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May 26, 2017

Courtney Donlon was sleeping on her flight home to New Jersey on Monday when an announcement woke her up — over the loudspeaker, a crew member was asking if any medical professionals were on board.

Donlon, 22, started as a nurse in the respiratory care unit at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick in September, and she quickly volunteered to help. A 57-year-old woman was experiencing the classic symptoms of a heart attack, and working with just a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, small tank of oxygen, aspirin, and defibrillator, Donlon got to work. "I was trying to think a step ahead — if she loses consciousness or a pulse and I have to give CPR," she told MyCentralJersey.com. "I was thinking, how do I make what I do have here work."

As she assisted the woman, Donlon also made sure to calm her down, as stress causes heart and breathing rates to become elevated. Fearing it was a "dire situation," Donlon asked the pilot to make an emergency landing, and Donlon waited with the woman on the tarmac in Charleston, South Carolina, holding her hand, until paramedics arrived. Donlon, whose mother and sister are both nurses at her hospital, said she does not know the status of the woman, but hopes to hear from her when she can. "I can't lie, I was nervous at first being on a plane with limited supplies, but once I realized I was the most qualified person on the plane and someone had to be the confident one, then I could take to the role pretty easily," Donlon told MyCentralJersey.com. Catherine Garcia

May 25, 2017
Facebook/Wayzata Public Schools

With multiple generations of her family looking on, Esther Begam, 88, collected her high school diploma, decades after she was denied an education by the Nazis.

Begam grew up in Poland, and when she was 11 years old, she had to quit school and move into a Jewish ghetto. Later, she was sent to a forced labor camp. Her father, a rabbi, was a chaplain in the Polish army, and was never heard from again. Begam lost her mother and brother at Auschwitz, and her older sister and every other member of her extended family at other camps. She fell in love with another Holocaust survivor, and after marrying at 17, they moved to Minnesota and started a new life together.

Seven years ago, Begam shared her story with Candice Ledman's English class at Wayzata High School in Plymouth. A student asked Begam what her biggest regret was, and her answer surprised Ledman. "I expected her to say I wish we would have run, I wish we would have hidden, I wish we would have saved pictures — and she said, 'The one thing I regret is not getting my high school diploma,'" Ledman told KARE-TV. Ledman wanted to do something about this, and when new principal Scott Gengler arrived on campus, he loved the idea of giving Begam an honorary diploma. "It's 71 years overdue," he said. This month, Ledman's class set up a ceremony just for Begam, complete with a special cake and her own cap and gown. In front of proud family, friends, and students, Ledman accepted her diploma. "It's wonderful," she said. Catherine Garcia

May 25, 2017

If you ever get your hands on the 2016-2017 yearbook for Virginia's Stafford High School, turn immediately to page 220. All the way at the bottom left, nestled in the rows and rows of standard headshots of teenagers, you'll spot a little pair of innocent black eyes and a wet nose poking up into the camera frame.

This is Alpha Schalk, a service dog for 16-year-old Andrew 'AJ' Schalk (whose photo is one slot to the right). AJ has diabetes, and Alpha has the distinguished job of alerting him when his blood sugar reaches a dangerous level.

"The amazing thing about Alpha is that he knows 20 to 40 minutes before my blood sugar actually does go low or high due to his amazing sense of smell," AJ told BuzzFeed News. "He has saved my life multiple times already." Last year, AJ started bringing Alpha with him to school, and the dog has gathered a bit of a following. When AJ asked the yearbook team if the dog could be featured alongside him in the album, they agreed without hesitation. "The only thing they changed was the camera height," he said. "They just had to lower it a little." Jessica Hullinger

May 25, 2017

Leonard the pit bull is proof that with a little training, a misunderstood dog is capable of doing amazing things.

When Leonard, 1, was rescued in Ohio last October, he was almost euthanized because the shelter didn't think anyone would adopt him. He liked to take things that weren't his and had a one-track mind, and the Union County Humane Society realized that while it would be hard for him to sit around someone's house, those traits would make him a successful police dog. They contacted the Clay Township Police Department, and after some tests and training, Leonard joined the force on May 19, becoming Ohio's first official police pit bull.

Leonard's job is to find narcotics, and when he's off duty, he lives with Chief of Police Terry Mitchell. "He would just as soon climb on your lap and give you kisses and go to sleep as he would do anything else, but he's really taken to the vest," Mitchell told WTOL. "When you put that vest on him, he's all business. It's like he knows it's time to go to work." Catherine Garcia

May 24, 2017

New Yorkers used to walking by overflowing garbage cans are doing double takes, thanks to a group of floral designers who are transforming trash receptacles into vases.

Lewis Miller and his design team are mixing beauty with grit by taking gorgeous flowers and arranging them in trash cans. "They're our flowers to New York," director of special projects Irini Greenbaum told Today. "That's really the message — to gift flowers to New Yorkers for no other reason than to make them smile." They do most of their work in the early morning hours, and have been dubbed the "flower bandits."

They've branched out from the world of garbage, and also place flowers on New York landmarks, like John Lennon's "Imagine" memorial in Central Park. "People actually took some of the flowers and turned the installation into a peace sign," Greenbaum said. "Which is something that we didn't do. ... It's nice to see it take on a life of its own." Catherine Garcia

May 24, 2017

Researchers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park believe a change in diet could be behind a southern white rhino baby boom.

On April 30, a southern white rhino named Kiazi gave birth to her first calf, following 16 years of regular breeding. After nine years of study, scientists at the San Diego Zoo Institute of Conservation Research discovered that southern white rhinos born in zoos are often infertile, and that's likely due to compounds, called phytoestrogens, that are found in the soy and alfalfa they are fed. In 2014, the zoo changed their diets, and two years later, two female southern white rhinos, which are a near-threatened species, were pregnant.

"The birth of Kiazi's calf gives us a great deal of hope that by feeding low phytoestrogens at our institution and others, we can once again have a healthy, self-sustaining captive southern white rhinoceros population," said Dr. Christoper Tubbs, senior scientist in reproductive sciences at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. The calf was born weighing 125 pounds, and by the time she is 3 years old, she could weigh between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds. Catherine Garcia

May 22, 2017

After conquering algebra in kindergarten and geometry in the second grade, Stephanie Mui, 17, earned multiple college degrees — all before receiving her high school diploma.

The Virginia resident learned the basics through flash cards, and by the time she was in fifth grade, she had signed up for community college courses. After earning her associate's degree, she went to George Mason University, where she received her bachelor's of science in math, and this weekend, she was awarded a master's degree, also in mathematics. "Her incredible poise and demeanor and intellect are all balanced," Tracy Dean, assistant dean of the George Mason University College of Science, told NBC Washington. "She is extremely bright, knows what she wants, and is really fearless."

Throughout her college career, Mui was also still enrolled in high school, and she will graduate in June. Her plan is to go to New York University for her Ph.D., but not before a summer filled with movies and swimming with friends. While graduating from college three times before finishing high school may seem incredible, "it's just life to me," Mui said. "Everybody else may see it as weird. But, you know, it's just life." Catherine Garcia

May 18, 2017
A computer hackathon in Germany.

When a massive global cyberattack took hold of the internet last week, a 22-year-old British cybersecurity researcher helped save the day. The man, who lives with his parents in England and wished to remain anonymous, halted the ransomware attack when he inadvertently stumbled upon its "kill switch." For his efforts, he was offered a $10,000 reward, which he plans to donate to charity. "The rest will go to buying books/resources for people looking to get into [information security] who can't afford them," he said. Jessica Hullinger

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