“Cash For Clunkers” IS a Clunker!

We haven’t seen many car commercials in a while (…which is not helping my efforts to get a raise!) but a new kind of ad has emerged on the airwaves touting the “Cash for Clunkers” program. More formally known as the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), the $1 billion federal program starts today in an effort to get people to off-load their ‘clunkers’ in exchange for new fuel efficient vehicles. 

Basically, you hand over your ride and the government gives you $3,500 to $4,500 as a discount to a new lease or purchase. The idea is to put some fuel into auto sales (…and the economy). Sounds great huh? Admittedly, I started thinking about trading in my car when I heard about this “deal.” That is, until I remembered that my car is only a few years old and gets outstanding gas mileage…but hey, if its new and shiny…who wouldn’t want a new set of wheels?! 

Not everyone is so enthused however… 

The Wall Street Journal says this initiative IS a clunker! Writer Evan Newmark makes these points:

  1. The program is designed to help U.S. automakers who’ve already absorbed over $100 BILLION of your tax dollars.
  2. The program is too small to make a dent. Initially, it was designed to be quadruple its current size however, Congress backed off when they saw the price tag.
  3. Its $1 billion funding will only cover about 250,000 new cars…less than 3% of current US auto production.
  4. The CARS legislation lowered the mileage requirements for GM, Chrysler and Ford who sell those big ol’ SUVs and trucks (wait…wasn’t this whole thing about getting smaller more fuel efficient cars??!!).
  5. Buyers get a rebate when the new ride has a whopping 4 mpg. But get this…if you buy one of those big box cars, you get the rebate so long as it gets just one measly extra mile per gallon….WOW…Mother Earth takes a huge sigh of relief! 

Cars.gov is the government’s website that outlines the details:

  • Your vehicle must be less than 25 years old on the trade-in date.
  • Only purchase or lease of new vehicles qualify.
  • Generally, trade-in vehicles must get 18 or less MPG (some very large pick-up trucks and cargo vans have different requirements).
  • Trade-in vehicles must be registered and insured continuously for the full year preceding the trade-in.
  • You don’t need a voucher, dealers will apply a credit at purchase.
  • Program runs through Nov 1, 2009 or when the funds are exhausted, whichever comes first.
  • The program requires the scrapping of your eligible trade-in vehicle, and that the dealer disclose to you an estimate of the scrap value of your trade-in. The scrap value, however minimal, will be in addition to the rebate, and not in place of the rebate.

CashForClunkersFacts.com provided a list of frequently asked questions about the bill.

You can check if it qualifies on FuelEconomy.gov.

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The Phone Gets Reinvented…Again.

I can’t keep up with phone technology. (1) The effort is expensive and (2) no one in my circle of friends could care less about my new gadget and (3) technology is moving towards ways to be MORE connected and quite frankly…I don’t want my boss and relatives to have easier ways to find me!  But I understand that in some social circles, these technological advancements are exciting and so…here’s a preview of Google’s latest contraption: Google Voice.

Google Voice lets you use one new phone number to tie together your various numbers: cellphone, home phone, business line. If your buddy calls your Google Voice number….ALL phones ring and you decide which one to answer. You also get the same voice mail…on all phones.

Google announced Google Voice in March. It is rolling it out gradually to people who request a number. Google has already received tens of thousands of requests. You can actually bid for an invite for almost $100 on eBay.  

You can register at voice.google.com, a response is promised within “a few weeks.” 

Google has NOT applied this to the iPhone but its in the works.

Note that you have to contact everyone in your “contacts list” and tell them to start calling the Google Voice number. Otherwise, your cell phone will just ring as usual. 

I’d be curious to know if any of you are using this. It sounds like a nightmare to have every phone ring at once. I actually like stratifying my phone calls…family and friends: personal cell; viewers and bosses: work cell; home landline: telemarketers and bill collectors (and occasionally…a psychic).

If I wanted them all to call to one device…wouldn’t I just get ONE phone?

Incarceration Preparation

As you’ve probably already heard…Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff made his way to North Carolina this week to begin his long-term stay (150 years) at one of our federal prisons. I don’t know how most people “prepare” for prison…but it turns out, when you are swimming in cash (or, you *were*) and slightly (read: highly) out of touch with reality, like Mr. Madoff, you hire a…prison coach.

Forbes.com is reporting that his coach, Herb Hoelter, reassured the concerned public (…right.) that after a few motivational speeches…Bernie was NOT afraid to start his term. Herb also told him that he would not be in danger at the Butner prison…calling it a “good facility” this is well run (….RIGHT). He even gets 300 minutes a month in phone calls! That’s better than MY cell phone plan…

I wonder what that job is like?…reassuring the wicked that prison wont be “that bad.”  Prisoncoach.com had some answers…

Prison Coach provides “Incarceration Preparation” (“Conjunction junction…what’s your functioonnnnn? Everybody sing it with me!)…coaching services on the “strategies” required to complete their sentence. They say that after their program, prisoners will not fear the unexpected, they will “ease into a new way of living and eventually return to society – where [they] belong.” (really?!) They even offer sentence reduction services…up to 18 months.

This is no small operation…services include: webinars, hands-on programs, family services and seminars. They even have “special programs” for 18-22 year olds, homosexuals and woman that are “HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.”

They say you “can’t become a cage fighter overnight” but they will give you the “cliff notes” in “survival of the fittest.” I wonder if Madoff can now throw an upper-cut or a Camel Clutch?

Prison Coach also has a FAQ page…I’m sorry…I can’t help myself…I had to include my  own commentary in italics….

  • ·  What will the other inmates think of me? (social circles are EVERYTHING!)
  • ·  Will I be assaulted ? (well…this IS prison…)
  • ·  Will I be given a body cavity search? (see: Camel Clutch technique)
  • ·  What will a normal day be like? (will I have free time to check my Facebook?)
  • ·  How will I pass the time? (I have 150 years…and I get bored easily)
  • ·  Can I exercise? (are yoga classes available?)
  • ·  What will I eat? (I eat a macrobiotic diet..no refined sugars please.)
  • ·  What will the sleeping arrangements be like? (I am a billionaire…I sleep only on 3000 count Egyptian cotton sheets)
  • ·  Will I have to shower in front of other men?
  • ·  Will I have to go to the bathroom in front of other men?
  • ·  Will I be locked up with murderers and rapists?

 

Not to make light of prison…but I can’t help but find this utterly fascinating…

Casey Going M.I.A. (sort of)

I’m off to spend some quality time with the surgeons at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Its not likely that I will be reporting on here for a little while seeing as how the WECT crew has given me 1,000s of hours worth of DVDs to watch!

In the meantime…enjoy the news.

I’m Sorry…I Have to Pay EXTRA To Enter My Hotel Room??!!

Seeing how and where the travel industry has buried fees into your vacation bill is always a fun find after a relaxing stay. Sometimes I just wish that they would stick those extra costs into the total price so I don’t get that “surprise” at the end. In fact, I once asked United Airways why they didn’t do that…she said, in order to remain competitive, they want customers to see low fairs online and go right for those. If they bury the fees, their prices will look comparatively high versus other airlines.

 Hotels have jumped on the fee bandwagon and as you travel out this summer…be on the lookout and ASK questions before you take your room key…

 Get familiar with some of these phrases: room tax, resort fee, parking fee and yes, even an “occupancy fee.”

 I’m sorry…you want to charge me extra for occupying that room? Is there any other alternative? Didn’t think so…

 Hilton is said to charge an occupancy tax even when guests had canceled their room reservations. There are fees for early departure and fees for checked baggage. Use Hotelchatter.com to scan through some of the “hidden” hotel fees for things such as hospitality, use of a facility’s fitness center and more.

USA Today also has a list

  • Hawaii: The hotel room tax is 8.25 percent…9.25 percent in July 2010.
  • Nevada: The room tax is creeping up to a maximum of 12 percent. In Las Vegas, the hotel tax jumps from 9 percent to 12 percent. Reno’s tax is already 12 percent.
  • New Hampshire: The tax on rooms and restaurant meals is now up to 9 percent and now includes recreational vehicles at campgrounds.
  • Massachusetts: Cities now have authority to raise the hotel tax from 4 percent to 6 percent…that’s ON TOP of the state tax of 5.7 percent. Taxes on eating out will rise from 5 percent to 6.25 percent statewide, plus another 0.75 percent if cities choose.
  • New York City: The city raised its hotel tax in March to 14.25 percent and will start charging more for Internet reservations.

