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Chillicothe Times-Bulletin - Chillicothe, IL
  • Are you prepared for.....vampires?

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  • You never know who may be lurking in the Chillicothe Public Library, and I came face to face with a self-proclaimed vampire a few weeks ago.
    He was giving a talk Oct. 4 about disaster preparedness and how our government is using the zombie craze to remind people to prepare for the unknown.
    After that talk, the wheels in my mind were spinning: I need to be prepared for zombies. His saying that night: "If you're prepared for zombies, you're prepared for anything."
    Does all this sound a little crazy? I thought I was a rational person.
    I don't believe in vampires, zombies, or things that go bump in the night.
    My friends in college made me watch scary/horror movies with them. It wasn't the fact that they were scary, it's that I cannot stand gore. And when I get grossed out, I faint. It's just that simple. Now you understand why I could not ever be a nurse or doctor.
    Real life situations scare me more than Halloween movies or creatures.
    I guess I should admit I did let out a scream while sitting between two friends while watching the movie "The Skeleton Key" in a movie theater years ago. OK, so I do scream at things that jump out at me, even if I'm pretty sure the movie music is suggesting something, or someone, is lurking around the corner.
    In the library's corner was Eddy Weiss, director of Chasing4Life, who doesn't look like a vampire. He seems as normal as someone could be who plays the paranoid game while drinking his morning coffee. He explained to us the paranoid game goes like this: he thinks of the worst scenarios as far as disasters go, and then as a storm chaser and disaster preparedness educator, he solves it.
    He deviated from his talk about zombies to show a few teens his medical ID bracelet. I don't know a lot of people who wear medical ID bracelets, so my curiosity was piqued. The teens checked out his condition: porphyria. Never heard of it, I thought to myself, but I received an education in a short amount of time.
    You can look it up online, although I can tell you it's not explained in such an interesting manner as Weiss told us about the condition. In simple terms, he said, the body is starved of protein.
    As he explains it, in the early 1600s, his descendants settled in Transylvania, Romania. The disease seems to afflict those with a German and Romanian blood line, of which he is one.
    There are many well-known people who have porphyria, including many in the royal blood line — of which King George III suffered from madness through one type of the disease. Some theorize the royals contracted the disease through intermarrying, and then passed it on to some of their German servants. Also thought to have porphyria was artist Vincent van Gogh.
    Page 2 of 2 - Various types of porphyria exist, but the symptoms sound like what we think of as the vampire legend. Sensitivity to light, receding gums which make teeth look like fangs and pain and depression causing insomnia all are symptoms.
    Weiss said he cannot walk into Olive Garden due to the garlic wafting in the air, or he feels his throat closing up. Other Italian restaurants are usually a no-go as well.
    Those with porphyria run a risk of having strokes or small heart attacks. In yesteryear, they could go into a coma for two to three days, and relatives thought their loved one was dead. Before the days of embalming the deceased, the loved one was put in the family crypt, only to find him or her banging on the door after coming out of the coma.
    The only way they found to stabilize the problem was to drink animal blood. Nowadays, for Weiss and his son, who also has porphyria, they receive injections. One plant that was found to help with symptoms was foxglove, which is poisonous if an average person ingested it.
    "So, are vampires real?" he asked us, raising his eyebrows.
    I never thought I'd find "vampires" interesting, and yet, it was. It's one of the best aspects of being a reporter — a chance to learn, and be exposed to, all kinds of things.
    Wanting to know a little more, I searched online for information. There are websites that say the medical community rebuffed the idea of porphyria being the link to how the idea of vampires got its start.
    Writing about vampires began in at least the early 1800s, but probably became well known through Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, "Dracula."
    It doesn't seem like a far stretch of the imagination for writers to spin stories of fiction possibly based on an unusual medical condition.

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