Brightest ideas of the week: Dec. 27, 2009

Passengers get a break from airlines, cabs become wheelchair-friendly, Balloon Boy’s parents can’t profit from hoax, and a future king follows in his philanthropist mother’s footsteps

Sci-fi therapy
1|Face transplants for injured veterans fast-tracked by Pentagon
The details: American surgeons completed their first facial transplant only a year ago — ­successfully replacing 80 percent of a trauma patient’s face. Now the Department of Defense has given a $3.4 million grant to a Boston hospital transplant team to operate on six to eight patients in the next 18 months. DOD hopes to fast-track the surgical science and help some 200 veterans who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with injuries too serious to benefit from basic cosmetic surgery.

Tarmac jailbreak
2|No overnight confinement aboard grounded planes
The details: U.S. airlines must let passengers off planes stuck on airport tarmacs after three hours, under a new federal rule prompted by consumer complaints. Airlines also must provide drinking water and snacks such as pretzels after two hours, or they could be fined as much as $27,500 per passenger for violations. An average of 114,000 passengers aboard 1,500 flights per year were held on the tarmac for more than three hours during 2007 and 2008.

Taxi freedom
3|More wheelchair accessible cabs hitting cities nationwide
The details: Taxi companies are getting an incentive to run a more disabled-helpful cab service, with Federal Transit Administration funds known as New Freedom grants. Wheelchair users can ride a limited number of accessible taxis in larger cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but nationally such taxis were not very widespread. Now companies in smaller cities are more willing to invest the high start-up costs to offer the service.

Wireless underwater
4|BART adds wireless access to Transbay Tube
The details: Four mobile phone companies — AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint/Nextel and Verizon — activated wireless networks inside the Transbay Tube over the weekend, to allow BART travelers to make phone calls and surf the Web. There is already wireless service between BART’s Embarcadero and Balboa Park stations in San Francisco, according to BART.

Grounded
5|Balloon Boy’s ­parents sentenced to jail for hoax
The details: Richard and Mayumi Heene, parents of Colorado
“Balloon Boy” Falcon Heene, were sentenced to prison time Wednesday. Richard has to serve 90 days and Mayumi 20. Perhaps more satisfying, the attention-seeking couple was legally barred from earning any money from the hoax for four years.

Paying up
6|Wells Fargo, Citigroup make good on loans
The details: More than $45 billion is going back in the government’s coffers. Wells Fargo said it completed repayment of its $25 billion loan, while Citigroup did the same with the $20 billion it received from the federal government for losses stemming from securities tied to soured mortgages. Both banks raised capital by diluting shareholder equity in order to escape the Troubled Asset Relief Program. It wrapped up a series of announcements by big banks to repay the loans, which can only instill confidence from the public.

New treatment
7|Cord blood reverses cerebral palsy in Colorado girl
The details: Chloe Levine, diagnosed at 9 months with cerebral palsy caused by a stroke in utero, showed improvement in her symptoms after receiving an infusion of stem cells from her own umbilical cord blood at age 2. The treatment she received remains experimental, but if the results prove lasting and effective, it could become an exciting new area of treatment. Cord blood banking is currently optional, and only some parents opt to do it.

Rehab program works
8|Sticking with heart rehab boosts survival
The details: The standard program of 36 sessions of cardiac rehabilitation covered by most Medicare plans and insurers can reduce the risk of heart attack or bypass operation patients dying in the next three or four years by as much as 47 percent, according to a new study. The research could help motivate more patients to actually take advantage of rehab programs; currently only about one-fifth of heart patients even try rehab and very few complete the entire recommended course of sessions, even when it is paid for.

H1N1 event
9|San Francisco vaccinates 16,000 in largest clinic to date
The details: During a marathon 10 hours on Tuesday, 16,000 H1N1 vaccines were dispensed to everyone who lined up downtown at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. It was The City’s largest free H1N1 inoculation clinic so far. Hundreds of people arrived before the doors opened, some waiting overnight. The event targeted high-risk San Francisco residents, including pregnant women, children and young adults between 6 months and 24 years old, and anyone in contact with infants younger than 6 months.

Help off the street
10|More money provided for homeless programs

The details: Nearly $1.4 billion in grants to help fund a record number of programs for the homeless have been awarded, the federal Housing and Urban Development Department announced Wednesday. The grants will assist 6,445 existing programs around the country, up from $1.2 billion to fund 5,825 ongoing projects last year. The amount includes more than $733 million for 3,200 programs that serve families with children.

Bright light of the week
Prince William
What: The future king spent a chilly night in a cold alley in central London to highlight the plight of homeless British teenagers.

Why: “I hope that by deepening my understanding of the issue, I can help do my bit to help the most vulnerable on our streets,” William said after the experience. It appears that the 27-year-old may be following in the footsteps of his mother, Princess Diana, who was well-known for her charitable work before her untimely death in 1997.

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