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Pulled From the Rubble: 4 Amazing Stories of Survival

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A Turkish rescuer searches for earthquake survivors in Van province of Turkey.
© Ma Yan/Xinhua Press/Corbis

When two-week-old Azra Karaduman was pulled from what was left of a seven-story apartment building 47 hours after a devastating earthquake leveled parts of Turkey, spectators marveled that such a tiny morsel of humanity could survive such a horrific ordeal. But scientists tell us that infants are actually the most likely survivors due to their incredible resiliency. Newborns are equipped with extra body fat and can survive much longer than adults without food. In addition, having recently experienced the traumatic (for a baby who’s been resting cozily in the womb for nine months) birth process, their bodies more easily adapt to stress and new, uncertain environments/circumstances, and their metabolic rates adjust accordingly.

Biological details aside, stories of youngsters living through mind-boggling tragedies still give pause to even the most stolid observer. Here are four incredible examples.

1. Paul Vick, 16 Months Old

Robert Vick was a Baptist pastor from Connecticut who was working as a missionary in China after World War II ended. Vick, his wife, and two sons (Theodore, age 2, and Paul, 16 months) boarded a China National Aviation Corp. flight in Shanghai bound for Chungking on January 28, 1947. One engine broke out in flames en route, which quickly spread to the cabin. When it became clear the twin-engine craft was doomed, several of the 23 passengers aboard leapt from the plummeting plane in a panic. Mr. and Mrs. Vick were two who jumped, each with a child in their arms. Robert Vick and his bundle, baby Paul, were the only survivors.

Robert was badly injured and died 40 hours later, but not before giving hospital personnel the names and address of Paul’s U.S. grandparents, where the infant (who’d suffered broken bones in his legs) was sent to live after his injuries had been treated.

2. Elisabeth Joassaint, 11 Days Old

Michelene Joassaint had just put her 11-day-old daughter down for her afternoon nap when an earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010.

She attempted to run to the bedroom to retrieve Elisabeth, but the second story of the house began to collapse on her head and her path was blocked. She managed to get outside and spent the next seven days grieving with her husband in a makeshift camp set up in a nearby football field.

The couple fully expected to be told that their daughter had perished in the quake, so they were completely dumbfounded when news reached them that a French rescue team searching the rubble had heard faint cries and found Elisabeth curled up on her bed in a tiny hollow under the debris. The baby was dehydrated, but otherwise uninjured.

3. Cecelia Cichan, Four Years Old

Northwest Flight 255, bound for Phoenix, Arizona, pushed back from the gate at Detroit Metropolitan Airport at 8:32PM on Sunday, August 16, 1987. It was cleared for takeoff at 8:44 and approximately 20 seconds later (according to witnesses) the wings rotated right and left about 35 degrees in each direction. The left wing hit a light pole and then the roof of an Avis Rent-A-Car building before slamming into the ground. The fiery wreckage spread out over nearby I-94 and killed two commuters on the freeway.

News stories that followed immediately after the crash reported that the sole survivor, four-year-old Cecelia Cichan, had been found embraced in her deceased mother’s arms. The wire services picked up the erroneous information and presented it as the one “feel-good story” amidst such an overwhelming tragedy, the ultimate act of motherly love – shielding your child’s body with your own when disaster is imminent. In reality, Flight 255 went down too quickly for anyone to unbuckle and react, and when rescue personnel arrived on the scene, they found Cecelia alone, buckled into overturned seat number 8F. Cecelia suffered a broken leg and burns over 30% of her body.

Her identity remained a mystery for several days after the crash (her parents and brother had also been aboard the doomed aircraft) until her maternal grandmother read news reports that the little survivor was wearing purple nail polish and had a chipped front tooth. Pauline Ciamaichela tearfully remembered painting little Cecelia’s fingernails lavender before the family left to return to Arizona. After being released from the University of Michigan hospital, she was raised by relatives in Alabama.

4. Claudia Isabel Rios, Araceli Santamaria Romo, et al, Mere Days Old

When the earthquake that struck Mexico City in 1985 (which ultimately killed almost 10,000 people), one of the areas most devastated happened to be a location where several of the city’s major hospitals stood. It was shift change at the 12-story Juarez General Hospital when the 8.1 magnitude quake hit, so the corridors were more crowded than usual. Aftershocks hampered rescue personnel and ultimately 561 bodies were recovered from the debris.

Amazingly, however, nine days after disaster had originally struck, construction workers removing the rubble found what used to be the hospital’s nursery and 16 infants—none who had been older than one week when the building first collapsed—still clinging to life. Two of the babies later succumbed to their injuries, but the rest managed to beat the odds and are now in their mid-20s (and are occasionally annoyed by the annual media attention devoted to the “Miracle Babies.”) None of them remember the earthquake, and sadly, most of them grew up never knowing their mothers.

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The Brain Chemistry Behind Your Caffeine Boost
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Whether it’s consumed as coffee, candy, or toothpaste, caffeine is the world’s most popular drug. If you’ve ever wondered how a shot of espresso can make your groggy head feel alert and ready for the day, TED-Ed has the answer.

Caffeine works by hijacking receptors in the brain. The stimulant is nearly the same size and shape as adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows down neural activity. Adenosine builds up as the day goes on, making us feel more tired as the day progresses. When caffeine enters your system, it falls into the receptors meant to catch adenosine, thus keeping you from feeling as sleepy as you would otherwise. The blocked adenosine receptors also leave room for the mood-boosting compound dopamine to settle into its receptors. Those increased dopamine levels lead to the boost in energy and mood you feel after finishing your morning coffee.

For a closer look at how this process works, check out the video below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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5 Tips for Becoming A Morning Person
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You’ve probably heard the term circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is an internal clock that influences your daily routine: when to eat, when to sleep, and when to wake up. Our biological clocks are, to some extent, controlled by genetics. This means that some people are natural morning people while others are night owls by design. However, researchers say the majority of us fall somewhere in the middle, which is good news if you want to train yourself to wake up earlier.

In addition to squeezing more hours out of the day, there are plenty of other good reasons to resist hitting the snooze button, including increased productivity. One survey found that more than half of Americans say they feel at their best between 5 a.m. and noon. These findings support research from biologist Christopher Randler, who determined that earlier risers are happier and more proactive about goals, too.

If you love the idea of waking up early to get more done, but you just can't seem to will yourself from out under the covers, here are five effective tips that might help you roll out of bed earlier.

1. EASE INTO THE HABIT.

If you’re a die-hard night owl, chances are you’re not going to switch to a morning lark overnight. Old habits are hard to break, but they’re less challenging if you approach them realistically.

“Wake up early in increments,” Kelsey Torgerson, a licensed clinical social worker at Compassionate Counseling in St. Louis suggests. “If you normally wake up at 9:00 a.m., set the alarm to 8:30 a.m. for a week, then 8:00 a.m., then 7:30 a.m.”

Waking up three hours earlier can feel like a complete lifestyle change, but taking it 30 minutes at a time will make it a lot easier to actually stick to the plan. Gradually, you’ll become a true morning person, just don’t try to force it to happen overnight.

2. EXERCISE IN THE MORNING.

Your body releases endorphins when you exercise, so jumping on the treadmill or taking a run around the block is a great way to start the day on a high note. Also, according to the National Sleep Foundation, exercising early in the morning can mean you get a better overall sleep at night:

“In fact, people who work out on a treadmill at 7:00 a.m. sleep longer, experience deeper sleep cycles, and spend 75 percent more time in the most reparative stages of slumber than those who exercise at later times that day.”

If you don’t have much time in the morning, an afternoon workout is your second best bet. The Sleep Foundation says aerobic afternoon workouts can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often throughout the night. “This may be because exercise raises your body’s temperature for about four to five hours,” they report. After that, your body’s core temperature decreases, which encourages it to switch into sleep mode.

3. MAKE YOUR BEDROOM IDEAL FOR SLEEP.

Whether it’s a noisy street or a bright streetlight, your bedroom environment might be making it difficult for you to sleep throughout the night, which can make waking up early challenging, as you haven’t had enough rest. There are, however, a few changes you can make to optimize your room for a good night’s sleep.

“Keep your bedroom neat and tidy,” Dr. Nancy Irwin, a Los Angeles-based doctor of psychology on staff as an expert in sleep hygiene at Seasons Recovery Centers in Malibu, suggests. “Waking up to clutter and chaos only makes it more tempting to crawl back in bed.”

Depending on what needs to be improved, you might consider investing in some slumber-friendly items that can help you sleep through the night, including foam earplugs (make sure to use a vibrating alarm), black-out drapes, light-blocking window decals, and a cooling pillow

Another simple option? Ditch the obnoxious sound of a loud, buzzing alarm.

“One great way to adapt to rising earlier is to have an alarm that is a pleasing sound to you versus an annoying one,” Dr. Irwin says. “There are many choices now, whether on your smartphone or in a radio or a freestanding apparatus.”

4. TAKE THE TIME TO PROPERLY WIND DOWN.

Getting up early starts the night before, and there are a few things you should do before hitting the sack at night.

“Set an alarm to fall asleep,” Torgerson says. “Having a set bedtime helps you stay responsible to yourself, instead of letting yourself get caught up in a book or Netflix and avoid going to sleep.”

Torgerson adds that practicing yoga or meditation before bed can help relax your mind and body, too. This way, your mind isn’t bouncing from thought to thought in a flurry before you go to bed. If you find yourself feeling anxious before bed, it might help to write in a journal. This way, you can get these nagging thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

Focus on relaxing at night and stay away from not just exercise, but mentally stimulating activities, too. If watching the news gets your blood boiling, for example, you probably want to turn it off an hour or so before bedtime.

5. GET YOUR DAILY DOSE OF LIGHT.

Light has a immense effect on your circadian rhythm—whether it’s the blue light from your phone as you scroll through Instagram, or the bright sunlight of being outdoors on your lunch break. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, scientists compared the sleep quality of 27 subjects who worked in windowless environments with 22 subjects who were exposed to significantly more natural light during the day.

“Workers in windowless environments reported poorer scores than their counterparts on two SF-36 dimensions—role limitation due to physical problems and vitality—as well as poorer overall sleep quality," the study concluded. "Compared to the group without windows, workers with windows at the workplace had more light exposure during the workweek, a trend toward more physical activity, and longer sleep duration as measured by actigraphy.”

Thus, exposing yourself to bright light during the day may actually help you sleep better at night, which will go a long way toward helping you wake up refreshed in the morning.

Conversely, too much blue light can actually disturb your sleep schedule at night. This means you probably want to limit your screen time as your bedtime looms closer.

Finally, once you do get into the habit of waking up earlier, stick to that schedule on the weekends as much as possible. The urge to sleep in is strong, but as Torgerson says, “you won't want your body and brain to reacclimate to sleeping in and snoozing.”

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