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New vaping illnesses baffle experts
US health officials urge vapers to stop until cause can be determined

NEW YORK — U.S. health officials on Friday again urged people to stop vaping until it can be determined why some are coming down with serious breathing illnesses.

Officials have identified about 450 possible cases, including as many as five deaths, in 33 states. The count includes newly reported deaths in California, Indiana and Minnesota.

No single vaping device, liquid or ingredient has been tied to all the illnesses, officials said. Many of the sickened — but not all — were people who said they had been vaping THC, the chemical that gives marijuana its high. Many are teens.

Health officials have only been counting certain lung illnesses in which the person had vaped within three months. Doctors say the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury, with the body apparently reacting to a caustic substance that someone breathed in. Symptoms have included shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and vomiting. The illnesses have all surfaced this year, and the number has been growing quickly in the last month as more states have begun investigations. A week ago, U.S. officials pegged the number at 215 possible cases in 25 states.

It's unclear whether such illnesses were happening before this year.

"We're all wondering if this is new or just newly recognized," Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters Friday.

An Illinois health official, Dr. Jennifer Layden, said officials there don't know when such illnesses first began, but she said there has been a marked increase since spring.

Deaths previously were reported in Illinois and Oregon.

Indiana officials said the person who died there was an adult, but they didn't say when it happened or release other details. Health officials in Los Angeles said they were investigating a vaping death as well. And Minnesota health officials said that state's first known vaping-related death was a person over 65 years with a history of lung problems who had vaped illicit THC products and died in August.

Recent attention has been focused on devices, liquids, refill pods and cartridges that are not sold in stores.

New York state has focused its investigation on an ingredient called Vitamin E acetate, which has been used to thicken marijuana vape juice but is considered dangerous if heated and inhaled. State investigators have found the substance in 13 cartridges collected from eight patients. In several cases, the ingredient made up more than half of the liquid in the cartridge.

CDC officials said they are looking at several ingredients, including Vitamin E acetate. But Meaney-Delman added that no single factor has been seen in every case.

Also Friday, the New England Journal of Medicine released a series of articles that give medical details about cases reported in Illinois, Wisconsin and Utah.

An article on 53 illnesses in Illinois and Wisconsin noted that nearly one-fifth of the cases were people who said they vaped nicotine and not anything that contained THC or CBD oil.

For that reason, doctors and health officials are continuing to suggest people stay away from all vaping products until the investigation establishes exactly what's at the root of the illnesses.

Meaney-Delman said avoiding vaping is "the primary means of preventing this severe lung disease."

It's not yet clear what impact the recent illnesses are having on vaping rates, but some health officials are hoping more Americans will become wary.

There's been a split among public health experts about the value of vaping nicotine. Some argue e-cigarettes are not as lethal as conventional cigarettes and can be a valuable aide to smokers trying to kick the habit.

But others say studies have not established that adult smokers who try vaping end up quitting smoking long term. And they fear that kids who might never have picked up cigarettes are taking up vaping.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials "has long been cautious about endorsing e-cigarettes even before the recent spate of illnesses, because little scientific evidence exists to show that e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery devices are effective cessation devices," spokeswoman Adriane Casalotti said in a statement.

The states reporting vaping-related lung illnesses to the CDC arc Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin and West Virginia.


Football player sculpture at ex-frat house to be restored
With house for sale, sculptor's daughters act

HUNTINGTON — What happened on the night of Nov. 14, 1970, is no secret to those who call Huntington home. But a memorial erected to honor a group of fraternity brothers who died in a plane crash that night — something that could be easily overlooked — was taken down Friday in order to restore it to its original state.

The sculpture base stands in front of the former Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house, 1411 5th Ave., and the unit's future was in jeopardy when the property went up for sale after the frat disbanded.

However, a recent visit by the daughters of Vernon Howell, the sculptor of the piece, has provided at least some assurance the memorial won't be forgotten.

The sculpture of a crouching football player sat atop a brick base inlaid with marble plaques etched with the names of the players Jimo Adams, Mike Blake, Pat Norrell, Bob Patterson and Ted Shoebridge.

The football player represents "an abstraction" of the fraternity members' sorrow in the wake of the 1970 plane crash that killed 75 Marshall football players, coaches, community members and the flight crew.

When the property went up for sale, sisters Robin Howell and Jennifer Howell Pierson learned there were no concrete plans for the sculpture and began to make arrangements for it to be saved.

"We started right away when we saw it was for sale. The first step was contacting the Realtor who put us in contact with a Pi Kappa Alpha representative here in Huntington. He said the fraternity wanted to restore it but didn't have the funds to do it or means to get it done," Robin Howell said. "They've been willing to work with us on making it happen."

The effort began with a GoFundMe page to raise money for removing, restoring and relocating the structure — setting a goal of $15,000.

Mike "Goose" Sizemore of Mountain Artworks Studio in Athens, West Virginia, has been selected by the Howell family to do the restoration. He removed the sculpture Friday morning, moving it to his studio, where he plans to begin working to restore it to the original design, which will require sandblasting, reinforcing the structure and powder-coating.

Vernon Howell, the captain of the 1958 Marshall football team, also was present.

The Howells are attempting to secure a new site for the refurbished memorial, but if unsuccessful, Robin Howell said the sculpture must be returned to its original base because it is owned by the fraternity. She added they are hoping it finds a new home on or near Marshall's Huntington campus.

"We've been reaching out to different organizations at Marshall and have had contact with several of them, but no commitments yet," Howell said. "(The sculpture) is just too important to be put away in storage. We'd really like to keep it on campus."

The Marshall University communications office could not be reached for comment on the possibility of placing the sculpture on campus.

Donations can be made by visiting www.gofundme.com//marshall-football-memorial. The sisters say all funds raised will be used to repair and refurbish the sculpture and to remove and rebuild the base. Any additional funds raised beyond their goal of $15,000 will be donated to a Marshall University charity.


Bishop stops here during his WV tour
Catholics' new leader seeks to 'join people to God and one another'

HUNTINGTON — A little over two weeks ago, Mark Brennan was installed as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, which oversees all Catholic parishes in West Virginia.

Since he's a Boston native who's spent much of his clerical career in the Mid-Atlantic region, most recently as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, much of the Mountain State is new to the 72-year-old Brennan.

There's also much trust that needs to be repaired in his new diocese — he recognizes that — given the circumstances surrounding his predecessor, Michael Bransfield, who has since been banned from participating in Catholic ministries for allegations of sexual harassment and financial improprieties.

Brennan's hope is to be a visibly fresh start for West Virginia's Catholics.

"I think you really only really regain people's trust by showing them that you are trustworthy," Brennan said. "You do that by doing good things, you keep your word, and you engage in the good works of charity and justice as we're called by our faith in Christ."

That starts with meeting parishioners face-to-face. The bishop stopped in Huntington on Friday for the second time this week, having morning Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church, meeting with students at the adjacent schools, then visiting Our

Lady of Fatima Parish School in the afternoon. Brennan had stopped at both St. Peter Claver Catholic Church and Sacred Heart Catholic Church earlier this week during the southern leg of a statewide tour.

On Thursday, Brennan traveled through West Virginia's coalfields, stopping in Logan, Williamson, Madison and Chapmanville — all with much smaller parishes than those in the northern half of the state, but nonetheless vibrant, he said.

"I've never experienced congregations so small but with very intense parish life," Brennan said. "That was eye-opening and very good for me to see."

His first impressions of the state, like many seeing it for the first time, is the physical beauty of the hills and hollows. Brennan has also seen "a lot of potential" in the church's role in West Virginia — in the opioid epidemic, for example.

"We need to get across to people that they don't need that to be happy people; that you can have a fulfilling life loving God and loving your neighbor," Brennan said. "You know, the root of the word 'religion' (in Latin) is 'religio,' which means to bind or tie together.

"I think the essential role of religion is to join people to God and to one another."

At Our Lady of Fatima, in every classroom he entered, Brennan encountered a room full of students with wide eyes and awestruck grins. A bishop's visit is a rarity, and even the kindergartners knew it, Principal Micah O'Connor said.

By comparison, Bransfield never visited the school in his 14 years as bishop, and only stopped by the church for a handful of confirmations.

"It's an honor to have him here, and it's very positive for our Catholic community, for our students and for our Fatima family," O'Connor said. "Even the students know that this doesn't happen very often, so there's been a lot of excitement going around the school."

O'Connor got a sense of the new bishop's personality over lunch Friday, describing him as personable and down-to-earth, talking just as easily about personal matters as clerical ones. He preferred being called simply "Bishop Brennan" rather than the traditional "Your Excellency," enjoys pizza and isn't afraid to sit on the floor to talk to children.

"He's a very kind, warm, loving man, and I think he's wanting to restore how we are all about faith, leadership and Catholic community," O'Connor said.

Brennan's chosen motto is "Living the Truth in Love."

"I think you really only really regain people's trust by ... doing good things, you keep your word, and you engage in the good works of charity and justice as we're called by our faith in Christ."

Mark Brennan

Bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston


Cabell Midland students' success in STEM competition recognized

ONA — West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee visited Cabell Midland High School on Friday to congratulate students on their success in a statewide advanced manufacturing competition.

Cabell Midland is one of two schools being recognized for excelling at the 2018 Maker-Minded, a digital platform that challenges students to hone their skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The goal of the program is to get young adults thinking about entering the manufacturing industry, which is projected to create 3.5 million new jobs over the next decade.

Gee participated in an assembly at the school, telling students that Cabell Midland produces a lot of successful WVU graduates.

He also recalled his career, having served as WVU president in the 1980s before becoming president at the University of Colorado. He went on to be

president of Ohio State University, Brown University and Vanderbilt University before retiring to teach at Harvard.

When the opportunity arose to return as president of WVU, Gee said he jumped at the chance. He wanted to detail his career so students understand they don't have to leave home to find decent employment.

"I want all of you to stay here. I wasn't smart enough to stay here; I moved around," Gee said. "We're going to make sure we create an educational system and have staying power."

For the MakerMinded program, students completed various activities with point values. Cabell Midland joined Tygarts Valley Middle/High School in Mill Creek, West Virginia, as the two schools with the most accumulated points.

Activities included job shadowing an industry professional, spending an hour coding and participating in a robotics competition.

For succeeding in the program, Cabell Midland High School will receive new robotics equipment to boost its STEM curriculum.

Friday's event was also new for the school: It was one of the first assemblies held to congratulate student academic achievement. Students said they felt as if academic success was taking a back seat to athletic success and pep rallies, said Kelly Daniels, the school's associate principal.

"We never really thought about that, unfortunately. We didn't think about what we were doing and how it was being perceived by them," Daniels said. "We are working on that."

Daniels promised students that Friday's academic assembly would not be the last.

MakerMinded launched in West Virginia in the fall of 2018 in partnership with LIFT and the U.S. Department of Defense's National Defense Education program. Its goal is to inspire more middle and high school students to consider advanced manufacturing careers.

Programs like MakerMinded help equip the next generation with the technical skills in demand at West Virginia's more than 1,000 manufacturers, which currently have more than 47,000 employees, according to the program's description.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.