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Wounded war veterans fight new battles after returning home

By Alyssa Zickenberg

It was a normal day of patrolling for Army Specialist Joe Gracia and his fellow National Guardsmen, until a hidden roadside bomb exploded beneath his Humvee sending him 30 feet into the air. Moments after the explosion, Gracia lay in the dirt unconscious and not breathing, both of his legs nearly shattered. Those few minutes changed Gracia’s life forever, his right leg so badly injured it required an above the knee amputation shortly after the attack.

Amputee Veteran Spc. Joe Gracia after leg amputation

Spc. Joe Gracia is honored for his service after loosing his leg in Afghanistan from a roadside bomb in 2007.

After that fateful August day in Afghanistan, 2007, Gracia spent the next two years in Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. Gracia, who had also sustained a traumatic brain injury in the explosion, underwent months of surgeries to fix his broken bones with metal plates and screws. He had severe breaks in his left leg, a shattered heel, broken tibia and fibula, and a compound fracture of his femur.

Despite the extensive physical damage Gracia had endured, he never let it injure his spirit.

“When the doctors woke me up and told me they were going to have to amputate my leg, I was just kind of like, ‘OK, I mean hey, what are you going to do about it,’” Gracia said. “I decided then and there, that it wasn’t going to hold me back.”

Gracia’s story is a reality the military community knows all too well, and a fate that more than 1,200 military amputees share. Nico Marcolongo, a Marine Corps veteran and director of the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s Operation Rebound program, helps numerous San Diego veterans overcome their injuries physically and mentally.

“These men and women are in the prime of their lives,” Marcolongo said. “They’re out there leading Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and all of a sudden in a millisecond they find themselves missing their limbs, blinded, traumatic brain injury, and you know, spinal cord injury and they are taken away from their team.”

War on Terror has taken a toll

The population of military amputees is growing and has reached an all time high after the more than 10 years of war with the Middle East, according to the most current data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“There are more amputees currently going through our military medical system than there were at the height of the Iraqi conflict,” Marcolongo said.  “Most of these men and women coming back are missing two or three limbs and they’re in the hospitals for about 2 years.”

Each amputee has their own story but together they face many of the same struggles of learning to adapt to their new life missing a limb.

Since the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001, thousands of servicemen and women have been deployed overseas to fight the war on terror. The battles in Iraq and Afghanistan consist of three main operations: Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

As of Sept. 30, 2011, these operations had resulted in a national population of 1,288 living service members with major traumatic amputations, 838 of whom are now veterans — the rest remained on active duty. The severity of amputation differs from each person, depending on their injuries. Amputees are classified according to the type of amputation they received, whether it was a single or multiple limb amputation and the location of the amputation on that limb.

Eric McElvenny, who had one leg amputated below the knee, said his injury isn’t as severe as many.

“It’s like a paper cut compared to some of the other guys,” McElvenny said.  “If anything, I have daily inconveniences, but for the most part feel pretty back to normal.”

Some military men and women are not so fortunate however. Out of the military amputee population, 19 service members have three or four amputated limbs, according a review from the Department of  Veteran Affairs, published on March 8, 2012.

Veterans like Marine Corporal Todd Nicely, who is one of five quadruple amputee combat vets, must overcome even greater challenges of recovery and adaptation to their new lives.

Long road to recovery

The road to recovery after losing a limb can be a long and hard battle for injured veterans, whether they are reintegrating back into society, coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or finding a way to support themselves or provide for their families. Besides the obvious physical challenges, these veterans now face a multitude of emotional, economic and health challenges.

Amputee veterans return home with more than just their initial injury; they are also much more prone to other diseases and complications. After leaving active duty, more than 80 percent of amputees had diagnoses of mental disorders, diseases of the nervous system and sense organs, and diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissues, according the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Additionally, more Iraq and Afghanistan amputee veterans are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress Disorder, 64 percent, and traumatic brain injuries, 41 percent, than non-amputee veterans, 20 percent of whom are diagnosed with PTSD and 6 percent with brain injuries.

Frustrated with the VA

For disabled veterans, awaiting disability benefits has become a whole new war. The VA is currently experiencing a backlog of more than 860,000 disability claims as it tries to switch over to a new electronic system as well as keep up with the increasing influx of filed claims.

