Thank you, Henrietta Lacks

Earlier in my public health career, I lived in Baltimore, Maryland. There I met a successful nurse practitioner with whom I maintained a close connection even after I relocated to Rochester, New York. Angel and I shared similar interests in community health. Over the years, we traded stories of our professional experiences and inspired each other to improve the health and well-being of the communities where we lived and worked.

One day, Angel told me about a book she was reading, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

I had never heard of Henrietta’s story. But as a health care leader, I was deeply inspired to learn more about her life. I would soon learn that Lacks played a monumental role in modern health care. As I learned more about her, I developed a deep connection with her.

The Mother of Modern Medicine

Henrietta Lacks was born in the 1920s in Roanoke, Virginia. Like most African-Americans living in the South during that time, Lacks was deeply disenfranchised by racism and Jim Crow policies and had no access to education or health care. In the early 1940s, she and her husband moved to Baltimore for economic opportunities. When she was barely 30 years old, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital, which was one of the only hospitals that provided health care to African-Americans during that time.

While receiving treatment for cervical cancer, Lacks’s cancerous and non-cancerous cells were removed from her body without her knowledge. While this would be regarded as shocking now, it was a common practice back then.

Then her healthy and malignant tissues were acquired by a cancer researcher who had been trying to successfully clone human cells for years. Lacks’s “HeLa” cells were the first and only cells to survive and multiply exponentially. They were also the first cells to be successfully cloned. This was a huge breakthrough not only for cancer research, but for medicine in general.

Henrietta Lacks tragically died at the age of 31, nine months after her diagnosis. Her cells, however, lived on. As news spread about the immortal cells, Johns Hopkins shared the HeLa cells with many other research institutes.

How HELA Cells Transformed Health Care

Over time, the HeLa cells were used to help develop the polio vaccine, AIDS and chemotherapy treatments, in vitro fertilization, gene mapping and other significant medical and research breakthroughs.  HeLa cells contributed to many of the Nobel Prizes given in medicine over the last 60 years.

Regrettably, Henrietta’s family did not learn about the use of her cells and how they had transformed health care until decades after her death. Neither Johns Hopkins nor the family of Henrietta Lacks ever received compensation for the cells, even though the cells ended up being used for commercial and for-profit purposes.

Skloot’s book and a movie about her life have helped spread awareness about Lacks’s story. Often called The Mother of Modern Medicine, Lacks is just now receiving the recognition she deserves for the significant part her cells have played in the development of modern medicine.

Given the significance of the HeLa cells, I think it’s important for Americans, especially health care professionals, to know this amazing story. I feel a strong connection to Lacks. We are both African-American women who lived and raised families in Baltimore.  I am inspired to keep her memory alive by helping to raise awareness about her contributions to health care and by continuing the work to solve the social issues that impacted her and her family.

Thank you, Henrietta.

A Grandmother’s story: What you need to know about cystic fibrosis

On September 6, 2011, I was introduced to a beautiful new grandson named Owin. All outside appearances indicated that he was a healthy, handsome little man, and I remember being simultaneously thrilled, thankful and a bit taken aback by the new addition to our family.

What made me a little uneasy was his mom, Karee, matter-of-factly saying that “We would know for sure how healthy Owin was when the doctors completed their newborn testing.”

A few days later, Karee called our house to talk to her mom, Karen. “Mom,” she said (you could tell she was fighting back tears). “We got some news back from the doctor. Owin has cystic fibrosis.”

I remember looking at Karen with kind of a blank stare, not having any idea what cystic fibrosis was. This was my first introduction to the disease is as it hit home right in our own family.

Three years later, we had our next introduction to cystic fibrosis. It came in the beauty of a little girl, whose name is Rori. Rori is Owin’s sister.

From the moment Rori was born, I knew she was full of spunk. Unfortunately, we received the same kind of call as we had with Owin. A few days after her birth, we learned that Rori also has cystic fibrosis.

My grandchildren have undergone a lot over the years to keep their health in check. Along the way, I’ve developed a passion for educating others about the disease. My family and I are also doing what we can to help find a cure for this very difficult disease.

What is cystic fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that comes from both parents, as each parent must carry at least one copy of the defective gene in order for a child to be born with the disease.

Each time two cystic fibrosis carriers have a child, the chances of the child contracting some form of cystic fibrosis are:

  • 25 percent that the child will have the disease
  • 50 percent that the child will be a carrier but will not have the disease
  • 25 percent that the child will not be a carrier and will not have the disease

Any abnormality in the cystic fibrosis gene is called a mutation. Currently, there are about 1,700 known gene mutations that can cause cystic fibrosis. Most testing for the disease only screens for common disease mutations. More than 30,000 people in the United States today live with cystic fibrosis, and more than half of those people are older than age 18. Approximately 1,000 new cases of cystic fibrosis are diagnosed each year.

