A new home, a difficult diagnosis

Pediatric oncologist Amy Caruso Brown, MD, with Fahima Farah. (photo by Susan Kahn)

Pediatric oncologist Amy Caruso Brown, MD, with Fahima Farah. (photo by Susan Kahn)

BY SUSAN KEETER

Fahima Farah was 2 when her mother, Khadra Warsame, brought her to Upstate’s emergency department for stomach pain. A CT scan of her belly showed a mass.

Six years earlier, her family — who are Somali — immigrated to Syracuse from a refugee camp in Kenya. Fahima was born in Syracuse, as was her younger sister, Ayaan. They are patients at Upstate’s Pediatric and Adolescent Center, as are most children of refugees in Syracuse.

Fahima was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that starts in certain, very early forms of nerves found in an embryo or fetus. Chemotherapy, followed by surgery, a second round of high-dose chemotherapy, harvesting and transplant of her stem cells and months of immunotherapy were necessary to treat this very aggressive cancer, which has a 50- to 60-percent survival rate.

The day of diagnosis, an interpreter, pediatric surgeon Jennifer Stanger, MD, and pediatric oncologist Amy Caruso Brown, MD, met with the mother and child. “There was so much Fahima’s mother needed — and wanted — to understand,” explained Caruso Brown. “First, there was the nature of the cancer and the complexity of treatment — radiation is especially difficult to translate because it’s invisible. She wanted to understand our medical system and human anatomy. We needed to help Fahima’s mom grasp what the next year and a half of their lives would be like.’’

Fahima was hospitalized at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital for much of 2014. Thanks to a sleeper couch in her room, her mother and baby sister were able to stay with her. During that time, Warsame was studying for her citizenship exam and learning English.

The complex medical needs of a child like Fahima underscore the importance of Upstate’s role in the care of children who

are new to this country. In addition to her multidisciplinary oncology team, Fahima has access to dental and primary care at Upstate.

For nearly 15 years, Upstate has been the principal medical referral site for refugees, adding 200 to 300 new refugee children as patients each year. Pediatrician Andrea Shaw, MD, leads the program and meets monthly with InterFaith Works and Catholic Charities, the two agencies in Syracuse that support much of refugee resettlement. Her colleague, resident physician Elizabeth Paulsen, MD, is the primary care doctor for Fahima and her siblings.

In addition to providing crucial medical care to a vulnerable population, working with refugees provides invaluable training for Upstate’s 43 pediatric residents and 1,312 students.

“I teach about conditions prevalent in people who have fled persecution — infectious diseases, malnutrition, trauma and under-managed chronic diseases,” explains Shaw. “After arrival, children have layers of needs. Our students and residents have a unique opportunity to learn from these families and raise their level of cultural awareness and ability to advocate for the needs of this population.”

After a year and a half of being in remission, Fahima, now age 5, recently relapsed and is undergoing further treatment for neuroblastoma. She is in kindergarten, and her mother has become a U.S. citizen.

Cancer Care magazine spring 2018 coverThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Cancer Caremagazine.

Posted in cancer, community, health care, surgery, Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital/pediatrics | Tagged , , ,

Catching it early: Breast cancer high-risk program follows patients at increased risk  

Clockwise from left: Jordan Bruna, Prashant Upadhyaya, MD, nurse practitioner Tammy Root and Lisa Lai, MD. (photo by Robert Mescavage)

Clockwise from left: Jordan Bruna, Prashant Upadhyaya, MD, nurse practitioner Tammy Root and Lisa Lai, MD. (photo by Robert Mescavage)

BY AMBER SMITH

Both her grandmother and mother had breast cancer, so Jordan Bruna of Skaneateles began breast cancer screening at the age of 30.

She joined Upstate’s Breast Cancer High Risk Program and followed a schedule of mammograms, ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging and clinical exams spaced throughout each year. Bruna’s breast tissue was dense and fibrous, like that of her matriarchs. When breast imaging revealed anything suspicious, she was sent for a biopsy. She remembers results being normal — the first three times.

Bruna had just turned 40 when her breast cancer was discovered.

“I knew what treatment I would want. I really felt incredibly confident from the beginning,” she says. Her grandmother was diagnosed at age 80 with an advanced breast cancer that required a single mastectomy. Her mother was diagnosed at age 59, undergoing a lumpectomy and radiation treatment.

Bruna opted for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. “With my family history, along with my own personal history, I knew I wanted to remove as much risk as possible.”

Her husband, Chris, has been her rock. “He literally has done everything for us,” Bruna says. “I could not have recovered the way I did without him.” They’ve been married 18 years. They have two sons: Joey, 14, and Luke, 11.

Bruna derived comfort from nurse practitioner Tammy Root. “When you’re so scared, she’s exactly the type of person that you want in your corner.”

It was Root who spoke with Bruna about the diagnosis on a Friday in June 2017. Then, Monday morning, the Brunas met with breast surgeon Lisa Lai, MD, and Monday afternoon with plastic surgeon Prashant Upadhyaya, MD. They liked the doctors and their surgical plans.  “Dr. Lai and Dr. U. spent a lot of time with us, answering all of our questions and putting our fears to rest. It just clicked. You know how you just have a feeling?”

Bruna’s surgery was June 28. It included the removal of lymph tissue to test whether the cancer had spread. It had not.

“That’s the benefit of being screened,” Bruna says. “They caught it so early.”

Lai removed the breast tissue, and then Upadhyaya placed expanders in Bruna’s chest. The expanders are temporarily filled with air, and then replaced with saline after some healing. Bruna spent one night in the hospital before going home. Upadhyaya performed the second stage of reconstruction surgery in August.

Bruna saw a genetic counselor through the Breast Cancer High Risk Program and discovered that she carries a gene variation that puts her at a higher risk for breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. She now sees a gastroenterologist who monitors her pancreas.

Even though her breasts were removed, Bruna has a low risk that breast cancer could recur. So, she sees Lai every six months.

“I’m very fortunate that I have a lot of great doctors. Our experience at Upstate throughout all of this has been incredible.”

Cancer Care magazine spring 2018 coverThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

 

 

 

Posted in cancer, genetics, health care, surgery, women's health/gynecology | Tagged , ,

Meet the ‘magic man’: Surgeon’s demeanor, outlook help patient beat slim odds

Colorectal surgeon Jiri Bem, MD, talks with his patient Billie Downey. Downey has follow-up appointments with him close to her home in Clayton. (photo by Susan Kahn)

Colorectal surgeon Jiri Bem, MD, talks with his patient Billie Downey. Downey has follow-up appointments with him close to her home in Clayton. (photo by Susan Kahn)

BY AMBER SMITH

Melanoma of the rectum is rare and aggressive, and its prognosis is poor. The majority of people with the diagnosis don’t survive more than 24 months.

To Jeri Bem, MD, that’s no reason to give up.

A 59-year-old woman from Clayton was having pain when she had bowel movements. She went for a colonoscopy. That screening revealed melanoma of the rectum. Her doctor sent her to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Doctors there were reluctant to operate, recalls Billie Downey. “They pretty much said I had more than a 98 percent chance of dying. So, I went to Upstate, and I just liked the people there better.”

That was in 2011. Downey is 66 today. She defied the odds. She survived melanoma of the rectum.

“He’s definitely my magic man,” she says in crediting Bem, her colorectal surgeon at Upstate.

When she returned from New York City, Downey underwent three months of chemotherapy at Upstate to shrink the tumor. Then her oncologist made an appointment with Bem, who sees patients in Alexandria Bay every two weeks.

Bem knew Downey’s situation was dire. The surgery she needed — an extensive oncological resection — would be challenging, and it might not work.

But it might.

If they decided to take the chance, they might see amazing results.

Downey says Bem told her the same thing the doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering did regarding survival odds. Bem was straight with her. It would be a major surgery, with no guarantee of success. The tumor was in a bad spot, and it was growing. To remove it would mean removing her rectum. She likely would be in intensive care for a week, and it would take several weeks for her to heal. He would be willing to try to help her, if she wanted him to.

“He was more hopeful,” Downey remembers. “The tone of his voice is very comforting, too.”

She went ahead with the surgery. As predicted, recovery took a while. She learned about her ostomy, which would take over the functions of her rectum. “You learn it, and you accept it, and you just move on.”

That was 6½ years ago. Downey remains free of cancer. She sees Bem once a year.

HealthLink on Air logoCancer Care magazine spring 2018 coverThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Cancer Care magazine. Hear a podcast/radio interview where Bem tells what people need to know about colorectal cancer and its prevention.

 

Posted in cancer, digestive/gastrointestinal, health care, HealthLink on Air, surgery | Tagged , , ,

How to make your first appointment at the Upstate Cancer Center

Requesting an appointment with the experts at the Upstate Cancer Center is easy.

hand with phoneOur team of board-certified physicians and oncology-certified nurses and technicians is prepared to offer timely appointments, second opinions, screening tests and personalized treatment plans.

To make your first appointment, either call 855-964-HOPE (4673) or visit upstate.edu/cancer and click on “request appointment.” The cancer center team strives to respond to each request within 24 hours.

Upstate University Hospital also offers a free and confidential referral service for people who are looking for medical providers.

MD Direct provides information and can help set up appointments with Upstate physicians. If an Upstate provider does not meet your needs, MD Direct can give you information about other appropriate providers in Central New York. Physicians and providers do not pay for referrals or to participate in the referral service.

Reach MD Direct by calling 315-464-4842 or 800-544-1605

Cancer Care magazine spring 2018 coverThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

Posted in cancer, health care

Science is art: A rodent’s mammary gland, up close

mouse mammary glandThis image is a miniaturized and simplified version of a mouse mammary gland grown in the laboratory — which may hold clues to how a normal breast develops.

Christopher Turner, PhD

Turner

weiyi Xu

Xu

From the Upstate laboratory of cell and developmental biologist Christopher Turner, PhD, doctoral student Weiyi Xu studies a protein called paxillin. It plays a role in mammary gland development and in breast tumor progression. Paxillin helps the mammary gland ducts branch, polarize and penetrate, which is important for future milk production.

This image shows branching that takes place as part of that mammary gland development.

When scientists completely “knock out” paxillin in laboratory mice, lethal problems develop in the mammals’ vital organs.

Upstate Health magazine spring 2018 coverThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Upstate Healthmagazine.

Posted in health care, research

Calming kids with teddy bears

Child life specialist Gina Lozito-Yorton, left, with Glenda and Fred Stowell, who create and donate stuffed animals to children at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. (PHOTO BY KATHLEEN PAICE FROIO)

Child life specialist Gina Lozito-Yorton, left, with Glenda and Fred Stowell, who create and donate stuffed animals to children at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. (PHOTO BY KATHLEEN PAICE FROIO) photo by Kathleen Paice Froio

Glenda Stowell and her husband, Fred, donated 10 teddy bears to the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in 2011. After they retired, they wanted a new way to spend their time, and they liked the idea that the stuffed animals would go to children who arrived at the hospital needing something to cuddle.

Today, the CNY Bear Team that the Stowells launched has donated more than 7,500 teddy bears, puppies and other stuffed animals. The organization donates about 1,600 stuffed animals per year for pediatric surgery patients and children in treatment for cancer.

“We make them look like nurses and doctors. They’re wearing scrubs. They have a hat and face mask, and shirt and pants and two booties,” Stowell says, explaining that the scrub outfits are sewn by volunteers. Each takes about four hours to make. “The philosophy behind that was so kids wouldn’t be afraid.”

Most of the CNY Bear Team critters are from 9 to 15 inches tall. “They’re the cuddly size, the size of a baby.”

Stowell says she’s always looking for more volunteers.

Her group also accepts donations of money, fabric or sewing machines.

Find CNY Bear Team on Facebook, or contact the Stowells at CNYBearTeam@aol.com or 315-298-5308.

Upstate Health magazine spring 2018 coverThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

 

Posted in health care, Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital/pediatrics, volunteers | Tagged

The oath physicians take: Comparing what new medical school graduates promise

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician hailed as the father of medicine.

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician hailed as the father of medicine. The oath new doctors take is often referred to as the Hippocratic oath.

BY AMBER SMITH

Although new doctors are not required to take an oath, medical students graduating from Upstate Medical University have traditionally recited a version of the Hippocratic oath, which was written around 400 BC and attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates.

It’s meant to reinforce that the practice of medicine is both a privilege and a great responsibility.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was an 1834 graduate of Geneva Medical College, a forerunner of SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was an 1834 graduate of Geneva Medical College, a forerunner of SUNY Upstate Medical University.

The World Medical Association in 1948 adopted a contemporary successor to the Hippocratic oath called the Declaration of Geneva. It outlined professional duties and ethical principles. Only minimal changes have been made in the intervening 70 years — until now. The association in October approved a revised declaration, which medical schools may ignore, alter or use verbatim during graduation ceremonies.

The oath new doctors recite in Syracuse has been tweaked over the years. Many phrases are the same or similar (in blue) in Upstate’s oath as in the association’s declaration and the original Hippocratic oath. In all the vows, new physicians agree to serve humanity, to respect patients’ secrets, to show gratitude to their teachers and to share their medical know-how.

Some differences (seen in the versions reproduced below):

The Hippocratic oath differentiates (in red) between physicians and surgeons and speaks of physicians “gaining the respect of all men for all time.”

The association’s updated declaration includes a sentence (in green) about

self-care. “This clause reflects not only the humanity of physicians but also

the role physicians’ self-care can play in improving patient care,” describes

an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Upstate’s oath describes (in purple) a “joy of healing” those who seek the physicians’ help.

versions of physicians' oath

 

 

Upstate Health magazine spring 2018 coverThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Upstate Healthmagazine.

Posted in health care, history, medical education, medical student

10 days in Ghana: Upstate volunteers help build community in Africa

Upstate nurse Meghan Lewis gives a Days for Girls reusable menstrual kit to a young mother at a market in Kumasi, Ghana. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

Upstate nurse Meghan Lewis gives a Days for Girls reusable menstrual kit to a young mother at a market in Kumasi, Ghana. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

BY SUSAN KEETER

Near the end of an 11-hour flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, we finally see Ghana out the plane’s windows: saffron-colored earth and lush green foliage dotted with bright blue and pastel pink buildings. The country’s beauty is overwhelming.

We descend into Accra, the African nation’s capital, and the plane passes over the Gulf of Guinea, which I later learn has the most beautiful white sand beach that I have ever seen.

Nearly 1,000 girls assembled in an open-air classroom at Namong Senior High School in Offinso, Ghana, to receive menstrual education from a team of ASAP volunteers. Students with the greatest need received reusable menstrual kits made by the nonprofit organization Days for Girls. At right in the blue flowered dress is Nancy Addo, headmistress of the school. At far right, seated, is Upstate nurse Maisha Brown, a volunteer for ASAP, which stands for the Americans Serving Abroad Program. (PHOTO BY MEGAN LEWIS)

Nearly 1,000 girls assembled in an open-air classroom at Namong Senior High School in Offinso, Ghana, to receive menstrual education from a team of ASAP volunteers. Students with the greatest need received reusable menstrual kits made by the nonprofit organization Days for Girls. At right in the blue flowered dress is Nancy Addo, headmistress of the school. At far right, seated, is Upstate nurse Maisha Brown, a volunteer for ASAP, which stands for the Americans Serving Abroad Program. (PHOTO BY MEGAN LEWIS)

Getting through checkpoints and searches of some of our 24 suitcases and backpacks at the airport takes a couple of hours. The place is huge, confusing and packed with humanity, reminding me of Manhattan’s Penn Station. Thankfully, all signs are in English, the official language of Ghana.

Lauri Rupracht, an Upstate pediatric nurse and founder of the Americans Serving Abroad Program, or ASAP, holds a baby during a November 2017 mission trip in Ghana. (PHOTO BY MEGHAN LEWIS)

Lauri Rupracht, an Upstate pediatric nurse and founder of ASAP, holds a baby during a November 2017 mission trip in Ghana. (PHOTO BY MEGHAN LEWIS)

The head of our team is Lauri Rupracht, an Upstate nurse and director of the Americans Serving Abroad Program (ASAP), a nonprofit organization she founded four years ago. This is her ninth mission trip to Ghana. This time she is leading seven volunteers — Upstate nurses Maisha Brown, Cyndy Carr and Meghan Lewis; Qiana Williams, an educator from Syracuse; Traci Bender, a social worker from Buffalo; Sara Tucker, a college student; and me, an Upstate graphic artist.

We are on a 10-day mission trip to work with women and children in rural Ghana to address needs identified by the Ghanaian nonprofit organization Sem Fronteiras: menstrual education, oral health, dementia awareness and literacy.

Maisha Brown, a pediatric nurse at Upstate, shows a chart of the reproductive system to female students at Fufulso Presbyterian Primary School. The students and teachers speaks different Ghanaian languages, but all read and speak English. (PHOTO BY MEGHAN LEWIS)

Maisha Brown, a pediatric nurse at Upstate, shows a chart of the reproductive system to female students at Fufulso Presbyterian Primary School. The students and teachers speaks different Ghanaian languages, but all read and speak English. (PHOTO BY MEGHAN LEWIS)

We are greeted by Agyapong Gyamfi, chief operating officer of Sem Fronteiras (which means Without Borders), and his assistants, Lawrence Osei Asamoah and Isaac Appiah, who we quickly learn will be our guides, protectors and teachers for the entire trip.

We board a small school bus and take off on the highway, which was built with support from the United States during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Cyndy Carr, an oncology nurse at Upstate, with a group of Ghanaian students who received toothbrushes and toothpaste -- and instruction on good brushing habits -- as part of an oral health program. (PHOTO BY MEGHAN LEWIS)

Cyndy Carr, an oncology nurse at Upstate, with a group of Ghanaian students who received toothbrushes and toothpaste — and instruction on good brushing habits — as part of an oral health program. (PHOTO BY MEGHAN LEWIS)

If it weren’t for the sheep and chickens by the side of the road, I’d think we were driving through the Bronx. The traffic is crazy. We see gleaming high-rise office and apartment buildings, but much of the roadside looks like a ramshackle farmers’ market. There are sheds built of scrap wood, corrugated tin and palm fronds, plus the occasional crashed car or truck left by the side of the road.

Street vendors maneuver between the lanes of whizzing cars, selling plantain chips, chocolate bars and small plastic bags of drinking water (tap water in Ghana is not safe to drink). Most are women carrying their wares on their heads.

It is a six-hour drive north to Offinso, the district where we will be doing most of our work. We quickly become accustomed to the unpredictable functioning of things in Ghana. A public bathroom may have sinks, but no running water. The guest house may have air-conditioning, but multiple power outages. Ghana is, as Rupracht tells us, “a good place to practice flexibility.”

The villages are quieter and more peaceful than the capital, and I continue to be wowed by the beauty that is everywhere: the artistry of kente cloth clothing, the rich colors of buildings, the golden dirt paths and tropical flowers. Everywhere, groups of children play outside, women walk and talk, and clusters of men sit together in the shade. The atmosphere is warm and sociable.

Meghan Lewis, an oncology nurse at Upstate, and Traci Bender, a social worker from Buffalo, give fluoride to two of the 372 students who received treatments. (PHOTO BY AGYAPONG GYAMFI)

Meghan Lewis, an oncology nurse at Upstate, and Traci Bender, a social worker from Buffalo, give fluoride to two of the 372 students who received treatments. (PHOTO BY AGYAPONG GYAMFI)

The sun sets at 6 p.m., as it does year-round. The first morning in Offinso, we begin by meeting with street women and children at a market in Kumasi, the capital city of the Ashanti region.

We do a presentation on the menstrual cycle, answer questions and distribute reusable menstrual kits, multivitamins and mosquito tents to protect the women and children from malaria, a leading cause of death in children under 5. Over 10 days, we provide services to more than 1,500 people.

The November 2017 mission was a community development trip. This spring, Rupracht is leading a larger mission of volunteers to provide medical care.  

To learn how to donate or participate, go to healthlinkonair.org and search “Ghana” or visit, www.asap.ngo

Women’s health/menstrual education

For girls in Ghana, starting their periods may lead to ending their education. Many, especially in poor, rural communities, lack access to sanitary napkins or any equipment to manage menstruation.

A young woman holds the "Days for Girls" reusable cloth menstrual kit she received at an ASAP presentation for street women in Kumasi, Ghana. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

A young woman holds the “Days for Girls” reusable cloth menstrual kit she received at an ASAP presentation for street women in Kumasi, Ghana. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

As a result, they miss several days of school each month, which leads to falling behind in classes and eventually quitting school. An unfinished education often condemns women to lives of limited opportunity and poverty.

To begin to combat this problem, volunteers used flip books to teach students about the menstrual cycle, female anatomy and ways to care for the body. Upstate nurse Meghan Lewis answered questions such as, “If the menses does not come, should I drink medicine to make it come?” The team demonstrated how to use the reusable cloth menstrual kits that are made by Days for Girls sewing groups across the United States. All female students received the training, and those with the greatest need received kits. In addition to visiting schools, volunteers distributed kits and did the training with a group of women living in the streets in Kumasi.

The goal of future missions is to provide manufacturing equipment and train staff and students at a vocational school in Offinso to sew the kits.

Dental health

Students played a game of selecting foods that are good for your teeth and foods that are bad for your teeth. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

Students played a game of selecting foods that are good for your teeth and foods that are bad for your teeth. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

The challenge was to find practical dental care solutions for children who have limited access to safe drinking water and no access to dentists.

Volunteers used illustrated posters to explain the causes and progression of tooth decay and played a game challenging students to identify foods that are good for teeth (yams and bananas) and bad for teeth (soft drinks and candy).

Students took turns demonstrating proper brushing on a large anatomic model of teeth.

Volunteers gave fluoride treatments to the youngest students and distributed toothbrushes and toothpaste donated by dental offices in Central New York.

Dementia awareness

According to Agyapong Gyamfi, ASAP founder Lauri Rupracht’s counterpart in Ghana, dementia is a misunderstood and undiagnosed condition in Ghana, resulting in the isolation and, in some cases, mistreatment of elders. The volunteers’ goal was to help children recognize dementia symptoms and develop constructive ways to interact with elders affected by the disease.

Rupracht created role-playing skits for the classrooms. Volunteers asked students, “Does an elderly person in your family forget things or get confused?” and described scenarios such as, “There are lots of visitors and noise in your home and the elderly person starts to get agitated.” Volunteers took turns portraying the elderly person and family members who behaved badly (yelling) or constructively (talking softly and helping the elder to a quiet place). Then, students were asked to come up with ideas for good ways to help elderly people with dementia.

Keeter, Rupracht and Gyamfi are creating a book on dementia for children in Ghana.

Literacy

English is the official language of Ghana, and classes are taught in English beginning in elementary school, but there are more than 50 Ghanaian languages. Volunteers visited schools in the Ashanti region, where Twi is the primary language spoken.

Every school received autographed copies of “My Daddy’s Eyes” by Syracuse author Fatimah Salaam. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

Every school received autographed copies of “My Daddy’s Eyes” by Syracuse author Fatimah Salaam. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

They began by reading a children’s book aloud and asking students to repeat the text to practice their spoken English language skills. Each child created his or her own book by completing sentences such as  “I am…” and “I like…” on preprinted sheets and illustrating their words with colored markers donated by ASAP. “Beautiful,” “gifted,” “talented,” “clever,” “helpful,” “intelligent” and “good boy” were words the students used to describe themselves in the books they created.

These young men are making their books during the literacy program. They walk four hours to attend school in an outdoor classroom with a dirt floor and metal roof supported by tree branches. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

These young men are making their books during the literacy program. They walk four hours to attend school in an outdoor classroom with a dirt floor and metal roof supported by tree branches. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

 

Upstate Health magazine spring 2018 coverHealthLink on Air logoThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Upstate Health magazine. Hear a podcast where Lauri Rupracht and fellow Upstate nurse Caitlin Phalen talk about their mission efforts in Ghana.

 

 

 

Posted in adolescents, Alzheimer's/dementia, community, health care, HealthLink on Air, international health care, nursing, prevention/preventive medicine, public health, women's health/gynecology | Tagged , , , ,

The halls are alive with the sound of music

Medical students Benjamin Meath and Joe DeRaddo perform in the Upstate University Hospital lobby as Abigail and Stephen McSweeney listen. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KAHN)

Medical students Benjamin Meath and Joe DeRaddo perform in the Upstate University Hospital lobby as Abigail and Stephen McSweeney listen. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KAHN)

BY JIM HOWE

Some volunteers are bringing live music — and, they hope, a smile — to patients and staff at Upstate University Hospital.

The Music at Upstate group includes strolling violinists and a guitar and vocal duo who play in the lobby at the downtown campus. Some of the performers have known each other since their high school days.

“Everyone is so welcoming and appreciates the music,” says Joshua Rim, a fourth-year medical student from New York City who helped organize the free performances. “We really love playing for patients. We can forget about life for a while.”

Rim plays the violin, as does Christine Ly, a fourth-year MD/PhD student. Also a native of New York City, she and Rim played in the same orchestra while in high school.

Ly says their performances “bring a bit of the outside world to the patients in the hospital, giving them a sense of change and sense of escape.”

She recalled an autumn day where the group played for fun in the Weiskotten Hall courtyard. “While we were just enjoying ourselves, the people listening came up to us and put money in our instrument cases. This meant a lot to me because their random act of kindness showed me that they really supported us and our music. We further relayed their support in us to the patients by donating the $64 we raised to the Upstate Cancer Center.”

Often joining Ly and Rim are violinist Dona Occhipinti, who works at the private firm Welch Allyn, and pianist Ben Craxton, an Upstate graduate who is now a resident physician in family medicine at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center. They sometimes can be heard practicing a mix of classical and other tunes in the early evening around the piano at the Upstate Cancer Center, which has long encouraged music as part of a healing atmosphere.

Sometimes just a couple of them will play together, strolling through the hospital or performing at Café Kubal in the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.

The music program was organized through Upstate’s employee health series, Pathway to Wellness.

Rim also recruited the duo of Joe DeRaddo and Benjamin Meath, both third-year medical students. DeRaddo, from Seneca Castle, and Meath, from Clifton Springs, both attended Midlakes High School, outside Geneva.

DeRaddo played trumpet before moving to electric bass guitar. Meath played the drums, including in church, and trombone before teaching himself acoustic guitar in college. Each also played in garage bands in high school.

“We take pop songs and make them kind of ‘coffee-shoppy’ and acoustic. We’ll take (songs) like “Wagon Wheel,” “Wonderwall,” some Jackson Five and John Mayer and give a kind of easy-listening feel to it — definitely things you could hum along to,” DeRaddo says. Meath does the lead vocals, with DeRaddo doing harmonies.

The two have done some open-mic performing at the Campus Activities Building in addition to playing at the hospital.

“It’s just fun to be able to do what we enjoy in that kind of a setting,” Meath says. “A lot of people would give us a thumbs-up and crack a smile, and it was nice to be where we work and go to class every day and see other people, see some fun, some joy in other people’s lives. It’s a nice alternative to the rigors of medical school.”

DeRaddo agrees. “Music is definitely a way we can escape and ground ourselves every once in a while, and get out of the books.”

Medical student Joshua Rim and Dona Occhipinti of Welch Allyn perform for Aaron Johnson, a patient. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KAHN)

Medical student Joshua Rim and Dona Occhipinti of Welch Allyn perform for Aaron Johnson, a patient. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KAHN)

Upstate Health magazine spring 2018 coverThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

Posted in entertainment, health care, medical student

Concept of ‘designer’ babies raises thorny questions, few answers

'designer' baby graphicBY JIM HOWE

If parents could create a “better” baby, should they?

Would “better” mean a healthier child than the average baby? Cuter? Smarter? Taller?

Should scientists and doctors help parents to genetically customize an embryo that would become that better or “designer” baby?

The issue — still theoretical — brings up more questions than answers, as a visiting expert told an Upstate Medical University audience recently.

It is the latest chapter in a debate that stretches back at least as far as the early 20th century, when proponents of eugenics claimed they could improve society by selective breeding and forced sterilization.

cartoon of childGenetic engineering has proved popular in science fiction, from “Brave New World” to “Jurassic Park” and “Gattaca,” noted George Annas, JD, MPH, the William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor at Boston University and director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics and Human Rights at the BU School of Public Health, who has written and lectured extensively on health law and bioethics, including “Genomic Messages” co-authored with his longtime geneticist colleague, Sherman Elias.

Annas offered these points:

— “If we start selecting children based on characteristics, then we will start treating our children more and more like products or pets, rather than as real human beings.”

— A United Nations declaration against the genetic engineering of humans exists but carries no enforcement mechanism.

— It’s almost impossible in the United States today to get a broad societal consensus on anything, let alone how to handle genetic engineering. Scientists would need to mount a tremendous effort to educate a scientifically illiterate public before an informed debate could even start. Getting the world to a consensus would be even harder.

— Faith in genes as a sort of guarantee to how a child will turn out — he used the term “genism” — downplays the role played by the child’s upbringing and environment.

The biggest questions about the genetic engineering of humans: Who should decide whether such experiments should be carried out? And, would parents and scientists accept the strong possibility of unintended, even disastrous, results?

“We wouldn’t know whether genetic engineering is safe until we have followed at least three generations of humans, so it would take 60 to 80 years to know whether it’s safe,” he said.

“We’re in a situation where we can’t do this until we know it’s safe, and we can’t know it’s safe till we do it,” he concluded.

Upstate Health magazine spring 2018 coverThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

Posted in genetics, health care, maternity/obstetrics, research, technology