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Friday
Nov172017

Parkinson's disease: What you need to know in wake of Jesse Jackson's diagnosis

Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Iconic American civil rights activist, politician and minister Jesse Jackson announced Friday that his doctors have diagnosed him with Parkinson’s disease – a diagnosis that he says comes after several years of symptoms.

Below are answers to some of the more common questions about this disease.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson's disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder globally, after Alzheimer's disease, affecting more than 1 million people in North America. It was originally described by
English surgeon James Parkinson in 1817. While the precise causes of this condition remain unknown, the disease is characterized by abnormalities in a specific region of the brain called the
substantia nigra, and it results in decreased signaling of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This imbalance leads to the hallmark symptoms of this condition -- abnormal movements, such as a
characteristic hand tremor, slow movements, muscle stiffening, and a decreased ability of the body’s reflexes to appropriately adjust to changes in posture. Psychiatric symptoms often include
anxiety and depression. Other characteristic symptoms include walking in short, shuffling steps and decreased facial expressiveness, called “masked facies.”

Who is affected by this condition?

There are an estimated 7.5 million people worldwide living with Parkinson’s, and the risk of developing it increases with age. Approximately 41 per 100,000 persons aged 40 to 49 years has
Parkinson's, compared to an estimated 1,900 per 100,000 persons over the age of 79.

What are the risk factors for Parkinson’s?

Aside from older age, the most well-established risk factor for developing Parkinson’s is having a family member who has been diagnosed with this disease, as was the case with Jackson. Men are also
1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women. Several large studies have also found a correlation between depression and the development of Parkinson’s, though it is unknown if
depression plays a causative role in the development of Parkinson’s, or if it is instead an early symptom. Other possible risk factors include exposure to certain types of pesticides and high
consumption of dairy products.

How is Parkinson’s diagnosed?

Parkinson’s is diagnosed based on a patient’s clinical history and physical exam. Diagnosis is made by the when a person has Parkinsonian symptoms without any other explanation, such as another
neurological disease, head trauma, or a medication that may also be causing Parkinson’s-like symptoms. There are currently no available laboratory or imaging tests that can confirm a diagnosis of
Parkinson’s.

What are the treatments for this condition?

Treatments for Parkinson’s are aimed at correcting the abnormalities in brain dopamine levels and usually include a medication called levodopa or other dopamine-stimulating drugs. These drugs,
however, pose a risk of causing uncontrollable movements called dyskinesia. Younger patients with Parkinson’s-associated tremor may benefit from using drugs in a class known as anticholinergics.
Some patients who experience symptoms despite medications may benefit from placement of a stimulation device deep in their brains or other neurosurgical procedures. Physical therapy and speech
therapy can also be used to help minimize the effects of the disease. Researchers are working on developing gene therapies or methods of neural transplantation to slow or reverse the effects of
Parkinson’s, but management with medications and symptomatic support remain the current mainstay of treatment at this time.

What is the prognosis for Parkinson’s?

Neurologic changes seen in Parkinson’s are typically irreversible and may worsen as the disease progresses. The number and severity of symptoms vary from person to person, and there are currently
no ways to predict which individuals will experience a rapid or slow decline. Parkinson’s itself is generally not considered to be a fatal disease in and of itself; however, the neurologic changes
caused by Parkinson’s increase a person’s likelihood of dying from conditions such as pneumonia due to difficulty swallowing or trauma from falling.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Nov172017

ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas on being inspired by a boy with Treacher Collins and the book 'Wonder': Reporter's Notebook

ABC News(RENO, Nev.) -- One of my favorite things to do with my children is to read to them.

A few years ago, the bedtime book was "Wonder," and it was hands-down one of the best books we read together. So, a few years later when my mother forwarded me an email from a member of her book club, I took notice. “Has Elizabeth heard of the book 'Wonder?'” the email read. “If so, I have the real-life wonder boy in my class.” I jumped for the phone.

We made contact with the Newman family, living in Reno, Nevada, and spent the next two and a half years following Russ and Magda and their sons Nathaniel and Jacob. Nathaniel, now 13, had been born with a severe case of Treacher Collins syndrome. It’s a genetic condition that radically affects the bones in Nathaniel’s face. Russ and Magda were shocked when Nathaniel was born – they had no warning anything was wrong.

They are incredibly brave people, who have been through so much. But they made a pledge to each other, and to Nathaniel, that they would not hide him from the world, or the world from him, and they allowed my producers and me to follow them for more than two years. We were along with him on his first day of middle school, where students had all gotten a letter from Nathaniel explaining his condition, along with a picture, so they could prepare themselves.

We were along when the family met a man with this rare condition, who was able to explain what Nathaniel will probably face in his teenage years. And we and our cameras were there when the Newmans decided to try a risky and revolutionary surgery that might allow Nathaniel to breath without a trach tube in his throat. Magda Newman calls the surgery barbaric, and honestly it was. But no one was braver than Nathaniel, who chose to take the risk.

Shadowing a family like this for as long as we did with our cameras is a delicate thing. We assigned one of our best producer/shooters for this, Jeff Schneider. After the first few hours of recording, he was able to make the Newmans so comfortable, they could almost forget he was there. We captured some truly intimate moments with this family – the worry about how other kids would treat their son, the anguish as they carried him into the operating room for yet another surgery. My producers, Sean Dooley and Jen Joseph, and I all became very close to the Newmans. They are remarkably candid about their most difficult moments, about their worries and their fears. I interviewed them almost half a dozen times over the two years.

Getting to know Nathaniel was wonderful. He is a sensitive boy, but so very strong. He was four years old when he first realized he looked different. Sometimes, he told me, in moments of pure joy, he can forget for a moment what his face looks like. But he knows he will always look this way, no surgery can correct it, and that there will people who will at times be cruel.

But one thing has made life easier for Nathaniel: the book "Wonder," by RJ Palacio. Russ Newman says that book has done more than anything in the world to ease the way for children like his son. The Newmans could not believe the story when they read it. It is their story. As Russ told me, “Was RJ spying on us?” RJ likewise told me that when she met Nathaniel, she exclaimed, “It's Auggie Pullman come to life.” It really stretches credulity, the similarities between art and life are so strong.

We interviewed RJ about how she got the idea for the book, and how she never expected it to be the phenomenon it has become: Five million copies sold around the world, translated into 45 languages, and now a blockbuster movie.

If the book has eased the way a bit for Nathaniel and other children like him, we hope our hour Friday night will do the same. It is so much easier to be humane, to be kind, when the person in front of you is someone you know. We are excited to introduce our viewers to Nathaniel, and the Newman Family.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Nov172017

Man's best friend: Owning a dog linked to lower risk of death, study says

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Owning a dog is associated with a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death, according to a comprehensive new study published by a team of Swedish researchers on Friday in the journal Scientific Reports.

The scientists followed 3.4 million people over the course of 12 years and found that adults who live alone and owned a dog were 33 percent less likely to die during the study than adults who lived alone without dogs. In addition, the single adults with dogs were 36 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

"Dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household," Mwenya Mubanga, a Ph.D. student at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden, and the lead junior author of the study, said in a statement announcing its findings.

The link between dog ownership and lower mortality was less pronounced in adults who lived either with family members or partners, but still present, according to the study.

"Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households," Mubanga added. "Another interesting finding was that owners [of] dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were most protected."

The study, which is the largest to date on the health implications of owning a dog, suggested that some of the reasons dog owners may have a lower risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease were because dog owners walk more.

"These kind of epidemiological studies look for associations in large populations but do not provide answers on whether and how dogs could protect from cardiovascular disease," Tove Fall, a senior author of the study and a professor at Uppsala University, said in a statement.

"We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results," Fall added. "Other explanations include an increased well-being and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner."

Fall added that because all participants of the study were Swedish, the results most closely apply to dog owners in Sweden or other "European populations with similar culture regarding dog ownership."


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Thursday
Nov162017

Kids' simple Christmas wishes will break your heart

(Things of My Very Own) Things of My Very Own, an organization in Schenectady, N.Y. that helps kids in crisis, shared the Christmas wishes of some of the children they work with.(NEW YORK) -- There's nothing like a little perspective to make a person realize how lucky they are.

While many are clamoring for the iPhone X this holiday season, some kids in this country are in need of the basics, like food.

Rayn Boncie, founder of Things of My Very Own, an organization that provides crisis intervention services to children impacted by extensive abuse and/or neglect, posted this message on Facebook from one child in its care:

"I want school snacks so I'm not the only one not eating during snack time at school."

People from as far away Italy and Switzerland have contacted the organization after seeing that message, she said.

"That post seems to have moved a lot of people," Boncie said.

The organization has also posted a number of other wishes from children on their Facebook page.

But there are many other children in need. Things of My Very Own, based in Schenectady, New York, shared with ABC News a few of the tags from its holiday gift drive.

Each year, the organization helps 5,000 to 7,000 children in the New York region.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Nov162017

Seven Hawaii hospital workers on leave without pay after psychiatric patient escapes

sudok1/iStock/Thinkstock(HONOLULU) -- Seven hospital workers in Hawaii have been relieved of their duties without pay after an "extremely dangerous" psychiatric patient escaped from there and boarded a flight to California, officials said.

The Hawaii State Hospital employees were placed on off-duty status without pay while officials investigate how the patient, Randall Saito, managed to break free from the mental health facility on Oahu and travel some 2,350 miles on Sunday. Saito was captured in northern California three days later.

"The hospital employees are being notified and will be relieved of their duties for 30 days as the internal investigation continues. As the investigation progresses, more employees may be identified and placed on off-duty status," the Hawaii State Department of Health, which runs the hospital, said in a statement Wednesday. "The department is committed to a thorough investigation, evaluation and correction of our hospital protocols and procedures to prevent this type of incident from reoccurring."

Meanwhile, all unescorted on-campus and off-campus privileges at Hawaii State Hospital have been stopped and visits to Kaneohe Clubhouse community center have been suspended, the health department said.

Hospital staff have also been retrained on the accountability process, security personnel have been reassigned and extra security fencing is being obtained, the department said.

Hawaii Department of Health Director Dr. Ginny Pressler said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that Saito's escape was a "result of a major breakdown" in staff protocols, procedures and guidelines at the hospital. An initial internal investigation revealed that staff "may have inadvertently or purposely neglected" to notify supervisors of the incident, Pressler added.

In 1981, Saito was committed to the Hawaii State Hospital just outside Honolulu in Kaneohe after being acquitted of first-degree murder by reason of insanity. He walked out of the psychiatric hospital Sunday morning and chartered a plane to Maui. He boarded another plane from there, according to the Honolulu Police Department.

While on the loose, Saito was considered "extremely dangerous and should not be approached,” police warned.

Saito arrived in San Jose, California, on Sunday night. He was arrested in Stockton on Wednesday morning at about 10:30 a.m. PT "as the result of a tip received from an alert taxi cab driver," the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office said.

Saito was still in California on Wednesday afternoon awaiting positive fingerprint identification, according to Hawaii Gov. David Ige. The patient had been missing for more than 10 hours by the time hospital staff alerted authorities, Ige said.

"I am deeply concerned that such a dangerous person was able to escape from the Hawaii state hospital and remain undetected for such a long period of time," Ige said at a press conference Wednesday. "Authorities and the public should have been notified much, much sooner."

Authorities have evidence that Saito's escape was "premeditated," "intentional" and "planned," said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin.

"This was something that was not done by someone who was suffering from any sort of mental defect or disability," Chin said. "We intend to press that argument with the court when he was flown back."

Saito is awaiting an extradition hearing in California, and his bail will be set at $500,000, according to Chin. If he posts bail, then he will be placed back in the custody of the Hawaii State Hospital, Chin said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Nov162017

One family's hardships, triumphs with son who has rare craniofacial disorder

The Newman Family(NEW YORK) -- It was a frigid February night in New York City when Magda Newman was in labor with her first child. With her husband, Russel Newman, by her side, she labored for nearly 17 hours before giving birth to their son.

But when she finally delivered, the couple’s moment of expected happiness quickly turned to anguish.

Magda said the room was filled with silence, and no one was saying anything to her about her newborn baby. At first, she said, she thought he was dead.

“I’m like, ‘What’s going on? Is he alive? What’s going on? I want to see the baby,’” she said. “And they didn’t want to show it to me.”

“I think they were scared at first,” Russel said. “Because he had no cheekbones and no upper or lower eyelids."

The baby also wasn’t breathing. Magda Newman was left on the delivery table as doctors worked to save her son’s life.

Russel Newman said one of the doctors called him out of the delivery room to show him a textbook. He said the doctor flipped open a page showing a black-and-white photo of a teenager with Treacher Collins syndrome. Treacher Collins is an extremely rare congenital craniofacial disorder caused by mutations in the POLR1C gene. It affects an estimated 1 in 50,000 people in the United States. The diagnosis did not show up on any of Magda’s prenatal scans -- a common occurrence in cases of Treacher Collins.

“And I remember thinking, ‘That’s going to be my kid?’” he said. “It was surreal.”

Nathaniel's first year

The Newmans named their baby Nathaniel and contacted the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery (IRPS) at New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center, a leading hospital working with children who have Treacher Collins. They left a message and, within hours, received a phone call back from Shelley Cohen, a speech and language pathologist.

“She goes, ‘It’s Shelley Cohen. Congratulations,'" Russel said.

“That was the first person who said to us, ‘Congratulations,’” Magda said.

Before Russel could say anything else, Cohen said to him, “Hey, Mr. Newman, you had a baby boy, I heard. That's wonderful.”

“And I remember going, ‘Are you freaking nuts?’” Russel said. “And she said, ‘Let me just tell you -- your son is going to live a long, healthy, happy, wonderful life.’ And I believed her.”

Nathaniel was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at NYU, where he spent the first month of his life. Pat Chibbaro, a pediatric nurse practitioner who worked with the Newmans, said they were “absolutely devastated.”

But shortly after Nathaniel was born, the Newmans said something unexpected happened that sustained them through the early days and then the years ahead. While still reeling from the trauma of his birth, Russel and Magda Newman found themselves alone in a hospital room watching the Grammys. The show opened with Christina Aguilera singing her song, ‘Beautiful.’ It became a beacon of hope for them.

“I swear she was singing to us that night, I swear, as cheesy as that sounds,” Russel said. “That song just resonated.”

“We decided he's going to be beautiful not because of his appearance, because of his personality,” Magda added. “He's going to be a beautiful person.”

The couple said they decided right then to get out of bed and go down to the NICU to see their son.

“And we held Nathaniel for the first time,” Russel said, through tears. “And it was awesome. And then the journey started.”

Magda said it took a year before she could look at her son without flinching.

“I almost cried every day,” she said. “Every single time I looked at him, I could not believe it’s my child. I couldn’t believe it.”

In Nathaniel’s case, his condition caused him to be born without cheekbones, eye sockets or ears, and he had a severely undeveloped jaw. Hearing and eating was were nearly impossible, but most harrowing was that his condition made it difficult for him to breathe. His nasal passageway is nearly solid bone, and his airway is so narrow it was like trying to breathe through a soda straw.

As different as Nathaniel looked on the outside, nurse practitioner Pat Chibbaro assured the Newmans that his brain was unaffected.

During the first year of his life, Nathaniel went through more than 10 surgeries to try to improve his quality of life.

“We've never done cosmetic surgery on Nathaniel,” Russel said, adding that every operation "has had some benefit to life function."

After several failed surgical attempts to open his nasal passages, an emergency tracheotomy was performed on Nathaniel -- a surgical procedure in which an incision is made in the trachea, creating a direct airway. It is a procedure as life-altering as it is lifesaving.

“Once you become dependent on a trach, your life changes,” Russel said. “His brain, his body is going to learn to breathe through a trach, and then he's going to be prone to infection, which ended up proving to be true.”

For the first-time parents, bath time became a scary activity, as they tried to avoid getting water in Nathaniel’s trach. They started sleeping in shifts to constantly monitor their fragile son but remained committed to their pledge to give him as normal a life as possible. However, moments as simple as pushing Nathaniel down the street in a stroller were a trial.

“I lived in New York City,” Magda Newman said. “We're walking with the stroller, and everybody was, ‘Oh, you have a baby.’ And they go, ‘Let me see the baby.’ And they're like, ‘God bless you.’”

“Oh, that was the worst,” she continued. “As a new mother, nobody would say, ‘Oh, he's so cute. Oh, congratulations.’”

The decision to have another child

By the time Nathaniel turned 2, Russel and Magda started talking about having a second child, but it was not an easy decision to make. There was still a 50-50 chance that a second child would be born with Treacher Collins. The Newmans said they did “every test known to man," hoping to ensure that this would not happen.

“Our DNA was even sent off to Johns Hopkins,” he said. “They basically came back and said, ‘We're 99 percent sure your second child will not be affected by Treacher Collins.’”

The Newmans’ second trip to the delivery room was nothing like the first.

“This delivery was so quick,” Magda said. “I walk into the hospital. Twenty minutes later, Jacob was born.”

“Jacob literally came out looking like a porcelain doll,” Russel added. “He was just gorgeous.”

Through the years, Nathaniel and Jacob shared all the typical moments and memories that brothers do, but for Nathaniel, things were always different. When he was around 4 or 5 years old, Russel Newman said Nathaniel became conscious of his own face.

“He could clearly vocalize, ‘I don't like the staring. I don't like the name-calling,” Russel said. “At that age, we're going to birthday parties, and other kids see him and scream and leave. He knows it was about him.”

Nathaniel said the first time he realized his face was different from other kids’ was “when the first kid" called him "monster."

“And then I realized that they don’t do it to anybody else, so I was different,” Nathaniel said.

By the time he was 11 years old, Nathaniel had been through 54 surgeries. Now, when he meets new people, he said he explains to them that he has Treacher Collins, and isn’t bothered so much by looking different.

“I kind of like it,” he said. “It just seems fun because I stand out.”

“Sometimes, if I'm having a good time, I forget what I look like,” Nathaniel added.

Starting middle school

In fall 2015, Nathaniel, walked into B.D. Billinghurst Middle School in Reno, Nevada, for his first day of sixth grade. Russel had gotten a new job that moved them to Reno. For Nathaniel, this meant having to meet an entirely new group of classmates.

To ease the transition, the Newmans came up with a plan to have Nathaniel write a letter to his classmates explaining his condition, but also that he was as normal as any of them. In the letter, Nathaniel told his classmates that he had three dogs and liked Pokémon and Star Wars.

“And we included a picture to try and avoid some of the first-day shock and awe, if you will,” Russel Newman said.

One of his teachers said the letter was very helpful for the students to know what to expect “rather than just walking into school and then having that reaction.”

There is something else that the Newmans mention in Nathaniel’s letter that has changed the way children react to him.

“We incorporate the book ‘Wonder’ into the welcome letters,” Russel said. “Like, ‘Hey, you might have read ‘Wonder’ now. Well, I'm a kid just like Auggie Pullman.' ”

The novel "Wonder," by R.J. Palacio, was published in 2012. It has sold more than 5 million copies and been translated into 45 languages. Palacio said the idea for the book came after she and her young son had a chance encounter with a little girl who had a severe facial difference, like Treacher Collins.

Palacio was outside an ice cream shop in her Brooklyn neighborhood when she first noticed the young girl. She said when her son saw the little girl’s face, he began to cry hysterically. In an attempt to protect the young girl from the embarrassing episode, Palacio said she quickly pushed her stroller away. As soon as the incident was over, Palacio regretted how she handled it and could not stop thinking about it for the rest of the day.

“I just thought, ‘OK, I'm going to write a book,'" she said, adding, "It's going to be about what it must be like to face a world every day that doesn't know how to face you back."

After nearly 60 surgeries, Nathaniel undergoes a radical procedure

The Newmans met with surgeons at Seattle Children's Hospital and made the difficult decision to have him undergo a radical surgery that had only been performed on one other child with Treacher Collins. He was 12 years old, and the goal of the surgery was to be able to open up Nathaniel’s airway enough to finally remove his trach.

For the surgery, Dr. Richard Hopper, the chief surgeon at the hospital’s cranio-facial center, had to literally rearrange the bones in Nathaniel’s face.

“It’s not giving you a new face,” Hopper told him. “I think you should be very happy with your face and we don’t want to take that away from you, but it puts your face into a different position.”

As Russel had done for all of Nathaniel’s nearly 60 surgeries, he carried his son into the operating room.

“It never gets easier. Putting your son on a metal table, surrounded by things that are going to cut him open,” Russel said.

During the 12-hour surgery, doctors separated Nathaniel’s skull from his face and moved it into the correct position, anchoring the bones in place with a metal halo that would remain attached to his head for three months. When Nathaniel woke up, his jaw was wired shut to the halo and he could not eat or speak. Attached to that halo were tiny turning devices that Russel and Magda were required to screw three times a day to continue the excruciatingly slow process of moving Nathaniel's face.

The whole process was so difficult that it often left the Newmans questioning whether they had made the right decision.

But with each moment of doubt, they reminded themselves of their goal: a trach-free life for their son.

Nathaniel Newman these days

In August 2016, doctors removed the metal halo from Nathaniel’s head. But he still had to undergo months of tests and evaluations before those doctors were finally ready to do something the Newmans had waited a lifetime to do: remove Nathaniel’s trach.

After 13 years of heartache, struggle, perseverance and triumph, something that for so long had just been a dream, was now a reality.

Over the years, the Newman family has worked with two nonprofit organizations: myFace and Children's Craniofacial Association. Both offer support to patients with facial differences and their families, as well as raise awareness about these conditions.

And recently, Nathaniel celebrated his 13th birthday.

Russel Newman marked the occasion by sharing an emotional message to his son on Facebook, writing, “You, my little wonder boy, you show me every day that my strength pales in comparison to what you possess in that enormous heart of yours.”

“I have a 13-year-old boy that's tackled more challenges than most 100-year-old men would ever dream of.”

 Watch the full story on ABC News' 20/20 Friday at 10 p.m. ET.


Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Nov152017

Mom's raw photo of her stretch marks resonates with many

Hayley Garnett(NEW YORK) -- Many women hide the scars of pregnancy, but one mom put hers on display in a very public way instead.

Hayley Garnett recently gave birth to twin girls Ruby and Ramona. She also has a son, Archer. Among the beautiful pictures of her children on her Instagram is a photo that stands out.

In it, she holds her twins next to her bare stomach covered in stretch marks. "Happy one week birthday, ladies," she wrote. "This morning Archer asked me what’s wrong with my belly and I told him that all of my babies leave marks on my belly so that I never forget for a second that I grew them in my body all on my own and that they exist earthside with me now! A forever reminder, whether I’m truly confident having these marks or not, it’s no doubt a testament to the miracles my body has made."

Her photo has been liked almost 12,000 times.

"I decided to share the story because I habitually try to share a lot of personal feelings through my Instagram page because I really believe that showing your vulnerability is not only a healing process but also has the ability to really connect you with an individual or community in a way you may not have thought possible," Garnett told ABC News. "I hoped that being open and honest about the marks that twin pregnancy gave me would give other moms the courage to actually accept themselves and maybe see their own marks in a different, more positive light."

She said the reaction has been almost entirely positive. Her only detractors, she said, are people who think "I was intentionally editing my photo to make my marks look excessive which in itself just seems like a silly accusation."

The Columbia, Missouri, mom said her husband, Cody Garnett, "is so very supportive of everything that I do and is always on my team. He makes me feel beautiful no matter what and would not hesitate to assure other women who bear the marks of pregnancy that they are beautiful as well."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Nov152017

Digital pill that 'talks' to your smartphone approved for first time

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In a groundbreaking decision on Monday, the Food and Drug Administration approved a drug with a “digital ingestion tracking system,” which senses when a pill is swallowed and sends the data to a smartphone.

The new drug-device combination product called Abilify MyCite is approved for the treatment of schizophrenia and mood disorders. The Abilify (aripiprazole) tablets come embedded with an ingestible event marker (IEM) sensor -- the size of a grain of sand -- that sends information to a patch the patient wears. The patch then transmits the data to smartphones and online health care portals, which can be accessed by health care professionals and caregivers if the patient approves.

This new concept could mean significant advancements in treatment for many disorders, specifically psychiatric illnesses, which rely heavily on patients who must consistently take their medication if they are to achieve stability.

Schizophrenia, a chronic psychiatric disorder, affects approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population. The disabling condition includes delusions, thought disorders and hallucinations that can ruin jobs, relationships and day-to-day functions. People with schizophrenia have the greatest success in treatment if they take their medications.

This, however, can be difficult. If they don’t take the medication, they relapse, are re-hospitalized and have to start over again. It’s both disturbing to their lives and an extra expense for them to carry.

Psychiatric diseases are not the only illnesses that may benefit from a drug-device. This way to track medications could help manage a variety of chronic illnesses.

Approximately half of all people with heart disease, for instance, don’t take their medication regularly. For patients with diabetes, studies show that hospital costs are 41 percent higher every year for those who don’t take their medication as directed, compared to those who do.

In general, medication “non-adherence” results in additional cost to the U.S. health care system of $290 billion annually.

While the potential benefits are easy to see, these pharmacological strides also raise concerns about diminished patient autonomy and suspicion of the medical system. Now, it’s the patient who controls who has access to this electronic data. But this type of system could erode the trust traditionally shared between the physician and patient. That trust is particularly important for patients with psychiatric diseases.

“I would want a study conducted to see how the technology impacts the doctor-patient relationship,” said Dr. Paul Applebaum, director of the Division of Law, Ethics and Psychiatry at Columbia University. “What kind of message are we communicating?”

It is also important to note that the improvement in patient compliance with treatment is the ideal outcome, but so far nobody has shown that this pill will do it.

Applebaum sees how the new technology may prove beneficial in certain populations, such as “patients with early dementia, since the culprit for non-adherence is memory.”

However, he notes it may not be as effective in patients who are worried about side effects or have other common reasons for not taking their prescriptions.

Sandy Walsh, a spokesperson for the FDA, said “it is too soon to gauge” what implications this may have on a broader scale.

However, she points out that “the FDA supports the development and use of new technology in prescription drugs and is committed to working with companies to understand how technology might benefit patients and prescribers.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Nov142017

Senate Republicans want to include individual mandate repeal in tax plan

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Republicans expect to include a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate, which requires people to purchase health insurance or face penalties, in their tax plan, complicating the party's efforts to reshape the tax code by year's end.

The change -- which President Trump called for yesterday in a surprise tweet from Asia -- would help Republicans pay for proposed tax cuts in their plan by slashing more than $300 billion in government spending on subsidized medical coverage over 10 years.

“We’re optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters Tuesday.

Republicans also say the mandate disproportionately impacts low-income Americans.

The move would also leave 4 million more Americans without health insurance by 2019 and 13 million by 2027, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Slipping the health care provision into the tax plan carries risks for Republicans.

Doing so could ignite Democratic opposition to the tax bill and turn the tax push into a health care debate, complicating the GOP's top legislative priority and making it more difficult to achieve by the end of the year.

The House is expected to vote on its version of the tax plan -- which won't include the individual mandate repeal -- as soon as Thursday.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Nov142017

At snack business, young people with autism find work and skills for the future

ABC News(LONG ISLAND CITY, N.Y.) -- Sam Antar was all smiles when he was offered a full-time, paid position as a "granologist" at Luv Michael, a healthy snack business.

"I like to put the ingredients together," Antar, 22, told ABC News. "I love making new friends."

Based in Long Island City, Luv Michael's mission is to provide meaningful employment for young adults with autism.

The business was started by Lisa Liberatore and husband, Dimitri Kessaris, for their son, Michael, who has autism and also loves to cook. Luv Michael now employs six workers and sells granola in more than 60 stores on the East Coast.

"Teamwork is pivotal in the Luv Michael program," said Sarah Kull, the company's curriculum coordinator. "We all motivate each other. We collaborate. We share ideas. Someone's having a hard day, we support them."

"There's no discouraging," she added.

Volunteers work for three consecutive weeks so staff can gauge their commitment, interest and skill set. After that period, and if all goes well, Luv Michael offers the volunteer a full-time, paid job.

"I can't begin to tell you the impression and the feeling that we have in the room when they're offered the job," Liberatore said.

Antar's mother, Deborah Ehrlich-Antar, was present as he accepted his job offer.

She told ABC News that her family was incredibly thankful for the work opportunity and that finding Luv Michael had been a "miracle."

"For any child with autism, after high school and after services from the Board of Education end, each child is in a very different place, a place where they're not quite sure what programs they're going to be involved in and what they're going to do every day," Ehrlich-Antar said. "It's extremely difficult and it's a time of uncertainty and great concern."

Ehrlich-Antar said Luv Michael's staff understand that people with autism need a place to thrive, be productive and feel good about what they're doing.

Antar told ABC News that after working at Luv Michael, he'd like to move on and become a chef.

"I'm learning a lot at Luv Michael," he said. "I love baking and cooking."

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