A San Diego prosthetist at RGP Prosthetic Research Center, Patrick Bridges, says the VA does a very poor job of actually helping the veterans they are supposed to serve. His facility is authorized to help veterans, even though it is not VA related, but many veterans don’t realize they have more choices than the VA.

“They don’t understand that they can go where they want to go,” Bridges said. “There’s a reason why only 17 percent of veterans in California use their benefits. It’s because it’s not an easy task. They get disenchanted, they’re made to feel second class citizens, they’re made to think that they can’t get what they need.”

California, and San Diego in particular, is one of the most backlogged locations and its veterans are experiencing the longest wait for answers regarding their disability inquiries.

According to an analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the average San Diego veteran waits 295 days for the government to respond to his or her claim. More than 29,000 veterans in San Diego are awaiting a response to their disability claims.

San Diego may be one of the slowest markets but it is not unique. Across the nation veterans are becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation.

Army Captain Jonathan Pruden, an amputee, said the process seems like suffering another injury.

“Despite the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs’ best efforts, oftentimes the transition feels like you’ve been thrown off a cliff,” said Pruden, who lost his leg in Iraq.

Former Marine, Adam Fields, calls the wait “a slap in the face.” He has been waiting since November 2010 for a decision on his traumatic brain injury benefits claim. Fields’ frustration is a sentiment shared by thousands of his fellow military members who are not being helped. And the future doesn’t look much better.

Even if San Diego’s VA were to receive no more new claims, it would still take 440 days to respond to all of its current veterans, according to the CIR analysis.

Organizations step in to help

Across the nation various charities and organizations have developed to address the needs of those who were seriously wounded during combat, and to help fill the gaps of government assistance.

The Wounded Warrior Project began in 2003 as a program to provide comfort items to wounded service members.Today it has grown into a complete rehabilitative network helping tens of thousands of Wounded Warriors each year with fundraising, family support services and economic empowerment.

“Wounded Warrior Project programs serve warriors with every type of injury – from the physical to the invisible wounds of war,” said Sandra Jones, a publicist for the organization.

For the veterans of San Diego, the Challenged Athletes Foundation provides an outlet to regain confidence and independence through sports.

In 2004 the foundation established its Operation Rebound program for military personnel, veterans and first responders with permanent physical disabilities. Program director Nico Marcolongo said the program was created as a network for amputee veterans to return to an active and fulfilling life and to be part of a team again.

“Its something that’s going to be with us for a long time,” Marcolongo said. “Their legs aren’t growing back… So with this program, we wanted to be there for them for years to come.”

Since its inception, the program has supported more than 1,100 athletes, and awarded grants to more than 450.

“What we tell them is you’re going to do all things you used to do, and things you never dreamed of doing,” Marcolongo said.


Athletes and others experience mental growth while recovering from serious injuries

Injuries are a common part of life.

From world-class athletes to working-class citizens, everyone is vulnerable to physical damage on their body, and nearly everyone experiences some form of an injury in their lifetime.

Similar injuries can occur to different people, but rehabilitation processes often vary depending upon the goals of the patient. In other words, a college football player with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) will undergo a different recovery regimen than a non-athlete who suffers the same injury.

Although the rehabilitation will likely deviate among different people, the lessons learned throughout the process tend to be similar.

Athletes face a grueling, fast-paced rehabilitation

In a physical sport like football, injuries occur regularly. Because of the high injury rate, teams are filled with an immense amount of depth, allowing backup players to fill in when another is forced out due to an injury.

Miner tapes an ankle

Physical therapist and athletic trainer Allison Miner tapes an ankle (Photo Credit: Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Dominique Sandifer, a senior wide receiver at San Diego State University, found himself out of action after he tore his ACL in practice in the spring of 2011. He was forced to undergo surgery, and faced a recovery process estimated to take 6 to 9 months.

“It was really tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel when I first started,” said Sandifer, who is healthy again and playing in his senior season at SDSU. “I wanted to be back so much sooner, but there were a lot of limitations and I had to be patient. I matured a lot during it all, though, and it made me a better person in the end.”

Allison Miner, the physical therapist who guided Sandifer through his rehabilitation process, saw the challenges that he faced.

“It can be become boring and monotonous when they are in here everyday, and they want to do more but they can’t,” Miner said. “It’s a constant challenge to keep rehab interesting, and it’s tough for them mentally because they can’t do the things they could do before.”

One common difference between athletes and non-athletes recovering from injuries is the frequency of workouts. According to Minor, athletes typically do some form of rehabilitation 5 to 7 days a week, while non-athletes may only see a physical therapist once or twice a week.

College football player Paul Pitts talks about his rehabilitation process after injuring his knee

Non-athletes seek a pain-free life

On a typical day at the San Diego Sports Medicine Physical Therapy Center, several different types of people are seen.

Serious athletes, casual runners, and individuals who have never played a sport in their life can be found working with physical therapists, hoping to recover from all kinds of injuries.

San Diego Sports Medicine

Both athletes and non-athletes can be found at San Diego Sports Medicine (Photo Credit: Hunter Hewitt)

According to physical therapist Liz Stelter, different approaches are taken when dealing with athletes and non-athletes.

“Initially, we give our patients an evaluation to see what their long-term goals are,” Stelter said. “Some want to play professional basketball, and some want go for a casual jog on Sundays. We are usually more aggressive with athletes, while we take it slower with regular people.”

For the non-athlete, the pace is much more relaxed when recovering from a serious injury. They are able to take their time throughout the process and focus on small details to avoid lifelong complications.

Athletes, however, want to be back as soon as possible. This might mean chronic pain or other issues further down the road, but as long as they are back in playing form in a timely manner, those are of little importance at the time.

Steve Tanaka talks about his rehabilitation process after having surgery on his shoulder

Athletes and non-athletes both grow in the recovery process

Some athletes are forced to accept that playing competitively won’t happen again. Colin Shumate, a former San Diego State football player who had his career cut short due to a knee injury, saw the rehabilitation process change once it was determined that he would no longer play

“It was still challenging, but the process slowed down a lot,” he said. “They had me take my time, because we were now focused on getting my knee back to function good as a normal person rather than as a football player.”

Shumate underwent multiple knee surgeries during his career – the most recent of which was a microfracture surgery to repair cartilage damage. No matter the extent of the surgery, he saw similarities in the recovery processes.

“The challenges were still the same,” he said. “It’s discouraging, and you realize it’s going to be a long process. You want to do so much right away, but your body won’t let you.”

Returning from a serious injury is a demanding process, and the body may never be the same, but an incredible amount of mental toughness and perseverance can be gained during the recovery. Although it is often painful and tiring, it can help someone, whether athlete or non-athlete, grow tremendously as a person.

“It becomes a mental test everyday,” Shumate said. “But once you get back to normal you prove to yourself how mentally tough you can be. After going through it all, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do.”

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With a limited budget, the Padres do what they can to put fans in the stands

By Aki Franklin

After a mid-season comeback that gave them hope for a playoff bid, the San Diego Padres’ fire burned out resulting in another losing season. The Padres ended up finishing fourth in their division behind the World Series Champions San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Now, the Padres are in the process of rebuilding a team that will draw crowds on one of the lowest budgets in baseball.

Petco Park is located in the heart of San Diego's downtown district.

Petco Park is home to the Padres and located in the heart of San Diego’s downtown district. Photo by Aki Franklin

The Padres have the second smallest team salary in all of major league baseball. With a team budget of around $55 million, compared to $117 million budget for the champion Giants, they are at a greater disadvantage to nearly every other team in the league when acquiring players.

“The biggest thing in building a team when you have a limited payroll is signing cost-control players,” said Alex Slater, a professional scout for the Padres.

Slater says a cost-control player is one who is just entering the majors and can be signed for the lowest possible amount. Signing cost-control players allows teams in the major league to sign young athletes for three years at the league minimum of $480,000 a season. But after 6 years in the league, players are eligible for free agency if they have not signed a contract for the next season, according to the Major League Baseball Players Association.

“It’s difficult for the Padres to keep players after that 6 years,” Slater said. “Players hit their prime in their late 20’s and early 30’s and can demand bigger contracts.”

Padres’ revenue dwarfed by top-paying clubs

How much a team can spend on its players depends on how much money the organization makes in a year.

Television rights can bolster a team’s income by a substantial amount. The Padres signed a deal with Fox Sports last year that will double their previous income from TV rights. According to Padres’ Business Analyst Eitan Alton, the Padres brought in $30 million in their first year of their contract with Fox Sports. Alton said they were making only $15 million a year while contracted with Cox.

