive a transplant for kidneys or his pancrease? The list did not include both.

With his kidneys shutting down, Baldwin was scheduled to being kidney dialysis Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006. Beginning the dialysis would help him cope with failing kidneys, but make a transplant situation more difficult, because a body dealing with the dialysis does not have much left over for the challenges of dealing with a newly transplanted organ.

In October, a new donor list specifically for pancrease/kidney transplants was started by St. Louis University Hospital and Baldwin’s was the first name to be put on it. Travis was on the list for a short 10 days before the hospital informed them a donor had been found.

The Baldwins, Travis and his wife, Tricia, were told to begin preparing for a transplant. The doctors told them it may be 18-24 months, maybe months, maybe days, but to begin preparing.

When they eventually received the call donor organs were available, Baldwin would have only a short time to get from El Dorado Springs to St. Louis where the transplant would take place.

Tricia Baldwin is as a paramedic with Cedar County Ambulance District/St. John’s. As a matter of preparation, her coworkers carried extra uniforms with them so they could step in to relieve Tricia at a moment’s notice if she were on-duty when the call was received.

The good news was Tricia was off-duty when the call was received about 8 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2. The bad news was Missouri was hit with one of the worst snowstorms in recent history Thursday, Nov. 30, unleashing 12 inches to 2 feet of snow across the state. Getting to St. Louis definitely would be a challenge.

“We had everything packed, and we were on the road about 15 minutes after we received the call,” Travis said. “We made a couple of phone calls – one to my mom and one to my brother and his wife who were going to make the trip with us. We had a convoy of three vehicles, and we were ahead of them by several miles.”

“We went through Springfield on I-44 because of road conditions, and made it as far as the first Lebanon exit when traffic came to a complete stop because of the snow and ice,” Travis said.

Tricia called Dennis Winston, EMS manager of Cedar County Ambulance District to enlist his aid to find out about road conditions and if there were any detours they could take.

“I called hoping to find an alternate route to go around traffic,” Tricia said. “Dennis called (St. John’s) dispatch and found out I-44 was closed between Lebanon and Rolla due to road conditions.”

Tricia also called the Missouri State Highway Patrol in hopes of securing an escort through the traffic, to no avail. She spoke with St. John’s dispatch and St. John’s Lifeline helicopter.

The managers of the ambulance and helicopter dispatch centers and Winston sprung into action trying to find the best way to get Travis and Tricia on their way to St. Louis.

St. John’s tried sending an ambulance from LaClede County to pick up the Baldwins from their stranded vehicle on I-44, but the ambulance encountered the same problem – it couldn’t get through the traffic. The Baldwins were on the inside lane of I-44 with the exit in sight, but were blocked in by semi trucks.

Travis spoke with the truck drivers around them, asking if traffic began moving could the truck drivers leave a space open for the Baldwins to get to the exit.

Tricia received a call from the Lifeline helicopter saying they would send a helicopter to the Lebanon airport to pick them up and fly them to St. Louis.

“In the meantime, the truckers all communicated with each other because the next thing I know one of them was knocking on our window saying, ‘Hey, we’re backing up traffic to make you a spot to get through’,” Tricia said. “So they did. They backed up traffic behind us big enough to get our vehicle through, and I got directions from dispatch to the airport and got to the airport.”

“When we got to the airport the fire chief was there from Lebanon with his vehicle, a fire truck and three other men to make sure we were all right,” Travis said. “Then St. John’s ambulance from Lebanon showed up to check on us. The ambulance took us out to where the helicopter was and both my wife and I got into the helicopter and they took us to the hospital in St. Louis.”

Travis’ brother and wife, and his mother and Travis and Tricias’ daughter, Logan, 10, also were stuck in the traffic jam on I-44.

Again, the truckers pulled together to make a way for them to get to the exit. Travis’ family and daughter got to the airport shortly after the Baldwins to see them off.

The weather was not the only obstacle that day. Time also was of the essence. The Baldwins were stranded in Lebanon with about three hours left on the clock.

“They wanted me in St. Louis about 5-1/2 hours after I received the call,” Travis said, “which would be close on a good day.”

Travis’ surgery was scheduled for 5 p.m. He told his daughter prior to leaving Lebanon in the helicopter, he wouldn’t go into surgery until he had the chance to see her.

About 5:30 p.m., the surgeons advised Travis they wanted to reschedule the surgery to 7 a.m. the next morning – they wanted more time to prepare the organs and to prepare Travis to make the transplant as successful as possible. Another piece of good fortune, since Travis’ daughter and remaining family members did not arrive in St. Louis until about 6 p.m.

“The first hour of the journey was the most stressful hour of my life.” Travis said. “Packing up and leaving and not knowing – we weren’t sure it was a 100 percent – if we wouldn’t have to turn around. Sometimes they haven’t had a chance to look at the donor organs, and they call and tell you to turn around, it’s not a go. We had to be prepared for that; luckily everything worked out.”

The Baldwins believe they received a Christmas miracle, not only with the transplant but the fact Travis’ surgery went very well with only minor setbacks and a possibility they’d be home for Christmas. They returned to Cedar County Tuesday, Dec. 19.

Travis said he feels so much better after the surgery. For the first time in 28 years, he no longer has to take insulin and his blood sugar levels are normal. He still monitors his blood sugar four times a day but sees those checks slowing down in the near future.

His body has suffered damage from the diabetes, his eyesight has been affected and he experiences neuropathy (a numbing sensation) in his hand and feet. The transplant will stop his neuropathy from progressing further, but will not repair damage it already has caused.

“It’s been a real blessing,” Travis said. “God had his hand in it and God does answer prayers, because all of our prayers have been answered. Everything was taken care of – with the helicopter ride, us getting there, the family getting there – it was just an act of God everything happened the way it did.”

“I’m so very humbled by the whole situation. I don’t want to take this for granted, and I want to let people know organ donations do save lives. I hope this story will heighten people’s awareness of how important organ donation is,” he said, “And I want to thank everyone for all the prayers on my behalf.”

Monday, Dec. 11, 2006

For these kids, Santa wears badge

Christmas came early for 26 foster children in the care of Ashtabula County Children Services Saturday as they hit the toy aisles at Super Kmart with sheriff’s deputies in tow.

This is the ninth year for the Shop with a Cop program with the Ashtabula County Deputies Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 106. The lodge, along with other organizations, donate money for the event, which allows less fortunate children to shop for everything on their Christmas lists.

“This is always a special occasion for the kids,” said Nick Kerosky, Children Services community services coordinator. “They look forward to it every year.”

Kerosky said it is difficult for the children to be away from their homes regardless of the reason and the event is a way to take their minds off it.

The children aren’t the only ones who look forward to the event each year. Sheriff William Johnson and his deputies volunteer their time each year to put a smile on the faces of the children.

“This is the highlight of our year,” said retired deputy Mark Weber. “I can’t even envision going through Christmas without doing this.”

Weber still continues to participate in the event since his retirement in 2005.

“When you see the gleem in their eyes, you understand,” he said.

Lt. Greg Leonhard said out of all the programs the lodge puts on, this event is the one he looks forward to the most.

“With the support of different organizations, it’s nice to be able to share this with the children.”

Johnson said the program casts a good light on the department to let children know that the deputies and himself are their friends.

“It’s a great program for the kids,” he said. “Regardless of being with police officers, Christmas is Christmas.”

Deputy Brian Hubbard, president of the FOP lodge, said it is a good feeling to be able to do this for the children who might not have had a real happy Christmas.

“It makes you feel good doing it,” he said. “I’m just happy we are able to do it.”

Each child was given a gift card for $60 to spend on whatever he or she wanted. The FOP lodge donated $500, Ohio Cops 4 Kids donated $200, Becky and Bill Halman and Aaron Hoyle donated $260 and Kmart donated $20 per child. Deputy Julius Petro, secretary/treasurer of the lodge, said the deputies are always willing to put in extra money out of their pockets as well.

Following their shopping spree, Kmart officials host a party for the kids, complete with a visit from Santa.

Thursday, Dec. 7, 2006

Angel sent by history

World War II Pacific Navy stories often feature bravery and chance. We rightly thank an amazing generation for serving their country simply because “it had to be done.” [D-Days in the Pacific]

It is especially significant to remember them today, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

This story features bravery and more. A gift of life that echoes for generations.

My father survived Pearl Harbor. Trapped below decks on the battleship West Virginia, he barely escaped drowning.

After nine torpedo hits to the port side, this ship was in danger of rolling over.

When “general quarters” was sounded, all compartments on the Pearl Harbor battleships were shut and sealed in a procedure called “set zed.”

This means if an area is damaged, adjacent sections remain water-tight.

If one side of the ship becomes too flooded, the other side can be counterflooded for balance.

Balance is critical for a heavy vessel. A sailor’s worst nightmare is being trapped in a pitch-black sealed compartment, while the ship turns over. No way out, their fate is assured.

This is exactly what happened to the USS Oklahoma. A victim of torpedoes also, she capsized quickly. Trapped within constantly shifting air-pockets, most of her crew drowned. A few were cut from the bottom of the exposed keel, but this procedure had its risks: often allowing air-pockets to escape, cruelly drowning those within sight of rescue.

The “WeeVee” was berthed behind the Oklahoma. One side ripped open by torpedo hits and communication out, she started turning over. A list of 28 degrees was reached, but those below deck could only ride to their watery grave; Sealed in condition “set zed.”

My father told of a terrifying angle in the dark, while hearing water rushing into surrounding compartments. All expected drowning.

Top-side, WeeVee’s captain (Mervyn Bennion) was disemboweled by a bomb blast. Fatally wounded, he directed Lt. Claude Ricketts below to start counterflooding. Every second counted as the list became severe.

Bennion started this ship’s rescue while simultaneously bleeding to death. Awarded the Medal of Honor, sadly, few remember his name.

As I researched USS West Virginia history, I came to realize how close it came to capsizing. I would never have been born had it happened.

I read the Navy action reports and realized the real heroes were “shipfitters,” men with knowledge of the battleships plumbing who occupied the dark areas no one knew.

The shipfitters instinctively knew to commence counterflooding. Without waiting for orders, they ran to the bottom of the stricken vessel, but found the counterflood crank handles locked away.

Maintaining their footing on the severely angled deck, they flailed at the Navy padlock but it wouldn’t budge. Every second counted as this ships fate hinged on a hunk of brass.

One shipfitter barked for the wrecking crew to step aside. As they did, he smartly attacked the hinges and freed the counterflood cranks. The action report notes they ran through the behemoths lower decks, opening flood valves in the proper sequence to halt the listing.

WeeVee slowly swung back on its keel to rest on the mud of Pearl Harbor upright.

I had often wondered but for the intelligence of a sailor attacking the storage door hinges, the ship may have capsized. When every second mattered, this fellow bucked the crowd and used his brain. I’m likely here because of him, because even after counterflooding started, the ship was listing so badly most thought it was too late anyway.

Throughout the years I’ve collected much information about the USS West Virginia. I’ve written many articles about Pearl Harbor, even writing for the Web site for the movie “Pearl Harbor.”

By chance, the daughter of a WeeVee shipfitter read one of my articles and contacted me about her father. I looked up his name in the Navy Action Report and gasped. This was the guy who broke open the locker containing the counterflood cranks!

Surprises continued when I found out he was alive and well, living in Rome, N.Y., a one-hour drive from my Auburn home.

His name is burned into my head: Sylvester Puccio.

“Syl’s” daughter Pam was rightfully proud of her World War II dad for all the usual reasons (If your father was a World War II dad, you know what these reasons are). “No, you don’t understand,” I told her “Your father is greatly responsible for saving the USS West Virginia, the lives of her crew and future generations… not to mention me.”

If Syl’s children were proud of their dad before, they now have reason to think of him as I do: An angel sent by history.

I arranged for my wife and I to meet Syl.

I knew exactly what to expect, since I’ve met many World War II Navy vets over the years. They all have a self-effacing view of themselves, simply happy to have played a palpable role in critical history.

Syl was no exception.

A cheerful, outgoing man, he greeted us with the dignity of that neighbor you never knew well, but later discovered was a war hero.

I had recently lost my father, so it felt strangely familiar to listen to him pepper his language with the same terms and attitude my father displayed.

We talked for hours. Then I simply thanked him for a job well-done. Living proof stood before him that he made the correct moves that December day so long ago.

I hope Syl Puccio knows the scope of what he helped create: generations allowed life because he sacrificed his efforts for good. This can be said of all WW II veterans in general, but in this case it’s especially poignant. He can look someone in the eye and be certain he is directly responsible for that person’s life.

Not a bad legacy.

This helps explain why I have always stood next to World War II veterans, and now especially Sylvester Puccio, with a mixture of respect and dumb-struck awe.

Friday, Dec. 1, 2006

Hero helps save residents of burning apartment building

The American Red Cross is helping several people burned out of their Salt Lake City apartment complex after fire broke out Thursday morning. Someone was cooking with grease on the stove when the grease ignited and the fire spread.

As flames started shooting out of the top floor of the apartment, a couple of men working across the street knew they had to help. While on the phone with 9-1-1, Jason Mettman learned there were likely several people still inside the building. He frantically ran inside, hoping to get people out. He says he went in, “Knocking on doors, slamming on doors, telling people, screaming ‘fire, fire,’ making sure people woke up because everyone seemed sleepy and groggy when they were walking out of the apartments.”

The apartment manager was also knocking on doors trying to get people out. Sheila Wildman, who was evacuated from the complex says, “Someone came vigorously pounding on the door. We went to the door and they said just get out.” About 25 people got out of the three story complex, many escaping from the cold filing onto a UTA bus which arrived to give them a place to stay warm. Some of these neighbors lost many of their belongings to fire, smoke and water damage.

But no one lost their lives, perhaps because of neighbors like Jason Mettman, who ran into help. His boss, Bart Johnson, says, “He was the true hero. He ran over there, ran in the building and roused people. He’s a true hero… a true hero.”

Anyone interested in helping those displaced by the fire or any other emergency are encouraged to contact the American Red Cross. The organization is helping with supplies like food, clothing and other immediate needs. The Greater Salt Lake Area Chapter of the American Red Cross responds to an emergency like this an average of two times each week, providing assistance to victims free of charge.

Mystery hero chases truck down

A MYSTERY man has been hailed a hero after climbing on to a runaway truck on the Monash Freeway and bringing it safely to a stop. [50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet]

Werribee truck driver Terry Gerbert, who was travelling into town behind the man’s ute, said the man sprung into action after seeing the outbound truck slam into the concrete barrier on the opposite side of the freeway near High St just before 4pm yesterday.

In a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster, the man leapt from his ute, jumped a concrete barrier and chased after the still moving truck.

“He chased down the truck like he was Arnold Schwarzenegger, climbed across to the cabin and pulled the truck over,” Mr Gerbert said. “When it was done he ran straight back to his ute and took off. He was an absolute hero.”

Mr Gerbert, who pulled his own truck over to move the ute safely off the freeway, said it appeared the truck driver had suffered a heart attack at the wheel.

“A motorcycle officer was chasing the truck and made sure everyone steered clear while this bloke jumped up and stopped it,” he said. “The driver was unconscious and looked in a bad way.”

The driver was rushed to Monash Medical Centre by ambulance where he was in a stable condition last night.

Mr Gerbert said the mystery man, who was aged in his early 20s, was an inspiration.

“He’s raced back to his ute after stopping the truck and took off because he didn’t want to create another hazard,” he said.

“This guy was just brilliant and whoever he is, he should be thanked.”

Angel tree gives hope of miracle

The angels have finally been stitched together and the harps and bows have all been carefully strung across the branches. After three months of hard work, 16-year-old Suzy Jordan’s tree is finally sparkling at Sandy’s Festival of Trees in honor of her best friend, Emily Austin.

All that’s needed now is a real angel, says Suzy, to help 13-year-old Emily recover from a recent bone marrow transplant and finally be rid of the leukemia that has dominated her life for the past eight years.

“Emily is the strongest person I know — she’s pretty much my hero,” says Suzy, a sophomore at Orem High School who wanted to get together for a Free Lunch chat to share the impact her friend has had on her life. She met Emily in a leadership class last year in junior high.

“There’s always such a positiveness and brightness about her, even though she’s had a lot to deal with in life,” says Suzy. “She’s an inspiration to everyone she meets.”

Last year, when Emily’s cancer was in remission, she helped Suzy and other leadership students decorate a red-and-white Santa tree to benefit Primary Children’s Medical Center at the annual Festival of Trees.

“It was so much fun for her — it was the first ‘normal’ year she’d had in a long time,” says Emily’s mother, Laurie. “She’s seen the inside of the hospital more than a school since she was 5.”

In August, when Suzy learned that her friend’s leukemia had returned for the third time, she knew exactly what to do to show her support.

“Emily was so excited about helping out with the festival tree last year,” she says, “that I decided to surprise her by donating a tree of my own.”

With help from her mother, Paula, who taught her how to use a sewing machine, Suzy stitched together 50 angel ornaments, complete with golden trumpets and flowing hair. She also made two angel quilts — one for whoever buys her “Always an Angel” tree at the festival and the other for Emily to snuggle with in the hospital while recovering from her bone marrow transplant.

It will take about a year before doctors know whether this week’s operation was successful. Although Emily was given only a 20 to 30 percent chance of complete recovery, “we’re praying it will be higher,” says Suzy. “Emily’s a fighter — there’s a lot that she wants to do with her life.”

Because she’ll need to spend the next two months in the hospital, Emily won’t be able to see the tree that her friend so patiently put together after school each day. “But I’m taking lots of pictures to surprise her with,” says Suzy. “I want her to know that she’ll always be an angel to me.”

Suzy’s tree has become more than just another holiday decoration to the Austin family. It’s given Emily’s family, parents, grandparents, cousins and three siblings hope for a miracle.

“That somebody would do something like this for her is so touching,” says Laurie Austin. “It’s given Emily hope that she has a chance to be a normal girl and do all the things other girls do.”

Suzy’s greatest hope is that in the years to come, she’ll be able to donate more trees to the festival, with one big difference: “The best wish of all,” she says, “is that Emily will be there with me, putting on the decorations.”

Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006

His sister in danger, 4-year-old plays hero

The robber was holding a gun to 5-year-old Mary Long’s head when a 3-foot-tall Mighty Morphin Power Ranger leapt into the room.

“Get away from my family,” 4-year-old Stevie Long shouted, punctuating his screams with swipes of his plastic sword and hearty “yah, yahs.”

The robber and his accomplice, who was waiting outside the apartment Friday night, fled with credit cards, jewelry, cash and other items that Stevie’s mother, Jennifer Long, dumped from her purse.

“I scared the bad guys away,” Stevie said Tuesday evening at the apartment at 901 Chalk Level Road in north Durham.

Two men had approached Jennifer Long’s boyfriend and his son Friday night as they stood outside the apartments she helps manage, according to a police report. The strangers asked for pot, and then a cigarette, and as the son went to get one, both men pulled guns, police said.

One stayed with the boyfriend as the other forced the son back into the apartment, police said. Inside were Jennifer Long, a cousin, Stevie, Mary and two other children, police said.

They were forced on the floor. The robber pointed the gun at Mary and a 1-year-old girl named Sierra, said Stevie’s uncle, Bernie Evans, 33, who lives above the Longs.

Enter Stevie.

“During the robbery, a … boy snuck into his bedroom, dressed himself in a Power Ranger costume and armed himself with a plastic sword,” police said. “The child then exited his room and approached the armed suspect, in an attempt to protect his family.”

Relatives said the robber abandoned plans to take Stevie’s mother to an ATM to withdraw cash when he saw Stevie.

“It tripped him out, and that’s when they moved on,” said Evans, who did not witness the incident. Jennifer Long declined to comment, saying her employers at the apartment complex would not allow it.

Stevie likes to think he cuts an intimidating figure in his red-and-black mask and foam suit that replicates the rippling muscles of the kiddie adventure show heroes. But Evans said the robber was more startled that Stevie was able to retreat to his bedroom and morph.

Fantasy, reality

Though the robbers wore no masks, victims could only give vague descriptions of them. Police have no suspects in this or the other 10 armed robberies reported in Durham in the past six days, said Kammie Michael, a spokeswoman.

Evans said family members are struggling to help their children understand their ordeal. A counselor said Stevie needs to improve his distinction between fantasy and reality, said Heather Evans, Stevie’s aunt.

“He fully believed he morphed,” she said.

Mary grasps her danger better. She stayed home from school Monday and Tuesday.

“My doctor said I get a day off,” she said.

“My mommy said I was crying in my sleep because I had bad dreams.”

Lone hero pulls five girls from sea

‘I prayed that God would give me supernatural strength’

AN Mthatha man has emerged a hero after single-handedly pulling five young girls from churning seas when a Sunday school outing to the beach went horribly wrong at the weekend.

The drama, in which two girls survived, three were drowned and one is still missing, unfolded for Daniel Byrne and his girlfriend, Chandre Morrison, when they arrived at Port St Johns’ Third Beach for a swim at around 2pm on Sunday.

“As we arrived, I heard people scream for help and as I came closer to the water, I saw five people floating in the sea,” Byrne said yesterday.

“Their backs were visible and they were face-first in the water.

“I immediately took my shirt off and dived in.”

In order to keep the bodies in view he had to keep his head up in the tossing waves.

“The water was rough and there was a dangerous backwash,” he said.

He swam to the first of the five victims, took her in tow, and swam back to the beach.

“She had no pulse and I thought she was dead.”

He performed emergency resuscitation (CPR). When the girl revived, he went back into the water and pulled a second girl to the beach who, like the first girl, started breathing after he applied CPR.

But by then, an hour had already elapsed and by the time Byrne reached the third girl, she had already drowned.

“I tried desperately to save her, but she just did not respond.”

Byrne went back a fourth time. By now he was getting tired and he suspected that the fourth girl had not made it.

But for her parents’ sake, he knew he had to get the body “so her parents can get some closure”.

“As I went, I prayed that God would give me supernatural strength,” he said.

And, indeed, he managed to pull the girl to shore and even go back a fifth time for another body.

By now, an hour-and-a-half had gone by, and the body of the sixth girl had disappeared in the sea off the Wild Coast.

“I did not want to give up, as dangerous as it was,” he said.

But there was nothing more he could do.

Byrne, a landscaper in Mthatha, said the experience had left him traumatised.

“It was horrible, it was like one of those Hollywood horror movies,” he said.

Yesterday, the head of the United Pentecostal Church of South Africa, Pastor Desmond King, released the names of the girls who drowned.

They are Zizo Maqokolo, 11, Nasiphi Mzimba, 12, and Zimvo Mgeyi, 13. Buyiswa Besele, 16, is still missing.

In a joint statement, the parents said they were too traumatised to speak to the Daily Dispatch and were still mourning the deaths of their children.

Three of the affected families were neighbours in Mthatha’s Northcrest suburb, while a fourth family lives in Norwood.

Port St Johns’ National Sea Rescue Institute chief John Costello said that there were no lifeguards stationed at Third Beach at the time.

He urged bathers to use the ocean responsibly, saying: “People drown even when there are lifeguards.”

Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006

Elves busy making Christmas special for 1,000 families

A group of four nonprofit organizations, along with Havertys Fine Furniture, have bonded together to make sure families and children in the area have reason to celebrate during the holidays.

Known collectively as the Elf Coalition, the group is made up of the Salvation Army, Buckner Child and Family Services, Marine Corps League (Toys for Tots), Newgate Mission and the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission. The elves are helping families or children in different ways.

“We make sure each family has everything they need for a Christmas dinner,” said Maj. Robert Winters of the Salvation Army. The coalition plans to assist 1,000 families this year and possibly a few more, he said.

The agencies use a family’s financial need as the requirement for getting help.

“We look at income and expenses, and ask people to bring in pay stubs and bills,” Winters said. The Salvation Army then uses a chart to look at income guidelines to make sure people make the correct amount of income and have the family size that meets that requirement, he said.

“Our main goal is to make Christmas right for kids, and make sure they are taken care of,” Winters said.

At Havertys, Waynell Kuhlman, volunteer co-coordinator, spoke excitedly about the 500 children on the store’s angel tree.

“It’s decorated with stockings, and each stocking has the name of a child,” Kuhlman said.

She explained as names are taken off the tree, more are put on, because there is no room for all 500 at once. Havertys concentrates on toys and clothing for children, and parents are referred by counselors at Longview-area schools. Kuhlman said about 700 children were helped by the tree last year.

“People can help in several different ways,” Kuhlman said.

Although monetary donations are always welcome, volunteers are needed to bring gifts to the store and take presents to the children.

“We start delivering the gifts on Dec. 20, and everyone has a lot of fun — we give them all a Santa hat,” she said.

Kuhlman said each organization in the Elf Coalition keeps a copy of a master list of the children or families who have qualified for holiday help.

“We keep track of who is on the master list, and ask people to sign a form stating that they will ask only one organization for help,” said Kuhlman.

Monday, Nov. 27, 2006

Crash survivors ‘had guardian angel’

A POLICE officer who raced to the site of a plane crash on Rottnest Island has told of finding two of the six passengers trapped face down in five inches of water.

Local island police officers Senior Constable Mick Sears and Sergeant Paul van Noort along with ranger Dave Tunne watched in amazement as the twin engine Partenavia crashed into a lake just 100m from where they were standing about 2.30pm (WST) yesterday.

All six passengers on board escaped the crash, mostly with minor injuries.

Snr Const Sears, who transferred to the popular West Australian getaway 30km off Perth four weeks ago, said he had just remarked to Sgt van Noort that the plane sounded low just before it crashed, about half a kilometre from the main settlement.

“As I said low, I saw a wing just over the sand dune and then there was the thump,” Snr Const Sears said.

He said he was surprised the only sound of the plane crashing was a thump.

“It was really strange, I must admit that I thought … this imagination of tearing noise of metal and a lot of continuing noise but this was more a thump and that was it.

“And then we heard a lady screaming.”

The three rushed to the crash site, expecting to find no survivors.

“If you had seen the aircraft you would wonder why we have still got six people with us,” he said.

“Obviously a guardian angel was there.”

Sgt van Noort helped four passengers who had been thrown from the plane. All suffered cuts and scratches but no major injuries, he said.

Snr Const Sears and Mr Tunne helped the two trapped passengers, who had been pushed face down in about five inches of water.

“They were leaning right forward into the water,” he said.

They managed to keep the pair – a 27-year-old woman and a 25-year-old man – out of the water until the local fire and rescue team arrived with the jaws of life to cut them out of the plane.

It took about an hour for the pair to be cut out of the wreckage.

“The young lady was quite distressed and in considerable pain,” he said.

“The male was calm but certainly feeling the effects.

“Both had gone into shock – the male more so, he was shivering and shaking.”

The four thrown from the plane were flown to a Perth hospital by the Royal Flying Doctor Service while the two who were trapped were airlifted from the island by chopper.

It is believed the pilot had flown five friends to the island for the day.

The accident happened as they were leaving Rottnest Island.

Snr Const Sears said the plane was a write-off and investigations were continuing.

