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Officials confirm local case of hepatitis A

Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District has confirmed a case of hepatitis A in a food handler at McDonald's, 106 LaFayette Road, Chickamauga, Ga.

An investigation found that this employee worked at the restaurant while infectious, from March 4-17.

While it is relatively rare for restaurant patrons to become infected with hepatitis A virus due to an infected food handler, "there might be some risk to the public," District Health Director Dr. Unini Odama said, "and therefore we are doing everything necessary to protect the public and anyone that might have been inadvertently exposed to the hepatitis A virus."

The health department recommends that anyone who consumed food or drink at this restaurant during this time contact their healthcare provider or local health department to determine if a hepatitis A vaccination is needed to prevent the disease. The hepatitis A vaccine is safe, effective, and well-tolerated. It is the best protection against the hepatitis A virus. Additional protective measures, such as immune globulin injections, may be recommended for certain people.

Free hepatitis A vaccinations were provided at the Catoosa and Walker County Health Departments this past weekend.

Anyone who consumed food and/or drink at the restaurant during March 4-17 should:

1. Monitor their health for symptoms of hepatitis A infection up to fifty days after exposure.

2. Wash their hands with soap and warm water frequently and thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing food.

3. Stay at home and contact your healthcare provider immediately if symptoms of

hepatitis A infection develop.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, dark-colored urine and light-colored stools. Yellowing of the skin or eyes may also appear. People can become ill up to fifty days after being exposed to the virus.

Hepatitis A is acquired when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. The virus spreads when an infected person does not wash his/her hands adequately after using the toilet or engages in behaviors that increase risk of infection. Careful hand washing, including under the fingernails, with soap and water, along with vaccination of anyone at risk of infection, will prevent spread of this disease.


Woman facing additional charges in investigation

James Christopher Hicks

Judy Michelle Hicks

A woman arrested in December for alleged embezzlement is now facing additional forgery and theft charges in Ringgold, police say.

According to the Ringgold Police Department, 42-year-old Judy Michelle Hicks of Murray County was arrested Dec. 11 on charges of theft by taking over $25,000, first-degree forgery, and unauthorized use of financial transaction cards.

Hicks' husband, 41-year-old James Christopher Hicks, was also arrested on a charge of being party to a crime for his alleged knowledge of and benefit from his wife's crimes. Both were subsequently released from jail on bond.

The investigation began in August when the owner of Happy Feet International, a flooring company in Ringgold, discovered that his bookkeeper, Judy Hicks, had been stealing money for personal use.

Hicks worked for the company for about six years, and Detective Anthony Gregory said the investigation revealed that the habitual thievery had been going on for awhile.

"It all went back awhile," Gregory said following Hicks' arrest. "She worked there for six years, but it's mainly been the past three to four years that this type of activity has increased. In a nutshell, they found out that a lot of different things were going on."

Hicks was immediately terminated from the company when the crimes were discovered, and a forensic auditor came in to assess the company's books regarding Hicks' activity.

Gregory said the investigation revealed instances where money went into Hick's personal bank account, paid for her son's braces, another person's dental work, vacations, payments on her credit cards, student loans, groceries, personal items, and even her Sirius Satellite Radio subscription.

The new charges

On March 19, investigators learned that another layer of the duo's deceit went a little deeper.

Hicks' husband, James, was also a former employee of the company, who was let go approximately two years before his wife's crimes were discovered.

Investigators say that after his firing, Judy Hicks continued to cook the books to keep her husband's salary coming in.

"It was learned that Ms. Hicks had been collecting Mr. Hicks' salary and adding it to hers, but at the same time forged documentation that allowed Mr. Hicks to receive unemployment benefits while he was still employed," Sgt. Elliot Welch stated in the most recent incident report. "There is also documentation showing where Ms. Hicks used funds to pay a traffic citation that Mr. Hicks had received."

Detective Gregory says Judy Hicks' tax returns from 2013 through 2017 show she was taking deductions for vehicles and travel even though her job didn't involve her traveling, reports show.

With the new activity added to the case file, Hicks now faces additional charges of third-degree forgery, theft by taking more than $1,500, and unauthorized use of financial transaction cards.


Hope in the face of MS

It all began with stopping at a gas station to get a soda. Cheribeth Swanson didn't know that morning in 2005 that her life would change forever, but when she realized that she couldn't tell if the drink was cold by touch, her journey with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) began.

The journey, although long and difficult, has turned Swanson and the rest of her family into advocates who educate others about MS and raise funds for research. On April 6, she and a group of 30 family members and friends will participate in Walk MS Rome at Berry College in Rome, Ga.

This is the fifth year the family has participated in the event. Cheryl Wilson, Swanson's aunt, saw the walk advertised six years ago, and the family decided to participate. The first year "it was on Cheribeth's birthday, and we thought that would be a good way to celebrate" remembered Wilson.

