This doctor knew he could save lives. But would his conservative legislature let him?
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When Dr. Hansel Tookes stood before his conservative Florida legislature, he knew he had an uphill battle ahead of him.

But there were too many lives at stake not to try.

His voice was clear and unwavering when he asked the legislature to consider a bill that would allow him to provide drug users with clean needles.


At that time in Florida, it was illegal to do so — and as a result, Miami led the nation in new HIV and hepatitis C infections.

All photos provided by Starbucks.

Tookes knew the use of dirty needles was a pervasive problem. Some drug users were picking them up directly off the ground, desperate for relief but unable to access clean needles to prevent further harm to themselves.

This accelerated the spread of disease in the community.

“The simple epiphany that Florida needed syringe exchange came when I was a third-year medical student,” he explains.

Clean needles can make all the difference: In fact, Tookes says, the evidence behind needle exchanges as a prevention tool is strong — as strong as the evidence that smoking cessation prevents cancer.

“We have this tool that we were withholding from this vulnerable population,” he says. But harm reduction isn’t always the first line of defense when it comes to public health, especially for those who believe in a more punitive approach to substance abuse.

Tookes knew that the idea of providing drug users with needles would be a tough sell, but he was determined.

When he reached out to Tim Stapleton, head of the Florida Medical Association, Stapleton was skeptical at first. “I thought that [he would] become discouraged,” he shares. “[But] he wasn’t going to let anything stop him.”

Thus began Tookes’ journey as an advocate and his seven-and-a-half hour drives to Tallahassee, working the capital and building momentum to change the law — and change the lives of drug users in Florida.

It took several years of advocacy work, but astonishingly, the bill did pass, with an overwhelming majority of the legislature backing him.

“Every time he hit a wall, he just figured out how to get over that wall,” Stapleton explained.

And Tookes’ persistence paid off.

On Dec. 1, 2016 — fittingly, World AIDS Day — the first needle exchange program in the state of Florida opened.

“We serve 250 people regularly,” Tookes explains, “And we do an intake where we offer anonymous HIV and hepatitis C testing.”

The exchange also began offering the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone (Narcan) in April — a decision that has already prevented numerous tragedies.

In just the first month, 16 lives were saved.

“So many people are dying,” Tookes says. “We had a responsibility to do something about that.”

The impact was undeniable. One center visitor, struggling with addiction, shared his own story of when he saw someone in the midst of an overdose.

“I had my Narcan, and I sprayed him. Within a minute or so, he started breathing normal,” he explained. “We don’t want to die. None of us do.”

Without the exchange offering access to Narcan, though, these completely preventable deaths would become repeated tragedies.

With unintentional drug overdose a leading cause of preventable death in the United States, creating access to Narcan can have a huge impact on local communities.

“Everybody’s life is valuable,” Tookes says. “Everyone’s.”

And it was that conviction that helped Tookes see this cause through, as a medical student with a desire to make a difference and now as an advocate saving lives and preventing the spread of dangerous diseases.

Check out his incredible story below:

He saw an HIV epidemic in Miami and decided to stand up and take action.

Posted by Upworthy on Wednesday, October 25, 2017

While Tookes began his journey in public health facing resistance and skepticism, his persistence — and his commitment to those most vulnerable in his community — has truly made a difference.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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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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