Why is cystic fibrosis so difficult to treat?

Cystic fibrosis brings with it many different battles. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, It is a genetic disease that affects the lungs, pancreas and many other parts of the body. A buildup of mucus in a patient’s lungs clogs up airways, making it very difficult to breathe. This sticky mucus also traps bacteria and makes the person very susceptible to lung infections, lung damage and respiratory failure.

In the pancreas, the clogged mucus prevents the body from releasing enzymes used for digestion to break down food and absorb vital nutrients.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of cystic fibrosis include (but are not limited to):

  • Very salty tasting skin
  • Persistent cough
  • Frequent lung infections like pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stunted growth
  • Poor weight gain regardless of appetite
  • Difficulty with bowel movements
  • Male infertility

What does a day with cystic fibrosis look like?

Each day, Owin and Rori take many different medications. The last time I was at their house, the top of their dishwasher was covered with pill bottles and boxes of medications, including pancreatic enzyme supplements to improve the absorption of nutrients into the body.

Along with these medications, the children also must work to keep their airways open with several breathing treatments and other therapies each day. Daily nebulizer treatments supply antibiotics to help them fight lung infections.

Both children have learned to do other things – such as playing a game or watching TV – while getting their breathing treatments.

Comparing the amount of medications that these children take every day to the three I take every other day sure makes my medication regimen seem like nothing to me.

Normal, active and energetic in every way

One of the many struggles that Owin and Rori’s parents, Karee and Zack, have every day is being sure that both children have enough salt in their diet. Children with cystic fibrosis have a higher concentration of salt in their sweat and need to replace any salt that is lost. Often, their water must include added salt to make up for the salt that is lost.

Rori and Owin Pelis with their parents Zack Pelis and Karee Perry

In spite of all this, Owin and Rori are two of the most normal, active and energetic children I’ve ever known. Now ages 7 and 4, Owin is in 2nd grade, and Rori is not in school yet. Owin has played soccer on a team at his local soccer facility. Both children love hiking, swimming and having picnics with family and friends.

Here’s why I support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

I hope this explanation of cystic fibrosis has helped show what the disease is all about and what people who live with it every day of their lives go through.

Because it’s so close to me and my family, we all have become very involved in supporting and raising funds for The Central New York Chapter – Syracuse Office of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Fundraising in Central New York for cystic fibrosis is a win-win situation, because the money raised in Central New York goes directly to the CNY Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In other words, it stays here to benefit the people for whom we directly raised it.

For our family and for others who support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, we made a commitment to never stop fundraising and working toward a cure until “CF stands for CURE FOUND.” In a world where so much uncertainty exists, that’s something you can count on.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is there and will be there for families like ours that have been affected by this disease.

If you’d like more information regarding cystic fibrosis, visit cff.org/CentralNY, cff.org, or search cystic fibrosis on nih.gov.

CF stands for CURE FOUND!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Will you join me? New York City at 3 mph

Growing up on Long Island and then while attending college in New York City, I had the opportunity to enjoy many of the things that make the “Big Apple” an endlessly interesting and special place.

But it was not until several years ago that I was made aware of the opportunity to experience Manhattan in two very challenging and unique ways.

In a few months, I’ll again experience Manhattan in this very unique way. I’d love for you to join me. But first, read on.

Experience Manhattan by bike

Several years ago, my brother and I joined about 4,000 other cyclists and rode our bicycles in the New York City Bike MS event to raise funds for the many individuals (including our Dad) who struggle with multiple sclerosis.

The first year we participated, we rode about 30 miles on closed roads around the perimeter of Manhattan. The following year, a friend joined us, and we took an extended, 45-mile ride on (mostly) closed roads that included the ride around Manhattan and a ride through the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey and then back into Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge.

Experience Manhattan on foot

A few years ago, my mother-in-law made me aware of a chance to experience Manhattan in yet another unique way, through a Shorewalkers event known as “The Great Saunter.” Held the first Saturday in May, it’s a one-day, 32-mile walk around the perimeter of Manhattan.

The majority of the walk is along the Manhattan waterfront, including the Hudson and East Rivers, and traverses more than 20 parks. It begins and ends in Battery Park at the southernmost tip of the island.

On my first Great Saunter experience in 2015, one of my good friends from college and I joined 1,500 other walkers who set out early in the morning. Although my friend and I did not complete the entire walk, we did cover more than 25 miles! By late afternoon/early evening, more than half of the original group had completed the course.

It is amazing how different Manhattan looks and feels “from the edges,” rather than being immersed in the glass and steel canyons of the usual street grid. Highlights of the walk include stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and the New Jersey, Queens and Brooklyn waterfronts.

We walked under several bridges, including the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges.  At the northern tip of Manhattan, we ate lunch at the base of the Little Red Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park, and we later passed through almost 200 acres of the beautifully wooded (and quiet!) Inwood Hill Park. At that point, it was difficult to believe that we were still in Manhattan!

Armed with an excellent map of the Great Saunter route, we were guided along the way by Shorewalkers volunteers, who also provided snacks, drinks and plenty of encouragement.

Preparing for The Great Saunter

If you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to undertake a 32-mile walk on the spur of the moment. To prepare for the Great Saunter, I added several long (six- to seven-hour) walks in the Syracuse area to my usual, regular daily walks. My favorite places to go for the longer walks are Green Lakes State Park, Onondaga Lake Park, and during those cold winter months, Destiny USA mall.

My challenge for 2019:  Walk AND bike Manhattan

I may have to do a little more training for my trip to New York this year. I recently learned of the annual Five Boro Bike Tour, a one-day, 40-mile ride that begins and ends in Staten Island on the first Sunday of May (the day after the Great Saunter).

As the name suggests, this event is a ride through all five of the New York City boroughs (also on closed roads), including a trip on the Staten Island Ferry and a ride over the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. Each year, more than 30,000 people from around the world participate in the Five Boro Bike Tour.

So this year, I’ve made it my personal challenge to spend the first weekend in May in New York, walking in the Great Saunter on Saturday, May 4, and then riding in the Five Boro Bike Tour the following day, May 5.

Anyone care to join me? If so, please respond in the comments section below.

11 Easy Snacks to Help You Sleep Better

Almost everyone loves to grab a snack before they go to sleep. But what you choose to eat could determine whether or not you fall asleep right away.

Before you begin nighttime noshing, ask yourself:

  • What’s your motivation?
  • Are you bored? Stuffing emotions? Munching while watching TV?
  • Or, are you really hungry, and if so, how hungry?

If you’re eating just to eat – or to cure boredom or make you feel better – you might want to think twice before indulging.

But if you’re really running on empty, opt for snacks that won’t add extra pounds or result in a restless night.

Large portions and high fat foods (like French fries) interfere with falling asleep. Spicy foods slow down digestion. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy and have a relaxing effect at first, then cause you to wake up because it interferes with deep sleep and interrupts the sleep cycle. The stimulant powers of caffeine, found in coffee, tea or chocolate, take several hours to wear off. Even decaf has some caffeine. High-sugar foods and overeating can also interfere with your ability to sleep.

Not all bedtime snacks are bad for you. Some can help you take in more nutrients that you still need for the day. Going to bed hungry can actually keep you awake.

If you’re considering a bed time snack, try incorporating foods that help boost your levels of serotonin, the calming and “feel good” hormone. You could consider:

  1. Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios
  2. Seeds, such as flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
  3. Lean protein, such as chicken, fish and low-fat cheese

Choose a small snack with protein and carbohydrates – these types of foods either contain or help create an amino acid called tryptophan that can cause sleepiness.

Try these protein and carbohydrate combinations:

  1. Whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk
  2. Peanut butter on whole-grain toast
  3. Low-fat cheese with whole-grain crackers
  4. One ounce of turkey or chicken on a slice of whole grain bread

Other snack options could include:

  1. Bananas and other foods high in potassium, which helps you to stay asleep

Foods high in calcium also contain certain sleep-causing hormones, such as tryptophan and melatonin. So don’t feel bad if you grab a snack that consists of:

  1. A container of low-fat yogurt
  2. A cup of low-fat milk
  3. A slice of low-fat cheese, such as mozzarella.

Good snacking and good night!

For more advice on what to eat at night, go to:
sleep.org
health.clevelandclinic.org
sleepassociation.org
sleepfoundation.org

Sepsis: A deadly condition that happens fast

Something in Jean Hopkins’ gut told her to take her daughter to urgent care.

It was after school, and her 8th grader didn’t feel well enough for cheerleading practice. She had a slight fever, nausea and was tired. Her daughter said she felt like she did when she had a bladder infection.

Hopkins’ husband wondered whether they should wait until morning for the trip to urgent care.

Hopkins’ daughter, Riley

“But something in me told me she needed to go to urgent care now,” said Hopkins, of Rochester.

Her husband took their daughter to urgent care while Hopkins, a youth cheerleading coach, went to practice. By the end of practice, her husband called to say their daughter needed to go to the hospital.

Once in the emergency room, her daughter’s health quickly spiraled downward.

Her daughter threw up green bile that looked like antifreeze. She had dangerously low blood pressure that staff couldn’t control. By 4 a.m. her daughter was in the intensive care unit.

 

“It’s scary how quickly Sepsis can happen”

Hopkins’ daughter had Sepsis, a condition that can come on quickly and lead to death. Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. If not treated quickly, Sepsis can cause tissue damage, organ failure and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the Sepsis Alliance, there are 1.7 million cases of sepsis and 270,000 deaths each year in the United States. The sepsis death toll exceeds annual deaths in the U.S. from breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined.

Hopkins’ daughter did recover. She spent a week in the hospital.

“It’s scary how quickly Sepsis can happen,” Hopkins said. “Just listen to your inner voice.  We were very fortunate that everything happened as it should. I don’t want to think about what could have happened if we didn’t take her right away to urgent care.”

 

Sepsis: Get treatment quickly

It’s critical that patients with Sepsis receive treatment as early as possible, said Gregory Carnevale, M.D., a chief medical officer for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in upstate New York. Early treatment with antibiotics and large amounts of intravenous fluids improves your chances for survival, he said.

“Act fast and get medical care immediately if you suspect sepsis or have an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse,” said Carnevale.

Barkley Klaiber of Syracuse said she’s grateful. She acted quickly when she didn’t feel quite right and had some abdominal cramping. Klaiber was 20-weeks pregnant with her second daughter.

Barkley Klaiber with husband Karl and daughters Sutton and Carson.

Normally, Klaiber would have waited a little before seeking treatment. She figured the cramping was related to kidney stones. She’s prone to getting them when pregnant.

But Klaiber had just been in a minor car accident a few days earlier. She thought she should go to the emergency room as a precaution.

Turns out Klaiber did have kidney stones, along with a bladder infection. But she had also developed a kidney infection as a result. Barkley went into septic shock after arriving at the hospital.

Barkley did recover after a 9-day stay.

“The car accident was a blessing,” she said. “Otherwise, I don’t think I would have gone to the emergency room as quickly. If I had gone into septic shock and I wasn’t in the hospital? I don’t want to think about what could have happened.”

Her daughter remained strong throughout the ordeal. “We just celebrated her second birthday,” she said.

 

Who gets Sepsis?

Anyone can get sepsis. But those at higher risk include babies and those with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems.

The elderly are also at high risk. Meg Thoin of Buffalo said her 86-year-old mother died of sepsis about a week after breaking her hip. She was in rehabilitation at a nursing home when her mom started suffering from diarrhea and confusion, and then nausea and vomiting.

Her mom was transferred to the hospital. She had kidney failure and had become septic. She died the next day, Thoin said.

“My hope is that others become more aware of what sepsis looks like, especially if you have elderly family members or if you know someone who is in a hospital or nursing facility,” she said.

There are a variety of warning signs associated with sepsis. The most common signs include:

  • Fever, shivering or feeling very cold
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Clammy or pale skin

“I was an educated person,” added Thoin, who is a nurse. “I knew what to look for, and I really wished I pushed harder for her to be tested when I started to notice certain symptoms.”

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is proud to provide educational content regarding topics such as Sepsis. For more information, view our infographic on Sepsis.

 

Why every day is a good time to talk about breast cancer awareness

During the month of October, it’s difficult to ignore the stories, commercials, advertisements, pink T-shirts and other paraphernalia proclaiming Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For Excellus BlueCross BlueShield employee Maria Horton, however, every month and every day is a good time for breast cancer awareness.

Maria has learned that the hard way. She is a breast cancer survivor.

Maria Horton

An Otherwise perfectly normal mammogram

Due to a family history of breast cancer, Maria knew she was at high risk of also developing breast cancer. That’s why she started annual mammography screenings when she turned 40. Everything appeared normal for Maria up until three years ago.

It was just a few months after an otherwise perfectly normal mammogram that Maria noticed a change in one of her breasts. Not one to brush it off in ignorance in hopes that it will go away, she followed up with her doctor.

That led Maria to a ductogram and a core needle biopsy. When her doctor scheduled fine needle guided biopsies, the physician didn’t need to tell her she had breast cancer. “I already knew,” she said.

While her husband, three children and work family were aware of what was going on, Maria then had to break the news to her parents, siblings and in-laws. “This was very tough and very emotional,” she said. “I was numb.”

Once she shared the news, however, it was these same people who helped carry Maria through her 10½-hour bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. “Without the support of my loving family and the wonderful, caring people I work with, I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of my difficult days,” she said.

During her eight-week recovery, Maria’s family took care of her and helped with everything. Friends brought cards, food, flowers and her favorite Starbucks coffee.

“The support I had meant the world to me and still does,” she said.

Advice from a breast cancer survivor

Maria considers herself lucky in that she did not need follow-up chemotherapy or radiation. She does see her surgical and medical oncologists every three months and takes oral medication.

Her advice to all women is to know their personal risk factors for breast cancer, schedule their mammograms as recommended by their doctors and perform monthly breast self-checks.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all women ages 50 to 74 be screened for breast cancer every two years, but an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield report shows that nearly one in five upstate New York women still does not get a biennial mammogram.

“The evidence is clear that early detection saves lives,” said Nicholas Massa, M.D., medical director, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Given the fact that most health insurers cover preventive breast cancer screenings in full every one to two years for women older than age 40, we would like to see even higher percentages of women being screened for breast cancer.”

3 reasons  women skip breast cancer screenings

A recent Excellus BlueCross BlueShield survey of members who hadn’t had a mammogram revealed three top reasons why women opt out of their recommended screening:

1. Concerned about pain

Women who haven’t gone through menopause can minimize the pain and discomfort of having their mammogram by scheduling their screening a week after having their period, when breasts are less tender. Avoiding caffeine the week before your mammogram may also help. Take it from Maria, who offered this sage advice, “Yes, having a mammogram is uncomfortable, but it beats the alternative of having breast cancer.”

2. Concerned about test results

Mammograms can detect lumps in your breast when they are small, even before you can feel them. Breast cancer found early is easier to treat and results in better clinical outcomes. Generally, you can get your mammogram results within a day or so by calling your doctor’s office. There may be times when you receive a call from your doctor’s office recommending further testing. This does not mean you have cancer, but it is very important that you follow up if asked to do so. For Maria, it’s simple. “Do it!” she said.

3. Concerned about radiation

According to the American Cancer Society, the benefits of the small amount of radiation to which we are exposed during mammography screening outweigh any possible harm from radiation exposure. The peace of mind you’ll receive from having completed your mammogram is immeasurable, added Maria. “This takes a few minutes, and it’s done.”

Breast cancer can affect women of any age or race. Dr. Massa noted that your risk for breast cancer increases with age and if you have a family history. A woman’s risk factors determine when she should begin getting screened.

Learn more about breast cancer risk factors and screenings by talking to your doctor, or by visiting the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force website.

For more on the best ways to protect your health, read this Women’s Health Checklist from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

A Daughter’s Story: My Dad’s Life After A Heart Attack

When your 58-year-old dad drops to the floor and dies of a heart attack in a hospital emergency room, you take notice.

The event that triggered this wake-up call for Meghan Dailey of Rochester occurred seven years ago. She talks about it as if it just happened yesterday. It’s that fresh and real in her memory.

The heart attack: the scariest hour and a half of my life

The day started out pretty ordinary as typical workdays go. Meghan was working at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in downtown Rochester. It was mid-October. It was one of those early fall days, when you just start noticing that the weather is getting a little cold.

What interrupted this otherwise unremarkable day was a call from her mom. She said that her father was in the emergency room at Unity Hospital in Greece. He had suffered a heart attack and collapsed right there in the ER. His heart had stopped beating. Doctors were trying to resuscitate him with chest compressions and the jarring shocks of an automated external defibrillator.

Meghan and her two sisters rushed to the hospital in time to witness their father’s revival. He was immediately wheeled in for surgery. The doctors inserted two stents to open up the clogged arteries in his heart.

“It was awful,” recalled Meghan. “Probably the scariest hour and a half of my life.”

He didn’t think he was having a heart attack

They sat in the waiting room with another group that was expecting word on their loved one. Meghan and her family never stopped praying even as they waited anxiously.

A doctor came in to tell the other group that their loved one hadn’t made it. Dailey thought their family’s turn would be next.

“Thankfully, our Dad made it through the surgery,” she said. “He was in the intensive care unit for another week and then was able to go home to recuperate.”

Meghan Dailey with her dad.

What’s not so unusual about this story is that Mike Schuth, Meghan’s dad, didn’t think he was having a heart attack. He thought the five- or six-hour pain he’d had in his shoulder was indigestion. According to his daughter, Mike decided to go to the emergency room only because he thought that’s where his doctor would send him.

Ever since Meghan could remember, she knew that her dad had high blood pressure. “Heart disease runs in the family,” she said. “My grandpa died of a series of heart attacks.”

The chef finds healthier ways to eat

Acknowledging that her father knew he should be careful with his health, Meghan is quick to point out that her father works as a chef.

On the job at Salmon Creek Country Club in Spencerport, he never thought twice about adding a little extra butter, heavy cream and Parmesan cheese to his fettucini dishes, or some additional salt to flavor his house specialty – steak with mashed potatoes.

“His favorite foods used to be linguini with white clam sauce, fish fries and macaroni salads,” said Meghan. Following the heart attack, his talent as a chef helped him find ways to modify the recipes he uses for himself and his family.

He’s learned to make more heart-healthy dishes without unnecessarily sacrificing quality and flavor. Scroll down to see his recipe for a lighter version of Alfredo sauce. Please add your heart-healthy recipes in the comments section below.

After a heart attack: walking, medication and golf

He watches what he eats and favors more fresh vegetables over foods like French fries But Mike also adheres to the medication regimen prescribed by his physicians to control his high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

He also started walking more. During winters spent in Fort Myers, Florida, Mike walks every day and golfs three times a week. Back home in Brockport, Meghan’s dad maintains the same routine.

Mike’s efforts at watching what he eats have paid off in spades. He lost 40 pounds in twelve months.

Being around for his grandchildren

Over the last couple of years, Meghan’s dad has gained added incentives to remain healthy. His three daughters have given him five grandchildren between them.

“There’s no doubt that he wants to make sure he’ll be around for his grandchildren,” said Meghan. “The kids adore him, and he loves being around them.” Her own two children range in age from 15 months to 3 years.

Since their father’s heart attack, the family recognizes the prevalent role that heart disease plays for them and keeps extra vigilant. “My sisters and I try to teach our children that veggies are an integral part of every meal,” said Meghan.

“We also try to maintain an active lifestyle and incorporate activities in everything we do,” she added. That comes in the form encouraging her daughter to pursue gymnastics, or to go outside to get some fresh air and play.

American Heart Association Rochester Heart Walk

One activity that the whole family, including grandpa and grandma, is actively involved in is the American Heart Association’s Rochester Heart Walk.

Meghan served as co-chair with Marty Cranmer, IT project manager, of the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Rochester teams that participated in the walk. This year, the event was held in April at Frontier Field. Meghan and her family were there, supporting an event that raises money for what she feels is the best cause. With around 60 members on the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield team, the group raised close to $6,000 for the cause.

“I support the American Heart Association because my Dad and I are really close.” she said. “I’m so lucky that he’s still alive, and I feel blessed that he is.”

Heart-Healthy Recipe

Here is Mike Schuth’s recipe for heart-healthy Alfredo sauce.

Light Alfredo Sauce

¼ cup butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups skim milk
1 package low-fat cream cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Black pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

Add cream cheese and garlic to butter, whisking until melted.

Add milk, a little at a time, while whisking to smooth out lumps.

Stir in Parmesan cheese and pepper until smooth.

 

The Meaning Behind the Teal Pumpkin: Help for Children with Allergies on Halloween

Some of my favorite memories as a kid are from Halloween. I remember dressing up as a witch to go trick-or-treating with friends while hoarding  all of the peanut butter cups and refusing to listen to my parents when they told me to wear a jacket (Hey Mom and Dad – you were right about needing a jacket. Upstate New York gets pretty cold by the end of October). Thanks to food allergies, not every child is able to create those same memories. One in 13 children has a food allergy and Halloween can be one of the most frustrating and dangerous times of the year for them. But a teal pumpkin is trying to change all that.

The author dressed as witch, ca. 1998. Provided by Christine Leavenworth

The author dressed as witch, ca. 1998. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

The Teal Pumpkin Project

The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages people to provide non-food items for trick-or-treaters so that kids with food allergies can participate without facing risks to their health.  Some of the treats that are handed out include glow sticks, rubber balls, vampire fangs, etc.

Paint a pumpkin teal, put it on your front step the night of Halloween, and kids with allergies will know that your home is safe to visit.

A teal pumpkin indicates a house that is giving out allergy-safe items to children with allergies on Halloween. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

A teal pumpkin indicates a house that is giving out allergy-safe items to children with allergies on Halloween. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) started this international campaign in 2014 to “create a safer, happier Halloween for all kids.” It began as a local activity by the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee that has morphed into an international awareness event.

Last year, households from every state in the U.S. and 14 countries participated in the Teal Pumpkin Project.

“One bite of the wrong candy by these kids could cause life-threatening allergic reactions,” said Matthew Bartels, M.D., chief medical officer at Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield.  “We’re thrilled that our communities are rallying around these kids so that they can also indulge in special ‘treats’ and have fun, just like everyone else.”

A parent of children with food allergies is grateful for the Teal Pumpkin Project

Colleen Garofalo of Madison County is a mom to two kids who have food allergies. Her daughter is allergic to peanuts and her son is allergic to shellfish and tree nuts. Garofalo heard about the Teal Pumpkin Project from one of FARE’s email newsletters.

“As a parent, the Teal Pumpkin Project means inclusion,” said Garofalo. “There are so many times during school or birthday parties when my kids have to be careful about what they eat. They might feel left out if they can’t have something the other kids can have. The teal pumpkins allow them to have another option.”

Children with food allergies are now able to participate in Halloween thanks to the Teal Pumpkin Project.

Olivia and Anthony Garofalo are ready for an allergy-free Halloween. Credit: Colleen Garofalo

When Garofalo’s kids go trick-or-treating, they still collect all of the candy. But when they get home, they go through the candy to ensure that it’s safe to eat. She’s spotted a few teal pumpkins in her neighborhood, but hopes to see more as the word gets out about the campaign.

“The smaller candy that is handed out at Halloween doesn’t typically list the ingredients,” she said. “If I’m not familiar with the candy, it either gets thrown away or I have to research it to see if it’s OK for my kids to eat.”

“I’ve called manufacturers before to ask if a product that doesn’t contain peanuts is made on the same line as another product that does,” she added. “Then I have to ask about the cleaning process for the machines as well.”

Join the Teal Pumpkin campaign

Some of the most common allergens for children are nuts, milk, wheat, egg and soy. Many candies contain at least one of those ingredients.

If you would like to take part in the Teal Pumpkin Project and offer a non-candy treat to trick or treaters, you can either buy a teal pumpkin or paint your own.

Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., for example, sells paint specifically for the Teal Pumpkin Project. The paint can be found in the seasonal section, near the pumpkin carving kits, and a portion of the proceeds benefit FARE.

Teal pumpkin paint is available at local grocery stores, including Wegmans in Rochester. Provided by Joy Auch

Teal pumpkin paint is available at local grocery stores. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

“We are so happy to be able to support this initiative,” said Wegmans Nutritionist Trish Kazacos, RDN. “It’s a simple approach that allows children with food allergies to safely enjoy the holiday with their family and friends.”

Once you have your teal pumpkin, place it in front of your house to let trick-or-treaters know that you have non-food items available. FARE also provides free printable signs to explain the meaning behind the teal pumpkin and a list of ideas to give out to trick-or-treaters.

Supporting the Teal Pumpkin Project and handing out non-food treats doesn’t mean that you have to give up the Halloween tradition of giving out candy. You can hand out candy and allergy-safe items and then let the kids choose which one they’d like.

If you’ll be putting out a teal pumpkin this Halloween, be sure to add your address to the crowd-sourced fever map and let your local community know that you are participating.

12 Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

The first house in my neighborhood ablaze with holiday lights triggered a mini anxiety attack.

Lights glowed in the windows and decked out neatly trimmed bushes. Decorative reindeer nuzzled their noses in the lawn, as if enjoying a grassy snack.

“Oh crap,” I thought. “It’s Christmas time.”

My mind reeled through a list of To Do’s before the big day. The list felt overwhelming.

  • Decorate the house.
  • Decorate the tree. Wait – first get a tree.
  • Presents. Buy, wrap and mail them.
  • Wait – what do my kids even want? Santa list. Must get the older one to write a Santa list.
  • Christmas cards. I must tackle this one. Christmas is in a few weeks.

And the list went on – Christmas cookies, Santa visit, take the family photo for the Christmas cards, etc. Bah, humbug!

STOP! BREATHE!

We can become consumed with Christmas and other holiday tasks. Who even has time to actually enjoy what the season is really about?

To help you (and me!), Ann Griepp, M.D., chief medical officer for behavioral health, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, shares 12 tips to get you through this holiday season.

  1. Got too much to do? One way to handle the stress is to wake up a few minutes earlier than you usually do. Take a few moments for yourself:  light a candle, drink your coffee, reflect on the day and count your blessings before you have to get going.
  2. Decide what can go. Talk to your family. Dr. Griepp had this discussion with her family one year. As a result, they decided to skip the Christmas cards. There’s nothing wrong with skipping the mailed cards and instead sharing holiday messages through email or Facebook.
  3. Keep doing the activities you love. If making Grandma’s peanut brittle is a must, then by all means do it!
  4. Save time. Some people LOVE to decorate. Others view it as a chore. If you fall in the latter category… stop decorating so much! Sometimes less is more.
  5. Give money or gift cards instead of hunting for individual gifts – particularly if you know the recipient likes to pick out their own gifts. That’s another way to skip the stress.
  6. Lead a healthy lifestyle to help reduce stress levels! Eat healthy and stay active. – (Tips for adding more vegetables to your meals). You’re busy, but you should still make time for exercise – even if it’s just a walk around the block. And don’t forget to get enough sleep!
  7. Remember to spend time with your PETS. Pets can feel whenever you are stressed or anxious. Going for a long walk with your pet will do a lot of good for yourself and your companion.
  8. Change the formula. Many of the winter holidays — Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa — have multiple days of celebration. So spread out the activities. Dr. Griepp’s parents used to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas by planning simple gatherings with friends and family. They’d skate or go sledding one day. They’d play cards, eat, or exchange small gifts the next.
  9. Anxious about money? Set a budget and stick to it. If you’re buying gifts for a lot of siblings, cousins and their significant others, consider a “Secret Santa” exchange as a way to reduce the amount of money you spend on presents. Or consider having a “white elephant” exchange—bring a wrapped present of an item you no longer want or need. And if you’re the creative type, make your own gifts. Pinterest.com is a great resource for many of my more crafty friends and family.
  10. Volunteer. What better way to get into the holiday spirit or teach your children the true meaning of this time of year than helping families in need? Volunteering might also boost your mood and reduce stress.
  11. Take a break and watch a favorite holiday movie with your family–Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story, to name a few.
  12. My personal favorite? Ask for help! Maybe the grandparents could take the kids to see Santa while you shop for presents (or go for that walk)? Don’t feel like you have to tackle all of the tasks yourself. Ask your significant other or the kids to take responsibility for some of these tasks. Realize that you can’t do it all alone and you’ll feel better in the end!

 

Lori’s story: How I lost more than 250 pounds

Lori Dyer had struggled with her weight for as long as she could remember. She was 412 pounds and had tried every diet. However, she always gained the weight back.

She got sick a lot and struggled to walk down stairs. The extra weight contributed to health issues, including high blood pressure, sleep apnea, pre-diabetes, back pain and knee pain.

“I didn’t know how not to be fat,” she said.

It wasn’t until Lori’s children said they “didn’t want to lose her” that Lori went through with a procedure that has so far has helped her lose more than 250 pounds.

(Click below to watch a video by Highland Hospital that highlights Lori’s story)

Gastric Bypass

Lori underwent gastric bypass surgery.

With the surgery, the doctor first makes the stomach smaller by stapling off a small pouch, which makes you feel full sooner. Next, the surgeon shortens your small intestine and attaches it to the small stomach pouch. This changes the direction of the food to bypass most of the small intestine so your body absorbs fewer calories.

When doctors look into bariatric surgery, they look at many options, including gastric sleeve surgery.

After gastric bypass surgery, patients need to rest and recover. After the operation, most people move from a liquid diet for a week, to a puree diet, to a soft diet where you can introduce other foods, to a balanced diet set out by a dietitian. These special diets run about two months before you are back to “normal” food.

Bariatric surgery is not a magic pill.

Lori said the surgery changed her life. But after undergoing such an intense procedure, Lori had to dramatically change a lot of things. She has to regularly take vitamins and supplements, eat healthy practically all the time, attend follow-up appointments, exercise and participate in support groups for the remainder of her life.

Lori says, “It is hard,” but her only regret is, “not having the procedure done sooner.”

Lori had at one point accepted where she was. She was 400 pounds and didn’t want to leave her house. Lori said her decision was hard to make.

“When I had thought about surgery in the past, I didn’t want to do it because I always figured I would be missing out on so much,” she said. “But then the light bulb finally went off and I thought ‘what am I missing out on by NOT having the surgery?'”

Lori realized that the answer was life. “When talking it over with my kids, my daughter said, ‘We really want you around as long as possible.’ So yes… absolutely. I was going for it.”

Considering Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is a major procedure, and should be part of a comprehensive program that includes exercise and nutritional education as well as mental health and well-being, said says LouAnne Giangreco, M.D., a Chief Medical Officer at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

If you are considering bariatric surgery, make sure you understand the side effects like infection, diarrhea, blood clots and even death.

“This type of surgery is only recommended if you’re very obese, your health is suffering and if all other diet and exercise options are not successful,” she said.

“Regularly eating healthy and exercising can have a bigger impact on your health than you think,” she added. “But, make sure you get the social support you need; having friends and family that support you is just as important as going through with the procedure.”

You may be able to look to your employer for support. According to Pat Salzer, a registered dietitian at Excellus BCBS, many workplaces provide health education programs at the work site.

“I am no longer just existing…I am living”

Lori wants people to know that bariatric surgery is not “cheating or the easy way out.” She stresses that “this is one of the hardest things I have ever done.” Lori found Highland Hospital in Rochester, a Blue Distinction Center for Bariatric Surgery. Hospital staff took care of her, educating her about the procedure and providing care before, during and after the surgery. These Blue Distinction centers help patients like Lori get back on their feet usually with fewer complications and hospital readmissions.

Lori has done things she never thought possible and is comfortable trying new things. Lori even went on a dating site last year and “found the piece of me that was missing. I totally would have missed out on him because I would have never put myself out there.”

Lori and Fred Shaughnessy

“Be ready for your life to change dramatically.”

Now, Lori is living her life the way she always wanted to. She is kayaking, mountain climbing, running 5ks and walking out the door, ready to take on her next adventure.  Lori stresses that the procedure “has certainly made, a huge, huge difference. It will affect everything you do, but in a good way.”

Lori with her kids, Mitchell and Rebecca

Lori’s Three Year Journey: