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How stuffed animals are making organ donation a little more accessible.

Second Life Toys is breaking down the stigma surrounding organ donation.

How stuffed animals are making organ donation a little more accessible.

Do you know a stuffed sheep or giraffe that could desperately use a leg up?

A new program is giving stuffed toys another chance to bring joy and love to someone special. Old toys are repaired and given new parts using donor limbs from well-loved toys that are no longer played with. This unique up-cycling is all done by mail and gives these special animals a new lease on life while teaching kids about a really important topic.


Photos by Second Life Toys, used with permission.

Second Life Toys explains organ transplants to kids using adorable, fluffy stuffed animals.

Japanese designers Akira Suzuki and Togo Kida, the founders of Second Life Toys, have fond memories of repairing their own torn or broken toys as kids, using parts from other stuffed animals — much like how organ transplants help save people.


"What we tried was more than fixing a toy that was broken, it was actually trying to fix something in an even better way. " Togo wrote in an email. "This, we thought, might be a good way to convey organ transplant in a positive way."

The hope is that by teaching children the benefits of organ donation, they can start to break down the barriers that surround transplants, especially in Japan, by playing up the positive results.

First, the process begins with a torn or broken stuffed animal.

In this case, Mr. Giraffe might be in need of some help with his front left leg.

If so, the giraffe's owner can mail him to Second Life Toys.

Then a donor toy — perhaps a toy that, while loved, doesn't get played with much anymore — will give a limb to the original toy.

Here, an arm from a stuffed monkey is used to replace the giraffe's "broken" leg.

Finally, the repaired toy is sent back to its owner.

Mr. Giraffe is on the mend!


And then children are asked to reflect on how the transplant improved their stuffed animal's life.

Once their stuffed animal is out of recovery, the toy's child caretaker also gets to send a thank-you note to the donors.

It's a full-circle experience that introduces the concept of organ donation in an accessible and relatable way.

Hopefully, this makes the idea of organ transplants less scary to children, helping to reduce the stigma that surrounds the concept as they grow older.

GIF from Second Life Toys.

This is an especially important program in Japan, where organ donors are in short supply.

In fact, less than 2% of people on Japan's organ donor waiting list will find a match. Of the roughly 14,000 people on the waiting list annually, that means fewer than 300 will receive transplants.

Japan ranks far behind the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to organ donation, too. Here's how Japan's numbers compare to the U.S.:

Data source: Japan Times

This is a problem nearly 50 years in the making.

In 1968, Dr. Juro Wada performed Japan's first heart transplant. The heart donor was, in Wada's mind, brain-dead, though this was still a murky topic back in the '60s.

The surgery was highly controversial, and as a result, "brain-dead" organ donations were halted for more than 30 years.

Plus, religious beliefs and apprehension around the topic of organ donation have scared away potential donors.

It's hard to talk about organ donation without talking about death, a topic many people, especially those in good health, just don't want to think about. And when they do, religious beliefs suggest bodies should be intact and cremated after death.

Today, Japanese citizens in need of a transplant have gone as far as leaving the country in hopes of receiving one elsewhere, since chances are slim in their home country.

So far, the response to the Second Life Toys program has been overwhelmingly positive.

Akira and Togo are hearing from people around the world who want to donate their toys and be a part of the project. It's not just children either — adults want their toys fixed as loving tributes for family members on the transplant list.

While it remains to be seen what effect Second Life Toys will have on Japan's organ donation crisis, the project is a creative step in the right direction. "The response we are getting so far is phenomenal," Togo said.

While the U.S. is comparatively better off in regards to organ donation, people die every day waiting for a transplant.

But there's a really simple way you can help change that, too.

Register as an organ donor! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a super-simple breakdown of how you can go about getting signed up (it varies slightly from state to state). You can also consider joining the bone marrow registry. Bone marrow is a living donation that helps people with blood cancers.

Whether it's talking about donation, sharing well-loved toys, or giving the gift of life, we can all do our part.

To learn more about Second Life Toys, visit their website or watch their introductory video below.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less