By comparison, the New York Yankees partly own their broadcasting network, the YES Network. According to Forbes, the YES Network raked in $400 million this past year; a vast difference in comparison to the Padres’ TV revenue, and nearly the net worth of the entire Padres’ organization.

Petco Park Fireworks

Petco Park had several fireworks shows this year accompanied by a musical soundtrack. Photo by Aki Franklin

The biggest source of revenue for the Padres is season ticket sales, according to Rob Arnold, Supervisor of Event Operations. He says a large factor in driving ticket sales is having a winning team. The Padres had only four games this season with an attendance of 90 percent or more. In contrast, the champion Giants sold out or had an attendance of 90 percent or more for each of their 81 home games this season.

“People like a winner. If you don’t win, people don’t like it,” Arnold said.

Unfortunately for the Padres, they have not made it to the playoffs since 2006, and have never won a World Series Championship in their team’s history. This translates to their below-average ticket sales compared to the rest of the league. According to The Sports Business Journal, the Padres sold 2.12 million tickets this year, or about 378,000 less than the league average.

Aside from winning, another way the Padres and other ballparks try to fill seats is by enticing their fans with free giveaways such as jerseys, bobbleheads, or even a fireworks show.

Service extending beyond the ballpark

Although the Padres are not a franchise known for winning championships, they have built a reputation for providing a great experience and environment for the fans and their clients.

“I think people keep coming back to Petco because the staff and people who work for the Padres are trained to be very positive and happy and friendly and accommodate the fans as well as we can,” said Lexi Shapiro, an event crew member for the Padres. “And it doesn’t hurt that Petco Park is a beautiful building located right on the harbor.”

Shapiro has worked for the Padres for the past 3 years as a member of the Padres Events Operations. She says in addition to working baseball games, the event crew assists in the many non-baseball events hosted by Petco Park.

“During events people come to us to fix problems,” Shapiro said. “We are the henchmen for the clients and the event coordinators.”

The Padres’ budget for ballpark operations is more than $1 million, according to Arnold. He says this money covers departments like Shapiro’s, maintenance of the park, the cleaning staff, field maintenance, and more: all of the moving parts that help Petco Park operate.

“A million bucks doesn’t seem like a lot to pay for all of this,” Arnold said. “But it’s actually one of the biggest budgets in the major league, and allows us to offer the service and experience that we do.”

Aside from working games and events, the Padres offer their employees opportunities throughout the year to give back and volunteer their time and service to the city of San Diego. One of their more recent events was the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless.

The Padres give their employees many opportunities throughout the year to volunteer their time and service to less fortunate communites and individuals throughout the year.

These people who volunteer their time throughout the year are the same people who interact with the fans during games. According to Arnold, these are the types they look for adding new employees to the Padres. 

“We’re all out there on the front lines working with fans, our faces are the ones they see,” Arnold said. “It’s key that we have people who genuinely are happy to go the extra mile for a fan or co-worker. It makes everyone want to be here.”

The Fan Experience

Lifelong Padre fan Mike Merriam said he went to 12 games this year despite the Padres struggling throughout most of the season. Located in the heart of San Diego, he says you just can’t beat the atmosphere and good vibes of the stadium.

“It’s a really nice park altogether,” Merriam said. “You can look out from any direction from the park and have an amazing view.”

Walking around the perimeter of the park, Merriam said, “I love coming here. The sun, the beer, the ball game…it’s a San Diego tradition. Whether they win or lose, I’ll keep coming back.”

Recovering from major injury: Attitude can be everything

By Lauren Bowen

Four years ago, just after Christmas, 15-year-old Natalie Buchoz fell during a ski trip and became paralyzed from the shoulders down, because of a spinal cord injury.

“It was overwhelming, like living a nightmare where you cannot get out of it… with zero light at the end of the tunnel, ” Natalie’s mother, Nancy Buchoz, said. “I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. I fell to one knee, gasped for air, stood up and shook my head to say ‘no’. It was just the worst mental pain you could imagine.”

After the accident, doctors told the Buchoz family that Natalie would never recover and she would be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Instead of just accepting the doctor’s assessment, Natalie channeled her energy into her recovery. After going through traditional physical therapy and seeing little results the Buchoz’s found Project Walk, in Carlsbad.

Project Walk is a highly specialized rehabilitation center for people who have suffered from a spinal chord injury. Patients come from around the world to work with their specialists to regain the function they had previous to their accident.

