RECENT POSTS

A (Frozen) Boost For Fecal Transplants To Treat Nasty Bacterium

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

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

By Gabrielle Emanuel

Last month, we reported on the first national stool bank and its struggle to survive. Today, a pilot study, published online in Clinical Infectious Diseases, gives the stool bank a helpful boost.

The study found frozen stool from an unrelated donor to be as effective in treating patients as fresh feces taken from the patient’s family member. It also found that the transplant can be successfully administered through the nose.

Before you stop reading, here’s some background: A stool bank is just like a blood bank, but instead of collecting, testing and distributing blood, it works with fecal matter. The main beneficiaries are patients with recurrent Clostridium difficile (C. diff). C. diff is a nasty bacterium that causes such bad diarrhea it can completely disrupt a person’s life. Over the course of a year, it sickens half a million people and kills about 14,000 people in the U.S.

Luckily, there is a very effective treatment: fecal transplants. This is when you take stool from a healthy donor and put it into the gut of a sick patient; the good bacteria then outfights the C. diff. Studies involving animals and fresh fecal material show that this procedure works 90 percent of the time.

“It’s been remarkably successful and gratifying,” said Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann, an associate professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and the study’s senior author. “There aren’t that many things we do in medicine that are over 90 percent effective.”

Despite such a success rate, many doctors are unwilling to do the procedure. One of the main reasons is that finding and screening donors takes a lot of time and can be expensive.

When Mark Smith, a PhD student at MIT, heard about this he decided to partner with some friends and start a stool bank. The thought was that if they provide prescreened, frozen stool, the procedure would be way easier and, thus, boost its availability. Their stool bank has been fully operational since early October.

But the FDA was more cautious. Continue reading

Heat Takes Marathoners By Surprise

It was hotter than expected on Marathon Monday, and there may have been more charity or first-time runners than usual. Both these things could help explain why almost 4,000 runners and a few spectators walked or were wheeled into a medical tent along the course.

The Mecca Of Marathon Medicine

As temperatures rose above 70 degrees and the sun blazed, Clyde Dickey, from Rockwall, Texas, said he downed too much Gatorade.

“I just threw up a little bit, and I felt faint” as I crossed the finish line, Dickey said. “I thought I had heat exhaustion. I gave [the race] all I had, but the heat just got to me.”

Clyde Dickey from Texas tried for a personal record, pushed too hard and was treated for heat exhaustion. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Clyde Dickey from Texas tried for a personal record, pushed too hard and was treated for heat exhaustion. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Dickey was underground, waiting for the T when the bombs went off last year and regrets that he wasn’t able to help those wounded. He added Boston TV stations to his cable package so he could watch all the specials in the year since.

“I love coming here,” Dickey said. “This is the mecca of marathons.”

And perhaps the mecca of marathon medicine. So when a guy from Michigan, who trained all winter in 20-degree weather, collapsed at the finish line, a volunteer scooped him into a wheelchair and had him on a cot with an IV in his arms within minutes. Another volunteer caught a woman from Washington, D.C., who started spinning as she slowed down.

“I wasn’t quite expecting it but today we saw quite a bit of hyperthermia, people overheating,”
said Dr. Pierre d’Hemecourt, one of the marathon’s medical directors. He said the tents, which were larger with more staff and equipment than last year, were busy most of the day.

“Most of [the activity] being relatively minor, dehydration, things like musculoskeletal complaints,” d’Hemecourt said. “So overall it’s been a pretty good day.”

Which, in contrast to last year, was a relief for many of the doctors, nurses and other volunteers who staffed the medical tents. Continue reading

Can You Run Hard While Weeping? Some Boston Marathoners Will Find Out

On the eve of the Boston Marathon, some runners said this year’s race may be as taxing emotionally as it is physically.

Tom Pfleeger, of Gulfport, Miss., finished the marathon about 40 minutes before two bombs went off last year, having completed what he thought was a perfect race. Then, the euphoria was snatched away.

“You went from the top of the mountain to lowest, low,” Pfleeger said, to being “so sad for all the people who were killed and injured.”

Carrie Lundell (left) and her niece Becky Anderson have been crying a lot as today's race approaches, but hope to keep tears at bay while they run. (Courtesy Carrie Lundell)

Carrie Lundell (left) and her niece Becky Anderson have been crying a lot as Monday’s race approaches but hope to keep tears at bay while they run. (Courtesy Carrie Lundell)

Pfleeger is one of many runners who say they are back to take care of unfinished emotional business. Beverly Dwight, from Belchertown, Mass., is running her first Boston Marathon. Last year, she was a volunteer at the finish line.

“I was able to walk away from what happened,” Dwight said slowly. “Not a day goes by where I don’t think about those who are much less fortunate.”

Dwight is prepared to cry while she runs.

They “could be tears of joy,” Dwight said, “just joy to be part of it and a sense of kind of one with the city of Boston.”

Some runners worry about becoming overwhelmed.

“It’s going to be insane. I’m hoping it doesn’t tip me over to the emotional part because it’s super hard to run when you’re like feeling verklempt,” said Carrie Lundell, from Orange County, Calif. She clutched at her throat, using the Yiddish word that means “choked with emotion.”

“I just need to take it right up to that level, but not over until we cross the finish line, and then there’s going to be a lot of tears,” Lundell said.

Lundell will be running with her niece Becky Anderson from Eagle Mountain, Utah. Anderson ran the marathon last year, finishing 15 minutes before the first explosion. Continue reading

Mom’s Memo To Schools: Please, Make These Random Half-Days Stop

May I share with you the delights of my children’s April school schedule? They get out at 12:40 because of parent-teacher conferences on these days sprinkled through the month: Tues., April 1; Weds., April 9; Tues., April 29. Oh, yes, and just when you thought it was safe, one more on May 7. (Plus they’re off April 18-25 for spring vacation.)

That’s in addition to our new regular Friday early dismissals at 1:40. When we got word of that, one mother I know said to the superintendent, “You must really hate parents.”

I don’t think the administration hates us, but I do think that perhaps we haven’t spoken up loudly enough about the logistical stress these half-days create. And they’re common around the state, from year-round early-release Tuesdays in Newton to April half-Wednesdays in Westwood.

They’re an old tradition. Many of us remember the joys of occasional half days from our own school years. You know, back when our mothers were mostly housewives. Now, virtually all mothers work, and I venture to say that virtually all working parents wish that all our public schools provided universal, affordable after-school care.

(Photo: Rachel Zimmerman)

(Photo: Rachel Zimmerman)

Or at the very least, reliable after-school care on random half-days. At our school, a team of mothers has created a “half-day matinee,” gathering all the children who need looking after for a movie that runs until the normal 2:30 dismissal time. But their altruistic efforts are in danger of being overwhelmed by demand: More than 200 children have been coming to the movies this month, straining even their heroic volunteer powers.

“First-world problems,” you may say, and I’d agree but go a step further: This is specifically a first-world middle-class problem. Continue reading

What Teens Say Teens Should Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases

(Planned Parenthood)

(Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts)

By Joey Boots-Ebenfield
Guest contributor

I’ve gotten used to hearing myths and misinformation when I talk about sex with fellow teens.

And I talk about sex often in my role as an 17-year-old peer educator with the Planned Parenthood Get Real Teen Council (GRTC) — a year-long high school sexual health program for 10th-12th graders who are trained to facilitate sex education workshops and serve as resources for peers, families and communities.

If teens are uncomfortable talking about topics related to sex and sexuality, or don’t have a trusted source of information about their health, it’s easy for all kinds of misinformation to spread. And of course, there’s the Internet, where bad information is often rampant, so it’s not always a reliable place to find accurate health information.

The subject of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is no exception. I’ve heard some pretty interesting misconceptions about what STDs are and what it’s like to get tested. One myth is that STDs have obvious symptoms, like localized pain or some other physical sign.

In fact, this is quite the opposite! STDs often show NO symptoms. This myth is especially dangerous because it means that someone can have an STD and not even know it. As a result, many STDs go untreated, which can cause cause some pretty nasty complications. Continue reading

Study: Young Adults’ Casual Marijuana Use Causes Brain Changes

(prensa420/Flickr)

(prensa420/Flickr)

A new study by Boston researchers is believed to be the first that shows that young adults who even occasionally smoke marijuana could be damaging their brains.

The study, just published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found abnormalities in areas of the brain related to emotion, motivation and decision-making.

The researchers say the degree of brain changes appeared to be directly related to how frequently the study’s participants smoked pot.

The authors write in their paper:

The results of this study indicate that in young, recreational marijuana users, structural abnormalities in gray matter density, volume, and shape of the nucleus accumbens and amygdala can be observed. Pending confirmation in other cohorts of marijuana users, the present findings suggest that further study of marijuana effects are needed to help inform discussion about the legalization of marijuana.

The study comes with a plurality of Massachusetts residents supporting the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, and as the state is in the process of opening medical marijuana dispensaries.

Here & Now has more on the study this afternoon.

And hat-tip to The Boston Globe, which has more on the findings.

My Mother’s Surgery And One Doctor’s Substance Abuse

By Karen Shiffman
Guest contributor

USA Today reports more than 100,000 doctors, nurses, technicians and other health professionals struggle with abuse or addiction. This wasn’t news to my family.

Some 20 years ago, my mother was mauled by a dog. She was on vacation in Florida and went over to a friend’s house for dinner. To understand what happened next, you need to know a few crucial facts about her: She is afraid of dogs and barely five feet tall. When her friend opened the front door, her daughter’s dog — an Akita- tore out of the house and lunged . My mother turned away quickly. The dog lunged again. Because of her short stature, his teeth sunk into her calf. He all but ripped it off.

(Alex E. Proimos/flickr)

(Alex E. Proimos/flickr)

Blood everywhere. Screams. Tears. Ambulance. Thirty-nine stitches at the ER. She would need a skin graft.

And then there was the drama with the friend. Turns out, this wasn’t the first time the dog had bitten someone. Still, the family didn’t want the dog put down. Eventually, he was. My mother and her friend of 30 years never spoke again.

Back home in Boston, my mother was referred to a plastic surgeon at what is now Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He was kind and I agreed with my mother that he should do the surgery.

The operation went well. I went with her to the post-surgery checkup. We both thanked the surgeon for doing such a great job and for taking such good care of my mother.

So, imagine my shock, in 2008, to read in The Boston Globe that my mother’s surgeon was fired for being impaired in the OR. And that he had been struggling with substance abuse for the past six years. Continue reading

Boston Hospitals Reflect With Pride On Marathon Bombing Response

A Boston Strong banner hangs at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Tuesday. (Bill Sikes/AP)

A Boston Strong banner hangs at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Tuesday. (Bill Sikes/AP)

Early in the afternoon last April 15, Dave Reisman was laughing as he left a meeting to update hospitals around the city about conditions at the Boston Marathon. It looked like a light year for patients. The weather was sunny, but not too hot.

Reisman, an emergency preparedness director at Mass General, told a group gathered Tuesday to review lessons learned the day of the bombings that he will never forget walking out of that meeting, hearing his pager go off, and reading the message.

“Reports of explosive devices in Copley Square: one detonated, another suspected,” Reisman recalled the message saying. MGH treated 97 patients that afternoon, in an emergency room equipped to handle 44.

“The environment in the [emergency department] was intense,” said Maryfran Hughes, nursing director for emergency services. “Many people were arriving and people didn’t know what was going on. The professionalism and compassion of the nurses really transcended their own fears. They didn’t know what was happening out there.”

None of the Boston hospitals, including MGH, lost a patient that day or in the days and weeks that followed, even though the pressure did not let up. Trauma surgeon David King says for hospital staff, it was a marathon week.

Continue reading

Bittersweet Marathon Anniversary: Lost A Leg, Gained Cherished Friends

Heather Abbott, left, and Roseann Sdoia are both amputees who developed a friendship after last year's bombing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Heather Abbott, left, and Roseann Sdoia are both amputees who developed a lasting bond after last year’s bombing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

On the evening before the one-year anniversary of the day that changed their lives, Roseann Sdoia and Heather Abbott met up for dinner. The two women had been acquainted before shrapnel shredded the lower part of Abbott’s left leg and most of Sdoia’s right leg.

Now they’re fast friends who push and inspire each other and offer support and counseling. The close bonds among many of the bombing survivors, first responders and their families are a reminder that Tuesday’s anniversary is mixed.

‘It’s Still Kind Of Surreal’

Abbott was waiting to get into the Forum on Boylston Street last April when the second bomb went off. Sdoia had just stepped out of the restaurant to look for a friend nearing the finish line.

Abbott and Sdoia had come to the Forum with separate groups of mutual friends. The two women didn’t realize they were both amputees until they saw each other at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. They still have a hard time accepting what happened.

“I’m getting a little bit closer, but it’s still kind of surreal to me,” Sdoia said Monday evening.

“Sometimes I’ll wake up in the morning, to get out of bed, and I’ll look down and realize I have to put my leg on,” Abbott said. “And I think, this is never going away.”

Abbott looked down at her left calf and foot. She was wearing a wedge sandal on her dress-up leg. Dress legs come in different heel sizes. There is an adjustable heel, but Abbott said it is not very stable.

“When I inventoried my closet,” Abbott recalled, “four inches was the most popular one, so that’s what I went with.”

Sdoia wore black sandals. The toenails on both feet were a deep purple. Sdoia’s testing a new way to keep the sandal on her carbon fiber foot.

Walking is “not very smooth,” Sdoia said with a laugh. “At any moment, that sandal could come off. I mean it’s velcroed on right now, to the bottom of my foot.”

Sdoia joked about being jealous that Abbott was back into her tight jeans first, wearing heels first and running, again, first. Sdoia, whose amputation is above the knee, has had a more difficult recovery. But each women feels like she’s constantly being fitted for a new socket as her limb shrinks. Abbott has gone through five different-sized sockets and is due for another. Continue reading