In 2017, Team Cheribeth raised $11,000, taking the title of top fundraiser for the Rome walk. Karen Stoker, Swanson's mother, noted, "we are kind of competitive" as a family, each wanting to raise the most money. In 2017, Swanson's grandfather, Bob Chappell, was in the top 100 fundraisers in the state. But the competition is all in fun, because "it could be $50 or $4,000 and it's more money than (the) MS (Society) had" said Swanson. Stoker notes that 90% of the money raised goes to National MS Society to fund research toward understanding MS.

Not only do Swanson and her family participate in the Walk, they also host a yearly yard sale in the spring with all proceeds going to the MS Society. Once a year, the family partners with Northwest Georgia Technical College to host an MS Awareness volleyball game.

A few years ago at the game "the opposing team came to take a picture with Cheribeth," recalled Stoker. "One of the players was very emotional because her mom had just been diagnosed with MS."

Swanson was able to talk with her and give her a new perspective of what it's like to live with MS. Since then, the two have kept in touch. "That's why we do these things. Someone was there when Cheribeth needed them, and we want to do that too" said Stoker.

Swanson, a full-time nurse, had diagnosed herself before she received the call from her doctor. "I was upset, but I was okay," she recalled.

Life stayed much the same for Swanson until 2011, when she started having issues walking. With the use of walking aids, she was able to continue walking until 2016. Although she is in a wheelchair now, she, and her family, have not given up hope. Her aunt, Cheryl Wilson, summed it up by saying "God is a God of miracles" Cheribeth, surrounded by her family, firmly believes that.

MS is an immune-mediated disease, which means it causes the immune system to work overtime. The disease affects the central nervous system because the body, for some reason, attacks the covering around the nerves, called myelin.

"When you flip a switch, the light comes on," Swanson explained, "unless something has attacked the insulation around the wiring. Then the lights

eventually won't come on."

She likened what is happening in her body to that short in the wiring. "The hardest thing with MS is that it's so unpredictable. You just take it as it comes," Swanson said. People will experience different symptoms and symptoms will sometimes come and go. That all makes it difficult to pinpoint if and what the immune system is attacking.

The National MS Society estimates there are 2.3 million people living with MS worldwide, making it a disease that demands attention. Anyone can develop MS, but it is two to three times more prevalent in women. It can be diagnosed in people of any age, although it's most likely to be found between the ages of 20 and 50.

While there is no known cure, Swanson still maintains a remarkable attitude due in part to the support of her family. "There's no way I could do this, not because I can't walk, but emotionally, without everybody" she says. "My whole family is just amazing."

Stoker echoed "we're going to get through everything as a family, because we know God is beside us every step of the way."

Part of Swanson's treatment requires a trip to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta every four months. The trip requires a full day of travel and treatment, so the family loads up the trailer with Swanson's wheelchair and heads down to Atlanta to support her every step of the way. The medicine she receives there will help delay disability. In the absence of a cure, Swanson noted, "that is the ultimate goal."

But Swanson is also made of tough stuff, as evidenced by the Team Cheribeth logo — a rhinoceros, her favorite animal. "In middle school, my algebra teacher read a book called 'Rhino Success.' It talked about how rhinos push forward and won't back down" she said. "That's kind of my personality." Pushing forward includes maintaining her nursing certification even though she hasn't worked since 2015, never giving up hope that she will again use it.

The community has also rallied around Swanson's cause, noted Stoker. "The Walker County community has supported us so well, and we appreciate that," she said. Between T-Mobile and Precision Graphics helping with the cost of printing the team T-shirts and the connections with other people living with MS in the community that helped Swanson find physicians, the community has been an avid supporter of the fundraising and awareness efforts of the family.

Learning to live with MS hasn't been an easy journey for Swanson or her family, but they stay hopeful by sharing their experience with others and helping in the search for a cure. "Faith goes a long way," noted Chappell. "With enough walks and enough money, God will empower someone to find a cure." Evidence of this faith is apparent in the whole family. In a letter that accompanied her donation for the walk, Swanson's aunt wrote, "Some day a cure will be found, and this occasion (WalkMS Rome) will no longer exist." What better hope is there to have?

IF YOU GO

What: WalkMS Rome 2019

When: April 6th

Where: Berry College at 10AM

Why Walk MS? Walk MS helps fuel groundbreaking MS research and provide life- changing services to those affected by MS through creating a supportive community of friends, families, and loved ones who fundraise and connect.

Register: To find a walk near you, to participate or to volunteer, visit walkMs.org, call 855-372-1331 or email fundraisingsupport@nmss.org.

TEAM CHERIBETH IS ACCEPTING DONATIONS IN SEVERAL WAYS ...

Drop off donations anytime at Dale Wilson's Pure Service station at 305 North Main Street, LaFayette, Ga.

Mail donations to the MS Society at 950 East Paces Ferry Road NE #110, Atlanta, GA 30326

Donate online at www.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Walk/GAAWalkEvents?pg=entry&fr_id=30427.

Scroll to the bottom of the page, select fundraising, then teams. Choose Team Cheribeth, and join the team.

The annual Team Cheribeth yard sale will be May 1-4 at 2927 Trion Highway, LaFayette. All proceeds go to the MS Society.