When Wyatt Shield was born, doctors immediately knew they had a developmental mutation case on their hands, no pun intended. The newborn boy was born with 12 fingers. Specifically, each hand came with an additional thumb. Technically known as thumb polydactyly, Wyatt was going to be able to live and function, but the use of hands for dexterity work like writing was going to be limited or none. Like many children with extra parts due to development mutations, Wyatt’s extra thumbs were removed a year later thanks to the support and help of the Shriners Children’s Hospital, located in St. Louis.
However, regardless of what the medical experts and doctors thought at the time, Wyatt wasn’t keen on agreeing with their conclusion about his recovery. Instead, some five years later, Wyatt decided to become an author and write his first book. The story was about his experience at the Shriners’ Hospital, from what he could remember, and what he was told about what occurred there to help him. Even more surprising, the book gained enough support to be published, and it’s now in circulation.
The story of Wyatt’s surgery trip covers all the different procedures he had to go through as well as his perspective of the doctors. It’s a kid’s view of the world clearly, and Wyatt wanted to show other kids not only could he prove medical experts wrong, but write a book doing so as well. His parents think Wyatt just rocks something huge. It’s a classic outcome of what a child can pursue if he’s not stopped first and prevented from achieving the “impossible.”
The Shriner impact is a family thing for Wyatt and his parents as well. Wyatt’s grandfather on his mother’s side was a Shriner for a half century. Seeing the program give back personally to the family was a work effort coming full circle because of all the years of volunteering and support his grandfather provided Shriners before Wyatt was ever born. In the same vein, some of the profits from Wyatt’s book sales will go right back to the Shriners, as Wyatt and his family wanted. It’s a sense of paying forward for the next child that needs help like what Wyatt received for his hands.
And, as for Wyatt, he’s off to his next adventure and challenge. His hands are doing just fine, and he’s taking on new ideas for his next books as well.
A Math Teacher Gets An Amazing Surprise From His Students
Math teachers and Los Angeles seem to have an odd relationship. Many folks remember the movie “Stand Up & Deliver,” which provided a Hollywood version of Jaime Escalante’s challenges of teaching math to inner city students and helping them realize more in their education. As it turns out, Julio Castro, another math teacher in the same city years later, made just as much of an impression on his students. While it’s not likely that Castro’s story will turn into a blockbuster movie, he will definitely be remembered class after class for his influence on helping students learn math.
His life is a definition of discipline. Julio Castro gets up every day at 4:30am in the morning, well before the sun comes up, then he makes his way on a basic push scooter to the Metrolink after navigating six miles of sidewalk, and then another mile to the high school after the train stops. And, by the crack of dawn, Castro was at work, doing his job, getting ready for the first class of the day by 8am. However, the first day of school this year was going to be different. Castro just didn’t know it yet.
At 31, the first day of school for 2022 was going to be like every other; a typical teacher introduction, a blurb about what he did over the summer, and then a brief description of which classes Castro was going to cover for the 2022-23 year. While things droned on, Castro had no idea what dozens upon dozens of students had been up to for weeks. Instead of spending the summer lounging, these Los Angeles high school students had been working on fundraising. They had managed to pull together $13,000 to help their high school math teacher get his own working car. The goal was a blue Mazda, something that Castro had mentioned to one of his students how much he liked.
The entire effort had been started much earlier in the year, but it was all kept under wraps. At first, everything seemed pretty crazy and on the wrong side of impossible. However, because of how much of an impact Castro had had on many of the students, they remained committed to making something good happen for him. Everyday he tootled down sideways, to and from the Metrolink, to teach them. Every day, he used public transit, rain or shine, and got them through math, algebra, trig, calculus and all. The man deserved more than just a thanks at the end of the school year.
Even when he was brought into the gym, Castro was completely duped in some kind of teacher appreciation event, giving the teacher basic gift cards as combined thank you’s from the students. So when his name was called and Castro went to the podium, it didn’t dawn on the math teacher what was going on and why he was being recorded on video and phones. However, Castro had to wait for a presentation first. The students most affected by Castro had made a video in which they talked about and described how much of an impact the math teacher had had on them. Then, the students were dismissed, only to form a human path for Castro to find his way to the blue Mazda sitting outside waiting for him. By this point, the math teacher was entirely confused.
Out of the gym Castro went and realized he had to walk down the tunnel. Each step was more and more of a surprise, with confetti pops and cheering. He had no idea what was going on. And then Castro found himself in front of the blue Mazda. It was a sedan, navy blue, and with black leather seats, the same style and features he had said he wanted years earlier. And Castro’s face turned into a big smile as he was floored and hugged by the students he had been so dedicated to as a teacher. With some additional help matching the students’ fundraising, they not only got Castro the car, but also a year’s worth of fuel and insurance as well. It all added up to a gift of $30,000 approximately.
There wasn’t a whole lot of math Castro had to do with his new gift. He was immensely thankful. More importantly, he was fundamentally impressed by how many lives the math teacher had touched.
Britain is Celebrating The Return of the Blue Butterfly
If you were one of those kids who remembers back to grade school and your early lessons about evolution as well as adaptation, then you probably remember one of those lessons about British moths. For years, white moths were all over the land, easily hiding against the whitish tree bark and avoiding being eaten by birds. However, when the industrial age began, spewing smog out of chimneys, grey moths began surviving, and all the white moths were quickly eaten and died off, standing out against the soot-stained trees. For years, that’s what American kids were raised with as an image if Britain.
As it turns out, Britain is far from its 19th century industrial age smog dump. Instead, the country is now having probably its biggest summer in a century and half with blue butterflies, and large ones at that. It’s been the result of a decades-long effort in the restoration of the species, as well as similar efforts to help restore the shrill carder bee as well as the rugged oil beetle.
Originally, the large blue butterfly went the way of the evolutionary moth, dying out and disappearing in about 1979. It took some reintroducing with transplanted caterpillars of the same species from Sweden to get the butterflies back on the isles. However, since that effort began in 1983, the population of the butterflies has grown. And now, 2022 marks the biggest proliferation of the blue butterfly since the start of the program.
The biggest numbers of the colorful insects are found in Southwest England, which has been supported by the intentional planting of meadows stuffed with flowers. Everywhere there has been available land left fallow or unused, meadows have been planted, giving the insect an abundance of food supply and space. The effort has paid off.
Even with plenty of birds being natural predators, the butterflies have flourished, much due to a partnership between a number of trusts, non-profits and insect conservationists in England. For centuries earlier, the insect survived, tricking ants into protecting its eggs until they hatched and ate ant grubs to grow bigger. However, as temperatures shifted, the ant colonies died off, and the butterflies lost their primary protector during their early stage of growth. That and development essentially killed off the species in the late 1970s.
It took some serious study and thinking about how to restore the ant colonies, which then became the foundation for bringing back the butterflies. However, once that formula was worked out, the magic began to happen exponentially. 2022 is proof of that with the largest ever population of large blue butterflies in recorded history.
A 99-Year-Old Grandmother Meets Her 100th Grandchild
When you live almost an entire century, it’s definitely an accomplishment. After all, the typically mortality is usually closer to 75 years of age. However, for Peggy Koller, she reached age 99, and then she achieved something else. She got to hold her 100th great-grandchild.
Located in Blue Bell, Peggy Koller has accomplished a lot in her life. However, being able to hold her 100th great-grandchild was a big personal achievement for her. That baby didn’t even get much of a chance to get settled after being born. As soon as he arrived, Koller William Balster was all swaddled up and bundled off to his relative’s house to be seen, just in case year 100 didn’t quite make it. Time is an incredibly valuable thing when your 99 years old.
Of course, Peggy Koller was totally excited. She knew her latest great-grandson was on the way to arriving in the world. That said, she didn’t expect he would show up on her front doorstep so soon after being born. And then she heard his name, which really made Peggy’s day. Taking the boy’s first name from her surname was a definite honor for Peggy.
Historically, Peggy’s family is an amazing story of biological growth. The 99-year-old herself was an only child. She never dreamed as a kid of having an eventual family as big as it turned out to be. And, even more interesting, her family almost didn’t happen. In high school, Peggy had applied to be a nun. Obviously, getting married and having kids would be out of the question then. Fortunately, she was talked out of the idea by the boy who would ultimately also become her husband. Peggy married him, William Koller, and then ended up having 11 children in that union.
Then, of course, those kids had kids too. Peggy went from extremes as an only-child to a family that produced some 56 different grandchildren over the years. Producing everything from teachers to lawyers to even a mortuary owner, Peggy’s family did everything and became everything. The one thing none of the relatives became, however, was a doctor. Peggy is still a bit puzzled by that turn of events.
As it turned out, Koller was in a race with his cousin, Chrissy. The two babies were both due at the same time. Chrissy turned out to be just one day later. Koller got the title for baby great-grandchild 100, but Chrissy got the title for the largest number a day later.
As far as Peggy’s family is concerned, they chalk up her longevity to exercising twice a day as well as having a solid basis of faith in her life. Peggy’s got a secret, however. What makes her tick is her family and getting to spend everyday with them. After all, she told everybody what her special formula was. She never wanted to be alone. As a single child, she was alone a lot. So, in later life, she did the opposite and built a huge family around her one at a time.
Conjoined Twins Beat the Odds at 21
Conjoined twins have happened erratically in history. However, when they are separated surgically, most have lost at least one twin, and many times both have passed soon after. As a result, many families have just helped such children survive as-is. However, for two twins born in 2001, the story was going to be a bit different.
Josie Hull and her twin, Teresa Cajas, were born in mid-2001 in Guatamala, joined together at the head. As it turns out, in 2022, they have reached the age of 21, something many doctors and experts did not expect, especially when it was decided they would be separated physically. And even though that surgery ended up being a success, the sisters are bonded even tighter now.
Josie is the more developed of the two. Teresa, unfortunately, is unable to walk or communicate, but she does have comprehension and can hear. Over the years, the twins have developed a keen ability to communicate using their eyes as well.
After being born, the challenge of the conjoined twins was taken on, and the family and kids were relocated to Los Angeles for expert doctors to initiate and complete the physical separation of the twins. The surgery took a whopping 23 hours to complete, and the news of it and success made headlines around the world. After that, however, the twins slipped into anonymity.
The twins traveled back to Guatamala after recovering, but things went south. Both of the girls came down with unique infections in the brain due to being exposed in surgery. Normally, the brain is protected and sealed with a blood barrier that biologically stops infection from ever reaching it. Teresa had to be brought back to Los Angeles for 24/7 care, and Josie herself had ongoing seizures and related problems.
Despite the challenges, the girls kept on and survived. However, the parents realized the only real practical chance the twins had was to live in the U.S. to have access to the medical system. As a result, they were adopted by U.S. hosts and stayed in contact with their birth parents who had to stay in Guatamala.
Since those first rough years, both girls have grown and made it through high school. The two now live apart, with Josie functioning on her own but only 30 minutes from her sister physically. The memories of their early years are foggy, barely detailed in Josie’s mind, but she gets the details repeated again and again from her mother. As she digests the whole event now as an adult, it shocks her at times.
Despite the challenges, Josie still has a natural connection with her sister. It’s seen every time Josie is able to elicit responses from her sister that Teresa otherwise wouldn’t do with others. Doctors are amazed as well. As a group, they didn’t expect the twins to live as long as they did, especially when the brain infections set in. It took a community to make the twins’ success a reality, both with medical experts and family supporters.
Josie has a career now, helping decorate and design pediatric hospital rooms, but she lives for her sister, Teresa, as well. And, when Josie has a moment, she focuses on her second primary goal, to be happy.
Flying at 100 Wasn’t Enough, Let’s Do It Again at 104
Southwest Airlines gets a lot of passengers. In fact, as a domestic airline for most of its business, the company sees a lot of frequent travelers and families on vacation. However, it’s not that common for an airline to be host to a passenger flying over the age of 100. That was the case when Jane Smith decided to make a trip from San Francisco to the south of Nevada, Las Vegas, for her centennial birthday in 2018.
On that trip, Jane Smith became very social with the crew, and they even decided to make the day a bit special for her, singing with a chorus a Stevie Wonder song, “Isn’t She Lovely,” as Ms. Smith arrived at the gate and again when she arrived in Vegas. The trip gave Smith a chance to connect with some of the Southwest employees involved, who in turn stayed connected with her and Smith’s family after the big trip. Then, for at least two years, Jane Smith couldn’t travel. COVID had arrived, and given her age, Smith was isolated from any trips.
However, when 2022 arrived, it was time for Jane Smith to travel again, and that’s exactly what she did. At the healthy, robust age of 104, Smith decided she was going to go to Vegas again, chalking up another birthday in the city in the desert, getting there on a Southwest flight all over again.
Knowing that Smith was going to make another trip out of San Francisco again, and this time at the age of 104, the Southwest team wanted to make it even more memorable than the 100 year trip. After all, realistically speaking, it becomes a bit harder to guarantee one will show up annually for the next one.
Unfortunately, Jane Smith became sick on March 24, 48 hours before she was going to fly to Vegas again. At her age, that could be a serious event, so it was pretty much cancelled. The Southwest folks, however, weren’t going to let a cancelled trip stop them from celebrating Jane Smith’s birthday. Instead, they brought the part to her front door. Southwest employees worked together to provide a cake, flowers and a big Southwest visit just for Jane Smith herself. They showed up at her San Francisco home to wish Smith well and welcome in her 104th year of living. A number of the staff were quite moved by the event, and it was a classic example of the Southwest Airlines family philosophy.
Dubbed “Mama Jane,” Smith got to enjoy her special day, courtesy of Southwest, albeit just not in the air. And she has a lot to be proud of. Smith has seen her family grow to 14 grandchildren as well as 32 great-grandkids after that. She has even seen the birth of her first great-great-grandchild, something few can claim in their lifetime.
Smith has had a lucky life too. Her husband, Irving Russel Smith, was able to live with her until he reached age 96, passing away in 2013. They almost made it to 75 years of marriage. However, even with the loss of her loved partner, Smith has been surrounded by family in her later years and still is. And she definitely considers the Southwest team part of her extended circle as well.
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