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Elise Amendola/AP

Sacra at his home in Holden, Mass. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Metro Minute

Celebrating endurance

A big prize for a doctor who lived through Ebola, and honor for a genocide survivor

A New York moment:

Dr. Rick Sacra, one of the American missionary doctors who contracted Ebola in 2014, is back serving in Liberia. But he was in New York this month to collect a $500,000 L’Chaim prize for his remarkable work, money that will go to expand the work of the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, a ministry of the missions organization SIM. Several Liberians based in the United States came to the prize dinner too—the Liberian community in Worcester, Mass., recently raised money for the first residency program at ELWA. 

The likelihood of dying from Ebola, as Sacra put it in New York, was “more than 50 percent.” When he had just recovered from Ebola in 2014, I interviewed him at his U.S. home in Massachusetts, and he was impatient with all the questions about his own health. “Are we going to talk about Africa?” he asked. Sacra, his wife Debbie, and their three sons lived in Liberia through the country’s brutal civil war, so Ebola wasn’t their first brush with difficulty. 

It’s nice to see these folks get some recognition for their decades of work, even if Sacra doesn’t love the spotlight.

This week I learned: 

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities named Jacob Atem its young alumni of the year. Atem was a “Lost Boy” who escaped genocide in Sudan and won refugee status in the United States. He completed his undergraduate degree at Spring Arbor University, and has since gathered degrees in public health. 

He’s now a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health. He founded the Southern Sudan Healthcare Organization and opened a clinic in his hometown. WORLD reprinted a story about Atem back in 2015. Atem is my age, but he says, “Every day is my birthday.”

Worth your time:  

If you’ve not yet heard about “The Nerdwriter” (aka Evan Puschak), now is the time. Puschak posts fantastic video essays analyzing films and other pop culture on YouTube, and has garnered nearly 2.5 million subscribers. And while Christmastime is past, it’s never a bad time to watch his commentary on It’s a Wonderful Life, a commentary I found incredibly moving. For example, I had never heard someone contrast Mr. Potter with Mary Bailey rather than George.

A court case you might not know about: 

While reading old Supreme Court rulings for an article I was working on, I came across Goesaert v. Cleary. The 1948 case challenged Michigan’s ban on female bartenders, a law that included an exception for the wife or daughter of the bar owner. The Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban, concluding that the state was trying to prevent “moral and social problems” and that “ownership of a bar by a barmaid’s husband or father minimizes hazards that may confront a barmaid.” Michigan wasn’t the only state with such a law. California had a ban on female bartenders until 1971, when the California Supreme Court tossed it. 

Culture I am consuming: 

Silas Marner by George Eliot.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org

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Jonathan Elderfield/AP

Discarded syringes for injecting heroin lie scattered on the street (Jonathan Elderfield/AP)

Metro Minute

Hepatitis hearts

As the drug crisis kills thousands each year, an uptick in organ donations from addicts who have died

A New York moment: 

I had a dinner conversation recently with Dr. Mark Merlin, who oversees much of New Jersey’s emergency medical services. The drug crisis has stretched EMS departments, but Merlin shared one silver lining from the sad crisis: Hospitals have begun using organs from deceased addicts to save lives. The problem, according to Merlin, is making sure the transfer system works. He said many life-saving organs are left on the scene, never to make it to a hospital for transplants.

Then last week I opened my Wall Street Journal and read about NYU Langone hospital starting to transplant hearts and lungs infected with Hepatitis C, organs that typically come from addicts. Last fall, the head of the transplant department himself was the 17th person at NYU to receive a Hepatitis C-infected heart, which came from a heroin addict who had overdosed. The surgeon, Dr. Robert Montgomery, had to take medicine for a few months to treat Hep C, but otherwise he seems to be doing well, and is serving as an example to those seeking transplants.

Until this drug epidemic, which tragically has killed 72,000 a year and reduced U.S. life expectancy, organ donation had not increased for decades. But according to the WSJ, available organs have gone up 30 percent as a result of the crisis, perhaps saving some of the more than 113,000 who are on organ donation waiting lists. Life out of death.

Worth your time:  

This story about Democratic Sen. Chris Coons’ friendships across the aisle—especially with Republican Sen. James Lankford—built on Christian faith. In watching the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, I found Coons to be one of the few senators who asked balanced, substantive questions that were aimed at finding truth rather than scoring points. 

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Hans Pennink/AP

New York Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan (center) speaks in favor of passing legislation authorizing the Child Victims Act. (Hans Pennink/AP)

Metro Minute

A positive step

New York rolls back statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, opening the door for accountability

A New York moment:

After New York last week passed a law legalizing late-term abortions and removing protections for pregnant women facing violence, the state pivoted to take a positive step on a different issue involving children this week. 

Until now, New York had some of the strictest statutes of limitations for child sex abuse in the country. Victims had to lodge criminal or civil complaints before they turned 23. Child advocacy groups say most victims don’t report abuse until much later in adulthood, if at all. 

This week, the nearly unanimous Legislature passed the Child Victims Act, one of the most victim-friendly laws in the country. The act increases the criminal statute of limitations to when the victim is 28 years old and increases the civil statute of limitations to 55. The law also gives a one-year look-back window for victims to file civil complaints over previous abuse that were once blocked by the state statute of limitations.

The Legislature had been trying to pass this for 15 years, but it faced opposition from the Roman Catholic Church (which had at one point argued the look-back window could bankrupt its programs), the Boy Scouts, and insurance companies. This year, after Democrats agreed to amend the bill to hold liable both public and private institutions, the New York State Catholic Conference announced its support for the bill. Previous versions of the bill had shielded public institutions from the one-year look-back window. 

New York’s Catholic bishops acknowledged the church’s shortcomings as they celebrated the passage of the bill: “Sadly, we in the church know all too well the devastating toll of abuse on survivors, their families, and the extended community. ... We have long called for strengthening the Child Victims Act and will continue to advocate for the elimination of the criminal statute of limitations, compensations programs for those who prefer it to litigation, and mandatory safe environment training for anyone who works with children, as we have implemented in the eight dioceses throughout New York state.” 

Last year New York set up a tragic new hotline for people to report clergy sexual abuse of children. The New York State Catholic Conference has said it would comply with a state subpoena issued last fall for all documents related to the church’s handling of sex abuse allegations. 

Worth your time:

Here’s an uplifting story. In 2017, 51,302 people left Social Security disability rolls because they found “gainful employment,” the most on record. The Wall Street Journal interviews several people with disabilities about what finding work has meant to them. It sounds like companies are also doing better at finding specific jobs for people with specific skills, like the autistic man featured in the Journal story.

This week I learned:

Ancient Romans, it appears, wore socks with their sandals. 

A court case you might not know about: 

About 40 years ago, a group of African-American converts to Islam started their own community in upstate New York to escape “corrosive influences” from New York City. But internet conspiracies have made the small community, which by local reports has a good relationship with law enforcement, a target for people who thought it was a jihadi training camp. 

Last week police arrested four young men who were allegedly stockpiling guns and bombs for an attack on the community. In 2017, a Tennessee man was sentenced to 20 years for another similar plot. 

“I think it’s straight up religious and racial fear,” said William Rosenau, who wrote a study about the group for West Point, finding no evidence of any “covert training” in the community.

Culture I am consuming: 

Harmony Hall,” Vampire Weekend’s first new music in six years. Lead singer Ezra Koenig’s lyrics are always something to chew on, if enigmatic. His last album had a song about Yahweh. Here he sings about “wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified … I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to die.” 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org

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