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WebMD Health Heroes

2013 Health Heroes

Meet our 2013 WebMD Health Heroes below.

Lee Morgan, DVM

Lee Morgan, DVM

When Lee Morgan, DVM, heard about a police dog that was euthanized because the officers couldn't pay for his surgery, he knew he'd found his mission. The officers "were devastated," says Morgan, 48, who owns Georgetown Veterinary Hospital in Washington, D.C. "I vowed then that no service dog should die for lack of money."

In 2008, Morgan's foundation raised $20,000 for a mobile veterinary unit for the D.C. police department's K-9 unit, so injured police dogs could be treated in the field. He also provides no-cost care to guide dogs. "The relationship between working dogs and their owners exemplifies the potential of the human-animal bond," Morgan says. "It is humbling to be able to support that."

Morgan also famously treated a Marine Corps bomb-sniffing dog named Lex, who survived a grenade blast in Iraq that killed his handler, Cpl. Dustin Lee. Lex's war injuries led to severe arthritis and other mobility problems. In 2010, Morgan's groundbreaking stem cell treatment helped to regenerate some of Lex's cartilage and nerve function, which allowed him to "walk, play, everything," Morgan says. Lex spent his remaining years with Lee's parents in Mississippi, where he died in 2012.

"It was so rewarding to help this dog get some good years," Morgan says, "and to help the parents maintain this last bond with their son."

Barbi Haase

Barbi Haase

Barbi Haase, a mother of six, is serious about healthy eating. "I love to see people really excited about eating produce," says Haase, founder of The Noisy Rabbit, a Greenville, S.C., food co-op that sells baskets of fresh fruits and veggies at affordable prices.

Haase's homeschooled children, who range in age from 10 to 21, pitch in by delivering bulk produce to local "branches," where volunteers divide it into baskets for distribution to more than 700 families in the area. (Subscribers can also arrange to have produce delivered to their workplaces.)

The Noisy Rabbit encourages customers to "build fellowship and community around food" when they gather to pick up their baskets, Haase says. The business also provides menu ideas, shopping lists, and cooking tips. "It doesn't matter if you're saving money on healthy food if you're not eating it," Haase says. "So we help people learn how to use their produce."

Noisy Rabbit volunteers give back by putting extra produce in donation baskets for needy families. At Thanksgiving, volunteers fill the baskets with traditional holiday produce, a turkey and homemade desserts. "This is something that is very dear to our hearts: helping people who are in need—and encouraging people to see that need," Haase says.

Manny  Hernandez

Manny Hernandez

Joining a support group for people with diabetes was "transformative" for Manny Hernandez. "It was the first time I was able to meet, learn from, and share with other people like myself," says Hernandez, 41, who has type 1 diabetes. "Within an hour, I learned more about diabetes management and pump use than in my first four years of living with the condition."

The group so inspired Hernandez that in 2007, he established two online social networks designed to connect people with diabetes and raise awareness about the disease: TuDiabetes.org (in English) and EsTuDiabetes.org (in Spanish), which together have more than 50,000 registered members. A year later, he and his wife founded the Diabetes Hands Foundation (DHF) in Berkeley, Calif., which aims to "bring together people touched by diabetes for positive change."

Hernandez also wants people to understand the impact small changes can have on their health. The foundation's Big Blue Test program encourages people with diabetes to test their blood sugar before and after exercising and post the results online. Most people report up to a 20% drop in blood sugar. This data is then aggregated and presented at diabetes scientific conferences. For each entry, sponsors make a donation to needy people with diabetes. Since 2010, DHF has granted $250,000 through the Big Blue Test to diabetes programs in the United States, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Haiti.

Simone Bernstein

Simone Bernstein

At age 17, Simone Bernstein noticed that the 8-year-old twins on her block -- both of whom had autism -- were fascinated with her tennis racquet. She asked their parents if she could give the boys tennis lessons; the parents leapt at the chance, saying children with autism have few social and recreational opportunities. That inspired Bernstein to set up sports clinics, led by high school and college athlete volunteers, to help children with mild to moderate disabilities develop skills, get fit, and lose weight.

The project begun in Bernstein's hometown of St. Louis went national last year when she established VolunTEENnation.org, which has connected 14,000 teens with volunteer opportunities, mostly in sports clinics for autistic children. This year, more than 500 children participated in the clinics in 12 cities nationwide.

Bernstein, an undergrad at St. Bonaventure University who will attend GeorgeWashington University School of Medicine, also created a network of 50 community gardens that have produced 15,000 pounds of fresh produce for local food banks. "I'm passionate about this work," says Bernstein, 21, who hopes to continue working for children in either the government or nonprofit sector when she gets her medical degree. "Volunteering helps me understand more about the community. It is so gratifying to get a college education and then use it to assist others."

Tracy Mulligan

Tracy Milligan

Soon after enrolling her son, Jared, in kindergarten, Tracy Milligan of Jacksonville, Fla., got disturbing news. Under a new school district policy, her son, who has type 1 diabetes, couldn't attend his neighborhood school (which had no full-time nurse) unless a parent came to the school to give him insulin shots.

For two and a half years, Milligan drove from her job to give Jared the shots. Then after trying in vain to get the district to change its policy, Milligan decided to fight at the state level. Working with the American Diabetes Association (ADA), she contacted state legislators and motivated other parents to speak up.

In 2010, Florida legislators unanimously passed a law that prohibits school districts from assigning children to a particular school just because they have diabetes. "This essentially ended discrimination against children with diabetes," Milligan says.

Milligan is active in the ADA's national "Safe at School" campaign, which aims to ensure that all schoolchildren with diabetes get the medical care they need. She has traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk to legislators, assisted with webinars on the campaign, spoken to the media, and taught parents how to advocate for their children. "This work has empowered me to stand up for my child and others with diabetes," she says.

Emily Whitehead/Stephen Grupp, MD, PhD

Emily Whitehead/Stephen Grupp, MD, PhD

Emily Whitehead was just 5 when she developed troubling symptoms, including nosebleeds, bruising, and knee pain. Her doctor diagnosed her with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of blood cancer -- and one that is 85% curable. "They told us it was a ‘garden variety' cancer in the beginning," says her father, Tom Whitehead. "But from the beginning, things didn't go the way they should."

Emily went into remission after chemotherapy but relapsed twice, making her ineligible for a bone marrow transplant. Then in 2012, with Emily just days from kidney failure, Stephen A. Grupp, MD, PhD, of the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, told the Whiteheads of a clinical trial -- one in which doctors would genetically engineer Emily's own infection-fighting T cells to fight the cancer cells.

Only three adults had received the treatment -- – no children. It nearly killed Emily; at one point, she was given a one in 1,000 chance of surviving. But Grupp's team found a drug to stop her adverse reaction, and when Emily awoke from a two-week coma, her cancer was gone.

Emily is now 8 and healthy. Grupp has treated 17 more children with the procedure (80% of whom are in remission). Emily's family has twice traveled to Washington, D.C., with her oncologists to urge legislators to fund pediatric cancer research, and they have helped Children's raise money for its cancer programs. "We are so grateful to these doctors who spend their lives curing cancer," Whitehead says.

© 2013 WebMD. All rights reserved.

July August 2014

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