Sterling Biotech Directors Chetan Sandesara, Brother Nitin Left India Before Case Filed In Rs 5,000 Crore Bank Fraud Case

Sterling Biotech: Properties worth Rs 4,703 crore have been seized by Enforcement Directorate

New Delhi: 

The properties of two Gujarat-based businessmen worth Rs 4,703 crore have been seized by the Enforcement Directorate after the two men allegedly defrauded half a dozen banks of Rs 5,700 crore. Chetan Sandesara and his brother Nitin, directors of Vadodara-based Sterling Biotech, who have been named as the main accused, left the country long before investigators came to know of the alleged fraud and opened a case against the firm, the ED has said.

The matter is likely to escalate amid the controversy over other businessmen such as Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, accused of defrauding Punjab National Bank of Rs 13,000 crore, leaving India before they could be arrested.

The Sterling Biotech directors are believed to be in Nigeria, people familiar with the matter said. India does not have an extradition treaty or a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with Nigeria.

“The Sandesara brothers left even before LOC was opened against them,” a senior ED officer told NDTV. LOC or lookout circular is used to track people who are wanted by the police and other probe agencies. The LOC against the promoters of Sterling Biotech was cleared in August 2017. A case by the CBI was filed three months later on October 25, followed by the ED two days later.


The property seized by the Enforcement Directorate

The ED also clarified that they are not probing the role of CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana in the case. Initially, when searches were conducted, some diaries were recovered that contained details of payments made by Sterling Biotech to several people and firms in January and June 2011.

The initials RA were seen in one of the entries, and since Rakesh Asthana is a Gujarat cadre Indian Police Service officer, it was assumed that they were his initials. The ED probe, however, determined that RA stood for ‘running account’ of another company.

The CBI’s First Information Report or FIR names three Indian Revenue Service officers on the basis of the diary that was recovered by the income tax department in 2011 from the premises of the Sandesara group of companies in Gujarat. Mr Asthana was not named in that case. However, Mr Asthana has alleged that his name has not been cleared after ties between him and CBI Director Alok Verma sourced following a tiff between the two.

On August 24, Mr Asthana wrote to the cabinet secretary that CBI officers got information in December 2017 itself that the initials “RA” mentioned in the diary of Sandesara Group stood for “running account”, and referred to transactions between a company of the group, Sterling Biotech, and another company based in Pune that provides engineering solutions in the energy and environment sectors.


The Enforcement Directorate released photos of the assets it has seized

“By February this year, CBI sleuths recorded the statements of the company’s representative confirming the payments, and received a formal letter in this regard. In fact, all these payments took place through banking channels,” an officer with direct knowledge of the matter said.

“The attached assets include immovable properties of around 4,000 acres in total, plant machinery, 200 bank accounts of various companies and accounts of promoters, shares worth Rs 6.67 crore and high-end luxury cars,” said a senior officer who has been handling the case, asking not to be identified.

The officer said several companies promoted by the Sandesara brothers had, on the basis of false and fabricated documents, fraudulently obtained credit facilities of more than Rs 5,000 crore from banks, which subsequently turned into bad loans or NPA.

“The loans were sanctioned by a consortium of banks led by Andhra Bank, UCO Bank, State Bank of India, Allahabad Bank, and Bank of India. Till date, the banks have declared various outstanding loan accounts to the tune of about Rs 5,000 crore as fraud in respect of various companies of Sterling Group, including Sterling Biotech, Sterling Port, PMT Machines, Sterling SEZ and Infrastructure, and Sterling Oil Resources,” the officer said.

Investigations by the ED and the CBI found that the Sandesaras have set up over 300 shell and benami companies in India and abroad, which they used to divert and misuse loan funds. These shell and benami firms were controlled by the Sandesaras through dummy directors, who were employees of other firms in the Sterling Group.

Fake sales and purchases were shown between the shell firms to divert loans, inflate earnings and apply for more loans.

The CBI has already booked Vadodara-based Sterling Biotech, its directors Chetan Jayantilal Sandesara, Dipti Chetan Sandesara, Rajbhushan Omprakash Dixit, Nitin Jayantilal Sandesara and Vilas Joshi, chartered accountant Hemant Hathi, former director of Andhra Bank Anup Garg and others in connection with the alleged bank fraud.

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Cosby sentencing begins, capping fall from 'America's Dad' to convicted felon

Cosby’s lawyers, psychologist spar in court over ‘predator’ label

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) – Bill Cosby’s lawyers and a state-appointed psychologist argued in court on Monday over whether the disgraced comedian should be deemed a “sexually violent predator” under Pennsylvania law as a two-day sentencing hearing began for Cosby’s sexual assault conviction.

Cosby, who was found guilty in April, is the first celebrity to face a possible prison sentence since the start of the #MeToo movement, the national reckoning with sexual misconduct that has brought down dozens of powerful men in entertainment, politics and other fields.

Cosby, 81, built a family-friendly reputation playing the affable Dr. Cliff Huxtable in the 1980s television comedy “The Cosby Show.” He was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a former administrator at his alma mater Temple University, at his Philadelphia-area home in 2004. More than 50 other women also have accused him of sexual abuse going back decades.

If Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven O’Neill agrees with prosecutors’ recommendation to label him a predator under state law, Cosby would face more onerous reporting requirements, including monthly counseling and registration as a sex offender with police for the rest of his life.

Kristen Dudley, a psychologist with the state sex offender board, told the court that Cosby met the criteria to be labeled a predator. She said people who commit this sort of aberrant sexual behavior, which she described as a form of paraphilia, were likely to reoffend.

When questioned by lawyers for Cosby, who oppose the designation, she said she had taken his age and blindness into account as well as the fact that there are no allegations more recent than his assault of Constand.

Actor and Comedian Bill Cosby arrives with his spokesman Andrew Wyatt at the Montgomery County Courthouse for sentencing in his sexual assault trial in Norristown, Pennsylvania, U.S. September 24, 2018. David Maialetti/Pool via REUTERS

“He is an esteemed member of the community and is able to meet and befriend people,” Dudley said, adding that Cosby has been accused of sexually assaulting female acquaintances. “Being blind does not stop him from meeting people.”

Cosby had arrived earlier at the courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania, walking with a cane and holding the arm of his spokesman, Andrew Wyatt. A number of accusers, including model Janice Dickinson, were on hand for the sentencing hearing.

Cosby faces up to 10 years on each of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, although it is unlikely the judge would go as high as 30 years, according to Steven Chanenson, a law professor at Villlanova University and an expert on sentencing.

State sentencing guidelines, which are not mandatory, recommend a sentence between two and four years, Chanenson said.

Prosecutors are expected to seek a lengthy sentence, citing the nature of Cosby’s crime as well as his alleged history of misconduct.

Cosby’s first trial in 2017 ended in a mistrial when jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict. Soon after that proceeding, a series of women began leveling sexual misconduct allegations against influential men, launching the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that have encouraged victims to speak up about their experiences.

The judge allowed prosecutors to call five other accusers as witnesses in Cosby’s second trial over the objections of his defense team, bolstering Constand’s account. All of the women told stories that were markedly similar to Constand’s: Cosby would offer to be their mentor before plying them with alcohol and drugs and sexually assaulting them.

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Prosecutors had asked O’Neill for permission to call an unspecified number of accusers as witnesses during the sentencing hearing but the judge denied that request last week.

Reporting by David DeKok; Writing by Joseph Ax and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bill Trott and Tom Brown

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Wall Street lower as industrials, tech fall on trade woes

Wall Street drops as Rosenstein jitters add to trade woes

(Reuters) – Industrials took the biggest knock on Wall Street on Monday as the latest U.S.-China tariffs kicked in, while adding to uncertainty were questions over whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation, had quit.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

With U.S. tariffs on some $200 billion worth of Chinese goods taking effect, along with Beijing’s retaliatory duties, eight of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower. The gainers included the rebranded and expanded “communications services” index.

The industrial sector .SPLRCI, which has borne the brunt of the protracted trade war, fell 1.44 percent, while material stocks .SPLRCM slid 1.48 percent. Boeing (BA.N), the biggest U.S. exporter to China, shed 1.3 percent.

The S&P 500 fell to session low after news website Axios reported Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election, had resigned.

A source told Reuters that Rosenstein had not resigned, while a White House spokeswoman said he would be meeting President Donald Trump on Thursday.

“Its a near-term cautious environment with Rosenstein contributing to the anxiety around trade,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.

“The S&P was at a technically overbought position on Friday so it is not surprising to see it pulling back, investors are taking some risk of the table given that trade concerns have now resurfaced.”

At 13:02 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 192.69 points, or 0.72 percent, at 26,550.81, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 15.03 points, or 0.51 percent, at 2,914.64 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 20.22 points, or 0.25 percent, at 7,966.74.

The CBOE Global Markets volatility index .VIX, known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge”, rose 1.12 points, its most in a week, as the shuffling of S&P 500 sectors took effect.

Helping curb losses were energy stocks .SPNY, which rose 1.37 percent, as oil prices jumped after OPEC rebuffed calls by Trump to raise supply.

The technology sector .SPLRCT cut earlier losses and was flat, lifted by Apple (AAPL.O), whose products have been spared from new tariffs. Apple climbed 1 percent.

The communications services index .SPLRCL, which now houses media stocks besides telecom companies, opened lower in its debut. But it eked out a 0.05 percent gain by afternoon as new member Netflix NFXL.O climbed 3 percent.

Fellow new members Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA.O) and Walt Disney (DIS.N) rose 1.3 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively, after losing an auction for Sky Plc (SKYB.L) to Comcast (CMCSA.O), which slid 7 percent.

Michael Kors’s (KORS.N) tumbled 8.50 percent. The fashion group has agreed to take control of Italy’s Versace in a deal that could value the company at $2 billion, a source said.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 2.23-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.87-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 15 new 52-week highs and three new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 37 new highs and 38 new lows.

Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Anil D’Silva

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Dallas cop charged in fatal shooting

Dallas police fire officer charged with fatally shooting man in his apartment

Fired police officer Amber Guyger is charged with manslaughter in the death of Botham Shem Jean.

Guyger was fired during a hearing Monday, Hall said.

An internal affairs investigation concluded that Guyger “engaged in adverse conduct when she was arrested” for manslaughter, according to a statement released on DPD’s verified Twitter account.
Guyger earlier said she shot and killed Botham Shem Jean after she thought she was entering her own apartment, not realizing she was on the wrong floor of her building.

Under civil service rules, Guyger has the right to appeal her discipline, the statement reads.

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Canada's Barrick Gold to buy Randgold for $6.5 billion in all-stock deal

Canada’s Barrick Gold to buy Randgold for $6.5 billion in all-stock deal

LONDON (Reuters) – Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp has agreed to buy Randgold Resources Ltd in an all-stock deal valuing the Africa-focused miner at $6.5 billion, to create the world’s largest gold producer in an industry under investor pressure to put capital to good use.

The new Barrick company, which will be listed in New York and Toronto, will own five of the world’s 10 lowest cost gold mines and have market value of $19.4 billion based on Monday trading. That would make it the world’s biggest gold miner by market capitalization, overtaking Newmont Mining Corp, according to Reuters calculations.

The deal marks the biggest transaction in years in the gold mining industry, where companies have come under fire from investors for poorly managing capital, forcing them to focus on costs while dampening enthusiasm for acquisitions.

Randgold closed up 6 percent, making it the biggest gainer in London’s wider mining index and valuing it at 4.93 billion pounds ($6.5 billion). Shares of Barrick, the world’s second largest gold producer, were up 6.3 percent in afternoon trade in Toronto.

“Randgold has the agility and swift-footedness of a younger and smaller company, much like Barrick in its early years, while Barrick has the infrastructure and global reach of a large corporate company,” Barrick Chairman John Thornton said in a conference call.

Randgold’s long-term boss Mark Bristow will become the chief executive and president of the merged company, taking chief financial officer Graham Shuttleworth with him and Barrick’s Thornton, an ex-Goldman Sachs banker, will be executive chairman.

Bristow, a 59-year old trained geologist, has been at the helm of Randgold since its inception in 1995 and is known for his straight-talking, hands-on approach to running the company.

The deal brings to together two executives with different leadership styles and backgrounds.

Two-thirds of the directors of the board of the new Barrick will be nominated by Barrick and one-third by Randgold.

“What the deal delivers Randgold shareholders…is more options in terms of growth and development, whereas before they only had one growth option of scale in Massawa,” said Investec analyst Hunter Hillcoat, referring to the miner’s gold project in Senegal.


The deal value, at 48.5 pound-a-share, matched Randgold’s market capitalization as of Friday’s close. This lack of a premium for Randgold shareholders prompted scepticism from some analysts who were also concerned that Randgold’s agility could be bogged down by the mammoth Barrick.

“UK shareholders are arguably being dealt a poor hand with the merger,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

“What Bristow has got to prove now is that bigger is better and the Randgold culture is the one that will perhaps prevail.”

The current spot gold price is not helping the sector, having lost out on traditional safe-haven flows to the dollar, pushing it 10 percent lower this year.

Both Barrick and Randgold have lost a third of their market capitalizations over the past year before Monday’s gains.

“We don’t see a reason to change Randgold’s approach… If we can’t deliver something that is bigger and better, then we wouldn’t do it,” Bristow said on a call with analysts.

Bristow added on another call that the new company would be open to weighing options for its Nevada and Australia assets, and said there had expressions of interest on the latter.

The new company will have the sector’s highest adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and appreciation and EBITDA margin of nearly 50 percent based on 2017 numbers, and the lowest total cash cost position among its peers, the companies said.

Under the terms of the deal, each Randgold shareholder will receive 6.1280 new Barrick shares for each share of the African rival, the companies said.

Talks on the deal, which is still subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals and scheduled to close in the first quarter of 2019, started more than three years ago with advisors taken in July, a person familiar with the talks told Reuters.

In 2017, Barrick and Randgold combined produced 6.64 million ounces while the next largest gold miner, Newmont, churned out 5.27 million ounces.

The two companies said they were aligned on their strategy with Chinese investors after Barrick said it would make a bigger push to attract investors in China.

Randgold, which mines also in Mali, Ivory Coast and the Republic of Congo, where it has been faced with regulatory risk, a factor that Barrick’s Africa unit Acacia Mining has to deal with in Tanzania.

M. Klein & Co and Morgan Stanley advised Barrick on the deal, while CIBC and Barclays were the financial advisers to Randgold.

FILE PHOTO: Randgold Resources CEO Mark Bristow speaks during a news conference at Tongon Gold Mine in the Korhogo region, Ivory Coast, April 24, 2016. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

Reporting by Justin George Varghese in Bengaluru, Zandi Shabalala and Clara Denina in London; additional reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain and John Tilak; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Marguerita Choy

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Dubai man asks for biryani before getting stomach surgically removed

Dubai man asks for biryani before getting stomach surgically removed

When Ghulam Abbas, an engineer in Dubai, walked into a doctor’s clinic complaining of sudden weight loss and vomiting, he didn’t expect his life to change forever. Abbas was diagnosed with stage-three stomach cancer.

His options? Live a life without a stomach or not live at all!

Abbas chose the former. But he had one ‘delicious’ wish before the doctors surgically removed his stomach – to savour biryani.

Abbas requested the doctors to let him have biryani, the Khaleej Times reported. The doctors agreed.

Abbas’s wife prepared the biryani and his brother brought it to the hospital.

“I sort of gorged on it,” Abbas told Khaleej Times.

Abbas has two children – a one-and-a-half-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter. For him, letting his children grow up without a father was just not an option. Choosing to undergo the surgery and getting his stomach removed was effortless for him.

Stomach cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide.

Now the question arises, how will Abbas survive without a stomach?

The absence of a stomach doesn’t mean Abbas will stop eating. He will just have to eat small, non-spicy meals.

“It is normal to question how a person can live without a stomach. However, the body is able to bypass the stomach’s main function of storing and breaking down food to gradually pass to the intestines. Without a stomach, food consumed in small quantities can move directly from the oesophagus to the small intestine,” Khaleej Times quoted Dr Al Marzouqi, a consultant laproscopic surgeon, as saying.

According to the doctors, Abbas will soon be able to consume small meals. Till then, he has to make do with a liquid diet.

READ | Love Ikea but Hyderabad stays loyal to biryani

READ | How ‘Biryani with Aloo or Not’ is a debate that’s common in India and Pakistan

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U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein resigns: Axios

Trump, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to meet on Thursday

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump and U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election, will meet on Thursday to discuss Rosenstein’s future.

FILE PHOTO: Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks during the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s rollout for the “Fentanyl: The Real Deal” training video in Washington, U.S., August 30, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

A source told Reuters that Rosenstein had spent the weekend contemplating whether he should resign after a New York Times report last week said he had suggested secretly recording Trump in 2017.

The White House announced the meeting on Monday after a flurry of conflicting reports about whether Rosenstein, a frequent target of Trump’s anger, would be leaving the post.

“At the request of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he and President Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Twitter.

She said the meeting will be on Thursday because Trump was at the U.N. General Assembly on Monday and has meetings with world leaders later in the week.

The Rosenstein furor, kicked off by unconfirmed reports that he had verbally resigned, underscored the mounting tension in the White House over the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election.

There had been widespread speculation that Trump would fire Rosenstein since Friday when a New York Times report said that in 2017 Rosenstein had suggested secretly recording the president and recruiting Cabinet members to invoke a constitutional amendment to remove him from office.

The Times said none of those proposals came to fruition. Rosenstein denied the report as “inaccurate and factually incorrect.”

FILE PHOTO: Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pauses while announcing grand jury indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo


Shortly after the Times story, Trump told supporters at a rally in Missouri that there is “a lingering stench” at the Justice Department and that “we’re going to get rid of that, too.”

Rosenstein’s departure would prompt questions about the future of Mueller’s investigation and whether Trump, who has called the probe a “witch hunt,” would seek to remove Mueller.

The furor comes just six weeks ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections, and Rosenstein’s removal could become an explosive political issue as Trump’s fellow Republicans try to keep control of Congress.

If Rosenstein resigns, Trump has more leeway on replacing him while firing him would make it harder for Trump to designate a successor.

Rosenstein’s future ignited a series of conflicting reports on Monday, with the Axios news website cited an unidentified source with knowledge of the matter as saying he had verbally resigned to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Other reports said Rosenstein expected to be fired while NBC News reported Rosenstein said he would not resign and the White House would have to fire him.

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U.S. Treasury yields fell as much as 2 basis points after the Axios report, signaling investor concern but later pared losses. The S&P 500 also ticked down briefly but recovered most of its losses.

Rosenstein has defended Mueller and been a target of Trump since he assumed supervision of the Russia investigation after his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, recused himself because of his own contacts with Russia’s ambassador to Washington while serving as a Trump campaign adviser became public.

Trump also has blasted Sessions frequently and said last week “I don’t have an attorney general.”

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said he was “deeply concerned” about the reports of Rosenstein stepping down, saying his departure would put the federal probe into Russian election activities at risk.

“There is nothing more important to the integrity of law enforcement and the rule of law than protecting the investigation of Special Counsel (Robert) Mueller,” McCabe said in a statement.

McCabe was fired by Sessions in March after the Justice Department’s internal watchdog accused him of misconduct. McCabe charged that he was targeted for being a witness into whether Trump tried to obstruct the probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Reporting by Sarah Lynch, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and Karen Freifeld; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Bill Rigby and Bill Trott

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Paralyzed patients walk again

‘Amazing’ treatment helps paralyzed people walk again

“It only takes a little bit of try — and by a little, I mean a lot,” she says.

Thomas, 24, is one of three paralyzed patients who can now walk again, thanks to a stimulation device implanted in her lower back coupled with intense physical therapy. News of the patients’ progress — considered an important medical advancement — was published in separate studies in two scientific journals on Monday.

On a recent sunny day, Thomas returned to the spot that took so much from her on July 19, 2014. It’s where the truck she was driving came to a halt after flipping four times around a bend on Halls River Road and smashing into a tree. Her body was motionless, hanging halfway out of the mangled wreckage. She was blue and getting cold.

She has driven past the scene of the crash many times since then to try to jar her memory. To help remember what happened that night. To piece together the moment that changed everything. Nothing seems to work.

The scene of the accident that left Kelly Thomas paralyzed.

Visiting this time, she walks toward the tree, talking to her legs to motivate them to keep moving. “One foot in front of the other,” she says. “Slowly but surely.”

At 5 feet, 1 inch tall, she is a spitfire of inspiration. Her grit shows immediately, not just from when she walks, but also when she talks.

“Paralysis isn’t in my dictionary.”

“Don’t call me handicapped, because I’m not.”

“Thank God, I was raised cowboy tough.”

It takes several minutes for her to walk the 40 feet from her car to the tree. Every step is worth it: Today is about triumph rather than a search for lost memories.

“I tell you what,” she says. “It does feel good to be standing where I thought my life ended.”

She woke in a hospital a couple of weeks after the accident, with tubes and wires seemingly hooked up to everything. At 19, she was paralyzed from the chest down.

Thomas stands next to the red maple where the truck she was driving came to a halt. "The stimulator is facilitating my movement," she says, "but my strength is coming from within."

She told her neurosurgeon she would walk again, no matter how slim the odds. He left the room and told her mother not to “go chasing something that’s never going to happen.”

The journey has been in no way easy.

There were tears and screaming fits. In moments of desperation, she would say to God, “I don’t know why this has happened, but if you can help me to understand this, it might make it a little easier.”

She had planned to become a physical therapist to help others. Her mission changed that fateful July day. She’s now helping others by taking steps and speaking up.

The trunk of the red maple still bears scars from the crash, with chunks of bark missing from when truck and tree met.

As she stands next to the tree, Thomas searches for the words to describe her emotions. “It’s somewhere between ‘I told you so’ and the impossible,” she says. “Somewhere between possible and impossible.

“Being here gives me a sense of power, because I lost a life here. But I also gained a brand new one. And I’m proud of the new life I have.”

Transforming the spinal cord injury field

Thomas is part of innovative research conducted at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville.

In a study published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine, two of four patients with “motor complete spinal cord injury” — meaning no voluntary movement below their injury — were able to walk again after being implanted with a spinal cord stimulation device and then undergoing extensive physical therapy. They walk with the aid of walkers.

Thomas became paralyzed at the age of 19. Always active in life, she made a pledge to herself that she'd walk again, no matter the odds.

“This should change our thinking about people with paralysis,” said Susan Harkema, one of the lead researchers on the project and a professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Louisville. “It’s phenomenal. This new knowledge is giving us the tools to develop new strategies and tools for recovery in people with chronic spinal injuries.”

Claudia Angeli, the other lead researcher and a senior researcher at the Human Locomotion Research Center at Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville, said it’s a fascinating time to be involved in spinal cord research, bringing together decades of investigations culminating in modern-day breakthroughs.

“It just shows the capacity of the spinal cord and how much we’re learning about using the epidural stimulation in combination with therapy,” Angeli said.

Over the years, their research has involved 14 paralyzed people who have received what is called an epidural stimulator implanted over a portion of the lower spinal cord, enabling neurons below their injuries to receive signals the brain used to send before their accidents.

All 14 patients have experienced voluntarily movement with the implant, the researchers said. They also showed improvement in bowel and bladder function.

The latest study focused on four patients, including Thomas who underwent therapy twice a day for five days a week for many months. A morning therapy session would involve working on stepping; an afternoon session would focus on standing. Thomas’s therapy lasted 10 months after receiving the implant.

Thomas says she has to focus on every step to walk. Sometimes, she talks to her feet to keep them moving.

All four were able to stand independently, and two were able to walk over ground, the researchers said. One patient fractured his hip, setting his therapy back by several months, the researchers said.

The other patient who was able to walk over ground had been paralyzed from his neck down with no ability to move his arms until he received the stimulator. “With the stimulator off,” Angeli said, “he can’t even sit up.”

Harkema and Angeli said they believe the positive results were the combination of the stimulation and improved physical therapy treatment.

Harkema underwent a federal investigation a couple years ago. Certain research activities were determined to be in violation of federal regulations, according to a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2016. The letter states the University of Louisville took adequate corrective actions to address the noncompliance. Harkema says she stands by her work.

What’s it like to see people who are paralyzed walk again?

“I draw inspiration from every person with a spinal cord injury who comes into this program,” Harkema said. “They each have their own unique personalities and spirits. They are just pioneers.”

Adding to the excitement of these advancements, another study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine unveiled similar results. A man paralyzed since 2013 regained his ability to stand and walk with assistance due to spinal cord stimulation and physical therapy, according to research done in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Thomas uses a walker with front wheels. She says her top goal now is ditch the walker one day.

“What this is teaching us is that those networks of neurons below a spinal cord injury still can function after paralysis,” Dr. Kendall Lee, the co-principal investigator and director of Mayo Clinic’s Neural Engineering Laboratories, said in a press release.

There have been other cases in recent years in which paralyzed people have risen from their wheelchairs and walked. One study in 2015 and another in 2016 showed success in using rehabilitation combined with what is called “brain-computer interface,” in which brain signals were sent to an electrical stimulator or exoskeleton resulting in the generation of muscle activity, allowing some patients to walk.

“They’re different in terms of the way to activate the central nervous system, but the overall outcome is similar,” said Monica Perez, a professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami.

Monday’s studies, Perez said, provide important additional evidence to the continued advances being made in the spinal cord injury field. She said it shows more proof that people with severe paralysis often have residual connections that “can be engaged in a functionally relevant manner — and that’s amazing.”

“What the studies demonstrate is that those connections in the central nervous system can still be recruited, even though you have an injury from years ago,” said Perez, who was not connected to either study.

From a scientific point of view, she said, an important consequence of the studies is the awareness “that we need to work harder to understand how we can better involve those connections,” she said. “These people with more severe paralysis are regaining this level of function — and that is beautiful. We also need more accurate assessments of our patients.”

“It’s not the first time an individual with severe clinically complete paralysis has walked with assistive technology without the help of a therapist,” she said. “But it’s tremendously important that in more cases the potential of these approaches can be demonstrated.”

Harkema and Angeli, whose study was funded in part by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, said it’s imperative for stakeholders to come together to fund more research to help as many of the 1.2 million people with paralysis. More than 8,000 have expressed interest in being research participants in their program.

For Thomas, it’s even more personal. She wants others with injuries as severe as hers to experience the transformation she’s gone through.

“Nothing’s going to be able to stop me in life, because I took something that was thought to be impossible, and I turned it into possible,” she says.

‘Way too many things to do’

Since she was a child, Thomas has loved to ride horses. She’d saddle up her horse Shadow and take off across the family’s ranch. At rodeos, she and Shadow were inseparable.

“All you need is love and a horse,” the motto next to her bed says.

In her late teens, she would run 3 to 4 miles a day, train horses and do endurance weight training at the gym almost every day. She worked as a waitress while attending college to become a physical therapist.

All of that was shattered in an instant. The young woman who had been so active was now confined to a chair at the age of 19. It was a fate she could not accept.

Thomas still rides her horse Shadow, but she needs assistance getting on. Her goal is to be able to saddle Shadow herself and hop on with no help.

Not only had she lost her ability to walk, she’d lost bladder control and sexual function. If she went outside, her body temperature would skyrocket over 101 degrees because it could no longer regulate itself. Every bit of her independence, she felt, had been stripped.

“I was lying there saying, ‘there is no way I can sit in this chair the rest of my life,’ ” she says. “I have way too many things to do.”

To walk again, she’d have to “cowboy up,” as she puts it. She’d rely on the toughness instilled in her by her father from working on the ranch.

It would push her to the limits, at times leaving her on the floor crying, wanting to quit. She’d heard about the program in Louisville. She first went for a screening in January 2017. She returned a month later and stayed through May to do physical therapy, working on standing and stepping for an hour every day.

The stimulator would require a major surgery and a commitment to stay in Louisville for at least a year. She wrestled with the decision. She talked with several men who had the stimulator. They had made gains after the implant, but at the time, no one had walked. She thought, “what’s the point of going through so much work?”

“Just being able to stand or wiggle my toes,” she says, “was not enough for me.”

Thomas's room is decked out with horse mementos from her days at the rodeo.

One of her sisters spoke with her. She told Thomas that she didn’t want her to wonder “what if” for the rest of her life. No one knew what Thomas’ decision would be.

On August 5, 2017, the family’s vehicle was loaded up. “Are we going?” her father asked.

They drove the 13 hours to Louisville. The stimulator was implanted the next month.

Sensation swept through her body as soon as it was turned on.”There was this rushing vibration,” she says. “It was like a highlighter of my muscles. All of them were contracting. It was wild.”

The real work lay in the months ahead. She had endured physical therapy sessions three times a week for three years prior to the implant. That helped set her on a path for success, she says, but it was nothing close to how hard the work over the next year would be. She attended physical therapy fives times a week, a couple of hours every day.

She clung to her faith during the most agonizing sessions, repeating phrases to herself: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” and “God is with me. I will not fail.”

“I tell you what: After the implant, I was introduced to a whole new ballgame,” she says. “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I prayed my way through so many sessions, just to get me through, because I wanted to quit.”

Thomas says growing up on her family's ranch made her tough and prepared her for the journey.

The stimulator does not move her legs for her. It stimulates neurons and nerves, allowing her to consciously control the movement.

It began small — wiggling of toes — then one leg being able to move and then figuring out how to sync her legs to be able to walk.

She was wearing a black T-shirt with the phrase “No Days Off” on that magical day in February. She took a step or two, and then her therapist broke out in dance. The two hugged and cried. “Oh, my God,” Thomas said.

She wiped away the tears and took more steps.

It was like trying to pat your tummy and rub your head at the same time, she says explaining how it felt trying to coordinate her legs, body and mind.

“Trying to trust my body, trying to find a cadence, was very hard.”

Finding her calling

Thomas can now walk and talk at the same time, but she still must focus on each step.

She presses a device against her abdomen to turn the stimulator on. “I’m still paralyzed as can be without it,” she says.

To turn her stimulator on, Kelly uses a magnet hooked up to this device and presses it against her abdomen.

When she stands, she asks herself, “How do I walk, again?”

Beyond helping her walk, the stimulator has restored sexual function and much of her bladder control. She has regained muscle mass, and nerve pain in her right foot has disappeared. “I’m totally pro stimulator. I love it,” she says.

Strolling across her front lawn at the family ranch, she says that her No. 1 goal in the short term is to get rid of her walker. She’d love to be able to run again.

She points to the nearby barn that houses Shadow. She longs to be able to walk to the barn by herself, saddle her up and get on. She’d longs to get Shadow in a full gallop again.

“That’s the day I’ll accept that I’m healed,” she says.

For now, she’s taking every day one stride at a time. She says her story is not about herself; it’s about helping others. She’s buoyed by messages of support from friends and strangers alike. She says it’s for them that she works so hard.

In town, that encouragement is on full display.

“I just want to tell you congratulations, sweetie. You’re doing beautiful,” a woman tells her outside the Homosassa Public Library.

A man in a pickup sees her struggling at her car. “Need some help?” he asks.

“No, sir,” she responds. “I’ve got it.”

Thomas stands at the spot where she was left paralyzed in 2014. She said it was empowering to be able to walk and stand at the scene.

She exemplifies a fierce determination like few others. Through her struggle, she’s found her calling. Being around her, one can’t help but be inspired. She rattles off an array of powerful messages.

“Even if I can’t physically help people like I initially intended to do, I can dang sure encourage, help and motivate.”

“I carry on with my life like nobody’s business, even if my legs aren’t working so great.”

“The stimulator is facilitating my movement, but my strength is coming from within.”

That strength is what’s gotten her this far. Her 19-year-old brother, Sam, sums it up in cowboy speak: “There’s nothing she can’t do. That’s for sure.”

He lifts his sister onto Shadow. Kelly and Shadow trot around the font yard. She doesn’t know when, but she says one day, she’ll hop on without her brother’s help.

“I don’t have a time frame,” she says, “but I have physical goals to get me there.”

The moral of her story, she says, is never underestimate a cowboy.

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Asia Cup 2018: Rohit Sharma has done a great job as India captain, says Wasim Akram

Asia Cup 2018: Rohit Sharma has done a great job as India captain, says Wasim Akram

Rohit Sharma celebrates his 19th ODI century (AP Photo)

Former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram has praised Rohit Sharma’s leadership skills in the ongoing Asia Cup 2018. Rohit (111 not out) notched up his 19th century in ODIs as he led India to a 9-wicket win over Pakistan in the Super Four in Dubai on Sunday.

Rohit was named India skipper after Virat Kohli was rested for the Asia Cup. Rohit has been impressive as captain so far winning all the matches in the tournament and guiding Team India to the final.

Rohit has so far captained India in 16 limited-overs matches and has tasted success in 14 of those games. He had earlier this year led India to victory in the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka.

Rohit and Dhawan are one of the most successful opening pairs of all-time for India and on Sunday, they just proved why they are so effective and deadly in limited-overs cricket.

Read – How Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan plotted record-breaking partnership vs Pakistan

The pair complements each other very well and what works in their favour is both can change gears according to the situation of the game.

On Sunday, as India took on Pakistan in their second Super 4 match, Rohit and Dhawan simply took the game away from their arch-rivals with their scintillating display at the top of the order.

Also read – Dhawan, Rohit blast hundreds as India crush Pakistan again

Their record partnership of 210 runs in India’s chase of 238 was filled with extremely well timed shots, lots of running between the wickets and calculated risks.

The highlights of the partnership was how both complemented each other and played according to the situation instead of playing their natural attacking game on a pitch, that was tricky to bat on.

“I think Rohit Sharma has done a great job as India skipper. He is leading from the front, he’s getting runs consistently and with ease. With him, Shikhar Dhawan is playing equally good. They are making things look so comfortable when they come out to bat. They look so calm and I think they have got every shot in their book,” Akram told India Today.

Also read – Rohit Sharma celebrates 7000 ODI runs with 19th hundred

Captaincy has also got the best out of Rohit the batsman. He has so far scored 269 runs from four matches at an average of 134.50, including two fifties and a century.

Harbhajan Singh was also all praise for Rohit’s captaincy in Virat Kohli absence.

“Rohit has been scoring runs and leading the team from the front. He is showing the way. He has done a great job. We can say when Virat Kohli is not there, Rohit can be given the responsibility of leading the team,” Harbhajan Singh told India Today.

India next play Afghanistan on Tuesday at the Dubai International Stadium.

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