Car rentals are not immune. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that rental companies are tacking on terminal and fuel charges. Here are some car rental tips related to hidden costs

So before you swipe…actually, before you DECIDE where you are staying….ask what the final, the TOTAL cost is, all fees included and then make your final destination decision…

Thank you Al Poynter for the inspiration behind this article.

“A Perfect Match” Part Two

I’ve heard so many rumors about bone marrow transplants…”Its excruciating!” “They crack your bones to get the marrow out!” etc etc. So when the bone marrow transplant coordinator at Chapel Hill’s Children’s Hospital warned me that the video for this transplant may be…somewhat uneventful… I was surprised…but glad!

 A reporter is usually never excited about getting “boring” video…but one of my goals for this story was to dispel the myths surrounding BMT (bone marrow transplants) and to encourage people to become donors.  What better help could I have gotten then to have video that showed how seemingly uneventful and NOT scary getting a bone marrow transplant is!

 Here’s more background…

 When I arrived at the hospital, Janaya was already there…and already crying. This was her first time in the hospital and everything was sinking in. We cooled off together in the pre-operative area (believe me…I was pretty nervous too…) and then met with her doctors.

 Doctor Jaroscak and the nurses gave her a magic wand and Barbie backpack. After that…little seemed to matter to Janaya. She spent the next hour trying different hand techniques with the wand to try to make us disappear. While she was busy with that…the recreation nurses were busy trying to tell her a picture book story about her surgery before wheeling her in a wagon to the O.R. (she was really only interested in the wand…and I don’t blame her!).

 The O.R. is an intimidating place. There are doctors with masks everywhere and all sorts of machines that make loud noises. But with mom at her side…she really didn’t seem to mind! The laughing gas went on…and soon her little feet fell to the side and she was out.

 Its the hospital’s policy to not allow “media” to film inside the O.R….but here’s basically what happened and what *would* happen in any bone marrow donation….

 1. Under general anesthesia, doctors make several small incisions through the skin over the back of the pelvic bones (you know those two hard knobs/dimples in your back? The “posterior-illiac crest”)

 2. They take a long hollow needle and inject it into the area where soft tissue is covering those knobs. Doctors then draw out the marrow.

 3. They may make more incisions for insertion (2-4) depending on how much marrow they are able to harvest and how much they need.

 4. In some cases, the marrow stem cells must be treated before the transplant is done.

NOTE: This happens if a donor only has partially matching human leukocyte antigens (HLA…the DNA markers on the blood cells that match up donors). In that case the stem cells will be enriched and the T-cells which could cause graft-versus-host disease are removed. Because Janaya is a perfect matching donor..this was not necessary. The marrow went from the syringe…to a bag…and then to Denise.

 When Janaya woke up, she was a little achy…but nothing bad. She had two bandages on her back where the needles went and those can be removed in a matter of days.

 We then headed upstairs for the transfusion.

 Denise still had her hair but her demeanor was very different. She was exhausted…and for good reason.

 The chemotherapy had wiped out her blood cell count, leaving her with very little immune system (white blood cells make up your immune system). The treatments had also given her nausea, vomiting and mouth sores which made food completely uninteresting. She’d lost a lot of weight…at that point she must have been below 100lbs and she was skinny to begin with!

 When doctors arrived with marrow in hand..we were all so excited for that moment. In just minutes…her live would be saved. The bag of marrow looked like it should have been GLOWING with magic. I wanted her to see everything but she was too exhausted…she just pulled the covers up and drift off.

 Janaya was also wheeled in. Dr. Juroscak presented her with a Certificate of Donation and we all started cheering…and Janaya leaned over and fell asleep!

 Meanwhile, my camera was flying all over trying to capture every second.

 Just like you saw, the bag of marrow went up onto the I.V. pole and its contents dripped right into her central line (an IV line that inserted into the chest). Within an *hour*, Dr. Juroscak said the stem cells would migrate right to where they needed to be…her hips….where they would get to work to produce a brand new bone marrow factory. If that doesn’t amaze you, nothing will…

 In about 20 days her blood cell count should start to come back up again. For the next 100 days, doctors will be watching for signs that her body is rejecting Janaya’s marrow. There is a 10-20% chance of serious complications including: liver irritation (which she has had before), infection (from low white blood cell counts) or if Janaya’s cells to don’t engraft (Denise’s body rejects them). Because Janaya is a full match though, the odds are in her favor. Plus, bone marrow transplant has a lower risk of host-vs-graft disease (rash, diarrhea).

