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This Vancouver man is on a mission to help fellow amputees with ‘life-changing’ mirror therapy

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Almost 15 years ago, a motorbike accident in Italy left Stephen Sumner with an amputated left leg and a strange, debilitating condition known as phantom limb pain.

That condition, the 58-year-old told CTVNews.ca, soon became “the worst aspect of my entire life.”

“I was just getting destroyed by it,” Sumner said via telephone from his home in Vancouver. “I was very literally suicidal at a certain point.”

Sumner said he tried — and failed — to mollify the constant and excruciating pain with an admixture of alcohol and stoicism.

“I was just trying to mind over matter it,” he said. “It just wasn’t working.”

That continued for years until in a bout of particularly unbearable agony, Sumner went online and discovered mirror therapy: a treatment in which an amputee uses a mirror to reflect a remaining limb, essentially tricking their brain into thinking that that an amputated arm or leg is still there.

“I felt, ‘Oh my god, it’s there again!’ — I felt better,” Sumner recalled of his first mirror session. “It’s now been eight years and I’ve been almost totally pain-free.”

The therapy also helped Sumner — who has worked as everything from an English teacher to a bicycle salesman to a longshoreman — find his calling in life.

“I would say from significant experience that… amputees are faced with almost boundless hardships,” he said. “A lot of these people feel that they’ve been abandoned by everything and everyone.”

Wanting to share this “life-changing” treatment, Sumner has since taken multiple months-long trips to war-scarred countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East where he gets on a cargo bike laden with custom-built acrylic mirrors to search out others suffering from phantom limb pain. So far, he’s delivered well over 2,000 mirrors to fellow amputees.

“I’m almost like a missionary, if you will,” Sumner said. “I feel that I’m bringing something to somebody that’s very, very important.”

STEPHEN’S STORY

When asked to describe what phantom limb pain feels like, Sumner screams over the phone.

“That’s a reflection of what’s commonly referred to as ‘electric shock pain,’ which is the worst style of phantom limb pain,” Sumner said.

There are also sensations that he refers to as crushing, cramping and burning. Pain events, Sumner said, are cyclical and can last for days — and nothing, not even pharmaceuticals, can make them go away.

“If you’re experiencing the crushing or the cramping, or never mind the electrical shock style of pain, you’re not sleeping, you’re not eating, you hate your girlfriend, you hate your friends, you hate your family, you can’t work, you can’t go out in public,” he said. “It’s that bad.”

Stephen Sumner teaches mirror therapy to a fellow amputee in Cambodia in 2015. (Stephen Sumner)

Sumner first shared mirror therapy on a 2011 bicycle trip through Cambodia. The small Southeast Asian country has the inglorious distinctions of being the second most landmine-riddled country in the world as well as having the most amputees per capita — legacies of a series of bloody and protracted conflicts that started in the 1960s with the American war in neighbouring Vietnam and ended only with a UN-backed civil war peace deal in the 1990s. Sumner has been back to the country numerous times since.

“With almost everyone, basically their eyes flutter and they go, ‘Oh my god, it feels like I have that arm back! It feels like I have that leg back!” he said. “I get one or two crabby ex-Khmer Rouge soldiers, but beyond that, it’s been resoundingly positive.”

Sumner explains mirror therapy like this: you simply have to sit with a mirror positioned in such a way that you only see a whole limb being reflected where an amputated limb used to be. And then you meditate, perhaps trying to move the phantom limb, or perhaps just contemplating the image of your whole self until you enter a relaxed state.

“There’s a lot of positive thought involved,” Sumner said.

In cases where someone has two arms or legs missing, Sumner will recruit a young relative or volunteer to sit in that persons’ lap to provide the reflection. And wherever Sumner goes — whether that be Laos, Ethiopia or Lebanon — he leaves extra mirrors at clinics and hospitals while teaching others how to share this therapy. He also offers a guarantee of sorts: spend 10 minutes in front of your mirror twice a day for a total of five weeks, “and then you can reasonably expect that your pain will be, if not gone, then it will be radically diminished and that you more than likely won’t have to repeat the treatment at all.”

“They might have been living with this agony on a daily basis for 35 or 40 or 45 years in some cases,” Sumner said. “This is life-changing stuff.”

MIRROR THERAPY AT A GLANCE

Mirror therapy was pioneered in the 1990s by neuroscientist Dr. V.S. Ramachandran and his colleagues at the University of California, San Diego.

While it has anecdotally proven to be effective, on a scientific level, the therapy remains poorly understood. Still, it — and similar virtual reality-based therapies — are even being used in places like Canada.

Stephen Sumner’s six simple rules for mirror therapy are seen in this Dec. 2018 photo from Jaffna, Sri Lanka. (Stephen Sumner)

Dr. Amanda Lee Mayo is a physiatrist who subspecializes in amputee rehabilitation at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Mayo calls mirror therapy her clinic’s “most common non-pharmaceutical treatment” for phantom limb pain.

“Almost all adult amputees, after they have an amputation, will experience phantom limb pain or sensations,” Mayo said.

For most, Mayo adds, that pain will decrease over time.

“But there are some patients that have a chronic debilitating phantom limb pain that will persist,” she said.

According to Mayo, her patients describe their phantom limb with “classic nerve pain characteristics” such as “burning, numbness and tingling (and) electric shocks.”

“When you have an amputation, the nerves are still there, right?” Mayo explained. “So when you lose your leg, they cut the nerves, but the nerves are still sending signals up your spinal cord into your brain, and your brain is still thinking that the foot’s there… So it will be sending pain signals that can either present in the residual limb or sort of shoot and you get this phantom limb sensation or pain.”

Mirror therapy, Mayo says, works by both “retraining the brain to what the new norm (of) the body is” and creating a distraction “from the painful sensations that (patients are) experiencing.”

“We’re playing along with the motor-sensory cortex in the brain and trying to sort of rewire it through guided motor imagery and mirror therapy,” she said. “So (in) a lot of mirror therapy, they’ll be sort of relaxing their intact limb on the other side, because a lot of the sensation that patients describe is like their foot is cramping or their fists are clenched. The therapist will (then) sort of work the patient through with their intact limb to relax (their) hand or move it in a relaxing way.”

And while it does not necessarily work for everyone — especially patients who are intellectually disabled or have multiple amputations — it remains an important tool at her amputee rehabilitation clinic.

“It’s always worth a try to see if it will help,” Mayo said. “I think anything is good for pain management, especially when we’re looking at non-pharmaceutical options… A lot of these patients get inappropriately prescribed opioids for phantom pain.”

Mayo calls Sumner’s work “fantastic.”

ON THE ROAD

Sumner is currently sharing mirror therapy with fellow amputees in northern Sri Lanka — a region that was racked by a vicious civil war between 1983 and 2009 — as part of a months-long journey that began in November and will also take him and his cargo bike to countries like Myanmar and Vietnam.

In this Dec. 2018 photo, Stephen Sumner shares mirror therapy in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. (Stephen Sumner)

“I ride up into the provinces and search out more hospitals, more clinics and even more villages,” he said. “(I’ll) ride through some of the most beautiful country on earth.”

Although he has received some financial support from local NGOs and groups like the International Committee of the Red Cross, he funds his trips largely through private donations and his own scanty savings.

“I’ve never ever had more than two nickels to rub together, it seems,” Sumner said. “I’m just a guy with mirrors who’s an amputee that doesn’t suffer from phantom pain.”

Still, Sumner persists and will continue delivering mirrors on this trip until his funds run out and he is forced to return home to Vancouver.

You can follow Sumner’s journeys through his Facebook page and website, www.meandmymirror.com, where he also blogs and accepts donations. Sumner’s custom-built acrylic mirrors cost between $10 and $25 to produce, and he almost always gets them locally made.

“In my mind, I can’t believe the fact that I’m the only guy in the world that does what I do,” he said. “In my mind, there should be an army of me out there.”

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Health Ranger posts new microscopy photos of covid swabs, covid masks and mysterious red and blue fibers

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(Natural News) What follows is a series of microscopy photos of covid swabs (a synthetic swab, then a cotton swab), a covid mask and some zoomed-in photos of mysterious red and blue fibers found in the masks.

The magnification range for these photos is 50X to 200X. Most were taken with white light, but several (as indicated) were taken with UV light.

The images shown here are 600 pixels wide. We have higher resolution images available to researchers and indy media journalists; contact us for those hi-res images.

More microscopy investigations are under way, and new images will be posted as they are finalized.

First, this series shows the carbon fiber layer of a covid mask, illuminated with UV light:

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5,800 test positive, 74 die of coronavirus at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated

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(Natural News) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, April 15, confirmed some 5,800 breakthrough coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S.

A breakthrough COVID-19 case is defined as someone who has detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated against the disease.

Nearly 400 breakthrough cases required treatment at hospitals and 74 died. A little over 40 percent of the infections were in people 60 years and above and 65 percent were female. About 29 percent of the vaccine breakthrough infections were reportedly asymptomatic. The figures were for cases through April 13.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the causes of the breakthrough cases are being probed. “Some of these breakthroughs are, of course, failure of an immune response in the host. And then some of them we worry might be related to a variant that is circulating. So we’re looking at both,” she said.

The CDC is monitoring reported cases “for clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type or lot number, and SARS-CoV-2 lineage.” It has created a national COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough database, where state health departments can enter, store and manage data for cases in their region.

Where available, respiratory specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 will be collected for genomic sequencing “to identify the virus lineage that caused the infection.”

Positive test less than two weeks after getting fully vaccinated is not a breakthrough case

The number of cases the CDC has identified does not include people who contracted COVID-19 less than two weeks after their final dose. The two-week marker is important, said infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A human body should have enough time to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after that timeframe. Before then, a person won’t necessarily have the built-up immunity needed to fight off an infection. According to Dr. Adalja, cases that occur before the two-week mark are not considered breakthrough cases.

Dr. Adalja also noted that more research is needed to determine if highly infectious variants of the virus are behind the breakthrough cases. “It is crucial to study breakthrough cases to understand their severity, their contagiousness and what role variants may be playing,” Dr. Adalja said.

More than 78 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 15.

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control.”

But the CDC conceded that “thousands of vaccine breakthrough cases will occur even though the vaccine is working as expected.”

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agreed with the CDC. “These vaccines that we’re using are fabulous but they’re not perfect,” he said. “At best, they’re 95 percent effective in preventing serious illness, but minor illnesses can occur.”

According to U.S. drug regulators, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing infection. Moderna’s was shown in a clinical trial to be 94.1 percent effective while Johnson & Johnson’s was 66.9 percent effective. Only Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 27, was tested when variants were circulating.

The percentages are based on results from vaccine recipients two weeks after the final vaccination.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated in a briefing last week that the breakthrough cases are not a cause for concern.

“I think the important thing is to look at what the denominator of vaccinated people is. Because it is very likely that the number of breakthrough cases is not at all incompatible with the 90-plus percent vaccine efficacy,” he said. “So I don’t think that there needs to be concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.”

More info needed before drawing conclusions from breakthrough cases

The percentage of vaccine breakthroughs in a population depends on multiple factors, including vaccine efficacy, the amount of virus circulating and the length of time since vaccination, according to Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“I love to see small numbers as much as anyone, but know that numbers like this cannot be directly interpreted as a measure of vaccine efficacy (although I have a feeling they will be). We can only interpret them against a background rate in unvaccinated people,” Dean wrote on Twitter.

“Similarly, ‘most breakthroughs have been in elderly adults’ should not be read as the vaccine is less effective in elderly adults. The majority of vaccinations (and the longest amount of follow-up time) have been in elderly adults. Again, we need more info to interpret.”

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More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus in San Francisco last year

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(Natural News) More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Francisco last year, a microcosm of a larger nationwide problem coinciding with the pandemic.

Data from San Francisco’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows that 708 people were killed by fentanyl in 2020, an astonishing 118 times more since the introduction of the drug in the city just five years earlier.

That figure nearly tripled the 254 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the city for the whole of last year. More than 8 in 10 deaths were male, and just under half were white. People aged 55 to 64 made up nearly a quarter of the fatalities. Nearly 40 percent of the deaths occurred in open-air drug markets such as the Tenderloin and South of Market.

The number of overdose deaths in the city could have been far worse as more than 3,000 addicts suffering from an overdose were administered with naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses.

San Francisco’s death rate from fentanyl overdose continues to rise this year as 135 died by overdose in January and February, putting the city on pace for more than 800 deaths by the end of the year.

The city has become a significant part of a larger trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on Wednesday, April 14, showing that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdose over the 12-month period that ended in September last year – the highest since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.

Lockdowns lead to more cases of drug overdose

The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis that may be correlated to the government’s monotonous battle plan against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 19 last year, California became the first state in the U.S. to implement a stay-at-home order. It subsequently endured the longest lockdown of any state in the country.

The pandemic and accompanying lockdowns are believed to be partly responsible for the soaring number of drug deaths for obvious reasons. Lockdowns have badly disrupted the social services in the city, including drug addiction treatment. Drug experts say the isolation of the past 12 months is causing vulnerable residents to turn to opioids.

“We see the death and devastation getting worse right in front of us,” said Matt Haney, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member. “It’s an unprecedented spiraling, directly connected to the introduction of fentanyl in our city.”

Fentanyl first appeared on the streets of San Francisco in 2015. There were just six deaths from the synthetic opioid that year, 12 deaths in 2016 and 37 deaths in 2017. The figure skyrocketed when the drugs became widely available in the city in 2018.

Kristen Marshall, manager of the national drug harm reduction DOPE Project, noted the grim irony that while social isolation could save lives from COVID-19, it had undoubtedly contributed to the number of overdose deaths.

“Isolation is also the thing that puts people at the absolute highest risk of overdose death,” she said.

Pandemic exacerbates rise in deaths from drug overdose

The number of deaths from drug overdose started rising in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, making it hard to gauge how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend. The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect.

Many treatment programs closed during that time while drop-in centers, which provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, cut back services.

The data released by the CDC shows a 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020 compared with the previous 12-month period. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were the primary drivers, although many fatal overdoses have also involved stimulant drugs like methamphetamine.

Unlike in the early years of the opioid epidemic, when deaths were largely among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, the current crisis is affecting Black Americans disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at a national addiction conference last week.

“And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.”

Dr. Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid like fentanyl.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) supported Dr. Volkow’s claim, saying that transnational criminal organizations cause a spike in overdoses by mixing fentanyl into illicit narcotics.

According to the DEA, Mexican cartels often purchase the drug components in China and use human mules to smuggle the narcotics to lucrative drug markets north of the border.

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