Boy reveals how Joe Biden helped him overcome his stutter in inspiring 90 second speech

Throughout the 2020 election season, you've probably heard just about every insult and insinuation thrown Joe Biden's way when it comes to the former vice president's speaking style. Everything from implications that he's "lost a step" to open and unfounded claims that he is suffering from dementia. The truth is, Joe Biden has always struggled with public speaking and for very good reason: He was born was a severe stutter that he spent years working on.

Putting politics aside, it's an amazing trajectory that someone who struggled to form basic words and sentences as a child is now giving a 20-minute acceptance speech as the presidential nominee for a major political party. And all while, countless armchair quarterbacks analyze every imperfect syllable or offbeat cadence as evidence of "decline."

But then there are others who have experienced firsthand what Biden went through as a child and likely still navigates on a daily basis. This was perfectly illustrated during Thursday night's Democratic National Convention when 13-year-old Brayden Harrington explained in an incredibly moving video how a personal meeting with Biden helped him to overcome his own struggles with his stutter.

Honestly, if you haven't seen this, it was easily the most powerful moment during the convention and it had nothing to do with the coronavirus, taxes, immigration or anything remotely political. It was the measurement of a man and his profound impact on a young stranger.


"We stutter," Harrington says simply near the top of the 1 minute and 40-second video, creating an instant and powerful bit of connective tissue between himself and Biden. "It's really amazing to hear that someone became vice president," Harrington says.

The video itself is instructional for anyone unfamiliar with just how tricky a stutter can be, obviously for the person speaking, but also for their audience. As Harrington works through his short speech, he is incredibly articulate and measured, then suddenly hanging on a seemingly simple "s" for moments that can feel like an eternity.

It's not simply the act of physically articulating but simultaneously grappling with the anxiety and stress of knowing you are being watched, analyzed and judged. And yet, Harrington powers through it with a clear sense of bravery most of us could only imagine demonstrating.


Boy says Biden helped him with stutter www.youtube.com


Harrington goes on to explain how Biden gave him a personal tip for how he learned to work through his stutter. "He told me about a book of poems by Yeats that he would read out loud to practice," Harrington said, recounting how they met during a CNN town hall back in February while Biden was still competing in the Democratic primary.

During their one-on-one meeting, Biden went into further detail about his strategies for coping with his stutter, even showing him the speech he gave at the CNN town hall, which included special markings throughout the speech where Biden anticipated needing to pause or stop in order to mitigate likely challenging passages. "It has nothing to do with your intelligence quotient. It has nothing to do with your intellectual makeup," Biden told him.

"I'm just trying to be a kid," Brayden says near the end of the video. "And in a short amount of time, Joe Biden made me feel more confident about something that's bothered me my whole life. Joe Biden cared. Imagine what he could do for all of us."

Needless to say, it's impossible to not instantly compare the anecdote to President Trump, who infamously mocked a disabled man while campaigning for president in 2016. Does anyone honestly expect to see a video like this during the Republican convention next week?

Is there anyone in this world with a story of how Trump personally helped them that doesn't involved a business deal or a beauty pageant? It's a stark contrast that tells us everything about today's political debate, even if the video itself was on the surface about everything but politics.

But more than that, it's a simple story about bravery and how one person used their position of immense power and privilege to connect with a child in a way that has clearly changed this young man's life in a very meaningful, and positive, way. When we talk about "public service" there might not be a better example than this during the entire 2020 election.

"Oh my God, I'm in the mouth of a whale."

Those aren't the words commercial lobster diver Michael Packard expected to go through his head on Friday—or any day—but that's what he thought when he found himself swallowed whole by a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod.

Packard dives to the bottom of the ocean every day to collect lobsters, but he's never had an encounter like this one before. When he was about 45 feet down, he suddenly found himself enveloped in darkness. He told NBC 10 Boston it hit him like a truck, and for 30 seconds he was trapped inside a humpback whale's mouth. His scuba regulator fell out of his mouth, which caused extra concern momentarily, but he was able to retrieve it. However, during the ordeal, he was sure he was going to die.

"I just was struggling, but I knew this was this massive creature. There was no way I was going to bust myself out of there," Packard said. He thought of his two sons, ages 12 and 16, his wife, and his mother, believing he was going to die inside a whale and leave them all behind.

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"Oh my God, I'm in the mouth of a whale."

Those aren't the words commercial lobster diver Michael Packard expected to go through his head on Friday—or any day—but that's what he thought when he found himself swallowed whole by a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod.

Packard dives to the bottom of the ocean every day to collect lobsters, but he's never had an encounter like this one before. When he was about 45 feet down, he suddenly found himself enveloped in darkness. He told NBC 10 Boston it hit him like a truck, and for 30 seconds he was trapped inside a humpback whale's mouth. His scuba regulator fell out of his mouth, which caused extra concern momentarily, but he was able to retrieve it. However, during the ordeal, he was sure he was going to die.

"I just was struggling, but I knew this was this massive creature. There was no way I was going to bust myself out of there," Packard said. He thought of his two sons, ages 12 and 16, his wife, and his mother, believing he was going to die inside a whale and leave them all behind.

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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."