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Quadruple Amputee Gains New Arms, From Donor Who ‘Gave Best Hugs’

Will Lautzenheiser looked down at his rosy, fleshy new arm at a Brigham and Women’s Hospital news conference today and exclaimed, “It’s the most beautiful arm!”

For three years, Lautzenheiser — a quadruple amputee in the wake of a virulent bacterial infection in 2011 — had lived without arms. Now, he and his Brigham and Women’s Hospital transplant team have just revealed, he has two new ones, the gifts of an anonymous donor. A medical team of 35, including 13 surgeons, operated on him for nine hours last month.

Lautzenheiser, 40, spoke with us last year in the video above about his “sit-down” comedy career: “Did You Hear The One About The Comedian With No Arms And Legs?” That armless footage is now outdated.

It will take months for the new arms and hands to gain sensation and function, but Lautzenheiser, a former film professor at Boston University, says he’s already putting them to good use, hugging his partner, Angel Gonzalez. “To be able to hold my love in my arms again is really the best,” he said.

Arm transplant recipient Will Lautzenheiser uses his new arms to hug his partner, Angel Gonzalez, at a Brigham and Women's Hospital press conference. (Photo courtesy BWH)

Arm transplant recipient Will Lautzenheiser uses his new arms to hug his partner, Angel Gonzalez, at a Brigham and Women’s Hospital press conference. (Photo courtesy BWH)

The late donor put those arms to similar use, as described in a message from his family that New England Organ Bank President Richard Luskin read aloud to Lautzenheiser: “Our son gave the best hugs. We pray that you make a wonderful recovery and that your loved ones will be able to enjoy your warm embrace.”

Thus far, Lautzenheiser says, his new arms have little sensation, mainly just a bit of feeling in the skin right below where they’re joined to his own body. As for moving them, “If I really focus, I can occasionally move my thumb just a little bit, a few millimeters. It bends. I can pronate and supinate my wrist on my right arm. I have a little bit of wrist motion, a little bit of forearm motion.” Continue reading

‘Vladimir Pootin’ To Poop Pills: Saga Of First Stool Bank Goes On

Bottles of frozen human stool for fecal transplants at the nation's first stool bank, OpenBiome, in this file photo (Gabrielle Emanuel/WBUR)

Bottles of frozen human stool for fecal transplants at the nation’s first stool bank, OpenBiome, in this file photo (Gabrielle Emanuel/WBUR)

Coming up in the next issue of The New Yorker: “The Excrement Experiment,” a sweeping disquisition on the history of fecal transplants for treating intestinal ills. It includes the delightful tidbit that at the nation’s first stool bank, begun in an MIT lab and now located in Medford, donors are given nicknames like “Winnie the Poo” and “Vladimir Pootin.”

We posted the back-story of the stool bank, by Gabrielle Emanuel, here in April: “MIT Lab Hosts Nation’s First Stool Bank, But Will It Survive?

The existential threat to the stool bank loomed from the FDA, which said it considered stool to be a drug, and thus potentially subject to regulations rigorous enough to send the costs of fecal transplants soaring and probably kill the bank. More recently, the agency has seemed to signal that it will allow some fecal transplants — at least for now.

The New Yorker story reports that orders for OpenBiome’s stool supplies have been growing at 18 percent a month for the last year, spurring complaints from companies that are working on competing products — pills and enemas.

The prospects for poop pill prospects are looking promising, The New Yorker reports, and the stool bank is involved in those efforts as well:

Even if OpenBiome were to stop shipping stool to hospitals, it could presumably continue to operate as a resource for researchers. When I visited in October, there was a tray of shiny white capsules on [co-founder Mark] Smith’s desk—“poop pills that we’ve been working on,” he explained. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital had just announced the results of a study showing that capsules were as effective as colonoscopes for treating C. difficile, and the field was abuzz with the news, since, as Smith pointed out, “everyone would rather swallow a pill.” He had hit on a way to improve on the doctors’ methods: lining capsules with cocoa butter, which is solid at room temperature, thus insuring that they won’t disintegrate prematurely—on the shelf or in someone’s mouth.

Meanwhile, for Boston-area residents interested in becoming the next Vladimir Pootin, boston.com reported last month that the bank, which now ships to fecal samples to 122 hospitals, is paying $40 “per dump:”

Are you under 50 years old, willing to make daily trips to Medford, and have regular bowel movements? You, my friend, could be earning $40 a day—just for pooping.

And for the more altruistically motivated:

“These donors may seem very mild-mannered and think going to the bathroom is a humble thing,” said Smith, “but each sample they bring in can treat four or five patients.”

Baker Taps Marylou Sudders To Lead Health And Human Services Department

Gov.-elect Charlie Baker is choosing someone he worked with in the Weld administration to lead the largest agency in the state — the Department of Health and Human Services. Baker said Friday he tapped Marylou Sudders for the post in part because of her collaborative spirit.

Marylou Sudders (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Marylou Sudders (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Several groups are praising his choice, citing Sudders’ work as the former state mental health commissioner and former head of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

WBUR’s Deborah Becker spoke with Sudders and started by asking her why she wants to take over an agency facing several challenges. Their lightly edited conversation is below.

——

Marylou Sudders: I’m a public servant at heart. In many ways I feel like my entire professional career has been preparing me for a position such as secretary of Health and Human Services. I believe in the tremendous opportunities in the commonwealth. I’ve never shied away from challenges and I have tremendous faith in really good people fixing these problems.

Deborah Becker: Let’s talk about some of those problems, some of which were raised in a recent survey from the National Alliance for Mental Illness. They want to know what the Baker administration will do about hospital emergency rooms holding patients with a mental illness because they can’t find beds in treatment facilities, or over incarcerating folks with mental illness. Are those your priorities?

These are issues I’m very familiar with. I have every confidence that this administration will be looking at the full health needs, and health will be defined as both the physical and behavioral health needs in this administration.

With the many challenges in this field, what do you hope to accomplish?

Continue reading

Baker Names Sudders As His Health And Human Services Chief

Marylou Sudders is poised to be named Gov.-elect Charlie Baker’s new head of health and human services, a Baker aide has confirmed to WBUR.

Marylou Sudders (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Marylou Sudders (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Sudders is the state’s former mental health commissioner.

State House News Service reports:

Sudders, an associate professor of health and mental health at Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work, was recruited by Baker to state government in the mid-1990s and served as commissioner of mental health under Republican Govs. William Weld, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift from 1996 until 2003. She held a similar position in New Hampshire.

Health and human services is the state’s largest executive agency.

The formal appointment is expected later Friday.

Westminster Pulls Tobacco Ban Proposal

The Westminister Board of Health is withdrawing a proposal to ban tobacco sales in town after staunch opposition.

According to the Telegram & Gazette, board member Edward Simoncini Jr. made the motion to withdraw the proposal Wednesday and the board voted 2-1, with Peter Munro voting for and chairwoman Andrea Crete voting against the motion.

Many residents criticized the proposed ban — which would have been the first such sweeping measure in the country — saying it would violate their civil rights. Opponents had begun the process of trying to remove the health board members from office.

Continue reading

New MGH-MIT Partnership Marries Medicine And Tech

From left: MIT graduate student Matthew Li, MIT engineering professor Michael Cima and MGH nephrologist Dr. Herbert Lin with the portable device they’re developing to measure hydration state and blood volume using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

From left: MIT graduate student Matthew Li, MIT engineering professor Michael Cima and MGH nephrologist Dr. Herbert Lin with the portable device they’re developing to measure hydration state and blood volume using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Major cuts in federal medical research funding have prompted scientists to find new ways to collaborate and pay for their studies.

Now, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts General Hospital have formed a partnership to put millions of dollars into new research that brings scientists and engineers from the two institutions together. The goal: to develop better technologies and methods to diagnose and treat disease.

MIT engineering and materials science professor Michael Cima is one of the first researchers to get a grant under the partnership. We met him recently in his lab at MIT, where he showed us the diagnostic tool he’s developing.

“This particular project deals with what I think is an important measurement of health, which is hydration state. There aren’t really good ways to do that,” Cima explained to us.

His device will measure if someone is dehydrated or holding too much water. Continue reading

AG Hasn’t Ruled Out Legal Action To Prevent Closure Of Quincy Medical Center

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office hasn’t ruled out court action to prevent Quincy Medical Center from shutting down.

Steward Health Care, the hospital’s parent company, announced this month that it would close the 124-year-old facility at the end of the year. The hospital has since moved the closing back to Feb. 4.

Bob Ross, head of the attorney general’s business and labor bureau, said Tuesday in a letter to a Steward lawyer that the closing could violate an agreement the company signed when it purchased the hospital in 2011 to keep it open for at least 10 years.

Ross said officials were willing to discuss Steward’s claim that the agreement should be altered.

Steward has said the hospital, with nearly 700 employees, is losing $20 million a year in the face of increased regional competition.

Memo To Gov.-Elect: Include Pain Sufferers As You Seek Opiate Solution

(tudedude via Compfight)

(tudedude via Compfight)

By Cindy Steinberg
Guest contrbutor

Cindy Steinberg is the policy chair for the Massachusetts Pain Initiative and the national director of policy and advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation.

Charlie Baker vows to tackle state opiate problem,” was the Boston Globe headline two days after Election Day.

It’s good to hear from our newly elected governor that he plans to take steps to curb the ongoing problem with illegal use of prescription medication in our state. There’s little doubt that too many lives are being harmed by drug abuse and addiction.

But in a quest to fix one problem, policymakers need to consider the potential unintended negative consequences for the patients for whom these medications are a lifeline.

Cindy Steinberg (courtesy)

Cindy Steinberg (courtesy)

Gov.-elect Baker said in that Globe interview that he plans to convene a coalition of lawmakers, health care providers and labor leaders to confront the opioid crisis in our state. Representatives of the pain community — an estimated 1.2 million Massachusetts residents live with chronic pain — must be included in these discussions as well.

For many with chronic pain, the right medications mean the difference between a life worth living or not.

But despite these legitimate needs, more and more I’m hearing from residents of our state who are unable to access treatment that their doctors say they need and that they depend on. These are not addicts; these are people who are trying to manage their lives with debilitating conditions such as cancer, diabetic neuropathy, sickle cell, daily migraine, fibromyalgia, severe back pain and many others.

These are not addicts; these are people who are trying to manage their lives with debilitating conditions such as cancer, diabetic neuropathy, sickle cell, daily migraine, fibromyalgia.

Not including members of the pain community in discussions about how these medications are prescribed, regulated and controlled marginalizes the lives of thousands of Massachusetts citizens who live with pain caused by a myriad of conditions and serious injuries.

There is not a silver bullet solution to solving the abuse of prescription drugs. We need to take a thoughtful, multifaceted approach to ensure that those who need pain medication have access to it, and that those who choose to abuse these medications are stopped. There is no group more invested in making sure that medications are responsibly controlled than members of the pain community. Continue reading

New Mass. Health Connector Website Works, But Some Enrollees Have Problems

Updated November 16, 2014, 9:26 a.m.

State officials and the folks at the Massachusetts Health Connector call the first day of the new health insurance website a success.

“The website was stable and available throughout the entire day,” said Maydad Cohen, a special adviser to Gov. Deval Patrick on the website project. “Response times were averaging under half a second. Throughout the day, no complaints about an inability to get on, no slowness, no issues at all with our performance and usage of the site, which was fantastic.”

  • 5,967 residents were able to put in their income information and figure out what kind of coverage assistance, if any, they could receive.
  • 2,660 of those people qualified for free coverage through the state’s Medicaid program, MassHealth.
  • 1,704 people chose a plan but have not yet paid.
  • 60 people paid and are awaiting confirmation from their insurer.

Roughly 1,600 people did not complete their application. They may still be weighing their plan options, they may have run out of time, or they may have had trouble using the site. And 1,713 people dialed the Connector’s call center number seeking help with their application.

The Connector does not know how many people received error messages, got stuck, had to start over or were told they must fill out a paper application.

But unlike last year, the website is working.

The Connector highlights a Facebook comment from Dianne Anagnos, who says, “My enrollment went smoothly. I am a happy customer and the website was very user friendly.”

Some people were able to enroll with few, if any problems.

But there were also more than a dozen complaints posted to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking programs. These people reported problems verifying their identity, their immigration status or their income. They had trouble enrolling family members. When they dialed the Connector’s call center for help, some people reported wait times of 50 minutes or more. Some were told they would have to fill out a paper application.

Linda Mederios says she was told she would have to fill out a paper application because the site could not verify her identity.

“Not working any better than the old website did,” Medeiros wrote on Facebook, “trying to register & it says ‘cannot verify’ @ this time … been ON HOLD w/phone center for the past 40 mins. UGH !!!!!!!!!”

Medeiros says she started her application at 8 a.m. Saturday. Sometime during the day, she says, a team of Connector staffers called and helped her through the website. By 4:45, she and her husband were enrolled in subsidized coverage.

The Connector will be issuing daily reports in an effort to be transparent about the website. It’s not clear how those reports will measure trouble people have using the site.

The Connector does not know how many people received error messages and had to start over. But here’s a sample of complaints posted to the Connector’s Facebook page:

Continue reading

New Health Connector Website Launches

The command center monitors the traffic on the relaunched Health Connector website. (Rachel Paiste/WBUR)

The command center monitors the traffic on the relaunched Health Connector website. (Rachel Paiste/WBUR)

Updated at 1:30 p.m.

The new Health Connector website for Massachusetts launched successfully Saturday morning and was working as designed upon launch.

“All right, everyone ready to see this thing go up live? Let’s do it,” Maydad Cohen, who oversaw the effort, said to applause just before 8 a.m. Saturday.

The new website allows Massachusetts residents to browse health plans, find out what program they qualify for and complete an application during the open enrollment period between Nov. 15, 2014 and Feb. 15, 2015.

The Health Connector team prepares for the relaunch Saturday morning. (Rachel Paiste/WBUR)

The Health Connector team prepares for the relaunch Saturday morning. (Rachel Paiste/WBUR)

They will also be able to compare plans, including premiums, co-pays and benefits. People who meet income eligibility requirements can get help paying for their coverage through the Health Connector or free coverage through MassHealth.

Nearly a year ago, the former site crashed repeatedly and the state spent millions of dollars to launch the redesigned site.

Deputy Medicaid Director Robin Callahan said the governor’s involvement in the redesign meant a lot to the team building the site.

“I think that’s one of the things we didn’t have the first time around — a real organizing, strong presence,” Callahan said.

Jean Yang, executive director of the Health Connector, said she’s excited about the new site, compared to last year’s.

“A difference of night and day, for the very first time we’re going to be seeing people getting determined for qualified health plan, real time,” she said.

The state expects more than 400,000 people will get their health insurance through this website.

Clarification: This post’s headline was updated to reflect the fact that the website appeared successful upon launch, but more information is forthcoming about its performance.

Earlier: