Protect your Children: Get them Vaccinated

By Gail Burke, DO, Family Medicine Physician

GettyImages-532334752.jpgWith a new school season starting, many parents are making lists to make sure their child has everything to begin the school year prepared. Protecting your child’s health should be number one on your list.

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One of the best ways to keep your children healthy is to get them vaccinated. From newborn to college age, you can protect your children from 16 serious diseases, including polio, meningitis, diphtheria, flu, rotavirus and tetanus. Vaccinations work! Some terrible diseases that ravaged human beings for centuries were eliminated with the discovery of vaccination, such as the dreaded small pox virus, which the World Health Organization declared globally eradicated in 1979.

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Vaccinations save lives

Before vaccines, many children died from diseases that vaccines now prevent, such as polio, measles and whooping cough. Those same germs exist today; because most children are vaccinated, we don’t see those diseases as often. Vaccination not only protects your child; it also protects the other children in the classroom and school, by something known as “herd immunity.” Germs can travel quickly through a community, such as your child’s classroom, and make a lot of children sick. If enough people get sick it can lead to an outbreak. But when enough children are vaccinated against a disease, the germs can’t travel as easily from person to person and the whole group is less likely to get the disease. That is “herd immunity!”

As a very busy parent, you’ve got enough to keep track of with your child’s multiple school and afterschool activities.  Keeping track of a vaccination schedule is one less thing for you to worry about, because your child’s doctor will do this job.

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Well-child visits and immunizations

Vaccinations are designed to be given automatically during well-child visits. Your family doctor or pediatrician will schedule these well-child visits and keep track of your child’s vaccinations and give you a health record with the history of your child’s vaccinations. This record is often required by your child’s school and other programs to ensure the health of all the children. And don’t worry. If your children have missed any vaccines, your doctor can use a “catch up” vaccination schedule to get them back on track.

There are free resources to help parents such as the CDC charts, “2018 Recommended Immunizations for Children from Birth through 6 Years old” and the “Recommended Immunizations for Children 6 years old through 18 years old.”

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Vaccination safety

Some parents are confused and worried about vaccinations. They’ve heard that vaccinations can cause autism or long-term neurologic problems. Moms and Dads want to do what’s in the best interest of their children. All parents, and children, deserve the best science-based information on this topic. The CDC and many scientific groups have done extensive research on vaccine safety; their studies continue to find there is no scientific basis for this claim. Based on these major research findings, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Medicine support vaccinations for all children, infancy through college age. You are encouraged to bring your questions and concerns to your family doctor.

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Additional benefits of vaccinations

There is another important benefit for parents who vaccinate their children. Their children are less likely to develop the childhood illnesses which require time off school for kids and time off work for parents. It also cuts down on need for doctor’s visits, and with very sick children, the need for hospitalization.

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Programs that can help

Vaccinations can be expensive and many families cannot afford to pay for vaccines on their own. If you are unable to afford vaccinations for your child or if the vaccinations are not covered by your health insurance, do not let this stand in the way of protecting your child. He or she may be eligible for programs such as the Vaccines for Children program, a federal program established in 1998.

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Finding your ‘Medical Home’

When you register as a patient at the UMC/LSU Family Medicine Clinic, this becomes your “Medical Home,” for you and every member of your family, no matter his or her age. One of the key beliefs of family medicine is disease prevention! We are dedicated to promoting your child’s health, through vaccinations and lifelong education on healthy lifestyle. We believe that vaccinations are one of the best lifelong strategies to prevent serious life threatening diseases and keep you and your loved ones healthy.

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Dr. Gail Burke is a board certified family physician in the UMC/LSU Family Medicine Clinic. To learn more about Family Medicine at UMC, visit http://www.umcno.org/familymedicine or call (504) 962-6363 to schedule an appointment.

Bounce for the Ounce: The Energy of Fruits and Vegetables

By Mary Thoesen Coleman, MD, PhD, FAAFP

Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients and minerals needed for our body’s health. They provide lots of energy (bounce) for the amount you eat (ounce).

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Fruits and Veggies are strong components of the Mediterranean diet, which in a number of research studies has been associated with decreased risk for cardiovascular disease.
In people who follow the Mediterranean diet, the good kind of cholesterol, HDL, increases, triglycerides reduce, and so do fasting blood sugar and blood pressure.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, plus nuts and seeds.

How much? We should eat more than 2 servings per meal of non-starchy vegetables (starchy vegetables such as potatoes, peas, and corn do not count) and 1- 2 servings per meal of fruit.

  • A vegetable serving is ½ cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of raw vegetables.
  • A fruit serving is one small fruit or ½ cup fruit juice or ¼ cup dried fruit.

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Is fresh best?

The best choices of fruits and vegetables are those that are minimally processed, locally grown, and fresh.

Frozen fruits and vegetables are reasonable alternatives to fresh. Canned fruits and veggies are less beneficial due to loss of minerals and nutrients in processing and addition of salt and preservatives.

Such vegetables and fruit are also good sources of fiber.

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MyPlate recommendations

MyPlate is the current nutrition guide published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. MyPlate is a visual reminder about the right mix of fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins.

Fruits and vegetables make up half of food on a meal plate, with veggies a greater proportion of the half than fruits.

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Things I have learned:

  • You can get too much of a good thing. Smoothies or juices made from fresh ingredients can concentrate too much of good thing. For example, juicers frequently add spinach to smoothies and blended juices but spinach is high in oxalates and when consumed frequently in concentrated form with low Calcium diet may put you at risk for kidney stones made from oxalates. (I believe I contributed to my own kidney stone experience by drinking too many juices packed with spinach and not having enough Calcium in my diet).
  • If you drink too much fruit juice, you can elevate your blood sugar. In one of my patients with diabetes, making one change in his diet (eliminating fruit juices) brought his sugar from very poorly controlled to completely controlled.
  • If you eat too many fruits, you can also elevate your blood sugar. One of my patients who was eating 12 bananas a day was unable to control her blood sugar despite high doses of medication until she lowered her banana intake.
  • Fruit drinks (not fruit juices) do not have the nutrients present in fruit juices and typically add calories without being healthy choices.

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Tips for adding veggies to your diet:

  • Cut up fresh vegetables (I use different ones including asparagus, cabbage, mushrooms, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) and cook them in olive oil. Eat for breakfast, lunch, or supper. Olive oil is a healthy part of the Mediterranean diet and it helps to make the vegetables more filling.
  • Cut up fresh vegetables and put them in plastic containers for lunch snacks. I like to cut up yellow and red peppers, radishes, cucumbers, and broccoli.
  • Make a fun salad that includes lots of colorful veggies and fruits–several lettuce varieties (Romaine, butternut), arugula if available, nuts such as walnuts or pecans or pine nuts, pumpkin seeds or other seeds, fresh vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, red peppers, yellow peppers, radishes, green onions, a dash of blueberries or strawberries, maybe some coconut flakes or cilantro or parsley. If desired, add left-over cooked chicken or tuna. Mix with home-made dressing from extra virgin olive oil (1 part olive oil ), 3 parts vinegar (mostly white but some apple cider vinegar), 1-3 tsps. Dijon mustard, and black pepper.
  • Fresh fruits make good desserts and I like to add to yogurt (a good source of Calcium and part of the Mediterranean diet) for a healthy dessert or to whipped cream without sugar.

Mediterranean diet-friendly options

Vegetables

Artichokes, arugula, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, celeriac, chicory, collard greens, cucumbers, dandelion greens, eggplant, fennel, kale, leeks, lemons, lettuce, mache, mushrooms, mustard greens, nettles, okra, onions (red, sweet, white), peas, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, purslane, radishes, rutabaga, scallions, shallots, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnips, zucchini.

Fruits

Apples, apricots, avocados, cherries, clementines, dates, figs, grapefruits, grapes, melons, nectarines, olives, oranges, peaches, pears, pomegranates, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes.

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Dr. Coleman is a physician in the Family Medicine Clinic at UMC and is the Marie Lahasky Chair and Professor for the Department of Family Medicine, Director of Community Health and Director of Rural Education at LSU Health New Orleans. To learn more about Family Medicine at UMC, visit http://www.umcno.org/familymedicine or call (504) 962-6363 to schedule an appointment.

Drink Up: 10 Reasons Water is a Key Ingredient in Your Good Health

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Author: Rosetta Danigole, UMC Lead Dietician

Water is an essential nutrient and a thirst quencher that can also trim our waistlines.

Here are 10 reasons you should be drinking enough water daily:

1. Boosts Your Metabolism

Drinking water helps the body burn fat. Studies show that drinking 17 ounces of water can increase the metabolic rate by 30% in both men and woman. Even mild dehydration can slow down metabolic rate by 3%. So drink up and burn fat.

2. Fills you up

If you’re feeling hungry, try sipping some water first because what feels like hunger might be thirst. When you drink water between meals, you’re less likely to overeat and you won’t eat as much junk.

3. Naturally helps your body release fat cells

Water helps rid the body of waste. During weight loss the body has a lot of waste to rid itself of and metabolized fat must be shed. Water helps flush out the waste.  Therefore your cells shrink when they are plumped up by water.

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4. Keeps food moving through your system

Staying hydrated helps your body break down food so that your body can absorb nutrients.  Water also softens stool which helps prevent constipation.

5. Flushes toxins from your system

Your kidneys and liver get rid of toxins.  Water helps the kidneys to have enough fluid to function properly leading to flushing out metabolized waste.

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6. Improves your mood

Mild dehydration leads to moodiness, problems concentrating and fatigue in a recent study.  Remember 85% of your brain tissue is made up of water.

7. Reduces muscle fatigue while working out

Blood flow to muscle is reduced when dehydrated.

8. Helps you recuperate faster from a workout

Water helps keep the body in homeostasis and electrolyte balance.

9. Keeps your organs healthy while you’re sweating

Our organs are made of high concentrations of water, and we need to stay.

10. Keeps you from feeling groggy in the morning

Drinking a few glasses of water in the morning will help to wake you up.

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Don’t like the taste of water? Try infusing it with lemons, limes,  cucumber and mint for a tasty and healthful summer drink.

Sugary sodas, lemonade and sweet tea or smoothies — although refreshing  – for some can pack a lot of empty inflammatory-type calories.

Please remember to drink your water and stay hydrated!

About the Author

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As the lead dietitian at University Medical Center New Orleans, Rosetta Danigole manages clinical dietetic operations. She is a member of the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition and belongs to the clinical dietitian practice group. She has been a dietitian for 35 years.

 

Stroke Strikes Fast: Knowing the Signs and How to Prevent

By Toni Rougeou, RN, UMC Stroke Program Coordinator

A stroke is a “brain attack” that happens when blood flow to your brain is stopped. It’s a medical emergency in which knowing the signs and symptoms is vitally important.

May is Stroke Awareness Month, an opportunity to spread awareness of stroke and a good time for everyone to identify their personal risk and learn the steps they can take to reduce the risk of stroke.

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There are two types of strokes:

Ischemic stroke – caused by clot or plaque accounts for about 87% of all strokes

Hemorrhagic stroke – Bleeding in or around the brain caused from uncontrolled elevated blood pressure, ruptured aneurysm, or Arterial-venous malformation.

Every minute you are having a stroke, you lose about 2 million brain cells.  The longer you take to seek medical attention, the more brain cells are lost.  “Time is Brain.”

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Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of disability in adults.

Each year nearly 800,000 people have a stroke (every 40 seconds stroke happens), and almost 130,000 people die from stroke per year.

Stroke kills twice as many American women as breast cancer each year. More women than men die from stroke and risk is higher. Women suffer greater disability after stroke than men.

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African-Americans have double the incidence of stroke than that of Caucasians and suffer more extensive physical deficits. African Americans are also twice as likely to die from a stroke. Mexican–Americans are at higher risk for all types of stroke and TIA at younger ages than Caucasians.

In 2012 the total stroke related cost in the US was estimated to be $105 billion and is projected to hit $240 billion by 2030.

Who is at Risk for a Stroke?

Anyone can have a stroke at any age. But your chance of having a stroke increases if you have certain risk factors. Some risk factors for stroke can be changed or managed, while others can’t.

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What are the risk factors for stroke that can be modified?

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Elevated Cholesterol
  • Atrial Fibrillation – a type of irregular heartbeat; Makes a person 5X’s more prone to having a stroke.
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol – more than two drinks a day
  • Illegal drug use – Cocaine, Mojo
  • Diets high in fat and salt
  • Lack of exercise routine
  • Sleep apnea

What are some risk factors that we cannot change?

  • Being African-American
  • Being a Female
  • Being over age 55
  • Having a previous TIA or stroke
  • Having a family history of stroke

What impact does stroke have?

  • In 2012 the total stroke related cost in the US was estimated to be $105 billion, and is projected to hit $240 billion by 2030.

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  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body (Right or Left)
  • Sudden trouble speaking, understanding or confusion.
  • Sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance. Falling to one side.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause “Worst headache of my life.”

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STROKE IS NO JOKE!    RECOGNIZE!  RESPOND!  AND PREVENT!  

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Toni Rougeou, RN, is the Stroke Program Coordinator for University Medical Center New Orleans. UMC is an Advanced Primary Stroke Center with a full stroke team on call 24/7 to immediately care for patients with stroke symptoms. To learn more, visit umcno.org/strokecenter.

Hand Washing 101

Author: Peter DeBlieux, MD, Chief Medical Officer at UMC

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Washing your hands is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from germs and infectious diseases.

At home or at work, it’s important to wash your hands often and properly with soap and water to combat germs that accumulate and linger. But what if you’re at Jazz Fest or at one of the area’s many outdoor fairs and festivals, when access to soap and water may be limited?  Proper hand hygiene is still important and possible when you plan ahead and use this tips.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests washing your hands at these key times:

  • Before, during and after preparing food.
  • Before eating.
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick.
  • Before and after treating a wound.
  • After going to the bathroom.
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the bathroom.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste.
  • After handling garbage.

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What is the best way to wash your hands?

  • Use clean, running water. Use hot water if it’s available.
  • Wet your hands before applying soap.
  • Rub your soapy hands together for at least 20 seconds. Make sure to wash all surfaces well. This includes your wrists, palms, backs of hands, and between fingers.
  • Clean and remove the dirt from under your fingernails.
  • Rinse your hands thoroughly to remove all soap.
  • Dry your hands with an air dryer or a clean paper towel.
  • Turn off the faucet with a paper towel.

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If you’re at one of the area’s many outdoor fairs, festivals and special events soap and water may be limited. In such cases, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a must-have for cleaning your hands. When using hand sanitizer, be sure to:

  • Apply the gel to the palm of one hand.
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until they are dry.

Our hands are exposed to countless germs daily through normal activities.  These steps detailed above can reduce the burden of germs that accumulate on our hands and will reduce the likelihood of infectious disease transmission.

 

Give to Live: How My Son Saved 54 Lives

Author: Amy Deubler Foy, Mother of former UMC patient Cameron Dice 

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On Sunday, March 11, my son, Cameron Dice, was riding his 4-wheeler across a piece of land near our home until it flipped over on him and crushed his skull. He was brought by ambulance to a small hospital in Franklinton, LA and from there, he was air lifted by helicopter to University Medical Center New Orleans. Upon arrival, he was on a ventilator and the outlook did not look very promising, but still, we prayed for a miracle to happen.

He arrived at UMC Sunday afternoon around 3 p.m. Their amazing nurses and doctors worked on him to try and save his life. But, unfortunately, the damage to his brain was too severe and there was little that they could do. On Monday night, March 12 at 7:28 pm, at the age of 19, he was legally pronounced dead.

My family and I made the decision prior to the final apnea test that would determine whether his brain had any activity:

If Cameron did not have any chance at survival, we wanted him to be an organ donor. 

This was a decision that Cameron had made not long before his accident –  just 2 years prior at the DMV when he received his driver’s license.

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The decision to save other’s lives when yours cannot be saved seems, to me, to be the only decision. I stand firm in this decision even more so now after Cameron’s death. Why would you not want to save someone else’s child, mother, father, brother, sister, etc.?