Natalie concentrates while working her core muscles during a therapy session at Project Walk. Photograph by: The Huntington Beach Independent

Now, at the age of 19, just four years after her accident, Natalie has made tremendous strides in her recovery. She is now able to walk with a walker and has regained substantial function throughout her body.

“Every day it’s been hard, and it’s been a struggle, but I see other people around me who wish they could be where I’m at, I just think about how lucky I am and don’t take anything for granted,” Natalie said.

One key element in Natalie’s recovery is what her family and friends like to refer to as her “Nattitude”.

“Natalie epitomizes the saying, ‘Never say never,’” her mother said. “She has always been a pleasant, upbeat person, but now she is more compassionate, and very aware of others and their needs. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff, and always finds the silver lining, no matter what.”

Natalie’s positive attitude has not only helped to motivate her in her recovery on a daily basis, but she has helped to inspire others.

“Her personality is so full of positivity it absolutely changes those around her and helps others feel that all things are possible,” her mother said.

The power of positive thinking in recovery

“Natalie seems to find the good in almost everything, and for the even the most able bodied person that can be difficult,” Nancy said. “She has given countless others the hope and inspiration necessary to recover and live a good life.”

Research has found that having a positive attitude and strong mental awareness is essential in an individual’s recovery, whether it be from a physical or mental injury.

“An individual’s attitude and emotional state plays a crucial role in his or her rehabilitation. The mind is such a powerful thing and I believe that one’s emotions can strongly affect their road to recovery,” said Kassie Lam, a physical therapist.

While the idea, and often times the process, of rehabilitation is similar, the journey that leads to a person’s recovery can vary dramatically.

Scott’s trials in recovery

Scott Smith, now 52 years old, fell from a two-story roof and landed on his head 14 years ago. Scott lost more than half of his brain function after the fall and had to go through rehab to relearn everything he once knew. Although Scott has gone through years of mental and physical rehabilitation, he has never truly recovered.

“It’s hard. My head, it’s broken,” he said.

Not only did Smith have to learn how to mentally process information, he also had to learn how to eat, talk and walk all over again, at the age of 38. During Smith’s recovery period he suffered from multiple seizures throughout the years that set him back to a point that was even worse than after the original accident.

Scott listening to his father explain his accident

After his second seizure he became a quadriplegic, but was able to fight back to the point that he is able to walk on his own, but does not have much function in his arms.

Research has shown that individual’s who suffer from a brain injuries often have a difficult time keeping a positive attitude, and his family says that this has been the case for Scott.

“Traumatic injuries not only affect the individual, they impact the entire family and everyone involved,” Lam said.

Scott’s perspective of what happened to him has been difficult for not only him, but his family as well, ultimately hindering his efforts to get better. Smith has seen little in the way of recovery, and those around him believe that his attitude is partly responsible.

“Scott died on the day of the accident. The person he was has been taken from us, and now we have the shell of who Scott used to be,” Scott’s brother, Steven Bowen, said.

How negativity hinders recovery

Every person’s story is unique and their recoveries can vary drastically, but many cases can show just how greatly attitude has an impact on the extent of rehabilitation.

Support from family and loved ones, and a positive attitude combined with rehabilitation and therapy seems to be the best route to recovery.

Water activities enhance quality of life

Debbie Beacham

Debbie Beacham believes surfing is spiritual experience that makes its patrons more assertive and confident.

By Patricia Dwyer

For La Jolla resident Debbie Beacham, surfing is much more than a sport or hobby, it is a life-long endeavor that demands dedication and respect.

Beacham was one of the women who helped pioneer women’s professional surfing for the International Professional Surfing world tour in the 1970s. Then in 1982 she won the title of “World Champion of Women’s Surfing” she had worked so hard to justify.

“Surfing is an experience that connects you with the raw nature of the ocean,” Beacham says. “A gym or a pool or a field won’t have the natural high that surfing does because surfing gets you in the ocean.”

Beacham also believes surfing can strengthen a person’s character.

“Surfing makes you assertive,” she said. “You won’t get waves otherwise. You have to have a strong personality to be a surfer.”

It also makes you more confident,” Beacham adds. “When you walk into a room and know you are a strong surfer, it makes you feel more sure of yourself.” Continue reading

Beliefs in music culture stay strong

By Alexandra Daugherty

The culture of music is one filled with passion. Whether it be music’s effect on people, the overtaking of the iTunes company and mp3 formats making hard copies of music irrelevant or the new era of music that benefits independent bands, those with an affection for sound will endlessly explain why they feel the way they do.

The Northstar Session shares independent success

Scoring a record deal used to be what bands in garages across the world dreamed of. But now, becoming recognized and being able to tour nationally is a dream many unsigned bands have already realized.

The three members of The Northstar Session pose for a photo

Los Angeles-based band The Northstar Session has been very successful despite having no major record deal. Photo courtesy of The Northstar Session.

The Los Angeles-based trio The Northstar Session is an example of this trend. The has achieved its fair share of successes despite being completely independent of any record label. Continue reading

Border students pushing the boundaries of education

By Eli Baldrige

Juan Centeno, age 12, does not like algebra, just like many of his classmates at Our Lady’s School in downtown San Diego. He dresses in the same uniform and plays tag at recess like everyone else in his grade.

But there is one major difference between Centeno and the rest of his seventh grade class.

“I don’t even think my friends know I live in Mexico,” Centeno said.

Centeno and his younger siblings attend school across an international border every day. The family crosses the U.S.-Mexico border 10 times a week for what they believe is a better education.

“I sleep only a couple of hours at night,” Centeno said. “But maybe it is worth it to have a better education.”

But there is more to Centeno’s life than school. He also has a full time job.

Zoom out to see the places Juan spends most of his time.

Juan entering school to start his day

He helps his family run a tamale stand in Tijuana, Mexico. Every day after returning from school in San Diego to his home in Rosarito, Mexico, he works. Continue reading

Service and therapy dogs help heal physical, mental wounds

By Emily Pippin

The feeling of warm fur on skin is powerful. A bark, a nudge, a gentle, wet lick on the hand. These small gestures and movements can bring calm and confidence to a wounded veteran or person living with physical or mental disabilities or injuries.

Therapy dogs: unconditional love and assistance for veterans

Not all injuries are visible. And perhaps the invisible injuries are the most difficult to heal. The bi-coastal Paws and People Aiding Wounded Warriors program aims to do just that: heal the invisible injuries veterans often suffer through. From working with top-of-the-line breeders across the country, to training the pick of the litter puppies, to matching the dogs with a prospective wounded veteran, the PPaWWs team works to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental injuries in veterans. And their hard work is paying off.

“I cannot tell you how much my service dog has changed my life in just the past five months,” Nathan Dee, a PPaWWs therapy dog recipient said. “I have tried group therapy, individual therapy, medication and hospitalization, but nothing has helped as much as having a dog that helps me feel safe out in the world, keeps me company and loves me unconditionally.”

Dee's service dog, Alice

Dee’s therapy and service dog, Alice, during a trip to the park. Photo courtesy of PPaWWS.

Dee was severely injured while deployed in Afghanistan and now suffers from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and other physical ailments. He was matched with the PPaWWs program in Atlanta where he met his now-daily companion, Alice, a Great Dane. Through her training with the PPaWWs program she has been able to help Dee in a variety of ways. From giving Dee the confidence to talk in front of crowds, to physically supporting him so he doesn’t need his cane, to finding his way home if he gets lost or disoriented, Alice has made a profound difference in his life. Continue reading

Dietary beliefs become ethical for some, confusing for others

By Emily Trevisan

For Laura Brennan, an office assistant in London, the choice to be vegetarian was a moral one. She thought she should be capable of killing any animal she was eating.

“I really couldn’t kill another animal to eat it, not unless I was living on a subsistence level farm and was raising the animals myself.”

A variety of soy products sit on supermarket shelves and in health food stores.

Some research suggests that too much soy may cause osteoporosis, cancer, infertility and other health problems.

The more reading she did on the meat industry only strengthened her resolve that this was not a way of life she could support. But now some research suggests that eating too much soy, a staple in Brennan’s diet, may cause Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and infertility.

Brennan said she is not sure if she should cut soy entirely out of her diet yet. She said she still eats soy and drinks soy milk, but has also been trying almond milk.

Brennan’s choices to be vegetarian and eat soy are not the only options people agonize about these days when thinking about their diets.

From enjoying soy to eating like a caveman again

Vegan gourmet Chef J.P. Alfred does not believe in eating meat or cheese, not only because he finds it unethical to eat animals and animal products, but he also said people are not meant to use that kind of energy digesting those foods. Continue reading

Finding the last of the bookstores

By Anthony Artale

Maxwell’s House of Books is one of the few remaining small bookstores in San Diego           

The main street in downtown La Mesa is lined with tiny shops and restaurants. Most are small antiques stores, run by retirees selling porcelain plates and poorly restored furniture. Among these stores is a small business that has been slowly dwindling since the advent of the Internet.

Maxwell’s House of Books is barely the size of a one-bedroom apartment. Homemade shelves go all the way to the ceiling and are packed end to end with everything from military history to science fiction. The store might not be large, but more than 30,000 books cover the walls and rest on oddly-placed tables to accommodate the overflow. For storeowner Craig Maxwell, the business is just as much a lifestyle as it work.

“I like to call myself a book enthusiast, but if you ask my wife she says I’m a book fanatic,” Maxwell said. “I’ve always been an avid reader, even on my days off I go hunting for books.”

outside Maxwell's House of Books

Maxwell's House of Books is located on La Mesa Boulevard.

The book business has been part of his family for generations. Maxwell’s grandfather founded Wahrenbrock’s Bookstore in Downtown. The store operated for 75 years as one of the biggest bookstores in San Diego until it closed in early 2010. Maxwell has worked in different boo stores for the past 30 years, and opened Maxwell’s House of Books in 2002. Continue reading

Musicians put the “techno” in technology

House of Blues stage

DJs draw monumental crowds at music festivals.

By Tanya Huang

Disc jockeys are the new rock stars, and their mixes are the new hit singles. Digital technology is revolutionizing the way music is heard, played and produced. Producers no longer need to be instrumentally inclined to be a musician—just a little tech savvy.

Up-and-coming artists aren’t the only ones experimenting with digital music software. The big league stars are also hopping on the bandwagon, from Britney Spears to Rihanna to the Black Eyed Peas. But amateur artists simply use laptops to emulate what the stars produce in the studio.

Tim Ortiz, the founder and CEO of local promotion company, became the pioneer of promoters with the advent of the interactive website, completely reinventing the nightlife industry in San Diego. He says new computer software programs have eased the barriers of entry for music producers, allowing young producers to create songs from their laptops for a fraction of the price spent by the Top 40 producers and artists.

Young dubstep revolutionary Skrillex, 33, hailed as the Metallica of electronic music, used such software and is now an international superstar in the ranks with heavyweight DJs like Deadmau5 and Benny Benassi.

Ortiz says the innovative music programs have automated the more mundane tasks of creating music, allowing for more creative focus from the artist. Continue reading

Meditation gaining notoriety in medical field

By Michael Misselwitz

Medicinal meditation; the value of mindfulness in health and lifestyle


A practice once majorly shunned by the medical community, meditation, now often referred to specifically as mindfulness-meditation, is largely accepted among the medical community as an alternative prescription for conditions ranging from anxiety to heart disease. As a preventative treatment, mindfulness-meditation is also considered an effective tool in maintaining mental clarity and relieving stress.

Medicinal meditation; the value of mindfulness in health and lifestyle

The viability of meditation as a scientific treatment has been a topic of dispute among the medical community for decades. Meditation’s many forms render its general practice too broad to be considered a tangible treatment in medicine. But, thanks to the integration of mindfulness-meditation, the practice has earned credibility among the majority of health care professionals today and now proves to be an effective tool in alternative medicine.

How meditation treatment earned its notoriety

Founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn, developed the concept of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, in 1971. The practice since developed into the first form of meditation recognized by the medical community as a practical, acceptable treatment. Continue reading

San Diegans show their side of spirituality

By Tanya Castell

Spirituality is the state of being spiritual, but what does that even mean? Most people who consider themselves to be spiritual can agree that spirituality is a way to find meaning and ultimately inner peace in their lives. However, spirituality is an ambiguous term and it’s almost impossible to have one concrete definition.

Some relate spirituality with religion, which can be a way to practice spirituality but one doesn’t define the other. Others practice spirituality through different methods and don’t associate themselves with any religion.

Aurora Sosa and her family channel their spirituality through prayer. Every week they pray the rosary together which helps them feel closer to their God. Continue reading