Record carrier called ‘guardian angel’ by injured woman

In the early morning hours of Sept. 30, Cohoes resident Jeanne Freeman awoke with a start in her Park Avenue home to find the television blaring.
She had apparently fallen asleep watching the late news.
Freeman, a senior citizen, was groggy when she climbed out of bed to turn off the set and lost her footing as she reached for the dresser where the TV rested. Both the television and dresser toppled down on top of her, causing her to fall over backwards. She hit her head on the floor.
Most of what followed is unclear, but Freeman believes she fell multiple times but lost consciousness only once. By the time anyone found her, it was at least three hours later.
Her guardian angel appeared around 6 a.m. in the form of 27-year-old Lisa Rysedorph, a Record newspaper carrier, she said.
“I lay on the floor – I don’t know for how long. I managed to crawl over the dresser drawer and TV to my front door and then into the hall. I must have fallen again. By the time I got to the end of the hall I was on my back,” Freeman said.
She had no way of knowing how much time elapsed as she struggled on all fours but did know that her only hope of making contact with the outside world hinged upon getting to the door at the end of the hall.
When she finally got there, all she could clearly see from her vantage point on the floor was the mail slot and a broom.
Despite the pain and her inability to get up, Freeman summoned the strength to get hold of the broom and push it against the mail slot. She next worked the end into the narrow passageway and wiggled it back and forth, hoping to flag down a passerby.
“I thought I heard something and the next thing I saw was a pair of eyes looking through the mail slot,” she said.
Rysedorph, an automotive services student at Hudson Valley Community College, delivered Freeman’s paper around 6:15 a.m. She saw something poking out of the mail slot and took a closer look. That’s when she heard Freeman’s frail calls for help.
“I’m here! I’m here!” yelled Rysedorph until Freeman replied.
Rysedorph ran next door to the home of Vincent DeChiaro to call an ambulance. She rushed back to Freeman’s house and tried to make her way inside, but reaching the elderly woman’s side proved more difficult than she first thought.
“I had to unravel the rope around her picket fence and hop over the deck because it was padlocked. I shimmied through the back porch window and screen and jumped in feet first,” Rysedorph said.
After kicking in the back door she had no idea how to get to Freeman because she’d never before been inside the house.
When she did find her, Freeman was framed in a halo of blood and covered with dark bruises.
She was rushed to the Samaritan Hospital emergency room and she remained hospitalized for three days.
All of her tests came back negative with the exception of some blockage found in the carotid artery that had nothing to do with her fall. Her doctors told her she was fortunate to have sustained only minimal injuries.
“They wanted to run more tests, but I signed myself out after three days. I figured it was best to get out of there as fast as possible,” she said.
The ordeal has left her counting her blessings.
“People will think this sounds strange, but I want to talk about it anyway. When I came to after the dresser fell on top of me, the first thing I saw was a small statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary right next to my head,” she said.
The illuminated figure fell off the dresser and landed upright next to Freeman. She was amazed it hadn’t been broken by the fall and even more intrigued that it continued to glow brightly.
“I can’t tell you how much the sight of that statue comforted me when I saw it,” Freeman said.
Rysedorph’s appearance several hours later was almost as miraculous, she said.
“She was my little guardian angel. I really believe that she saved my life,” Freeman said.
The pair shared a tearful but happy reunion after Freeman got out of the hospital.
“I’ll never forget something that Lisa said to me,” she said.
Rysedorph told Freeman that she believed she had never done anything truly worthwhile until that day.

Rescued dog survives, returns home

Brutus is back home and his owners couldn’t be more elated or more thankful.

“I just can’t even describe it,” an emotional Jody Gullickson told The Minot Daily News on Monday. “What a terrific thing that has happened. We are thankful to each and everyone who assisted Brutus. As we give thanks on Thursday, it will truly be a day of Thanksgiving and remembrance of all the kind, caring people who assisted Brutus.”

The kind and caring had gathered alongside a pond located on the east side of U.S. Highway 83 in Max late Friday afternoon. It was there that a passerby saw Brutus’ fruitless efforts at pulling himself out of the numbing cold water and onto the ice. A 9-1-1 call was made and emergency personnel responded. Others pulled off the highway or came running from the city of Max to encourage Brutus to not give up the fight.

Bill Johnson, Max, and Greg Johnson, Minot, spotted a small fishing boat sitting across the highway from the pond. After pirating the small craft, they were soon inching across the ice toward the seemingly doomed dog – all to the cheers of a gathering gallery watching from the bank.

Bill Johnson managed to slip a noose over Brutus’ neck and the completely exhausted dog remained motionless while it was dragged across the ice to safety. But Brutus’ battle for life was not over. Wrapped in coats and jackets tossed in by rescue watchers, the nearly lifeless dog was rushed to the Garrison Veterinary Clinic, where he was received by vet Kathy Baber.

“That dog was near comatose from the cold. He didn’t even register a temperature,” said Baber. “He was still breathing, so we thought we had a chance. He was in shock and suffering from hypothermia for nearly three hours. Then his body temperature began creeping up.”

As of Monday afternoon there was still a large collection of unclaimed jackets at the Garrison Veterinary Clinic. Baber said she expects some of the owners to start stopping in to claim them. Several people had already called to check on Brutus’ welfare.

“The people who pulled him out, all the coats and jackets, and all the people who called to see how he is,” said Baber, “That makes you feel good to know they care.”

On Saturday morning, Gullickson got the news she was hoping for.

“Kathy told me Brutus was up and would be able to go home as soon as he ate something,” said an elated Gullickson. “What a relief that was to hear. Everyone made a difference in a life or death

situation and we are very thankful.”

Brutus had escaped through the gate of a seven-foot-high fence surrounding his home in Max. The Gullicksons, who say they are making the necessary repairs, were away from home when Brutus got out of the yard.

The 7-year-old Keeshound/ Samoyed cross is a big part of the Gullickson family. According to Baber, one reason Brutus was able to survive his ordeal was that he was healthy and well cared for.

“Something like this really warms the heart,” said Gullickson. “I’m thankful for all who gave Brutus the courage and strength to survive.”

Man lucky with wife’s birthday

A man in Jiangyin, Jiangsu Province recently won 6.38 million yuan (US$786,683) on the lottery using the numbers from his wife’s date of birth.

Zhao claimed his prize on Wednesday. He said he started buying lottery tickets several years ago, always using the numbers from his wife’s birthdate to express his love for her. Years ago she overlooked his poverty and married him against her family’s wishes.

Zhao plans to start his own business with the winnings and hopes his wife and child have a rich and happy life.

Friday, Nov. 24, 2006

‘Miracle’ rescue spares man’s life

A few weeks ago, Earl “Jim” McRoberts was in Falcon, Colo., visiting his daughter. One morning, he decided to drive to a store to buy a case of hot tamales — a trip that turned into an ordeal that almost cost the 71-year-old Deerfield Township resident his life. [The Falling Season: Inside the Life and Death Drama of Aspen’s Mountain Rescue Team]

McRoberts put on his tennis shoes and forgot to bring his cell phone that morning, two decisions that proved costly as he encountered blizzard-like conditions and lost control of the Ford Five Hundred he was driving. He ended up in a ditch.

Nancy McRoberts, his wife of 49 years, fought back emotion as she remembered that day. The two met on a blind date, and now have four kids and 10 grandchildren.

“I would have protested him going,” she said, but she was upstairs in her daughter’s house.

“It’s kind of a family joke,” she added. “I buy him shoes and shoes and shoes, and all he wears is tennis shoes.”

Jim McRoberts said he loves spicy food, and wanted to get “a couple of cases” of the tamales that are available in Colorado for less money than in Michigan. But the quest would end up testing the physical stamina of the retired Ford worker, who needs insulin daily for diabetes and suffers from heart disease.

Falcon is east of Colorado Springs, and sits at an altitude of more than 6,800 feet. Jim McRoberts recalled that there weren’t many trees in the area, which could have protected him from the frigid winds he braved after his car ran into the ditch.

Meanwhile, his family had frantically started searching for him, enlisting local rescue teams. McRoberts and his wife have three daughters and one son, including Brenda Burt, 43, of Wixom. She and her husband, Kelly, immediately flew to Colorado, where rescue workers set up a control center in the home of her sister, Michelle Hall.

“It was a desperate search,” Burt recalled. “When I arrived at my sister’s, it was dark. All we could do was sit there are worry … It was really cold each night.”

“I was, like, numb,” said Nancy McRoberts. “All I could do is sit and pray and wait. I really didn’t think we were going to find him alive. It was terribly cold.”

The family searched by car and the effort included two airplanes that scoured the area.

The family doctor, David Mika of Brighton, told them their husband and father could only last two days at the most without insulin.

But Jim McRoberts himself said he wasn’t really worried for most of the time he was out in the cold.

That is, until Thursday morning, Oct. 19, two days after he started out for the tamales.

He was lying on the ground, yelling for help, and he could hear some people talking nearby — but they didn’t seem to see him. That’s when he considered the unthinkable: He might not make it.

“I never felt that until the last day,” he said. “Till I yelled and yelled and yelled and yelled. I could hear people talking, but I couldn’t tell where they were. Then I kind of gave up.”

A friend of his son-in-law drove up in a pickup truck and found McRoberts late that Thursday afternoon. McRoberts spent the next six days in the hospital with kidney problems and severe frostbite to his feet. He’ll probably have to have some toes amputated.

Only afterward did McRoberts realize how close to death he came.

“At the time, I didn’t think too much of it. Now I know that could have happened,” he said.

For his wife, the end of the ordeal was nothing less than divine intervention.

“It reaffirmed my belief in miracles and faith and trust in God,” Nancy McRoberts said. “Jesus saved him, that’s all. God wasn’t ready for him.”

“I’m just elated,” Burt said. “It’s just an amazing miracle that we found him alive. He was on the verge.”

McRoberts flew back to Michigan for treatment — family members made sure to thank United Airlines for helping with that — and his care is being done through the University of Michigan Trauma and Burn Center.

He still feels pain in his feet, and is on strong antibiotics to avoid infection. He gets around his home with the aid of a walker, and keeping track of his medications looks like a full-time job. And he can’t drive anymore.

Despite all that, and even though he never got his tamales, McRoberts is not complaining.

“I usually take things for granted,” he said. “After something like this happens, ain’t no such a thing.”

A Special Style Of Hair Care

Hairstylist Lisa Dlugos has walked miles in the shoes of women suffering from cancer.

Getting sick was a painful, life-affirming experience that taught her many pivotal lessons, she said. Some of them inspired her new Southington beauty shop, Miracles and Beyond.

Just opened in October, the full-service salon will cater to the sensitive, special needs of women coping with cancer. [Coping With Cancer: Twelve Creative Choices]

“It’s so humiliating to get your hair shaved in a salon,” said Dlugos, 47, who was declared cancer-free in May 2006 after a year of intense treatments for stage III breast cancer detected a year earlier.

Miracles and Beyond, at 26 Bristol St., is a joint venture of Dlugos and her sister, Joyce Petersen, 58, both of Southington. They’ve designed their salon with the cozy comforts of a cottage.

There’s a private consulting room that features a complete salon station that can be used for women who need special care during harsh cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, that result in hair loss.

“We’d have the client come in before chemo for evaluation,” said Dlugos, who plans to display a variety of wigs, some in styles that can be custom-ordered, based on a client’s own hair and preferences.

Wigs can run anywhere from $50 to more than $1,000, depending on whether they’re made from synthetic or human hair.

“A lot of people don’t even know Connecticut law mandates insurers must pay $350 for a wig for all cancer patients,” said Petersen, who said neither she nor Dlugos knew about the benefit while Dlugos unsuccessfully searched for cosmetic solutions to the side effects of chemotherapy.

“We’ll help the client call their insurer while they are right here in our chair to confirm their coverage,” Dlugos said. “We want it to be no out-of-pocket expenses for the customer. If they have a deductible, we’ll knock the cost off the price of the wig.”

[Defending Andy: One Mother’s Fight to Save Her Son from Cancer and the Insurance Industry]

The sisters have tried to distinguish their salon in several ways, including joining the Locks of Love network of salons offering free haircuts to those who donate hair for wigs for young cancer patients. They also sponsor a weekly light-hearted support group for cancer patients, offer chemical-free makeup and makeup sessions for women undergoing treatment, mail out inspirational monthly newsletters and reach out to potential clients through physicians, hospitals and treatment centers. They also offer their customers free light snacks, sandwiches and soups.

Right now, the staff includes three full-time stylists in addition to Dlugos and Petersen, both of whom plan to focus on management and customer service as the business grows. There are also two cosmetology students who plan to graduate next year, including Sarah Dlugos, 20, Lisa’s daughter. For now, the students focus on Saturday afternoon birthday parties that include hairdos, nail painting and makeup for little girls. There are also plans to add a masseuse. A variety of hats and scarves are also displayed for sale.

Dlugos said she had trouble locating headgear when she needed it, and she hopes to create a line of decorative baseball caps, perhaps personalized and decorated by the women who’ll wear them.

“Something good always comes out of a bad situation,” Sarah Dlugos said in encouraging her family last year. Today, Dlugos can finally agree.

“If I didn’t have cancer, we wouldn’t have this for all these other women,” she said.

Thursday, Nov. 23, 2006

Woman is rescued in cliff drama

EMERGENCY services joined forces on Monday to rescue a woman who had plunged from 120ft-high cliffs at a Dorset beauty spot.

Firefighters, Southbourne coastguards and paramedics assisted in the dramatic bid to save the woman after a member of the public alerted Dorset Fire and Rescue Service to Hengistbury Head at 1.30 pm.

By the time medical help arrived a man who had attempted to reach the casualty single-handedly had also became trapped on the cliff face.

He was rescued after a short time but the woman, who had fallen an estimated 40ft, could not be brought safely to the cliff-top and the air ambulance was called from Portland.

The beach below was cleared while the helicopter hovered overhead and the woman was winched up to safety in a cage stretcher.

A Portland coastguard representative said the woman had been airlifted to the landing site at Poole hospital.

The man who put his own life on the line trying to save her suffered minor injuries and is not believed to have needed hospital treatment.

The spokeswoman added: “Fortunately the woman had only fallen about ten metres – about a third of the way down the cliff – but the incident happened at the highest point.

“Something obviously broke her fall. Her condition is unknown.”

Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006

Precious gold ring returned to owner

A PENSIONER has spoken of his delight after his dying wife’s missing engagement ring was returned.

Last week 82-year-old Tom Bryant, whose partner Ivy is currently very ill in hospital, made an appeal through the Pioneer to anyone who may have found the treasured gold ring to come forward.

And as a result of our story the ring was posted anonymously through the front door of Mr Bryant’s home in Overpool on Thursday morning. [Radical Honesty, The New Revised Edition: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth]

He lost it while out shopping for a new wedding ring for Ivy in the town centre last month.

A relieved Mr Bryant said: ‘It is fantastic news. I’d like to thank the person who returned the ring to me as well as the Pioneer for their help with my appeal last week.

‘I went into the porch in the morning and found it had been posted through the door in an envelope which just said ‘Sorry, Mr Bryant.

‘They obviously must have known where I live but I am just grateful the ring has been returned.’

Mr Bryant added that Ivy, who has had Alzheimer’s for two years, was ‘still fighting’ in hospital but was no longer eating.

The wartime lovers from Ellesmere Port hit the headlines when they were reunited in 1996 after 56 years apart. They married a year later.

Leonardo DiCaprio turns real-life hero!

Hollywood hunk Leonardo DiCaprio played real- life hero when he saved actor Djimon Hounsou from a killer.

The Titanic actor stood between his his co-star Hounsou and a killer intent on shooting him. [882 1/2 Amazing Answers To Your Questions About The Titanic]

Hounsou remains puzzled as to why the gunman took exception to him while he was filming new action film Blood Diamond in Mozambique, but he’s sure he’d be wounded or dead if it wasn’t for the heroics of DiCaprio.

“He stood in the way of somebody who was trying to shoot me. We went to eat somewhere and apparently somebody was threatening to kill me there.

Leo said, ‘Well, you’re gonna have to go through me,'” Hounsou was quoted by Contactmusic, as saying.

That was enough to make the gunman think twice and he fled the scene, leading a grateful Hounsou pouring praise on his pal.

However DiCaprio has refused to even discuss the matter during promotional interviews for the new film.

He only talks about his great friendship with Hounsou.

“We became like brothers on this movie… We were together for six months,” he said.

Inside Good News Blog