RECENT POSTS

Report Finds Stark Gaps In Mass. Addiction Care

The math is simple and starkly clear.

There are 868 detox beds in Massachusetts, where patients go to break the cycle of addiction. They stay on average one week. Coming out, they hit one of the many hurdles explained in a report out this week from the Center for Health Information and Analysis on access to substance abuse treatment in the state.

There are only 297 beds in facilities where patients can have two weeks to become stable. There are 331 beds in four-week programs.

As the table below shows, there are almost four times as many men and women coming out of detox, with its one-week average, as there are from a two- or four-week program.

From the CHIA report on Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Massachusetts

From the CHIA report on Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Massachusetts

Patients who can’t get into a residential program right away describe a spin cycle, where they detox and relapse, detox and relapse. Some seek programs in other states with shorter wait times.

Continue reading

After 20 Hours, Mobility-Impaired Man Finishes Boston Marathon At 5 AM

Maickel Melamed, of Venezuela, speaks during a ceremony to honor him as the last participant to finish this year's Boston Marathon. (Bill Sikes/AP)

Maickel Melamed, of Venezuela, speaks during a ceremony to honor him as the last participant to finish this year’s Boston Marathon. (Bill Sikes/AP)

The last athlete to complete the 2015 Boston Marathon has received his race medal.

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, left, and Mayor Marty Walsh listen as Maickel Melamed, of Venezuela, speaks during a ceremony to honor him. (Bill Sikes/AP)

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, left, and Mayor Marty Walsh listen to Melamed. (Bill Sikes/AP)

Maickel Melamed was bestowed his award by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at City Hall on Tuesday, after completing the 26.2-mile course in about 20 hours.

The 39-year-old Venezuelan, who says he has a form of muscular dystrophy that severely impairs his mobility, crossed the finish line around 5 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Melamed and his team of volunteers endured torrential downpours, thunderstorms, biting wind and cold for the last few miles. They were greeted at the finish line by dozens of supporters.

Melamed said he completed the marathon — his fourth — to show that love is stronger than death.

He praised Boston for embracing his efforts.

Walsh called Melamed’s story “truly one of inspiration.”

This post was updated at 4:30 p.m.

Related:

Blankets And Broth: Hypothermia The Main Medical Issue At 2015 Boston Marathon

Lauri Perry, of Austin, Texas, is used to getting really hot when she runs. She thought she was being cautious ahead of Monday’s Boston Marathon, when she added a layer over her running top.

“I started out with something on and I threw it away at mile six because it was warmer. Then the rain started at about mile 10 or so, and then the wind got worse,” Perry said, her voice trailing off.

By the time Perry crossed the finish line on Boylston Street she was soaking wet, numb, blue and shaking.

“Uncontrollable shaking,” Perry repeated with emphasis. “I couldn’t even hold my drink because it was splashing out.”

Lauri Perry, of Austin, Texas, went into the medical tent to warm up after finishing the Boston Marathon Monday. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Lauri Perry, of Austin, Texas, went into the medical tent to warm up after finishing the Boston Marathon Monday. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Perry has run the Boston Marathon five times and notes with some pride that she has never needed medical assistance after the race. But Monday, when a member of the medical team asked if she wanted to step inside the big white tent, she gave in.

“I would normally say no,” Perry said, looking disappointed. “I’m a pretty strong person but I knew that I would not be able to walk all the way back to my hotel in the condition I was in.”

Perry and hundreds of runners on Monday fell victim to hypothermia, a condition where despite a runner’s hyper-exertion, their body temperature drops dangerously low. Inside a medical tent at the finish line, Perry peeled off her wet clothes and shoes and sat wrapped in multiple Mylar and cotton blankets, drinking warm fluids. But some runners needed more active warming.

Continue reading

Related:

Traumatic Turning Point: How The Marathon Bombing Shifted One Woman’s Depression

By Annie Brewster, M.D.

Jennifer on Marathon Monday 2013, before the runners started coming in (Courtesy)

Jennifer on Marathon Monday 2013, before the runners started coming in. (Courtesy)

Jennifer’s depression was deep and at times debilitating. For years, she tried various treatments but success was always temporary.

Something changed on the finish line at the Boston Marathon in 2013. It was, Jennifer says, “a turning point” in her life, but not in the ways you might expect.

As a marathon volunteer stationed a block from where the first bomb exploded, she witnessed the confusion and terror that ensued, and played an important role in helping one scared runner reunite with his family.

After the ordeal, Jennifer felt lucky to walk away alive. Her life goals changed that day and she says she now feels it’s her responsibility to help others. She continues to find concrete ways to do so.

Listen to Jennifer here:

She had already signed up to participate in a program at the  Benson-Henry Institute of Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital the week following the bombing. Primed by her experience during and after the race, Jennifer devoured the class, which focused on relaxation techniques.  It deepened her sense of self-acceptance and gave her skills to manage her own depression, but also strengthened her resolve to help others. She ultimately went on to become a peer counselor at the institute.

Now, her central message is this: while we can’t necessarily control what happens to us in life, we can control the meaning we make of our experiences.

Jennifer says she’s determined to make the events of April 15, 2013, mean something, and to translate this meaning into action. As far as her depression, she has come around to recognizing “some of the good things about depression” — namely her appreciation for the small things in life, and her increased sense of empathy for others. “It’s like any other illness,” she says. “It doesn’t have to limit you. It’s all about making it mean something.”

Dr. Annie Brewster, M.D., is founder and executive director of Health Story Collaborative, a nonprofit in Boston.

Massachusetts Court Upholds $63M Judgment In Motrin Lawsuit

The highest court in Massachusetts has upheld a $63 million judgment against the manufacturer of Children’s Motrin awarded to a family whose daughter developed a life-threatening disease after taking the over-the-counter medicine.

A Superior Court jury ruled in 2013 that Johnson & Johnson failed to provide sufficient warnings about the potential side effects of Motrin.

Samantha Reckis was 7 in 2003 when she was given the ibuprofen product to reduce a fever. She suffered a rare skin disease known as toxic epidermal necrolysis and was blinded.

Continue reading

This Blind Man Climbs Every Mountain, And Now Has Run The Boston Marathon

Randy Pierce with his guide dog, Autumn, at WBUR (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Randy Pierce with his guide dog, Autumn, at WBUR (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Note: This post has been updated.

In 1989, Randy Pierce was fresh out of college, living in southern New Hampshire and working happily as a computer hardware designer. One day in fencing class, his instructor noticed that his blind spot was oddly enlarged. You need to go to the doctor, the instructor said. Today.

A neurological disease was attacking Pierce’s optic nerve. Within two weeks he had lost all the sight in his right eye, and half the sight in his left. In the following years, he lost the last remnants of his sight, and damage to his cerebellum destroyed his balance, landing him in a wheelchair.

On Monday, he ran the Boston Marathon. And he turned in a personal marathon best: 3 hours, 50 minutes and 37 seconds for the 26.2-mile course.

Pierce, 48, ran on Team With A Vision, which supports the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He ran to raise money — and to make a point, about what he calls “ability awareness.”

“I have a disability — I can’t see,” he says. “We all have disabilities, things that we can’t do. I think it’s so much more important to put the focus of our lives on things we can do. And if something is important enough to you, I say anything is possible, you’re just going to have to problem-solve and persevere to get there.”

An example of problem-solving: Last year, Pierce became the first blind American to complete a Tough Mudder obstacle course, and last month he repeated the feat. (See the video below.)

From a platform 25 feet high, he had to leap out about 8 feet, grab a T-shaped, trapeze-like bar, swing farther out and release his grip at just the right moment to hit a remote hanging bell before plunging down into the muddy water below. He used his cane to feel for where the T-bar was, to form a mental image of it, and friends’ descriptions of where the bell was hanging.

The crowd went wild.

“You know, those are just moments — every one of those people out there would have told you this is impossible. Now they won’t,” Pierce says. “They’ll believe me when I say everything’s possible — or they’ll believe in themselves, which is the more important part.”

As for the perseverance Pierce talks about, he used it to fight his way out of the wheelchair that he occupied “for one year, eight months and 21 days — which tells you how I feel about it. Pretty challenging.”

Pierce’s wife, Tracy, says that somehow, his struggles and losses led him to adopt the supremely positive attitude that uplifts him now. Continue reading

Time The Healer Moves Slowly For 2 Boston Marathon Survivors

Marathon bombing survivor Martha Galvis is learning to use a hand doctors are still reconstructing. Here Galvis attempts to pick up a pen off a table after a physical therapy session at Faulkner Hospital. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Marathon bombing survivor Martha Galvis is learning to use a hand doctors are still reconstructing. Here Galvis attempts to pick up a pen off a table after a physical therapy session at Faulkner Hospital. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It’s just the crumb of a muffin, but Martha Galvis must pick it up. Lips clenched, eyes narrowed, she goes after the morsel, pushing it back and forth, then in circles, across a slick tabletop.

“I struggle and struggle until,” Galvis pauses, concentrating all her attention on the thumb and middle finger of her left hand. She can’t get them to close. Oh well.

“I try as much as I can. And if I do it I’m so happy, so happy,” she says, giggling.

Galvis, 62, has just finished a session of physical therapy at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, where she goes twice a week. She’s learning to use a hand doctors are still reconstructing. It’s been two years to the day since she almost lost it.

On April 15, 2013, Martha and her husband Alvaro Galvis headed for Cleveland Circle — mile 22 on the Boston Marathon route. This would be the first of three spots from which they’d enjoy the race and the boisterous crowd. Their last stop would be at or near the finish line in Boston. Continue reading

Daughter Born To Widow Of Slain Boston Surgeon

Mikaela Jane Davidson (Courtesy of Brigham and Women's Hospital)

Mikaela Jane Davidson (Courtesy of Brigham and Women’s Hospital)

This poignant birth announcement is just in from Brigham and Women’s Hospital:

Davidson Family Welcomes Baby Girl

Boston, MA – On behalf of Dr. Terri Halperin and the Davidson family, Brigham and Women’s Hospital announces the arrival of Mikaela Jane Davidson, born Saturday, April 4, 2015. Mother and baby are doing well.

Mikaela’s father, Dr. Michael J. Davidson, was tragically shot and killed by a patient’s son at BWH on January 20, 2015, leaving behind his beloved wife Terri, daughters Kate (10) and Liv (8) and son Graham (2). Mikaela was named after her dad and shares his initials – MJD.

Terri said, “Michael was very much looking forward to the birth of this beautiful baby girl. At a time when my children and I are completely heartbroken over the loss of Michael, we are finding joy in Mikaela’s arrival. We have been humbled and touched by the tremendous outpouring of love and support coming from family, friends, patients and all those kind-hearted souls who have been moved by Michael’s senseless death.”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital established the Davidson Family Fund to provide support for the Davidson children.

The press release notes that Dr. Halperin is not otherwise interacting with the media right now.

A woman wears a button honoring Michael Davidson at his January funeral service. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A woman wears a button honoring Michael Davidson at his January funeral service. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Related:

Visionaries: MIT Scientist Helps Blind Indian Children See, And Then Learns From Them

MIT neuroscience professor Pawan Sinha (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

MIT neuroscience professor Pawan Sinha (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

MIT neuroscience professor Pawan Sinha still gets goosebumps when he thinks about it, he says: “Things just happened so perfectly, so well-timed.”

Back in 2002, Sinha was grappling with a deep scientific question: How do we learn to recognize the objects we see? How do our brains know, “That’s a face”? Or “That’s a table”?

A fateful taxi ride set his research — and his life — onto a new road.

He was back visiting New Delhi, where he grew up on the elite campus of the Indian Institute of Technology before coming to America for graduate school. He was on his way to see a friend one evening, when the taxi he was riding in stopped at a traffic light.

“I noticed, by the side of the road was this little family, a mother and her two children,” he says. “And it felt really terrible to see these two children, who were barely wearing any clothes, very young children on this cold winter day. So I called over the mother to give her a little bit of change.”

When she approached, Sinha noticed that both of the children holding on to her sari had cataracts clouding their eyes.

It was the first time that he had seen children with cataracts. When he looked into childhood blindness in India, he learned that it is a widespread problem, often caused by rubella during the mother’s pregnancy. Blind children in the developing world suffer so much abuse and neglect that more than half don’t survive to age 5, he says.

Sinha wanted to help, but he figured that what he could contribute on his academic salary would be just a drop in the ocean.

“And that’s when the realization struck me that in providing treatment to those children, I would have exactly the approach that I had been looking for in my scientific work,” he says.

“If you have a child, say, a 10-year-old child who has not seen from birth, has only seen light and dark, and in a matter of half an hour you’re able to initiate sight in this child, then from the very next day, when the bandages are removed, you have a ringside seat into the process of visual development.”

Sinha applied for a federal grant to pay for cataract operations, which are relatively simple, and for studying the children who got them. Usually, American research money stays in America, “but I took a chance because I completely, honestly believed, and believe, that in providing that surgery, we are benefiting science that belongs to all of mankind, it’s not just specifically India.”

That grant eventually came though and to continue the work, Sinha founded a nonprofit based in New Delhi. He named it Project Prakash; Prakash means “light” in Sanskrit. Since 2005, he says, nearly 500 Indian children have gained sight through the project.

Now, at 48, Sinha is planning a major expansion of Project Prakash, to create a center that includes a hospital, a school and a research facility. The goal is to serve many more children than the current 40 to 50 a year. Continue reading

Related:

Mass. VA Clinic, Hospital Wait Times Vary Widely

In a state that prides itself on access to great health care, wait times at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics vary widely, with some facilities in central and western Massachusetts delaying appointments at much higher rates than in the affluent east.

Nearly 9,000 medical appointments at VA facilities in Massachusetts – about 2 percent of the state’s total during the six-month period ending in February- failed to meet the department’s goal of completing medical appointments within 30 days.

That’s better than the national average of 2.8 percent, but nearly half the delays in Massachusetts occurred at only three of the state’s 20 facilities, according to government data reviewed by the Associated Press.

“We’re working to get the veterans into their appointments in a more timely manner. It’s a work in progress.”

– Dennis Ramstein, Central Western Mass. VA spokesman

The AP analysis of six months of appointment data at 940 VA hospitals and clinics nationwide found that the number of medical appointments delayed 30 to 90 days has stayed flat since Congress began pumping $16.3 billion dollars into the VA system in August. The number of appointments that take longer than 90 days to complete has nearly doubled.

Many of the delay-prone hospitals and clinics are clustered within a few hours’ drive of each other in a handful of Southern states, often in areas with a strong military presence, a partly rural population and patient growth that has outpaced the VA’s sluggish planning process.

Continue reading

Related: