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The Fertility Doctor’s Secret Children

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As a fertility doctor in Indiana in the ’80s, Donald Cline helped bring many children into the world, though no one knew he was donating his own sperm to the cause. While this is clearly immoral, as Sarah Zhang reports at The Atlantic, Cline was only prosecuted for obstruction of justice — for attempting to cover up his crimes — because there is no law in Indiana or in many other states that prohibits a physician from using his own sperm in fertility treatment.

The people now sending her messages said they were Cline’s secret biological children. They said their parents had also been treated by Cline. They said that decades ago, without ever telling his patients, Cline had used his own sperm to impregnate women who came to him for artificial insemination.

According to her DNA, Woock, too, was one of his children.

In the time since Woock’s half siblings got in touch with her, they have broken the news dozens more times. The children Cline fathered with his patients now number at least 48, confirmed by DNA tests from 23andMe or Ancestry.com. (Several have a twin or other siblings who likely share the same biological father but haven’t been tested.) They keep in touch through a Facebook group. New siblings pop up in waves, timed perversely after holidays like Christmas or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, when DNA tests are given as well-intentioned gifts.

Like Woock, many of her new siblings learned that they were donor-conceived from a DNA test. (Woock’s parents eventually told her they’d gone to Cline for donor insemination, but they’d had no idea he was the donor.) And in their shock, many also thought the initial messages explaining the situation were part of a scam. But eventually they found news clips laying out that, yes, this doctor deceived his patients, and yes, he used his own sperm, and yes, this is really happening.

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How the Pacheco Family Pivoted From Baking Bread to Burying the Bodies

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Looking for more reading on MS-13 in El Salvador? Check out The Redemption of MS-13 by Danny Gold.

As a result of gang violence between MS-13 and Barrio 18, El Salvador has the highest murder rate per capita on the planet, “enough for the World Health Organization to classify it as an epidemic.” But even in senseless death, there is profit to be made. At Bloomberg Businessweek, Matthew Bremner reports on how the entrepreneurial have “abandoned their bakeries, butcher shops, and sugar cane fields to enter the funeral industry.”

The Pachecos are undertakers working in El Salvador, a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates. Together they’ve embalmed more than 500 bodies in less than two years. They’ve sewn together dismembered limbs, reconstructed caved-in heads with inflatable plastic balls, and embalmed cadavers so putrefied that their flesh appeared to be melting. But although the Pachecos are relatively new to the funeral business, they grew up around death. They’re from Jucuapa, a small city of about 18,000 people and about 30 coffin factories. Manufacturing the “wooden pajamas,” as some locals call them, has become such big business in Jucuapa that families have abandoned their bakeries, butcher shops, and sugar cane fields to enter the funeral industry.

Cárdenas, like several other coffin factory owners around Jucuapa, acknowledges discomfort with profiting from his country’s biggest problem, but says it’s the only thing keeping him fed. “If all of a sudden the gangs were to stop killing, our business would be very affected,” he says, and besides, 16 competitors ensure he’s making a profit of only $10 to $20 per económico. “We’re not rich here.”

No matter how many bodies he’s embalmed, Carlos Stanley says, he often struggles to believe that the lump of skin and cartilage he works on had, in fact, lived; that he or she had made people laugh, had woken up in the morning and eaten breakfast, vomited, or had sex. Staring down at the bloated, ashen corpse, he sees life as so improbable sometimes. Then again, his own path seems that way, too. He pauses his work with the scalpel and nods toward a large, dusty oven. “That’s what we used to do,” he says.

Before the bodies, the Pachecos traded in bread. Their father, Carlos Sr., had run a bakery on the same site for decades. When the family struggled to make ends meet in 2010, as gangs extorted local businesses for protection money, it was the middle son, Carlos Humberto, who suggested starting a coffin factory. With the forests nearby there’d be no shortage of wood, and the closure of a massive factory called Funeraria Flores a few years earlier had left the town full of expert laborers who could use the work. And, of course, there was the steady supply of murder victims, including four of Carlos Sr.’s own bakery employees. The Pachecos closed the bakery and started knocking out coffins.

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Diabetes in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley: ‘The Inevitable Inheritance’

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Residents of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas lose limbs and appendages to diabetes-related amputation at a rate 50 percent higher than anywhere else in the United States. So many people there have diabetes, that “In the Valley, there’s a fatalism associated with the disease, often considered an inevitable inheritance.” While losing a limb is horrible under any circumstances, as Sophie Novack reports at Texas Observer, the greatest tragedy is that because the vast majority of diabetes-related amputations are preventable with education and early intervention, it doesn’t have to be this way.

So he waited. Maybe it would pass.

Finally, the smell got unbearable. Like road kill in the hot South Texas sun. A couple of months after the blister appeared, Zamora drove 2 miles to Valley Baptist Medical Center, where doctors quickly diagnosed him: His diabetes, uncontrolled for years, had blocked blood flow to his toe, preventing it from healing. What began as a minor blister was now a life-threatening emergency. Zamora says the doctors sent him home with medication to treat the wound, but a few weeks later he went back to the ER, where he had two toes on his left foot amputated to prevent gangrene from spreading up his leg.

It’s a story told over and over again in the Valley: You don’t know you have diabetes until it’s severe, because you rarely see a doctor. You get a cut or blister but ignore it, because diabetes-related nerve damage means you can’t feel it, or you’re too busy working or taking care of your family to go to the doctor. The wound gets infected. By the time you get help, the infection is so bad that amputation is necessary. You can’t afford proper care, so sometimes the wound gets infected again. You get another amputation.

…amputations are important indicators that something went wrong with diabetes management, because they’re generally preventable in patients who can access diabetes education and primary care.

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Maintaining Mental Health as a Rescuer in the Grand Tetons

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As a climbing ranger in Grand Teton National Park, Drew Hardesty is one of those charged with rescuing lost and injured hikers, runners, and climbers. When things are good, he’s putting his life on the line, dangling 50 feet below a helicopter, harnessed to a survivor. When things get bad, he’s one of the ones who brings home the bodies. When we think of outdoor adventure gone wrong, we often think of the victims — those who died on a climb, on a trek, on a run. At Outside, Hardesty shares a little about how deeply death on the mountains affects the rescuers and how they cope with repeated trauma.

He had been on his share of body recoveries. “Sure, man,” he said. “I get it, I’ve been there. We’ve all been there.”

“This one was different,” I said. “Two women on the ledge. It was obvious they had injuries incompatible with life. We had to climb up through blood in the chimney to find the last gal. I’ve picked up plenty of others—friends even—but this one felt … different.”

Karl Marlantes describes conversations like these in his 2011 book What It Is Like to Go to War. Marlantes was a young Marine lieutenant in Vietnam and noted that none of his men ever wanted to talk to the chaplain, because the chaplain had never seen what they had seen. But another soldier, the sergeant, was in his third tour in Vietnam. And one by one, the men would steal back to his tent to talk.

Mental health is like physical health. Both can suffer trauma. Each can take weeks, months, or years to recover from. Sometimes we never recover at all. Mental trauma can affect different people on the same rescue or recovery in very different ways. We may walk through terrain where we conducted a body recovery or see someone in a crowd who you’d swear was the person from the body bag. Bob Irvine, a Teton climbing ranger from 1963 to 1995, says he can’t walk through the range without seeing places where people have died. On the flip side, another climbing ranger, George Montopoli, who began his summer Teton climbing career in 1977, told me not long ago that for every place he sees a body recovery, he sees another place where we made a rescue. For a time, I too could only look at the mountains and see death and injury. I know countless widows around these mountains.

The alpinist Will Gadd recently told me: “If you only see death in the mountains, then you’ll never go there.” I know this is how we are wired. We embrace things that nourish us and give us joy, and we avoid things that cause pain and sadness. But the mountains bring about joy, and they bring about sadness. They remind us of the eternal link between life and death—we can’t have one without the other. Understanding this connection is fundamental to our own resiliency. So is talking with others who hold similar experiences. This is often referred to as peer-to-peer counseling. Another crucial part of the path is finally shedding the stigma of mental health and suffering.

In the Tetons, at the end of a rescue or body recovery, we’d often wander over to the porch at the large cabin in the meadow just south of Jenny Lake. There’d be a bottle or two on the porch, but often it would go unopened. We’d look past one another, tell a joke about death, look up at Teewinot, listen to Cottonwood Creek and the rustle of wind through the leaves. Sometimes we’d tell stories. What was important was that each of us had been there; we all, in another way, had blood on our hands—we had all shared the same experiences. While always offered, we didn’t need the chaplain. We needed each other.

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The Beautiful Politics of the Backyard Barter System

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In this moving installment of her Catapult column, Backyard Politics, Christine H. Lee recounts how her prolific chickens and their eggs spawned a chain of generosity that helped her to discover a new appreciation for the good of humanity and to rekindle a tenderness in herself — one she never knew she needed. Lee discovers equilibrium in sharing her farm’s bounty and in the beauty of simple, impromptu barter arrangements.

It all started with chickens.

When our flock of chickens came of age on our farm and began laying in earnest, we were inundated with eggs. Chickens ovulate approximately every twenty-five hours (yes, a chicken egg is that kind of an egg). If there is a rooster, the egg is fertilized. If there is no rooster, the egg remains unfertilized. Either way, that means a chicken at peak fertility lays five to six eggs per week. Also, now you know a chicken egg is essentially its period.

We had six chickens, so that meant almost thirty-six eggs per week. I should say: We do not eat anywhere near thirty-six eggs per week.

As someone who finds it hard—so so so hard—to ask for help, because it makes me feel vulnerable, weak, and in debt, which in turn has historically led to being abused, bartering is a safe exchange. Bartering equalizes exchange. There is no counting the change, because there is no change to give. Bartering involves consent; the exchange of two items must be deemed acceptable by agreement between two traders. You need. I have. You have, I need. You want. I want. We both want.

Here’s the thing: I thought the farm would yield fruit and produce and some time with fresh air.

But nature is never obedient. It spills over.

The bartering and consent and ensuing community became a part of my life. I thought the farm would be a place to sequester myself and lick my wounds—recover from a divorce, recover from postpartum depression, and spend time in new motherhood with a backdrop of fruit and vegetables.

But what it did was bring community to me. A community I didn’t think I wanted or needed. But I did want it. I did need it. The community helped me recover—more than recover; it brought me a whole new model for living.

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Choosing Amputation Over Pain

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Morgan Stickney was a US Olympic swimming hopeful — until uncontrollable pain after a seemingly innocuous foot injury forced her to consume opioids to the point where she could no longer focus on her studies. In this story at the New York Times, David Waldstein reports on how hope came out of tragedy: the ground-breaking leg amputation surgery Stickney had maintains the critical connection between muscles, nerves, and the brain that could allow for greater success with robotic limbs currently under development. The surgical research and breakthroughs were funded in part by the Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation — an organization started by the family of Gillian Reny, one of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.

Named the Ewing amputation, after Jim Ewing, the initial patient, the procedure is thought to be the first significant change to amputations in hundreds of years, Carty said.

During standard below-the-knee amputations, the muscles in the back and front of the lower leg, which naturally work in tandem, are shorn of their connection. In the new procedure, Carty uses material from the discarded portion of the limb to reconnect those tissues and the nerves that serve them. Doing so preserves the natural connection of the two muscles and the communication with the brain, he said, and, in most cases so far, allows them to work in concert as before.

Carty said he had been thinking of a better way to do amputations when the Boston Marathon bombings occurred in 2013. He and his colleagues treated dozens of victims after the attack, many of whom required complex reconstruction of their lower limbs. The family of one of the victims that day, Gillian Reny, donated $2 million to establish the Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation, which has helped finance Carty’s research, in collaboration with Hugh Herr, the M.I.T. scientist who is developing the robotic ankle and foot that Stickney and other amputees have tested in his lab. The Department of Defense has since provided an additional $6 million to help develop more sophisticated approaches to amputation.

Tony Stickney, Morgan’s father, initially opposed it, and even tried to dissuade his daughter as late as the day of the operation. But she was resolute.

“She wanted to be out of pain, and I didn’t know what else to do as a dad,” he said. “I knew we were losing her to the drugs. Dr. Carty’s surgery provided some hope.”

During the operation, Carty discovered that one of Stickney’s metatarsal bones — the five long bones in the foot — had died, probably as a result of the earlier staph infection. What he saw confirmed that any additional procedures to salvage the foot would have failed. Stickney’s decision to amputate only hastened the inevitable.

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‘What Happened to You While You Were Gone?’

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As she recalls a trip to Peru, the body of a mummified girl sacrificed for the safety of the Incans over 500 years ago, and the frustrating neurological condition that steals her memory and strength, Jacqueline Alnes mines the topography of female identity and the stereotypes that erode our self image. Read her essay at Guernica.

Jacquline Alnes regularly contributes reading lists to Longreads. They’re worth your time.

Here is what is known: In the beginning, there is a runner, capable and strong. In photographs, her thighs striate with muscle on the down step. Brown-blonde hair in French braids, she waves and smiles in each image. But on a mountainside in Peru, her legs give way beneath her. Rushed to North Carolina, where she attends university, her body crumples again and again, surrendering to a neurological abnormality.

I like to dream that my body first failed me while I was abroad, but really, my body started to become enigmatic during my freshman year of college, two years before landing in Lima. At eighteen, after living a remarkably healthy life, I fainted one day in my dormitory. When I woke, the world around me turned into a surrealist painter’s vision: dressers spinning toward the white tiled ceiling, bed wobbling in my sight. That day marked the separation between the old me and a new girl. When I entered the doctor’s office, I became a body. A set of symptoms. A story someone else told.

To take up residence in my body again, I write. I struggle, over and over again, to compose a whole narrative from the loose threads of my own history. If only I could pin down the meaning of my body’s hidden illness, maybe I could make a shape of my body, carve a smooth statuette to hold in my palm. Young woman experiences disorienting neurological illness but emerges as a writer; Division I runner collapses, loses running for years, but returns and reconnects with her body; university student once bullied by teammates learns to be vulnerable once again. But none of these stories are completely true.

Within studies of history, there is room for shape-shifting. This gives me comfort. Perhaps instead of considering my body as broken artifact, I can think of myself as palimpsest, something influenced, though not overtaken, by those who have studied my internal waves, revealed my fragilities, given the gift of care to my body, lent their voices when mine could not be coaxed into coherence. I imagine rewritten lines, whole memories, and erasure. The doctor’s notes scrawled across my thighs, my mother’s voice loping across my forehead, song of my lost memories erased from my mouth. Autobiographies written neatly on my palms.

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Written On the Body: One Family’s History

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In sharing the story of each of her tattoos and their meaning in this piece at ProPublica, journalist Adriana Gallardo — who was once an undocumented immigrant from Mexico — recounts her family’s hard-won luck at life in America, a luck they earned by back-breaking janitorial work and sheer determination, toil that allowed Gallardo to become a journalist to “revisit difficult stories in complicated places.”

On my left arm is a garbage can with a few peonies and a calla lily tossed inside. When I shut my eyes and think about my childhood, I see my mother pushing a loud, circular, plastic, gray trash can on wheels. Our family business took on anything. From factories to the YMCA, churches to strip-mall office spaces — you name it, my parents were up for cleaning it. I grew up chasing behind my mother and that garbage can.

Owning a business was never in the plan. My parents were young immigrants raising a family in the early 1990s just outside of Chicago. When my dad’s boss was ready to move on, he offered them a chance to take over the business on a generous payment plan. They took a gamble and the janitors became business owners. I was 6 and my brother was 2.

After I returned to the border I began to ask questions. My parents’ answers were exactly what I was afraid to hear. I did not want to know that they got to the border without a plan. That it was on my mother’s insistence that we all come along. That it took them a full week of door-knocking to find anyone who could smuggle my mother with a baby and a toddler. That it was February, it was cold and we didn’t bring many clothes.

Once I started listening, once I traded the half-memory and self-constructed story, when I bothered to really look, the details seemed to arrive as if I had invited them.

Just after Christmas, I complained about a meal and mom’s memory jumped back to those days at the border. She tells me we ate the same street tacos for every meal that week because that was all they could afford. That I complained and it broke her heart, but that was all they had.

I asked about where we stayed. She said it was a dingy and dark hotel with no running hot water. There, my brother got very sick from the cold. When we talk about how cold she remembers it was, she casually mentions she was breastfeeding all along this trip. A detail I never considered given my brother was just a few months old. The image of my mother breastfeeding a sick baby in the cold, with nowhere to go, drained any last drop of romance from our story.

I became a journalist to revisit difficult stories in complicated places. To labor on stories worth telling because they carried a truth we might be ignoring. To dig, find and hopefully do justice in the re-telling.

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A Pot of Gold At Age 18, Basically

CHEROKEE, NC - MAY 11: A rainbow over the Harrah's Cherokee Casino & Resort is viewed on May 11, 2018 in Cherokee, North Carolina. Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

Thanks to huge casino profits, the youth of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians receive a payment they call “The Big Money” at age 18 after graduating from high school. Payments — which were as small as $600 when the program started in 1996 — are now into six figures. At Topic, Sheyahshe Littledave reports on the opportunities and problems that come with large lump-sum payments and what the kids do with their windfall.

Tyra Maney, 22
Received $109,000 in 2016
Purchased a Ford Focus for $42,500; season tickets to the Georgia Swarm, a professional lacrosse team, for $1,600; a Prada bag for $1,100; and a traditional costume for the Miss Cherokee pageant for $1,000. She put $35,000 in savings.

Tyra paid for her dream car—a Ford Focus—in full, along with a year’s worth of car insurance. Then she bought a small Prada bag, bright white with a tassel, and clothing for the Miss Cherokee pageant. “I didn’t have any traditional clothes,” she explains, “so I used maybe about $1,000 or so and I bought moccasins and a basket, and I got my wool set [of traditional Cherokee clothing].”

Standing alongside the banks of the Oconaluftee River, which runs through the Smoky Mountains and ends at Fontana Lake, some 30-plus miles from Cherokee, Tyra reflects on conversations she had with her peers over what they would do when they got their big money. “A lot of people in my friend group were like, ‘I’m gonna be smart, and I’m gonna maybe buy this and then put the rest up,’ ” says the 22-year-old, who works as a retail associate at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, in downtown Cherokee. “Maybe 20 percent of us actually did that, and the rest were like, ‘Oh, I have money, so I’m gonna use it.’ And they blew it.”

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A Wealth of Perspective for a Free Ride, Now and Again

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Looking for more excellent perspectives on aging? Check out our Fine Lines series, edited by Sari Botton.

When Megan Kimble moved to Austin, Texas, she started to volunteer with Capital City Village, a nonprofit that allows people to age in their homes by connecting members with those that can do repairs and offer rides. Simply wanting to truly know her new city and its inhabitants a little better, Kimble discovered that spending time with those far older than her offered not only new friendships, but valuable perspective unavailable anywhere else at any price. Read the story at CityLab.

I’m trying to get to know Austin—to understand this city beyond its carefully curated twang and charm. And to do that, I’m looking beyond my immediate contemporaries.

I struggled to build a new community for myself in Austin. I drove in crushing traffic to eat tacos from trailers, sit on patios under twinkle lights, and stand in bars watching live music. But sometimes it felt like I was performing life in Austin instead of living it.

I imagine being on the flipside of my life. If, at 32, I have just finished the first third of my life, what will it feel like when I am beginning the last third? I like talking to people whose major life decisions have already happened—who they’ll marry, whether or not to have kids, where they’ll live, what they’ll do there. Over the months, as I become un-partnered and start “doing the computer dating,” spending time with these more seasoned humans offers a perspective that is grounding, calming. The decisions that feel so fraught now will be remembered differently in 30 years. They remind me to take myself less seriously—to relish rather than fear all that I still don’t know.

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