Cameron becoming an organ donor was not only the right decision for others, but it also gave me 50 more hours to hold his hand, kiss him, stroke his hair and tell him everything I needed to tell him before he was taken into surgery.

Those 4 days were the absolute hardest days I have ever experienced, but that little bit of extra time has made the pain of all this a little easier. I am so grateful that I had those days to just hold my baby and tell him goodbye.

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If Cameron would have been on the other side, needing a transplant for an organ to save his life, I would hope and pray that others would give the gift of life to save my baby.

My Cameron, my angel, now lives in 54 different people between his organs, bones, skin, muscles, tendons, veins, arteries, etc. 

While he was here on earth, he touched so many people’s hearts and lives and now that he has passed on, he still is doing the same.

I cannot explain how proud I am that my baby is truly a hero to these people that now have a chance at life because of Cameron. There is little to no comfort that anyone can provide to a mother that loses their child, but knowing that my baby is still around me physically walking around in all of these people helps tremendously.

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If you are an organ or tissue recipient, please – I beg you – reach out to the family who saved your life.  I pray for the day to meet the people that my child now lives through!

There is no reason, in my eyes, for people to not be an organ donor.  If you can save another person from going through the pain that my family is enduring, why wouldn’t you?

The people with LOPA (Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency) were absolutely amazing.  Everyone was very considerate of me and my family the whole time while they prepared Cameron for his surgery.  They have kept in touch with me and have offered me support with their kind words.

I just received a letter from them giving me the sex and age bracket that Cameron’s major organs went to. I pray to meet every single one of them!!

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April is National Donate Life Month, which honors organ, tissue and eye donors and their loved ones. One organ donor can save the lives of up to nine people.  

At University Medical Center, our dedicated professionals have helped, in coordination with LOPA, to save the lives of over 95 organ recipients in the past year.

Please join us on April 16 at 1:30 p.m. near the flagpole at UMC’s Galvez Street entrance for a LOPA flag-raising and butterfly release to honor the silent heroes at UMC and their families.

What Do I Do? I Think I Have the Flu!

Author: Peter DeBlieux, MD, UMC Chief Medical Officer and Pulmonary Critical Care Physician

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This year’s flu season as been an active and aggressive one. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease has reached its peak, but many more people are expected to be infected with the flu before all is said and done.

So, what do you do if you have the flu?

Prevention

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Get your vaccine – it’s the best defense against the flu.

It’s not too late to get the flu shot. The flu vaccine reduces your likelihood of getting the flu. However, if you do get the flu, the vaccine is still beneficial, as it reduces the likelihood of hospitalization and death as a result of the disease.

Flu virus are spread by contact with droplets that go airborne when an infected person sneezes or coughs. You can get the flu by inhaling the droplets or touching objects where the droplets have landed, which means…

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Handwashing – You should wash your hands often with soap and water.

Scrub for at least 20 seconds, then dry.  If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

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Is it a cold or flu?

Early on, it is difficult to distinguish the difference between a cold and influenza. According to the CDC, colds are usually milder, and people with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. The flu can result in a series of health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, hospitalizations and, in some cases, death.

Here’s how you can tell:

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Symptoms

These can vary from person to person. Although the flu is a respiratory disease, it can affect your entire body, including the gastrointestinal system.

Common symptoms include:

  • Cough, often severe
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Fatigue for several weeks
  • Headache
  • High fever
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Severe aches and pains
  • Sneezing at times
  • Sometimes a sore throat
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

According to the CDC, you’re contagious a day before the symptoms start and 5 days after.

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Call your doctor to see if an antiviral medication is appropriate for you, but keep in mind that medication such as Tamiflu is not helpful after two days of symptoms.

If you have the flu, don’t interact with people who are sick. Especially if you have cold symptoms or have fever greater than 100.3. Stay away from others until you have not had symptoms for 24 hours.

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Avoid close contact with people who are sick, especially if you have cold symptoms or have fever greater than 100.3.

Stay away from others until you have not had symptoms for 24 hours.

If you’re sick:

  • Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue – not your hands.
    • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • Wash your hands frequently.
    • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

Get smart this flu season, not sick!

 

A Patient’s Perspective: Life with Pulmonary Hypertension

Author: Millie Ball, UMCNO Pulmonary Hypertension Patient

We all have our stories.

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But one thing is true of most of us: We hadn’t heard of pulmonary hypertension until a doctor told us we had it.

Over-simplified, PH is high blood pressure that affects the arteries in your lungs.

It affects the heart, and it is progressive — and it is terrifying when you look it up online. Singer Natalie Cole died of PH.

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My advice to new patients: Stop looking it up online.

What is Pulmonary Hypertension?

Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) is different from regular hypertension. PH is high blood pressure in the lungs. It can affect both genders and all ages and ethnicities. Symptoms include shortness of breath and swelling of the feet. Undiagnosed and untreated, it can rapidly lead to death but fortunately specialized treatment is available. The Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Center (CPHC) at UMCNO is one of a handful of centers in the south that are certified by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association to provide state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment by nationally recognized PH experts.

Babies can be born with PH. Generally, there are five types, caused by health issues ranging from blood clots to lupus to drug use to heart disease (congenital or otherwise), sleep apnea, to who knows what.

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Dr. Bennett deBoisblanc, who’s Professor of Medicine and Physiology at LSU Health New Orleans and one of the PH physicians in the Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Center (CPHC) at University Medical Center New Orleans (and has a bunch of other titles), jokes that some patients are said to have idiopathic PH, “because we are the idiots and don’t know its cause.”

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Everyone calls him Dr. Ben, because most stumble over the French name of this native New Orleanian…Bwa-blon is semi-close.  An avid daily runner, he’s a nationally respected researcher in PH, who has won awards for the way he relates to patients, and for his work in Charity Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit during Hurricane Katrina. He makes patients laugh, gives us his cell number, and makes us feel — despite what we might have read — that everything will be all right.

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As do his LSU colleagues who I have seen as well at the UMCNO Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Center: LSU Associate Professor of Medicine, Dr. Matthew Lammi (he also gives his cell number), Pulmonary/Critical Care Fellow Dr. Sneha Samant and CPHC Nurse Coordinator, Monique Brown, a master organizer, who makes PH patients feel like they are her friends. Tulane School of Medicine physicians, including Dr. Lesley Saketkoo and Dr. Shigeki Saito, also are a core part of the CPHC.

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So how do you end up with this exceptional team?

Shortness of breath is a typical first symptom, as are fatigue, heart palpitations, dizziness, swollen ankles — in other words, the same symptoms as too many other illnesses. Some patients go several years undiagnosed before finding a specialist who has worked with PH patients.

My first symptoms showed up three years ago, when I thought I had been hit with 24-hour flu during a Thanksgiving visit to a mountain town in North Carolina, 4,118 feet above sea level. I had spent vacations there for years, with no problems.

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My second night there, I threw up, my heart raced, I was nauseated and didn’t feel like eating. It lasted 24 hours.

I returned to the mountains over New Year’s, and it happened again, also on my second night.

In the spring, my husband and I flew to Denver, the mile-high city, 5,280 feet above sea level. I felt woozy in the airport, and came down with the similar issues by early evening. The next day, we drove up to Minturn, CO, 7,861 feet. I went to bed for three days, vomited, my mind confused. “I need to go to Urgent Care,” I finally murmured.

A nurse put a pulse oximeter on my index finger to measure the oxygen level in my blood. It was 61. “Is that bad?” I asked. She shared a glance with another nurse. Healthy people usually have 95-99 percent oxygen, but anything over 90 is OK.

High altitude is not my friend.

The first thing I did was buy a pulse oximeter at a drugstore. Then I called a pulmonologist, who ordered a pile of tests, and walked me up and down his office hallway, shaking his head, and saying he was surprised I could be so chatty when most people with my blood oxygen numbers could barely breathe.

I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a disorder in which you stop and start breathing repeatedly while you sleep. Untreated, it can cause heart damage, and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, say some researchers. My tester told me that I was one of four patients in eight years whose oxygen level dropped into the 60s when I slept.

The pulmonologist ordered a continuous flow oxygen concentrator, which sucks oxygen out of the air and pumps it into a tube linked to a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask when I sleep. It’s not pretty.

I passed the other breathing and heart tests. But at our final meeting, the doctor said, “You either need to see Dr. Bennett deBoisblanc at LSU or go to the Mayo Clinic.” I cried.

I saw Dr. Lammi and Dr. Ben, and underwent a heart catherization, the gold standard test for PH at UMC in August 2015. I was told that I have PH, but a mild case. Blood pressure meds were prescribed. And Dr. Ben said I should weigh 130; I told him I was born weighing more than that, but I’m trying.

Linda Gates, who has had PH 15 years, heads a support group that I now attend. Another woman, from Houma, who has had PH more than 17 years leads a support group there. When they were diagnosed, there was no treatment for PH. It was almost a death sentence. Now there are more than 15 medications. Some types of PH respond better than others.

Linda had just returned from Iceland when I met her, which was encouraging. Travel is my passion, and my job was writing about travel.

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Unfortunately, the Medicare-mandated company that was supposed to supply my medical equipment sent me big clunky oxygen tanks that you can’t take on an airplane. I was told, quietly, by an employee, that my chances of getting a small portable oxygen concentrator were slim. You have to have an FAA compliant oxygen concentrator to fly in commercial airplanes, where pressurization is the equivalent of being 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level.

Fortunately, I was able to pay for one, $2,500 for a Inogen One 3 G that weighs five-pounds and totes like a crossover purse when I exercise or fly. That’s me, wearing my oxygen concentrator and walking my 11-pound, white Havanse pup many mornings in Audubon Park.

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To fly, each airline requires its own letter of permission from a doctor. “Hello, Monique, I need Dr. Ben to sign another letter!”

As I write this I’m on yet another trip — three airline letters required: United, American and Etihad Airlines from Abu Dhabi. There’s our regular luggage, plus my portable oxygen concentrator, my constant flow oxygen concentrator, my CPAP, and my dear husband, Keith, who helps lug it all around with me. We’re doing our bucket list destinations: a while back tulips in Holland and this month ruins in Petra, Jordan.

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Thank you, Dr. Ben, Dr. Lammi, Dr. Samant, Monique, Linda Gates. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t found you all at UMC.

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For more information on PH and the CPHC at UMCNO go to www.umcno.org/cphc.

Problematic Pancreatic: What to Know About Pancreatic Cancer

Author: Jennifer Gnerlich, MD, UMC Surgical Oncologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Surgery at LSU Health New Orleans

More people are being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer now than ever before. Currently, cancer of the pancreas accounts for 7 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States. This year, an estimated 53,670 adults will be diagnosed with this disease, and more than 43,000 of them will die. (Source: American Cancer Society)

November kicks off Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month at UMCNO’s Cancer Center, so our staff is working to get the word out about this disease.

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Here is what you should know:

  • Most people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between the ages of 55 years old and 85 years old.
  • Men and women are equally affected by pancreatic cancer.
  • The number one risk factor for pancreatic cancer is smoking and tobacco use.
    • Please call the American Lung Association’s Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNGUSA (586-4872) if you need help in quitting tobacco use and smoking, or phone us at UMC at (504) 702-5178. 
  • Individuals with BRCA mutations (associated with breast cancer) have an increased risk of pancreas cancer.

There is NO screening test for this disease. You need to be aware of the possible presenting symptoms of pancreatic cancer, which include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • New onset of pain in the upper abdomen/belly or back pain
  • Indigestion or upset stomach not relieved with Tums or Pepcid
  • Pale, smelly, floating, or light colored stools that may look oily in the toilet
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • New diagnosis of diabetes, especially in people over 50 years old
  • New diagnosis of clots in veins or arteries
  • Pancreatitis

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If you have any of these symptoms, please see your primary care physician or contact the Cancer Center Monday through Friday at (504)702-3697 for an appointment.

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Getting checked is important. Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of 8%, but with appropriate care that survival can be as high as 27%. Treatment will usually include a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

Just as every person is unique, so is his/her pancreatic cancer. This is why every patient is discussed at a multi-disciplinary tumor board where a panel of experts in fields such as medicine, radiation, surgery, radiology, and pathology can discuss the case and determine the best treatment for that individual.

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or want additional information, please contact the UMCNO Cancer Center as soon as possible.

About Dr. Gnerlich

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Dr. Gnerlich is a board-certified surgical oncologist specializing in upper gastrointestinal cancers in the pancreas, bile ducts, liver, stomach, esophagus and retroperitoneal sarcomas. A fun fact – While Dr. Gnerlich was completing her undergraduate degree, she was scouted to go into professional acting. She loves to run half-marathons, especially at Disney World. Dr. Gnerlich is excited to join the staff at UMC because of the “great team we have here.” She hopes to bring new procedures like HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy) to UMC for patients with certain types of cancer that have spread throughout the abdomen.

To make an appointment with Dr. Gnerlich or one of our cancer specialists, please contact (504)702-3697 or (504) 702-5700.

 

 

Be Mindful, B-WELL

Authors: Jennifer Hughes, Ph.D. (UMC Trauma Psychologist), Alisha Bowker (UMC Licensed Clinical Social Worker)iStock-639641818 (1).jpg

Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

Do you feel burnt out? Are you overworked? Do you feel as though you are at a crossroads in life? Are you happy?

Practicing mindfulness can help anyone who experiences stress, feels overwhelmed or battles with despair. It is proven to help many patients, too – especially those who have experienced trauma — learn how to cope with physical and emotional pain.

It also benefits healthcare professionals as they cope with stress after providing care to others, connect with patients, and work improve their quality of life.

For mental health professionals, this awareness helps reduce negative emotions and anxiety, and increases their positive emotions and feelings of self-compassion.

Research through Harvard University, the National Institutes of Health, and other leading healthcare agencies have shown that mindfulness can be effective, additionally, in reducing stress, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improving sleep and pain management.
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Starting a mindfulness practice can be as simple as following these steps:

  • Choose a specific time: Set aside a time and space each day to practice mindfulness. It can be the same time everyday or different times, whatever is best for you. Find a quiet place with few distractions and take a comfortable seat in a chair or on a pillow on the floor.
  • Observe the here and now: The goal of a mindfulness practice is not to quiet the mind; in fact, our mind is made to wander, so why fight its natural instincts! Instead, set the intention of paying attention to the present, the here and now, without judgment.
  • Allow your judgments to come and go: When your mind inevitably begins to wander, some of those thoughts may be judging the current situation (for better or worse). When these thoughts arise, make a mental note of their presence and let them pass, and return back to the here and now. Don’t get bogged down in the power of judgment!
  • Be kind to your wandering mind: When we practice mindfulness, it can be helpful to begin by welcoming all of ourselves, including our pesky wandering mind. When your mind begins to drift away from the present moment, don’t judge it or yourself. Practice noticing those thoughts and returning to the here and now. Welcome your mind just as it is. iStock-584608574.jpg

 Mindfulness can also help with:

  • Physical Pain: One of the most effective mindfulness practices to help ease physical pain is the body scan, which allows us to identify and “dive into” different body sensations. By first focusing on specific body sensations and then widening our awareness to our body as a whole can help us to identify less with our pain.
  • Stress, Anxiety/Trauma, and Depression:
    • Stress: mindfulness can reduce stress in the moment and give you skills that will help decrease the impact of stress in the future
    • Anxiety and Trauma: Mindfulness can help the brain respond to traumatic memories in less painful and more helpful ways. This helps reduce the negative impact of traumatic events and improve overall functioning
    • Depression: Mindfulness can help ease the symptoms of depression by decreasing the cycle of negative thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors. It can even help to improve relationships with others through breaking these cycles

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At University Medical Center New Orleans, we are working to address burnout and compassion fatigue by focusing on mindfulness and other wellness initiatives through B-WELL: a new program that aims to give back to our employees and encourage them to remember to take care of themselves.

Our advice to you?: Be mindful to work toward B(ing)-WELL.

For more information on mindfulness, check out these resources:

Online

Books

  • Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl, Ph.D. and Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Free Smartphone Apps

  • Stop, Breathe & Think
  • Insight Timer
  • PTSD Coach
  • Mindfulness Coach
  • Headspace (Paid)