7 Of The Most Inspiring Health Stories Of 2014

Even when the news stirs your emotions raw, it can have a positive ripple effect. 

Amid the war, disease, and destruction that gets reported every day, there are stories that give you reason to hope: people who tirelessly help others, celebrities who bring attention to important issues, and everyday people who overcome incredible odds. Here, a round up of this year’s most moving accounts:

1. Ebola survivor Nina Pham meets Obama — and is reunited with her dog.

After caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who died of Ebola in October at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, 26-year-old nurse Nina Pham contracted the deadly disease herself — becoming the first person to be infected with Ebola within the United States. And despite a grim outlook, she beat the odds with courage: She was flown to Bethesda, Maryland, where she was successfully treated with experimental treatments. Pham praised others who helped her, and even met with (and hugged!) President Obama after beating the virus. In November, Pham was also reunited with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel Bentley (the dog was quarantined shortly after her diagnosis but ultimately tested negative for the disease).

2. Ebola survivor Kent Brantly donates his own blood after beating the virus.

Kent Brantly — the missionary doctor who was infected with Ebola after caring for patients in Liberia — made national news for more than just contracting (and beating) the illness. Brantly also selflessly donated the plasma in his blood to help multiple Ebola patients in the fight to regain their health — including Nina Pham. Calling it an honor to be able to give his blood, the doctor has also said in interviews that he doesn’t consider himself a hero, and that it’s the least he could have done if he couldn’t be overseas helping fight Ebola. In a dire health scare, Brantly not only brought life to a deadly situation, but incredible hope for victims of the disease and researchers, alike.

3. A 29-year-old woman brings attention to themovement to die with dignity. 

When 29-year-old Brittany Maynard was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a brain tumor that doctors told her would painfully end her life in a matter of months, she uprooted her family and moved from California to Oregon. The reason: access to the state’s Death with Dignity Act, which allows terminally ill patients to choose to end their lives instead of suffering. In her final months, Maynard released heartfelt videos bringing attention to her story, her choices, and Death with Dignity — something she argued should be an option for anyone who is eligible. In a CNN opinion piece, she wrote: “I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity. My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice?”

4. CVS stops selling cigarettes. (Now what about everyone else?)

In September, CVS, the second-largest drugstore chain in the U.S., rocked headlines by quitting smoking itself andstopping the sale of tobacco products in all its stores nationwide. The company also officially changed its corporate name from CVS to CVS Health. CVS said selling these products to consumers directly contradicted the company’s healthy lifestyle mission and work with physicians, and it also launched a smoking cessation plan to help people quit. Industry experts hope that such a drastic move will have a ripple effect on other pharmacies.

5. Meredith Vieira shares her personal #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft story.

After the domestic violence case between Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice and his then-fiancée Janay Rice grabbed national headlines, the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft started trending on Twitter as many women fled to the social media platform to share their own personal experiences with domestic abuse. Meredith Vieira lent celeb power to the issue, sharing with millions her own honest experience with abuse, why she stayed, and finally why she left.

6. Miss Idaho Sierra Sandison proudly wears her insulin pump in competition.

When Sierra Sandison, a contestant in this year’s Miss Idaho competition, walked the stage in July, something stood out: The 20-year-old — who has Type 1 diabetes — competed with her insulin pump attached to her bikini. Diabetes turned her life upside-down when she was diagnosed, Sandisonexplained in her blog. For years, she took insulin injections before competitions, before ultimately deciding to wear the pump during competition. Proudly displaying the device on stage garnered national headlines and a #‎showmeyourpump hashtag that brought in thousands of photos of people doing just that. On her blog, Sandison wrote: “The media often tells us this lie: if your appearance deviates in any way from cover girls, movie stars, super models, etc., it is a flaw and something is wrong with you.” She proved that’s simply not the case. 

7. A father with ALS fulfills his dream of walking his daughter down the aisle.

Beyond the viral Ice Bucket Challenge Facebook videos and record-setting donations this year, one heartwarming ALS story in particular caught America’s eye — that of Augie Nieto. Neito is a health and fitness enthusiast and businessman from California who was diagnosed with ALS at age 47 — shortly before his daughter got engaged. Like any dad, he’d always looked forward to walking his daughter down the aisle. Unfortunately, ALS left him more or less paralyzed, and unable to speak or breathe on his own. The condition brought Nieto to a dark place — but he ultimately decided to change his mindset. He started rehab, turning back to his fitness roots. He got stronger. Eventually, strapped in a harness, he was able to walk his daughter down the aisle, proving that with motivation and hard work, no goal is unreachable.