The Friday Four seeks to highlight some of the people behind some of the interesting stories I stumble upon during my daily search for relevant content. Fueled by copious amounts of coffee, unwanted Thanksgiving leftovers, and Christmas-themed chocolates, I narrowed down a long list of worthy candidates to the following …

1. David Kwiatkowski -- The 34-year-old New Hampshire hospital lab technician was sentenced this week to 39 years in prison after pleading guilty in August to infecting 46 people (or more) with hepatitis C. The details of the case are incredibly troubling. Kwiatkowski admitted to stealing syringes meant for patients, injecting himself with the anesthetic fentanyl and refilling the empty syringes with saline. The story gets worse. The lab tech, who tested positive for hepatitis C in 2010, passed it on to the facility’s patients when they were injected with the used syringes. Kwiatkowski was fired or was forced to resign in the past for stealing and replacing syringes. However, he was always able to find work at another hospital. I find it incredibly discouraging that a troubled individual like Kwiatkowski was able to seek out and secure employment despite his checkered and reckless past. While I recognize employers no longer can obtain a wealth of information about prospective employees, it’s frustrating to realize his misdeeds didn’t come to light until several innocent people were adversely affected.

2. Maverick Higgs –- Though he has been alive for just little more than a year, Maverick Higgs is best described as a survivor. Higgs was born on Sept. 29, 2012 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and underwent surgery just a handful of days later. It was deemed unsuccessful, so Higgs was forced to have a second surgery shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, that procedure did not go very well, either. The heart defect left Higgs in heart failure. A heart transplant was discussed as a potential treatment option, but doctors indicated Higgs was an unsuitable patient because he had a rare genetic defect that put him at a high risk for tumors and infections. Therefore, the transplant was deemed an unviable option. After several failed attempts to find a hospital where their son could receive a new heart, Higgs’s parents were forced to consider another option to try and save their son’s life. Doctors opted to adjust his medications and Higgs responded extremely well to the treatment. However, his situation sheds light on the difficult reality that the demand for heart transplants grows at a greater rate than the supply of donated hearts. As a result, doctors tend to try to select the patients most likely to live the longest life from a new heart. In fact, Higgs’s mother, Autumn Chenkus, maintains doctors did not want to give her son a life-saving transplant was because children with his genetic defect grow up to have disabilities. It’s easy to take an objective look at the topic of transplant approval processes right up until you see a picture or video of patients like Maverick Higgs. Simply stated, there are no easy (or right) answers.

3. Lindsey Vonn –- I consistently find myself rooting for injured athletes who willfully delay some sort of surgical procedure and continue to compete athletically. So when I read that all-world skier Lindsey Vonn re-injured her right knee and chose not to opt for a (seemingly necessary) ACL reconstruction surgery in a quest to defend her downhill title at the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics, I couldn’t help but hope for the best for her. However, I think I cheer for these athletes dealing with such unfortunate circumstances because I recognize they are trying to overcome long odds when they try to compete when injured. Consider Vonn’s quote about her training from a recent Associated Press article:

"So it's kind of like, might as well see how long it holds up. Not a lot of options. In the end, surgery is going to have to happen."

That hardly constitutes a confident and enthusiastic assessment of her health, and the Sochi Olympics are still two months away. I am very interested to see how the status of her knee changes over the course of the coming weeks and months and how it will affect the expectations for her performance. As someone who sprained his ankle in the very first cross country race of his senior year of high school and attempted to run anyway (even after re-injuring it about three weeks after the initial incident), I find it difficult to believe Vonn’s knee won’t be a significant distraction for her. Vonn discussed her original injury and subsequent surgery in the video below (which is from about nine months ago).

4. Cristina Speirs –- There are symptoms of illness, and then there’s what happened to Cristina Speirs. A young, active 22-year-old woman, she suddenly stopped feeling tired and began sleeping less. A visit to the doctor found her potassium levels were lower than normal, but her blood pressure was extremely high (given her age and lifestyle). An MRI discovered a 10-centimeter tumor near her kidneys. However, her strange symptoms related to stage 2 adrenal cortical carcinoma are only part of the story. Speirs’s surgery to remove the tumor was scheduled for Oct. 31, 2012 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, or just days after Hurricane Sandy hit East Coast. You can read more about her incredible story here.

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