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The Odd Truth, Aug. 9, 2004

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's William Vitka.

Great Gorilla Not Monkeying Around

WOODSIDE, Calif. - When Koko the gorilla used the American Sign Language gesture for pain and pointed to her mouth, 12 specialists, including three dentists, sprang into action.

The result? Her first full medical examination in about 20 years, an extracted tooth and a clean bill of health.

About a month ago, Koko, a 300-plus-pound ape who became famous for mastering more than 1,000 signs, began telling her handlers at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside she was in pain. They quickly constructed a pain chart, offering Koko a scale from one to 10.

When Koko started pointing to nine or 10 too often, a dental appointment was made. And because anesthesia would be involved, her handlers used the opportunity to give Koko a head-to-toe exam.

"She's quite articulate," volunteer Johnpaul Slater said. "She'll tell us how bad she's feeling, how bad the pain is. It looked like it was time to do something."

Twelve specialists — a Stanford cardiologist, three anesthesiologists, three dentists, an ear and throat specialist, two veterinarians, a gastroenterologist and a gynecologist — volunteered to help.

"It's not often that we get to work on a celebrity," said Dr. David Liang, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford. "Probably, Koko is less demanding."

The team came to Koko on Sunday, bringing portable X-ray and ultrasound machines. They set up shop at her "apartment," which looks like a remodeled boxcar, complete with a makeshift toilet, television, DVD player and lots of toys.

After four hours of tests - including a colonoscopy, gynecological exam, dental work, X-rays, and ultrasounds - doctors pronounced her fit.

Koko, who celebrated her 33rd birthday July 4, was due for a checkup. While gorillas in captivity are known to live into their 50s, they are susceptible to heart disease and a thickening of the arteries.

Lucky Leprechaun Loses Lustre

LAS VEGAS - The luck of the Irish is over for Mr. O'Lucky.

The 34-foot leprechaun who once symbolized good fortune to millions of Fremont Street visitors is no more.

On Friday, an early morning fire gutted the casino icon's fiberglass body and charred his smiling face as he lay retired in the Neon Museum bone yard.

Museum officials had planned to someday return him to his former glory, but the fire dashed those hopes.

"Poor Mr. O'Lucky. I guess his luck ran out," said Nancy Deaner, a Neon Museum board member.

Mr. O'Lucky had been a fixture outside Fitzgerald's Casino since the 1980s, welcoming visitors with a grin and a hat-waving arm. The statue came down and landed in the bone yard a few years ago when a canopy above Fremont Street was erected.

Fire investigators are not sure what started Friday's fire, but museum officials said Mr. O'Lucky's roomy belly was a popular spot for homeless people seeking shelter.

For those who want to see Mr. O'Lucky as the smiling, hat-waving icon they remember, a small, ceramic version of the lumpy leprechaun can still be found in the casino gift shop for $9.99.

Causing A Big Stink

NAUGATUCK, Conn. - A man who believes the town crushed his sewer line says he'll use the bathroom in Town Hall every morning until the problem is solved.

Robert Antidormi has accused the town of recently laying a storm pipe over his sewer line, causing backups that prevent his family from using their bathroom.

While his wife, Lisa, and three young sons have opted to stay with family out of town, Antidormi is staying put.

"It's not my fault," he told the Republican-American of Waterbury. "It's the town's place to make good on their mistake."

Mayor Ron San Angelo disagrees, saying town residents are responsible for their sewer lines.

Antidormi, who was digging in his front yard trying to fix the problem Saturday, said he uses the bathroom closest to the mayor's office.
"They laugh, but what are they going to do," Antidormi said. "I just go in, say good morning to the secretaries. If he's there I say hello."

Treadmill Champion

PARIS - On a joint mission to set a record and also inspire world peace, Sri Lankan Suresh Joachim extended his passion for offbeat challenges by running on a treadmill almost nonstop for a week.

He completed the record bid Saturday at a Paris gym, logging 346.75 miles over 168 hours and outdoing the existing best for the greatest distance covered on a treadmill in one week.

"My legs are in a lot of pain and I'm feeling sleepy," said Joachim, who already holds five world records. He said he took 20-minute breaks about every eight hours and had his first nap after the second day.

Rules state that any number of breaks can be taken, but the clock never stops, according to the London-based Guinness World Records. The current best was set last year by Australian David Taylor, who covered 282.61 miles in the same time span.

Officials must confirm Joachim's feat before pronouncing him the new record holder.

During the run, Joachim said gym members offered massages and danced to entertain him, and he collected about 200 signatures for a world peace petition intended for the United Nations.

"Everyone's thinking about war and occupying countries. There's a lot of problems," Joachim said.

Joachim's other feats include standing on one foot for 76 hours and 40 minutes, and carrying a brick for 78.54 miles. He also holds the record for running up and down an escalator for a combined total of 139.77 miles.

Angelic Homeless Man

UPPER DARBY, Pa. - A homeless man is being hailed as a hero after chasing down an alleged purse-snatcher, tackling him and holding him down until police arrived.

Loretta Ferraro, 68, was in the Chef's Spot restaurant waiting for a friend when she said a man tried to grab the handbag out of her lap. The two engaged in a tug-of-war, but the man prevailed and bolted out the door.

The suspect ended up fleeing right past a homeless shelter where Kevin Runkle had just stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. Runkle said he noticed the commotion and took off after the man, identified by police as Hyo Lee.

"Finally he stopped, shoved the purse up under his shirt and he turned around to face me," Runkle, 38, said Thursday. "He punched me twice in the face - not that hard, because you know, I stayed standing. So I hit him and wrestled him to the ground, and then I held him."

Runkle, who walked 80 miles to Philadelphia from York several months ago, said he has a history of drug addiction and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia. He and his caseworker at the shelter, however, said he is working hard to turn his life around.

Nobody needs to tell that to Ferraro, whose son first found out Runkle was homeless when he asked where he could send a thank-you note.

"I think God sent me an angel," Ferraro said. "I really do."