Offbeat: The man who wears his heart on his back

Green, 40, will be the first Briton to be discharged from the hospital with a completely artificial heart.

August 07, 2011

Simply Smurftastic!

It looks like a home straight out of Smurf land with its curious mushroom-like pods. That wasn’t the original intention — architect James H. Johnson designed a home inspired by the stems of Queen Anne’s lace. But the dwelling in Perinton, New York, ended up earning the nickname the ‘Mushroom House.’

The property is a series of five interconnected pods situated on a hill at the tree line, again just like the homes in the original Smurfs series. There are two pods that are sleeping areas, a centre pod with a kitchen and sitting room, a fourth with a living and dining area with a fireplace and a fifth that is a deck. The pods that are 30 feet in diametre and weigh 80 tons rest on a concrete and steel stem.

The home has more than 4,000 square feet of living space. It was built in 1971, and became a town landmark in 1989. While the home is unusual, what makes it more like a piece of art are contributions by several artists, including 9,000 ceramic tiles that cover the inside of the home, which were all hand-fired by previous owner Marguerite Antell.

Now, as the world is poised to go Smurf crazy with the release of The Smurfs 3D movie, the property could be yours for $1.1 million!


The man who wears his heart on his back

When Matthew Green leaves the hospital, the one thing he really mustn’t forget is his rucksack. The father of one will be carrying a part of his new heart in it. Green, 40, will be the first Briton to be discharged from the hospital with a completely artificial heart.

The device in his chest is slightly larger than the organ it replaced and weighs less than six ounces. It delivers blood to the body with the help of a pump that is carried in the rucksack, along with a battery. Around 900 of the ‘bridge-to-transplant’ devices have been fitted around the world, although Green is the first to receive one in the UK.

He had been in a critical condition after developing a chronic heart condition and no suitable donors could be found. With his health deteriorating fast, doctors at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire decided to fit him with the device in a £100,000 (Rs14.1 million) operation. Some parts of the Total Artificial Heart have a 50-year working life, although patients are generally expected to use it for around three years — during which it will ‘beat’ more than 200 million times.

It is hoped the device will last until a real donor heart is found for Green. The patient said he felt ‘fantastic’ as he spoke about the new lease of life he has been given. “I felt so ill before, so now to be feeling so well and full of life is great. I feel very lucky,” he said. “I’m still recovering from my operation so not all of the bones in my chest have healed yet. I struggle to carry it (the rucksack containing the pump and batteries) but I can walk around fine. I needed a trolley to start with.”

He added: ‘It feels very different — before the operation my heart beat was very weak and I could hardly feel my pulse. Now it’s a very strong heart beat. Two years ago I was cycling nine miles to work and nine miles back every day but by the time I was admitted to the hospital I was struggling to walk even a few yards. I am really excited about going home and just being able to do the everyday things that I haven’t been able to do for such a long time - such as playing in the garden with my son and cooking a meal for my family.’

Mr Green, a pharmaceutical consultant who lives with wife Gill and their five-year-old son Dylan in London, was diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that can cause arrhythmia, heart failure, and sudden death.

The device, which costs £20,000 (Rs2.8 million) a year to maintain, was developed by US firm SynCardia Systems, which is based in Arizona.


Baby zebra loves stripes

An employee at a Chinese zoo has to wear a white and black striped t-shirt every day, because a new born orphaned zebra will only eat when it sees him wearing one. Wuhan Zoo said the baby zebra was born at the beginning of July, and five days after the birth, its mother died.

“We wanted to leave it to the father, but the father denies responsibility and kicks the baby each time he sees it,” said Chen Nong, the feeder. He further said that coincidentally he wore a striped t-shirt those days, and the baby zebra became very excited each time it saw him. The zoo built a separate cage for the baby zebra, and is feeding it milk. However, Nong said the zebra refuses the milk unless he wears the striped t-shirt. “He also looks for nipples on me. I had to give him my thumbs.”

Nong named the baby zebra ‘Little Five’, as he only spent five days with his mother. Du Gong, the spokesman of the zoo, said, “We have never brought up a baby zebra artificially. We hope we could make a miracle.”


Slytherin SUV

It’s a miracle the driver managed not to crash — let alone keep in a straight line. A snake terrified a young mother when it suddenly appeared on her SUV’s windscreen after slithering out of the engine as she drove along an expressway into Memphis, Tennessee.

Rachel Fisher said she’s not usually scared by snakes but she “was clenching everything” as she drove at 65mph (104.6km/h) with the unusual hitchhiker on board — and her three young children in the back. As she screamed and giggled hysterically, her husband recorded the incident on his camera phone and then posted the video on YouTube, where it has gone viral.

Fisher said, “My husband saw it out of the corner of his eye and did a double-take. He whipped out his phone and turns it on and captures the whole thing until it falls off.” The creature spent almost three minutes slithering over the windshield, curling out in front of the car and twisting over the wing mirrors. Not knowing what to do, Fisher kept on driving — and trying to stay in a straight line. She said, “It was really weird. I mean, didn’t know what the heck it was. We just knew it was a huge snake and the kids were at the back.” After two or three minutes, and with nothing to hold on to, the snake fell off.

