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Updated: 13 min 4 sec ago

It's better to give than to receive: 5 ways you can give back this season

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - What are you thankful for this season? Your loved ones? Your health? Your possessions? You probably have plenty of reasons to feel thankful but in your community and around the world there are others who may not be as fortunate, and need the help of those willing to give, especially during the holiday season. So if you’re ready to give back this year, here are 5 ways you can help people in your local area and beyond.

* Donate or organize a clothing drive. Cold winter temperatures and blistering winds aren’t so bad when you’re safe behind a warm jacket. Unfortunately, many people do not know the joy of having adequate clothing. You can help by contacting your local church, community center or school and asking about hosting a clothing drive. Contact the local media to get your message out, print fliers and place them around town, and spread the word on social media. If a clothing drive already exists in your area, look through your clothes to see what you can donate. If you haven’t worn the item in a year, it would make a great donation. You can also purchase new clothes and donate them to the drive. You could do the same with food or toy drives as well.

* Give back while getting fit. Every day 650 babies are born to HIV-positive mothers. Turn Your Miles (RED) is an eight-week campaign that empowers walkers, runners and fitness enthusiasts worldwide to save lives and affect change. Use Nike’s free Nike Running app and for each Nike Running mile pledged to (RED), Bank of America will donate 40 cents – up to $1 million – toward the fight to eradicate mother-to-child HIV transmission. Forty cents is the cost of two lifesaving pills called antiretrovirals which, when taken daily, can prevent an HIV-positive woman from passing the virus to her unborn baby. You can learn more about the project at

* Become a Secret Santa. You may participate in a secret Santa program at your work or in your family circle, but not all secret Santa roles have to be directed to people you see every day. There are many opportunities to purchase goods for families in need, right in your community, allowing you to feel just like Santa Claus without that dangerous trip down the chimney.

* Make it a work affair. Discuss the idea of giving back at work and organize a team of fellow employees to volunteer at the homeless shelter or a senior living facility. In addition to giving back to your community, this could also be a helpful team-building exercise.

* Lend a helping hand. There are plenty of simple ways you can give back right in your own neighborhood. Help people shovel their driveways, run errands for seniors afraid to drive on icy roads or bake cookies for children in a struggling family. Even the simplest gesture can help you spread holiday cheer in your community.

Sometimes the best gifts don’t appear on any list. By applying a little creativity and initiative, you’ll see there are numerous ways you can enact positive change in your community and beyond. To learn more about Turn Your Miles (RED) and how you can give back by being active and staying fit, visit and click on “Pledge Your Miles.”

Categories: Lifestyle

Simple steps can keep you and your family healthy

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Pay attention to the news headlines and you may be wondering if you and your loved ones are safe from unseen perils like germs, bacteria and viruses – even in your home. There are things you can do to protect your health but it’s also good to know where germs linger. Some of their hangouts may surprise you.

According to WebMD, there are likely more germs in your kitchen sink than in your toilet. You’re probably using a bowl cleaner to disinfect your toilets, but is the kitchen sink getting equal treatment?

Your salt and pepper shakers dispense salt and pepper, but they also dispense cold viruses and other nastiness. A University of Virginia study tested the salt and pepper shakers of 30 adults who were showing signs of a cold, and every one of those shakers tested positive for the cold virus.

Now add your TV remote (also the dirtiest thing in your hotel room), your toothbrush, your computer keyboard and mouse, and your bathtub, and you have a good list of the dirtiest places in your home. And your floors? According to University of Arizona researcher Charles P. Gerba, PhD, they can have up to 4,000 times more germs than a toilet seat.

So, what can you do to reduce your risk of exposure to germs? Here are a few ideas to help reduce the risks and keep everyone healthy.

* Wash your hands. Your hands come into contact with each of the surfaces mentioned above and they can move viruses and bacteria to your nose, eyes and mouth. This means it’s important to keep them clean. It may seem like a long time to be washing them, but the 20-second rule is for real. Hand sanitizers are useful but not a substitute for good hand washing.

* Sanitize commonly used items. Remember the germs on that salt and pepper shaker? Wiping them off is very beneficial, as is more frequent cleaning of the kitchen sink. And for a deeper clean, consider using products that use UV-C light to kill germs, bacteria and viruses on surfaces. Verilux offers several sanitization tools that use UV-C light to kill up to 99.9 percent of these undesirables – quickly and easily – without chemicals. The 21-inch CleanWave Sanitizing Wand, for example, can be passed an inch above the area you wish to sanitize, be it the keyboard, the remote or those salt and pepper shakers.

“UV-C is a type of ultra-violet light with a shorter wavelength than visible light,” says Verilux President Nicholas Harmon. “The light penetrates a microorganism’s cell membrane and damages its DNA. This prevents growth and kills the organism. These products are the ideal chemical-free cleaning solutions for people who are concerned about their environment, particularly in light of recent headlines.”

* Cough smart. Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze is just a good habit. But doing so with your hands is a bad health habit. Next time you feel the urge to cough or sneeze, use the bend of your elbow instead. This will keep germs from transferring to your hands.

* Keep the carpets clean. Millions of allergens and germs camp in the carpets and floors of your home. Evict them with the CleanWave Bagless Vacuum and its portable version, the CleanWave Portable Vacuum. These devices use UV-C light to kill germs, viruses and bacteria, as well as microscopic pests like dust mites and flea eggs. You can use the portable vacuum to kill bed bugs before they hatch on mattresses.

* Avoid close contact. You don’t want to be anti-social but a little separation this time of year can be beneficial to your health. Avoid sharing items such as water bottles, glasses or food with others, and don’t be afraid to sit a seat apart whenever you can. You’ll be healthier in the long run for doing so.

Germs and allergens are part of everyday life, but that doesn’t mean they should be able to dominate yours. Keeping your home clean and practicing good health habits can reduce your risk of getting ill and keep you and your family healthy and happy. To learn more about the products available from Verilux, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Fighting post-military unemployment on the home front

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - As the Department of Defense continues its drawdown of American military personnel after decades of major troop deployment, tens of thousands of American troops are preparing to transition out of the military and back into civilian life. The transition will be easier for some than others; but with a solid plan and access to helpful resources, returning heroes can find success and satisfaction in a post-military career.

“Military service members learn important on-the-job skills that make them valuable civilian employees,” says University of Phoenix Military Relations Vice President, retired Army Col. Garland Williams. “Knowing how to market those skills correctly helps ensure a smooth transition into a rewarding job after military service is complete.”

Despite mastering in-demand skills, hurdles often remain. According to a University of Phoenix survey, when past service members were asked about their first civilian job after separation from the military, less than one-third (29 percent) say that they used their military skills to that extent in the civilian workplace. This suggests that while the veteran unemployment rate continues to decline, many veterans may actually be underemployed.

To help transitioning service members maximize the career resources available to not just get a job, but start a viable post-military career, Col. Williams recommends tips to help service members get started:

1. Start early and get connected. Begin the transition process as early as possible. Talk to peers who made transitions and network with as many people as possible to learn about employers who are hiring and who could benefit from your skills. Create a profile on professional networking sites to keep in touch with professional contacts and learn about possible career opportunities. Conduct informational interviews with veterans who are working with companies that appeal to you.

2. Research your education and career options. Use free online tools to investigate degree programs and possible career paths. The Phoenix Career Guidance System can help you research a degree program based on your interests, skills and experience, and provides insight on local job market trends and industry demands. Also, the Military Skills Translator Tool takes your Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) code and suggests a list of related civilian occupations.

3. Brush up on your job-searching skills. Visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Transitional Assistance Program (TAP), which provides soon-to-be discharged or retired service members helpful information and workshops on job searching, resume and cover letter writing, interviewing techniques and career decision-making. Look for veteran hiring fairs and local hiring events that are taking place across the country. Each year, there are hundreds of Hiring Our Heroes veteran events that help transitioning service members, veterans and their families find viable career options.

4. Speak the language. Communicate military experience and training to hiring employers with words, not acronyms, which may not translate on a resume. Promote skills such as leadership, management, cooperation, teamwork and strategic thinking. Mention these attributes in the cover letter and resume alongside all technical skills. Give your prospective employer specific examples of how you utilized these skills in your various assignments during your military tenure and how they will translate to the job for which you're being interviewed.

5. Don’t sell yourself short. While job searching, remember the valuable skills you learned in the military can make a real difference for employers. Identify a mentor – preferably someone with a military background who has transitioned successfully and can help guide the job search process and remind you of your strengths and transferable skills.

“Service members have a wealth of resources available to them, but knowing where and how to start the transitioning process can be overwhelming,” says Col. Williams. “However, it’s similar to being in the military – developing a plan of attack can set these jobseekers on a path to future career success.”

Categories: Lifestyle

6 important lessons everyone can learn from American veterans

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Extraordinary courage, camaraderie, dedication, sacrifice: these characteristics epitomize the soldiers defending American freedom in warzones across the world. But those tremendous qualities do not disappear when our brave men and women return to the home front, and there’s much for us all to learn from their valor.

“Because many of us have not served in the military, we lack a direct connection to the men and women who protect our country. There are so many lessons we can learn from their sacrifice that can help anyone live better,” says Howard Schultz, president, chairman and ceo of Starbucks Coffee Company. “Over 95 percent of Americans have no direct tie to the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Is it healthy for a nation to be so detached from those that protect it? Is there more we can be doing to engage our veterans than simply saying thank you?”

In a new book, “For Love of Country,” Schultz and co-author Rajiv Chandrasekaran, associate editor at The Washington Post, tell stories of breathtaking valor and put forward a compelling account of the contributions veterans are making at home and abroad, arguing that our engagement with them is vital.

“To do right by our veterans,” Chandrasekaran says, “we have to recognize what they have accomplished and understand the skills and values and discipline they have acquired.” Here are six lessons from our veterans than can better your own life. For more information about “For Love of Country” and additional stories of valor, visit

1. Recognize the importance of sacrifice
During an insurgent attack, Sergeant Leroy Petry saw a live grenade land a few feet from two fellow soldiers. Knowing it had a four-and-a-half-second fuse, he grabbed the grenade and tossed it away, expecting to sacrifice his life for his colleagues. His sacrifice saved his comrades, and earned him a Medal of Honor. What are the sacrifices you can make for a friend, for a colleague, for your family? Sometimes, it’s necessary to put others before yourself.

2. Embrace change
Service men and women are subject to constant change: a sudden transfer that requires a move across the globe or an injury that limits what the body can do. In an ever-changing environment, change must be embraced with optimism, enthusiasm and resilience. Are you prepared to make a move for the benefit of your family? Or are you ready to take on a new role at work? While change may seem disruptive, reacting to it quickly and calmly will benefit you in your career and personal relationships so that no matter what changes, you can always come out on top.

3. Face adversity head on
Kellie McCoy was the first female engineer officer to join the Army’s famed 307th Engineer Battalion. Her comrades wrote her off as unfit for the job, but she addressed the adversity head-on, and today she is a captain at Fort Drum, NY. The world is dominated by sexism, racism, and class disputes – speak up about these issues. It will open up a dialogue that challenges precedents and opens the door for new opportunities.

4. Always offer help
When the Hunter family lost their son and their home to a quarter-mile-wide EF4 tornado in Arkansas, Team Rubicon, a disaster response crew founded by retired Marines and staffed by volunteer veterans arrived at the scene quickly to help by picking through debris, cooking food, and offering comfort in a time of need. The Hunters found solace – and so did the veterans who helped restore order in the wake of the tragedy. Do you get calls from telemarketers and emails from foundations? Money can be a great help in a time of crisis, but don’t always reach for your checkbook: seek out ways to donate time and assistance, and you’ll be amazed at the connection you’ll feel to your community.

5. Discipline, determination, dedication
Pressed uniforms, strict workout routines and dietary regimens, proper address of superiors: the military is well-known for its high standards, a strict set of rules that underscore respect and attract admiration. Drill sergeants may not populate civilian life, but consider this: disciplining your mind and body to adhere to a routine requires determination and dedication – two characteristics that can lead you to achieve goals. Looking to land a new job? Polish up your resume and take on more responsibilities. Looking to lose some weight? Plan your meals and create a workout routine. A strict routine will demand the discipline, determination and dedication necessary to succeed.

6. Persevere under stress
Imagine yourself in combat on a battlefield. Bombs falling and enemies looking for a quick victory: it’s one of the most stressful situations and yet, there is no time to stress – life and death can be determined in a matter of seconds. Obsessing over a stressful situation will only prolong it, and without clear thinking and planning, will you get the result you’re looking for? Take what is stressful in your life, analyze it without agonizing over it, and plan for the best result – then execute it.

Categories: Lifestyle

8 moving ways to make Veterans Day meaningful for kids

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Her grandfather fought in World War II, her father in Vietnam and her college boyfriend in Desert Storm. Her best friend of 30 years was a Navy recruiter. Yet when Vivian Wall’s two young children asked why they should care about Veterans Day, she was unsure how to communicate its significance.

“It’s so important to honor our veterans and all they’ve sacrificed in service to our country,” Wall says. “But what’s the best way to make children understand that? How do you talk to them about war and national security without confusing them or even frightening them?”

There are 20.2 million veterans living in the U.S. today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The majority are older than age 60, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Since 1954, Americans have honored veterans on Veterans Day, Nov. 11 – a date that also commemorates the ending of the first World War in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – Nov. 11, 1918.

“Celebration and support are key elements of Veterans Day,” says Jim Blaylock, president of Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation. Blaylock, a Vietnam veteran, earned three Purple Hearts and lost his right hand and forearm from his time in the service. “Veterans need and deserve our emotional, physical, education and financial support, so it’s important for children to understand why we honor veterans with a special day.”

Blaylock and the volunteers who support the Purple Heart organization offer some suggestions for how families can observe Veterans Day in ways that will be meaningful for children:

* Contact your local branch of the Veterans Affairs department about what programs might be available for your family to participate in. For example, a veteran’s hospital may have a visitor’s program for veterans undergoing care, or a local cemetery may have a program that encourages children to place American flags on veterans’ graves.

* Talk to children about veterans you may know personally. Invite a veteran for dinner on Veterans Day and encourage kids to talk to him or her about what the day means to veterans. With more than 20 million veterans in the country, chances are someone you know has military service.

* Encourage children to save money throughout the year and on Veterans Day make a cash donation to an organization that supports veterans, such as the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation.

* Watch an age-appropriate war movie with tweens and teenagers and explain to them what was happening in the real world during the time period in which the movie is set. Classic movies tend to be less violent and may be OK for younger kids, while tweens may relate to less intense movies like “War Horse” or “Memphis Belle.”

* Children love medals, and whether they’ve received a school, sports or scouting award, their medal creates an opportunity to discuss this significant way we honor veterans. Talk to kids about the importance of medals. If your family frequents yard sales or flea markets, encourage kids to be on the lookout for military medals. Often, the original medal recipients or their families have been unintentionally parted from the medals, and would welcome their return. Organizations like Purple Hearts Reunited help return medals to those for whom they have the greatest meaning.

* Attend a ceremony or parade. Kids love parades and watching a Veterans Day parade as a family allows you to illustrate the importance of support and gratitude for veterans.

* Help children make something to be donated to a veteran’s organization. Support organizations often seek donations of care packages. Children can also make cards, baked goods and even knitted items to be given to local veterans.

* Kids and dogs go together like peanut butter and jelly. Consider getting your family involved with an organization that provides service animals for wounded veterans, such as PatriotPaws. The organization has opportunities for volunteers and families that want to raise a puppy.

“Every year, we try to find a new way to honor our veterans,” Wall says. “But the one thing we do every year that is most meaningful to us is to just call the veterans in our family and tell them how much we love them and appreciate their service.”

Categories: Lifestyle

African Americans with type 2 diabetes take America's Diabetes Challenge and pledge to get to their goals

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - S. Epatha Merkerson is well-known for her award-winning roles on the stage and screen. But what you may not know is that she is one of the 4.9 million African-American adults living with diabetes - that’s nearly 20 percent of the adult African-American population.

In 2003, after having her blood sugar tested at a health fair event and being advised to see her doctor, Merkerson got an important wake-up call - she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Despite having a family history of the disease, she was unaware she had the condition, and following her diagnosis, Merkerson got serious about her health. She worked with her doctor to learn her A1C (average blood sugar level over the past two to three months) and set a personal A1C goal, so she could help get her blood sugar under control.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that many people with diabetes have an A1C of less than 7 percent to help reduce the risk of complications, such as blindness, amputation, heart disease and stroke and nearly half of people with diabetes have an A1C greater than 7 percent. For certain individuals, a higher or lower A1C may be more appropriate, which is why it is important for people with diabetes to speak with their health care providers to discuss the A1C goal that is right for them.

Type 2 diabetes is a significant health concern in the African-American community. African Americans are more likely than other ethnic groups to be affected by type 2 diabetes and to experience serious long-term health problems over time from the disease. In fact, it is the fourth leading cause of death in the community.

Accept the challenge to get to your goals!

That’s why Merkerson is now teaming up with Merck on America’s Diabetes Challenge: Get to Your Goals. As a part of this program, Merkerson is encouraging African Americans living with type 2 diabetes to join her in pledging to know their A1C and to talk to their doctors about setting and attaining their own A1C goal.

“I lost my father and grandmother to complications of diabetes,” says Merkerson, “So I learned firsthand how important it is to know your A1C and make a commitment to get to your goal. I’m excited to be working on this program to help other African Americans with the condition learn about proper blood sugar management and inspire them to achieve their own blood sugar goals.”

To help meet her personal A1C goal, Merkerson worked closely with her doctor to create an individualized diabetes treatment plan, including diet, exercise and medications that fit her specific needs. By sticking to this plan - and making changes with her doctor when necessary - Merkerson has kept her blood sugar under control. It’s important to keep in mind that because diabetes is a progressive disease, sometimes, despite one’s best efforts, their doctor may need to adjust their treatment plans over time to help them reach their blood sugar goals.         

Most people with diabetes are aware of the importance of controlling high blood sugar, but it’s also important for patients to understand why blood sugar can sometimes go too low. For people on certain diabetes medications, low blood sugar can be caused by skipping meals or excessive exercise and can make you feel shaky, dizzy, sweaty or hungry, and sometimes, faint. If you have type 2 diabetes, make sure your doctor explains the signs and symptoms of high and low blood sugar to you and let him or her know if you are experiencing any of those symptoms.

Merkerson is urging fellow patients and their loved ones to visit and join the America’s Diabetes Challenge Facebook community at where they can make their personal A1C pledge, learn more about her diabetes story, and find tips for better blood sugar management.

Key questions to ask your doctor

Achieving blood sugar control can be challenging, yet it is a crucial part of a diabetes management plan. People who join Merkerson in accepting America’s Diabetes Challenge can stay motivated and take an active role in controlling their blood sugar by asking a few key questions to guide their discussion with their doctor:

* What is my A1C and what should my goal be?

* How often should I test my blood sugar and what should my targets be?

* What are the possible side effects of the medication(s) I am taking?

* What are the signs and symptoms of high and low blood sugar?

* Do I need to make any changes to my overall diabetes management plan?

Categories: Lifestyle

How simple stomach pains can take you to hell and back

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 11:00pm

(BPT) - Kimberly Kuchler wasn’t too worried when she first felt some mild abdominal pains last summer. Young and full of energy, the former collegiate athlete wasn’t about to let anything slow her down, especially since her orthopedic sales job required her to be on call.

Besides, she thought, it’s only a stomach ache. What’s the big deal?

But these were no ordinary stomach aches. Instead her pains were caused by lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD), a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body from properly digesting certain fats. The disorder is so rare it affects only one out of every one million people in the U.S. Ms. Kuchler was one of them.

On November 13, 2013, Ms. Kuchler had no idea she had LPLD. She knew nothing about the disease or that it was about to trigger an eight-month living nightmare that would almost kill her. But when her ordeal finally ended, Kuchler found her life had a new purpose. “I knew I had to help others like me. Not just with LPLD but with all rare diseases,” she says.

Kuchler’s goal of helping others with her disease is shared by a new resource for people with LPLD, the LPL Deficiency Association, which is a vibrant community where patients, families and caregivers can connect, share and learn by visiting “I’m thankful this resource is out there for others with LPLD,” Kuchler says. “For me, one of the most difficult things about having LPLD is finding reliable medical information about my disease.”

For Kuchler, it all began Nov. 14, 2013. On that day, her abdominal pain became intolerable and she was admitted to Virginia Hospital Center. Because her level of triglycerides (a fatty substance found in the blood) was dangerously high, she was transported to Fairfax Hospital’s Trauma Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

She was diagnosed with acute necrotizing pancreatitis, one of the worst effects of having LPLD. Normally, the pancreas converts food into fuel for the body’s cells. But Kuchler’s enzymes were activated inside her pancreas and “digesting” the pancreatic tissue, causing swelling, bleeding and damage to her pancreas, blood vessels and other organs.

She spent most of the next five months in hospitals, including 83 days in ICUs at three different hospitals. In addition to abdominal pain that felt like knife cuts, she had multiple septic infections, enlarged pseudocysts, multiple instances of fluid build-up in the abdomen and pelvic area and agonizing joint pain.

At one point, large volumes of IV fluids caused her to gain more than 30 pounds in just three days. Another time, she lost 60 pounds when a near-fatal infection prevented her from eating or drinking water for two weeks. Eventually, she could not breathe and had to undergo an emergency procedure, during which a large needle went through her back and into her left lung to draw out the infected fluids.

After her temperature hit 107 degrees, Kuchler was transferred to Johns Hopkins University Hospital for more invasive procedures, countless tests and blood transfusions. She experienced episodes of delirium and paranoia and lost her memory for two weeks.

After all that, she was discharged in March and seemingly on the road to recovery. After four weeks, she felt well enough to go out for a run. But nearly 24 hours later she woke up in the middle of the night, feeling critically ill. She tried walking toward her bathroom but fainted and collapsed, striking her head against a marble slab. This caused her to suffer a seizure, and she was rushed to INOVA Fairfax Hospital where she was given an emergency transfusion of three units of unmatched blood through her carotid.

“Nothing was as scary as lying in that hospital bed and seeing about a dozen physicians run into my room,” says Kuchler. “Thankfully, they saved my life.”

Finally, this past June, Kuchler was diagnosed with familial hyperchylomicronemia, a syndrome caused from LPLD that affects only one in 1 million people in the U.S. Because she lacks lipoprotein lipase, Kuchler takes enzyme pills to aid digestion and daily lipid medicine to control her triglycerides. She is also extremely conscientious about her diet.

Being incapacitated for months by LPLD has fueled her life-long passion to help others, especially those with rare diseases who often feel lost, alone and vulnerable. She is dedicated to connecting patients who have rare or orphan diseases, as well as raising awareness about the promise of evolving gene therapy. She also is developing a recipe guide called “NoSugarNoFatNoProblem!” to help those with LPLD maintain a healthy diet, which is so important in managing their disease. “I was excited to find that many companies are researching LPLD and that resources are available to help patients be more proactive,” she says. “Hopefully, this will help some of them from ever experiencing an attack of severe acute pancreatitis.”

The LPL Deficiency Association offers caring support for a unified community of parents, families and caregivers to share, network and learn from reliable, credible educational resources. The association’s goal is to build awareness of the impact of LPLD on patients and their families while advocating the need for appropriate diagnoses, treatment, research and a cure. You can learn more about the association, as well as the LPLD national and international community, by visiting

Categories: Lifestyle
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