 To help prevent any complications, Denise will take immunosuppressive drugs (drugs that inhibit the reject or organs/tissue).

 Interesting tid-bit: Since donated bone marrow cells create a brand new B.M. factory…recipients take on the blood type of their donor. Also, because the patient’s immune system is wiped out…they will have to be vaccinated AGAIN once they start to develop a blood cell count. Just like being a little kid again…

 I headed home after the transplant but I have talked to Valeria often since then. She said that Denise has now lost all of her hair but is still in good spirits. Janaya was home the next day and jumping around like she usually is! Valeria is still trying to make it all work between Chapel Hill and home, where the rest of her kids are. She says she wont stop worrying about Denise until they know 100% that the donation worked….and that Denise is leukemia free.

 I learned SO much about both leukemia and bone marrow donation from this story. I had no idea donation was so easy! There are 11 million registered donors but that’s not enough….finding a perfect match is very difficult (and having one dramatically increases the chances of success). Its even harder for minorities because there are fewer donors. Getting on the registry is simple..they just swab your cheek. It costs $50 to be on the registry. Let me explain why you have to pay:

 When donation coordinators go searching through the registry…they sometimes have trouble locating matches because donors change their address, phone, email, etc. There’s no time to waste in these situations…so they need to know that donors are going to keep up with their own registry. To give them a reason to stay committed to it, they charge a fee…to incentivize the commitment.

 Its one thing to go swab your cheek to add your name to the list…its another to take a day off of work and be put under anesthesia. They need people on the registry who are serious about their donation and who will not back out if called. Adding a fee helps to weed out those people who are not committed to donation. PLEASE do not let this keep you from doing it! As you saw…you really are saving someone’s life when you donate. If you are interested in donating…just contact your local hospital…they have donation drives frequently.

 www.marrow.org and http://www.cancer.gov also have more information about donation, risks and side-effects.

 

There are other ways that donations can occur:

 1. Peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation:  blood-creating stem cells are also found in your peripheral blood, circulating around you. Donors are injected with filgratism, a drug that moves these cells out of the marrow and into the bloodstream. Blood is removed through a needle in the arm and a machine separates out the stem cells. Its very similar to platelet donation.

 2. Umbilical cord blood donation: the blood collected from the umbilical cord and placenta is rich in blood-creating cells. People can donate their child’s umbilical cord blood or store it for themselves or a family member. This type of blood use used when a match is needed right away or someone cannot find one because umbilical cord blood is stored and readily available.

 As I mentioned in the story…Denise had high-risk factors because of her type of leukemia (hypodiploid…meaning Denise has slightly fewer than a full set of DNA chromosomes) and she needed a bone marrow transplant. 85% of all kids are cured with just chemotherapy, unfortunately, this wasn’t Denise’s case.

 I spoke to Valeria last night after she saw the story. You have no idea how nerve-racking these stories are for me (or probably, any reporter). There was so much to consider…How does Denise want HER story told? How do I explain complicated medical terminology while still making this interesting to viewers?

 Valeria says they loved the story…and I’m thrilled.

 Denise is still feeling very sick. She’s adjusting to her new ‘do (or really…lack there of…) and she can’t wait to go home.

 I can’t wait to see them all again! For me, I’m headed into the hospital myself for the next few days (or weeks). I too will probably be bored to tears most of the time so I will have my laptop with me, should anyone have any further questions about Denise’s treatment or how to become a donor. My email is croman@wect.com.

 I also hope you will get in touch with Denise and send her well-wishes. You can go on Facebook.com…search the name “Denise Hale”…and send her a message.

 Finally, if ever you think your problems are just too much to handle, or the sky is falling down…you can easily “get a grip” by listening to stories like Denise’s or walking into a children’s cancer ward. I promise you that being in the bone marrow transplant unit at UNC turned my little world upside down and put may things in perspective. These kids are so little…and are fighting a BIG fight. If you have the opportunity to help one of them out by donating marrow…I hope you will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A Perfect Match” Web-Only Story

The media Gods here at WECT decided that the piece about her chemotherapy treatment should be a web-only story.

This portion actually happened between Parts 1 & 2 that were broadcasted.

Before her bone marrow transplant (BMT), Denise was admitted to Chapel Hill’s Children’s Hospital to begin chemotherapy and radiation. I went to see them a few days before the final “heavy duty” doses of chemo began.

I arrived late at night in Chapel Hill and admittedly, I was very nervous to see Denise. Up until then, I had just known her as a laughing, playing 11-year old. Now she was a “patient.” I didn’t know if she’d be very sick…if she’d lost all of her hair…if she even wanted to see me! But Valeria insisted I come up.

When we arrived on the 5th floor, we walked past large waiting rooms filled with families and little kids who had their small heads wrapped in scarves. It was really heart breaking….

You have to wash your hands before you enter the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. Once inside, you have to wash your hands again before entering a patient’s room. The rooms are ‘germ-free’ because the patients have such low immunity.

Denise was resting inside..typing on her laptop. She had QUITE  a set-up! TV, computer, treadmill, private bathroom, big windows…what a great facility! We talked until about midnight. She told me all about her radiation…much of which was completely new information for me…

I always thought radiation was like an x-ray but Denise said they propped her straight up, with her feet elevated. Her arms were out at 90 degree angles and they taped her shoulders back to keep her up (she kept dozing off). She said that the radiation came out like a bright light all over her body and the machine made a very loud noise. She said that she couldn’t feel anything while the radiation was going on but once it was over she was sick to her stomach and began vomiting.

I asked (a lot) to get video of the radiation process so I could show what it was like. The hospital said the radiation room was jam packed with patients, so that wouldn’t be possible but they did give me a little bit of interesting background on the procedure…such as…Did you know radiation therapy was discovered after scientists saw the effects of nuclear bombs? (I didn’t…)

The next day, I headed back to Denise’s room. This time, I also had to wash down all of my camera equipment before entering.

Denise was wide awake and playing Wii(a video game) with the recreational nurse. They use the game to encourage the kids to get out of bed and get some exercise. Her doctor, Dr. Gold, also said that during school, all the kids go to school at the hospital (its a classroom that looks just like any other). They try to treat them like “normal” kids…because they are…and Dr. Gold said if you treat someone like they are sick…they will act sick.

You saw much of the chemotherapy treatment on the video. Really, there wasn’t much to it. The chemicals drip down into her “central line”…an IV line that goes right into her chest.

What DID surprise me was that the nurse told her she’d have to start taking showers every couple of hours because the chemotherapy would start to come out of her pours! My mind was raising a million miles an hour with all of this information…but Denise seemed to take it all in stride.

Apparently, the chemicals come out of the pours in your body. If they sit on your skin…they will burn you. Her mom told me just a few days ago that she has in fact developed some of these burns. The chemo has also given her sores inside her mouth. She can no longer eat and is being fed through her I.V..

Dr. Gold came in shortly after the chemotherapy began…and Denise’s eyes lit up! Dr. Gold, I’m told, is a brilliant man in his field…but he’s also a clown with the kids! He and Denise have slapping fights…he sticks straws up his nose while talking to them…he was throwing ice chips at Valeria while she was sleeping! I can’t tell you how WONDERFUL it was to have his humor in the room after seeing the chemotherapy treatment.

I am trying to create a “blooper tape” where you can see more of his antics! There’s something to be said about treating someone with more ‘personality than pills.’ Denise knows her cancer is serious business. But she doesn’t just need a doctor..she needs a friend…and Dr.Gold is more than happy to do double duty.

What really surprised me was that he wanted to do the interview right in front of Denise. I had some serious questions that I was nervous asking in front of her…but Dr.Gold didn’t mind…and neither did Denise. I had to remember that there are no secrets between friends….

Dr.Gold told me that they dont really know what causes leukemia. It may be just a “switch” that turns on in the body for some people (yikes!). I thought that maybe Denise’s age and race would make leukemia a rare disease for her but he said that wasn’t the case. There don’t seem to be any patterns of occurance.

He also explained how hard it can be to find a match. There’s only about a 25% chance of finding a match within siblings. Luckily, her sister Janaya matches all 10 markers. More specifically, those markers are called HLAs: human leukocyte antogens. They are markers on every white blood cell that you have, given to you by your parents.

Denise became very tired as the afternoon wore on and Valeria had to get home to her other kids back in Wilmington. I finished up the day with a tour of the hospital and then I also headed home.

That was on a Friday…the following Wednesday is when Denise was to receive her bone marrow transplant which you saw in the piece that aired at 6 tonight. You can find more information about BMT in that blog entry….