The couple believed it had crawled up their engine the night before when they were parked in a woody area, and slithered out when it got too hot.


The world’s longest motorbike

A Lincolnshire plumber has built the world’s longest motorbike — which is an incredible 72-feet-long. Colin Furze, 31, spent a month building the 25-seater bike, which is as long as a tennis court, in his mum’s back garden. He used one-and-a-half 125cc mopeds which he extended using aluminium frame and drove the bike on the runway at Saltby Airfield in Grantham. He managed to get the bike, which is worth around £3,000 (Rs423,478.86), up to 35mph (56.3km/h), but found it almost impossible to steer.

“When I first got on it I thought it would never work and at a slow speed it’s almost impossible to keep upright,” said Furze. “But once you get going it becomes a bit easier. It would be hard to ride on the roads as you need about six widths of road to turn. I think it is really built for Roman roads.”

To make it into the record books, Furze had to drive the bike 100 metres (0.1km), but amazingly he managed to ride more than a mile. According to the Guinness World of Records, the previous longest motorbike in the world was 14 metres.


In Lithuania, they give parking tickets with tanks

The eccentric mayor of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, has decided to send a stern message to anyone thinking of parking illegally on his city’s streets: by driving over an illegally parked car in a Soviet-era armoured personnel carrier.

In a publicity stunt, mayor Arturas Zuokas, was at the controls of the eight-wheeled camouflaged vehicle as it rolled over a Mercedes car illegally parked in a cycle lane. Grinning widely and accompanied by two friends, the mayor, said he was signalling that there would be a zero-tolerance policy towards illegal parking from now on.

“In the past few days, expensive cars have been illegally parked in almost this exact place — a Rolls-Royce and a Ferrari,” he said in a video released by the city government. “What should the city do about drivers who think that they are above the law? It seems that a tank is the best solution.”

Dressed in an open necked shirt and a blazer, the mayor, who looked like he was relishing every moment of the publicity stunt, is seen clearing up the remains of the car at the end of the video before cycling away on a bike. The car that he so demonstrably crushed was bought especially for the exercise.

Comissioner Karachi, can you do that? Here’s a challenge for you!


Chocoholic fish

An overweight fish is being weaned off a diet of chocolate biscuits after outgrowing its tank. The aquarium staff was baffled when the 8.8lb (3.99kg) giant gourami called Gary rejected normal food after being donated to them.

The previous owners of the exotic Asian freshwater fish admitted feeding it only chocolate-covered biscuits. Experts at the Sea Life London Aquarium had to put crushed Kit Kat pieces inside grapes and banana slices to tempt the 15.7-inch-long fish on to a normal diet. Gary’s handler Rebecca Carter said, “I’ve never heard of a fish being fed chocolate, let alone brought up entirely on the stuff. Gary doesn’t appear to have suffered ill effects. Most fish wouldn’t be able to survive on Kit Kats but gouramis are very hardy.”


Rare rescue

Police smashed a car window to save what they thought was a baby on a hot day — only to discover it was a doll. Five-year-old Chanel Cristofis had left the lifelike Reborn doll in her dad’s car when he dropped her off at school. He then parked his car and went to work at the fish and chip shop he owns in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, UK.

A passer-by reported seeing a baby left in a car, and officers broke into the vehicle, causing £200 (Rs28,235.1) damage, fearing the ‘baby’ could die in the heat. Chanel’s dad Anastasi, 37, said, “I couldn’t believe it when the police turned up holding the doll and told me what had happened. The officer told me not to leave it in the car again.”

Chanel’s mum Victoria, 25, had bought the realistic £100 (Rs14, 117.5) Reborn doll, named Sam, for Chanel’s birthday in June. “I can see why the police did it. If it had been real, everyone would be thanking them,” she said. Sergeant Robert Holmes said, “The call was made in good faith. Drivers need to think about what they leave on view in their cars.”


The unlikely pair

A chimpanzee has become the star attraction at a zoo in Thailand for his habit of feeding tiger cubs every day. Two-and-a-half-year-old Dodo has been feeding the cubs for more than a year at the Samut Prakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo. His trainers at the zoo, around 25 miles south east of Bangkok, initially just wanted to challenge the chimp. Since he showed no fear of the tiger cubs, they worked with him until he picked up the habit.

“It’s not difficult as he knows how to hold the bottle. I just taught him to hold it and stay with the cub. I’ve been teaching him every day so he can do it,” said Sirinaj who has been working at the zoo for 20 years. The only problem is when he ignores his feeding tasks and just plays with the cubs which are aged from three weeks to five months. The zoo said that the cubs eventually outgrow Dodo and then need to be moved to an area more suited to their size.


Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2011.

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