Friday, February 23, 2007
Don't let fear keep you from donating
The Pasley family
By Jessica Pasley

On February 7, my family appeared on CNN to raise awareness about the critical need for minorities to register with the National Marrow Donor Program. February 7 marked the seventh anniversary of my daughter's death. She was 2.

Since 1999, my family has worked to spread the word about the critical need for minorities to join the NMDP. The message is falling on deaf ears.

Hello! Wake up! Are we killing off our own by not stepping up? Are we turning our heads, expecting someone else to do the job?

No one else can.

Because of genetics, you are most likely to match a person within your own ethnic group.

Although Jade died a few months after transplantation, she had a donor and a second chance. Her twin, Jillian, now 9, has had TWO transplants from the same donor. Jillian calls him "hero."

Try to understand the kind of hope donors provide families. Try to imagine having absolutely NO CONTROL, no ability to help your child? To know there's a possibility of saving him or her, but there aren't enough people to help? Explain that to your child.

I have lost one child, watched as my other daughter fought for her life and consoled my son, 12, as he watched his sisters suffer.

I have always believed that if Oprah Winfrey, a household name worldwide, asked minorities to become registered donors, it would happen. Her words are GOLDEN. Her level of influence is unparalleled. It would be amazing - the potential lives saved, the good deeds performed, the energy of gratitude. There would be no tool to measure such an astonishing act, no words good enough to say thank you. It would be life changing.

Get educated. Tell others. Get registered.

Is the past haunting us - fear of the medical community and Tuskegee? We are a very intelligent, determined and prideful race - we have fought for centuries to save ourselves - why stop now?

Online registration: www.marrow.org/join

Accept the challenge.

To see the Pasleys' story, tune in to a special edition of House Call with Dr. Sanjay Gupta - "Your Race, Your Risk" - Saturday and Sunday at 8:30 a.m. ET
Thursday, February 22, 2007
A note on autism
Some of the responses to Dr. Sanjay Gupta's blog about Amanda Baggs raise questions about her diagnosis and whether she is indeed a low functioning autistic. We spoke with her health care providers and reported what they told us. Also, Amanda shared her medical records with us from various providers diagnosing her as autistic. We are not in the business of diagnosing people's medical conditions. But, as in all of our stories, we conducted our own independent investigation, spoke with expert sources and reached informed conclusions.
100 Black Men take on the challenge
If you have ever discussed the obesity epidemic, the discussion probably has come back around to responsibility. Some will blame the government; others may blame the fast-food industry. The medical establishment will most likely take a hit and so will the news media. I have been personally taken to task for not doing enough, and I've tried to respond with my Fit Nation project. Many ask, though, what about personal responsibility? When should we be held accountable as individuals?

The truth is, it's not always easy. There are certainly people who cannot lose weight, no matter how hard they try. They may need to seek medical attention. Still, the vast majority of those who are overweight - nearly 60 percent of all adults in America are considered overweight - probably can do something about it. And, those people are the target of the organization 100 Black Men. They are taking responsibility.

Started as a civic organization, promoting scholarship mentoring, its leaders realized that without good health, little else would matter. David Dinkins, Jackie Robinson and many others were the visionaries that helped start the organization back in 1963. Now with former Surgeon General David Satcher helping lead the charge, they are trying to protect the legacy they worked so hard to build. With African American children twice as likely to be obese as white children, that legacy is certainly in danger.

The program focuses on simple things: making sure you take 10,000 steps each day and eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables. The strategies have worked. As an organization, they consistently lowered blood pressure and blood sugar levels in the groups they targeted. They represent some of the very best grass-roots initiatives that are truly making a difference. Now, they are taking their mission national. In many ways, though, it still raises the original question: Who is responsible for the fact the United States has become one of the most obese countries in the world? Organizations like 100 Black Men will only be able to do so much. What can you do?
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Who's leading the charge on food outbreaks?
Over the past few months, we have been doing a lot of reporting about food-related bacterial outbreaks. Most recently, BJ's Wholesale Clubs recalled mushrooms. Turns out E. coli was found during routine testing, and a voluntary recall followed. Many think that's exactly how the system should work. There have been no reported illnesses.

Also, listeria has been found in chicken strips and salmonella in peanut butter. And, of course, late last year, E. coli dominated headlines with outbreaks at both Taco Bell and with spinach. More than 200 people became sick and three died because of tainted spinach.

Each year, more than 250 food-borne illnesses are reported in the United States, causing 76 million cases, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the cost of caring for these illnesses is more than $1 billion a year.

What has been most amazing to me, though, is the way these outbreaks are handled. First off, we weren't even sure who was in charge as we started doing our reporting. Was it the Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Department of Agriculture? It is confusing. The USDA regulates 20 percent of the nation's food supply, while the FDA regulates 80 percent. You could literally have one government agency regulating chicken, while a different agency regulates eggs. And, remarkably, neither agency has the ability to institute mandatory recalls. All the recalls you hear about are voluntary.

No surprise then that there is some push for the Safe Food Act, which would create a Food Safety Administration. Like the Environmental Protection Agency, it would take responsibility for food from the USDA and FDA. Some people say it makes perfect sense to combine all these functions under one agency. Critics charge that, well, it is yet another agency. What do you think? How do we best manage food safety in this country?
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Behind the veil of autism
26-year-old Amanda Baggs looks at me through the corner of her eye

Watch: Part 1 Part 2
Last week, I met a remarkable woman. Amanda Baggs is 26, super-intelligent and witty. She lives in Burlington Vermont, on a beautiful lake and is very skilled at shooting and editing videos. In fact, it was one of her videos on YouTube that caught the attention of CNN. I had met her only through e-mails and the Internet. I'd be telling you a very different story. But I was able to visit her in person.

Despite the friendly invitations and our lively e-mail banter, Amanda would not look at me when I walked in the room. She wore sunglasses and sat in a wheelchair, even though her legs are fine. She could make some noises, but could not speak. Amanda has what doctors call low-functioning autism. If it were not for a device that synthesizes words as she types on a keyboard, we would not have been able to communicate with her at all.

She taught me a lot over the day that I spent with her. She told me that looking into someone's eyes felt threatening, which is why she looked at me through the corner of her eye. Amanda also told me that, like many people with autism, she wanted to interact with the entire world around her. While she could read Homer, she also wanted to rub the papers across her face and smell the ink. Is she saw a flag blowing in the wind, she might start to wave her hand like a flag. She rides in a wheelchair, she says, because balancing herself while walking takes up too much energy for her to also type and communicate. To an outside observer, the behaviors would seem eccentric, even bizarre. Because Amanda was able to explain them, they all of a sudden made sense. In case you were curious, there is no possible way that I was being fooled. Amanda, herself, was communicating with me through this voice-synthesis technology.

It really started me wondering about autism. Amanda is obviously a smart woman who is fully aware of her diagnosis of low-functioning autism, and quite frankly mocks it. She told me that because she doesn't communicate with conventional spoken word, she is written off, discarded and thought of as mentally retarded. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I sat with her in her apartment, I couldn't help but wonder how many more people like Amanda are out there, hidden, but reachable, if we just tried harder.

I am a neurosurgeon and Amanda Baggs opened my eyes about the world of autism. I am eager to hear what you think of her story and if you have stories of your own.

To learn more about Amanda and adult autism, visit CNN.com/Health.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Just plane scared of flying...
I am sitting on a flight from New York to Asia and I am on high alert. No, not for terrorists - for an entirely different, far more insidious threat: airplane germs. They are lurking everywhere. The kid in front of me refuses to cover her mouth as she coughs up her young lung. The person next to me blows her nose as if she's allergic to the airplane itself. On line for the toilet, the guy in front of me rubs his eyes and touches the latch. I can't escape the infectious bacteria. Five hours into the flight, I'm convinced I feel a tickle in my throat and early signs of a sniffle.

I try to assuage my fears by remembering the scientific evidence. The World Health Organization, backed by a decent list of reputable studies, says there is very little risk of transmitting any infectious diseases on board an airplane. One study from the Journal of the American Medical Association says that the risk of getting a cold or any other communicable illness is no different on an airplane from any other situation where people are in close quarters: a train, a bus, a theater or even in the office.

I try not to think too hard about the air in the passenger cabin. Just how do they clean it? Most airlines, it turns out, recirculate about half the air inside the plane. Viral particles, fungi and bacteria are removed by special filters.

But still, on this long journey, antibacterial hand sanitizer is my best friend. I use it compulsively. I overdose on Airborne and Emergen-C in hopes of helping my immune system fight any nasty germs that make it past the hand sanitizer. I turn on my air vent because some experts think the rush of air can help push away the germs that float into your space. I even consider the benefits of a surgical mask, but realize just how silly I would look.

I realize that there are far more serious problems to worry about. Bloating, gas expansion, dehydration, deep vein thrombosis (known to some as "economy class syndrome"). I get up and walk around every few hours. I am sure to drink as much water as possible, even though I know the flight attendant would prefer that I press my call button just a little less often.

Twelve hours into the flight I know that I have done everything possible to avoid getting sick. I am feeling better, until I look up and see little cartoon figures on the screen. It's cute at first, but I realize they're warning me to avoid contact with birds and bird droppings. They're speaking Chinese with English subtitles. They direct me to watch for persistent cough or flu, within two weeks of my journey. If I notice anything, I should fill out a communicable disease survey form and alert quarantine officers. Oh, and if I experience symptoms, I should be sure to wear a mask, the cartoon squeals in its high-pitched voice. That's just great. Now, I have to worry about bird flu. Maybe, I should have worn a mask after all.

Even though I know I have an infinitesimal risk of contracting bird flu or any other serious disease on an airplane, I gear up as well as possible to lower that tiny risk. What do you do to stay healthy on a plane? What are some of your tips? Do you believe you're more likely to get sick during or after a plane ride?
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