Entries in Boston (7)


City Under Flu Crisis: 48 Hours in Boston's Massive Flu Outbreak

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Little Cassie Colice fought off another coughing fit as she sat in the emergency room at Boston Children's Hospital with her mother. Despite getting a flu shot this season, doctors believed the toddler was suffering from the flu.

"She's gone from having what you think for a toddler is a common cold to having difficulty breathing, coughing up a lot of mucus, terribly lethargic, no appetite," said Cassie's mother, Meghan Moriarty. "It just makes me feel bad that she can't tell me."

ABC's Nightline spent the last 48 hours documenting a city in crisis from a raging flu epidemic, from patients who already have it to those who are taking measures to avoid it and the doctors who are battling the outbreak.

Moriarty was very concerned because Cassie, who isn't even 2 years old yet, was born prematurely, putting her in the highest risk category for serious complications from the flu. So doctors didn't waste time testing Cassie for flu. They admitted her immediately.

"She has a fever and cough, she's dehydrated, the degree of lethargy, the repertory rate makes me worry that she has a serious infection," said Dr. Anne Stack.

Once admitted, Cassie and her mother realized they had lots of company.

"We are at full capacity," Stack said. "The hospital is essentially completely full."

And it was not just Children's Hospital -- all of Boston's world-famous hospitals are operating on overdrive. There have been more than 750 confirmed flu cases so far this season in Boston, more than 10 times the 70 cases from this time last year.

"I have been here for 19 years," said Dr. Ron Walls of Brigham and Women's Hospital. "I don't remember seeing anything like this."

At Massachusetts General Hospital, patient Shane Wells feared his laundry list of flu-like symptoms was making him another one of Boston's latest statistics. Despite getting the flu shot, the 41-year-old was suffering from chills, sweats and incessant cough.

"The aches and pains, the hot, the cold," he said. "[I'm] trying to get back to work because if you don't work you can't pay the bills."

Many people assume they have the flu without getting tested. But when Wells' lab tests came back, the results were positive for flu. There was little doctors could do for him. He had passed the 48-hour window when prescription medication could effectively treat the virus.

"You ought to be wearing a mask when you are in public," Dr. Stuart Harris told Wells. "Try to keep away from people, wash your hands all the time."

Back at Children's Hospital, Cassie's chest X-ray showed her lungs were full of mucus. She was also dehydrated and had low oxygen levels in her blood, so doctors admitted her to stay at the hospital overnight.

Just down the hall from Cassie was 4-month-old Cayson Page, who was born with congenital heart disease. For children like Cayson, the flu can be a matter of life or death.

"Our main concern is that this child doesn't have a lot of reserve," Dr. Stack said. "So even a little bit of illness can tip someone like this over."

Cayson was discharged from the hospital, but after repeatedly vomiting, his parents, James Page and Elizabeth Graul, brought him back to the ER. It was an exhausting and scary process, and the Pages feared their son would become another Boston statistic.

"The main thing that worries me is just how many deaths have happened from [the flu]," Graul said. "With his heart disease, he gets really sick just off a simple cold and then I don't even want to know what the flu would do to him."

At Brigham and Women's Hospital, a code amber alert sounded.

"It is basically a disaster notification that we use when we have a large number of things to deal with," Dr. Walls said. "It freezes the staff so basically no one is going to be allowed to go home."

In one afternoon, Walls' section of the ER saw eight patients, more than four times what they typically see this time of year.

"The big difference I think that I've seen this year is that there is so many more people with it," Walls said. "So we talk about the virulence of the flu, like how fast can it get from me to you and from you to someone else. This flu seems to have spread from really rapidly through large, large numbers of people."

One of his biggest concerns was elderly patients, who are also at high risk of complications from the flu. Eighteen people over age 65 have already died from the flu in Massachusetts.

Many doctors still agree that the best weapon of defense against the flu is to get a flu shot. An East Boston neighborhood health center said they have given 20,000 flu shots this season and more than 700 alone on Saturday.

"We don't usually have to do big clinics like this but when there's a need, particularly like this when the flu is so severe, we really want to vaccinate people, we're happy to do this," said Dr. Catherine Silva, a local primary care physician.

Concerned parent Tequila Cunningham, who was waiting for her flu shot at the health center, said she wasn't taking any chances.

"There has been four episodes of kids getting sick in their school," she said. "I feel like the flu shot and some vitamin C and they're going to be great."

On Sunday, Cassie was still at Children's Hospital and had been moved into intensive care. She had to have mucus drained from her lungs but was slowly starting to improve.

"I think we might be able to get her home soon," Meghan Moriarty said.

But the ordeal has taken its toll and Cassie's mother was exhausted.

"I actually fainted last night," she said. "I forgot to feed myself."

But after 24 hours, Mass General patient Shane Wells, who felt awful after being discharged, said he was starting to feel a lot better.

"I pretty much feel 80 percent," he said. "I'll make it back to work tomorrow, I'm feeling good now. I'll get a good night's sleep, keep taking my medicine and I think I'll be all right."

Boston-area hospitals reported a decline in flu admissions over the weekend, suggesting things are looking up in a city that is sick of being sick.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Boston Mayor Recovering from Droopy Eyelid Surgery

Paul Marotta/Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is recovering from surgery to lift his droopy eyelids, his office said.

Menino, 69, was diagnosed with dehiscence ptosis, a condition caused by the slow stretching of tiny tendons that hold up the upper eyelids.

"Over time, the tendons can stretch or detach from their anchor point on the eyelids," said Dr. Mami Iwamoto, the Boston-based ophthalmologist who performed the procedure on Wednesday.  "If that occurs, the lids hang lower than they should."

The upper eyelids usually hang two millimeters above the pupil, the tiny window through which light enters the eye.  But in Menino's case, the window was partially blocked.

"It's like there's a shade coming down into that view," said Iwamoto, describing how Menino's eyelid covered half of his pupil.  "People often compensate by raising their brows to pull the lids up or by tipping their head back to look under the shade, but he reached a point where he'd be much better off if the lid position was higher."

Menino was awake but sedated for the hour-long surgery, called blepharoplasty, to shorten the stretched-out tendons through tiny incisions in his eyelids.  And while the outpatient operation went off without a hitch, swelling and bruising will force the mayor to lie low for a week.

"He'll feel fine, but it's an awkward situation for making public appearances," said Iwamoto.

Because eyelids can droop with age, some people opt for blepharoplasty for cosmetic reasons.  A February 2012 study found that face and eyelid lifts could knock 7.5 years off a person's estimated age.  But Menino's motivation was not cosmetic, Iwamoto said.

"It was purely medical need," said Iwamoto.

Some blepharoplasty patients require additional surgery to tweak changes in tendon length that occur during the healing process.

"I told the mayor, 'most of time, people heal exactly the way we planned.  But in 10 to 15 percent of cases, we may need to make adjustments,'" Iwamoto said.  "He's such a nice gentleman.  But he joked that if that happens, 'You're in big trouble!'"

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Case of Bacterial Meningitis Becomes Fatal for Boston Girl, 12

Comstock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- The Boston Public Health Commission confirmed Monday that a 12-year-old Boston girl, hospitalized for bacterial meningitis, has died.

The seventh-grader at Boston Latin Academy was hospitalized Friday with symptoms of the infection.  By Saturday, her parents received a recorded message informing them of their daughter's illness, ABC News affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston reports.

Though risk for transmission is low, City Public Health Department officials are working with school staff to identify students and faculty at the school -- which serves about 1,800 students -- who had close contact with the girl to be checked for symptoms as a precautionary measure, according to a spokesperson for Boston Public Schools.

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis include fever, headache, stiffness of the neck, vomiting, sensitivity to light and an altered mental state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Superintendent Carol Johnson released a joint statement late Monday afternoon.

"At this difficult time our hearts ache for the family and friends of this young student," Mayor Menino said. "We mourn her loss and join with the Boston Latin Academy in this hour of grief."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Alarm Fatigue Blamed in Second Death at Boston Hospital

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- The death of a 60-year-old patient at UMass Memorial Medical Center raised the alarm on a problem plaguing hospitals nationwide: the many medical machines that beep for attention.

The man, whose name has not been released, died in August 2010 after alarms signaling possible heart and breathing problems went unanswered for nearly an hour, the Boston Globe reported.  His death is the second blamed on so-called alarm fatigue at the Worcester, Mass., hospital in four years.

"Simply adding alarms doesn't make the system safer," said Dr. Richard Cook, a critical care physician and safety expert at the University of Chicago Medical Center.  "In fact, it can make it less safe because there are so many false alarms that people end up not being able to figure out which ones are important."

Alarm fatigue, also dubbed the "cry wolf" phenomenon, is a growing problem in a health care system increasingly reliant on machines.  A stroll down a typical hospital hallway offers a chorus of beeps and buzzers, most of which require no action by hospital staff.

"Each box, each device, each program is claiming the attention of the human operator.  The result is people are confronted with many, many alarms, only a few of which are meaningful or important," Cook said.  "The function of the human becomes to ignore alarms.  And inevitably some get ignored that would have been important to pay attention to."

Cases such as the one at UMass often evoke a wave a finger-pointing.  But Cook said nurses and doctors can't be blamed for missing alarms.

"The current approach is to immediately try to figure out who goofed," he said.  "But it's a pervasive problem in the health care system and it's only getting worse."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Texas Man Receives Full Face Transplant

Lightchaser Photography/ Donald Annino Jr., MD, DMD, of BWH Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery.(BOSTON) -- A 25-year-old man from Fort Worth, Texas, has received the most complete face transplant in the United States to date.

Dallas Wiens, a construction worker, suffered severe burns to his head two and a half years ago when the boom lift he was operating drifted into a nearby power line. The nearly fatal accident left him in a coma for three months.

After 22 surgeries, Wiens was left with a face void of features, except for a lipless mouth and a goatee. Even his eye sockets were smoothed over with skin taken from other parts of his body.

But last week, a team of more than 30 doctors, nurses and anesthesiologists at Brigham and Woman's Hospital in Boston worked for more than 15 hours to give Wiens a new face -- complete with skin and the muscles and nerves needed to animate it.

Wiens is the second person to have a face transplant at Brigham and Woman's Hospital. James Maki received a partial transplant in 2005, after accidentally falling face first onto an electrified subway rail.

Wiens said he didn't have the procedure because of how he might look after. Rather, he did it so he might feel a kiss from his 3-year-old daughter, Scarlett.

"I can't feel her kisses, and I can't truly kiss her back," he told ABC News affiliate WFAA before the procedure.

Doctors said Wiens may regain up to 90 percent of the sensation in his forehead, right cheek and lips.

Wiens's transplant, which involved a whole face and the bony tissue of the nose, is the most complete face transplant in the U.S. to date, according to Brigham and Woman's Hospital.

Spanish doctors said they performed the world's first "full" face transplant last April, one involving the nose, lips, palate, teeth, cheekbones and jaw.

The Department of Defense contributed $3.4 million to Brigham and Woman's Hospital and covered Wiens's procedure. Wiens joined the Army but had to take a medical discharge because of knee problems, according to WFAA.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Aging Can Be Reversed in Mice, But What About Us?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Scientists have found that by tweaking the genes of mice, they are able to slow, or even reverse the process of aging. With just a few changes, the animals were able to regenerate brain cells, and their fertility was able to be restored. Alternatively, mice aged prematurely when those changes were made in reverse order.

A report, published in the weekly online science journal Nature, shows that scientists hope similar results may be possible for humans down the road. The scientists who published the report, working out of the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston, worked with the chromosomes that are found inside the nuclei of all cells. By transforming the protective part of the chromosome, which guards the cell from diminishing, scientists could either accelerate, or reverse the aging process.

Some scientists say the study can be beneficial if the process eventually leads to cures for things like heart disease and diabetes, which become more debilitating with age.

So far the study has been restricted to mice.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Patients Getting Too Large, So Ambulances Adjust

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BOSTON) -- As the average calorie count of American meals continue to grow, and the average American body swells as well, ambulances are starting to make similar expansions.

Boston’s Emergency Medical Services will deploy an ambulance retrofitted with a stretcher capable of lifting patients up to 850 pounds, according to The Boston Globe.

Emergency medical personnel have been familiar with heavy patients for a long time, but now a critical point has been reached. They’ve also installed a hydraulic lift on the ambulance to help lift obese patients on board. Altogether, the cost of equipping the ambulance was $12,000, the newspaper report said.

“With a 300-pound patient, it’s not too bad, or even 400 pounds. But to be honest with you, with a 500-, 600-, 700-pound patient — it’s just too much for you,’’ Jose A. Archila, a Boston EMS captain told the newspaper.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, no state had a population of obese people greater than 14 percent. The most recent numbers in 2009 show that only Colorado and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity less than 20 percent.

The change in Boston may be surprising, but the numbers show its necessity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio