Can an Implant Relieve Chronic Back Pain?

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Maria Tricoli, of Virginia, said she’s enjoying playing with her three children and being free of pain for the first time in five years.

Chronic back pain -- which she described as “gnawing, sometimes burning, sometimes stabbing it can stop me in my tracks” -- had previously kept her from everyday activities, such as cooking and cleaning for her family.

She and a slew of doctors tried multiple treatments, including massage and herbal medicine.

“I saw more than 27 specialists…I must have done physical therapy six separate times in a course of five years. I have tried holistic acupuncture several times,” she said.

In 2010, when her back pain began to turn her arm cold and blue, Tricoli, 37, said she was forced to give up her job.

“For the first time in my life I felt like I was not in control. The pain kind of controlled me,” she said.

Finally, Tricoli saw a doctor who suggested a spinal cord stimulator -- a device surgically implanted near a person’s spine designed to send electrical pulses to the spinal cord. In theory, these electrical pulses interfere with the nerve impulses that make you feel pain.

The stimulator has been around for decades, but, with doctors moving away from the use of painkillers, newer, technically improved devices are in demand for patients suffering from chronic back pain.

“I think spinal cord stimulation is an excellent option, especially for people who have failed all other therapy,” said Dr. Nader Pouratian, director of neuromodulation and associate professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Because it’s an experimental model, Tricoli got her spinal cord stimulator for free, but many doctors are concerned that $35,000 is a lot to pay for a surgery. Every surgery comes with risks, and medical experts say there are still serious questions about the device’s long-term effectiveness.

In fact, some doctors believe the pain relief may come from a powerful placebo effect.

“We found in our study and others that patients continued to take narcotic pain killers even after they have had this type of device implanted, and the literature suggests that benefits tend to wear off after six months to a year,” said Dr. Richard Deyo, a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health and Science University.

But after two months, Tricoli said the implant has given her a new lease on life.

“Just to not be in pain is a blessing, to be a part of my kids’ lives, to go to the playground with them, I never was able to do that before,” she said.

Spine specialists that ABC News consulted say they’ve seen some success for some of their patients with the device, but they generally recommend trying it only after unsuccessful repeated attempts to treat chronic pain through conventional exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy. ABC News also heard from Medtronic, one of the makers of the device, who said spinal cord stimulation is a proven therapeutic approach for managing chronic pain that is not effectively controlled with conventional treatments.

It’s clear more research is needed on who can benefit most, and chronic back pain sufferers are encouraged to talk to their doctors about what is best for their individual situation.


Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Beauty Parlor that Helps Cancer Patients Has Appointment with HBO

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Even when their lives are at stake, one of the most difficult things for women being treated for cancer to handle is the loss of their hair. That’s why two Long Island beauty salon owners offer their services for free to cancer patients one day a month.

The salon owners, sisters Cynthia Sansone and Rachel DeMolfetto, are the subject of the Oscar-nominated short documentary Mondays At Racine, which will air on HBO Monday night. The film follows the cancer patients who come to the sisters’ beauty parlor once a month for a day of free beauty treatments.

The sisters came up with the idea more than 10 years ago as a way to honor their mother, who passed away from breast cancer in the 1980s.

Cynthia Sansone says that her mother initially felt like a pariah and an “alien” after her hair fell out from her cancer treatments.

“We did not have the tools to know how to help her. I remember vividly my father walking her into the house,” said Sansone. “The grimace on her face.”

Sansone says the idea behind the free day of beauty is to provide a support system for the cancer patients, most of whom are women, as they deal with a life-threatening illness.

“We got the script down on what we need to say to soothe and heal,” said Sansone. “No one wants to [hear], ‘You look good.’ People want to hear, ‘What can I do?’”

The film’s director, Cynthia Wade, said the one common and most surprising response among the cancer patients she interviewed was that they were terrified of losing their hair. One patient even felt like she was being “erased” as a result of her cancer treatment.

“Every single woman I spoke to said it was much easier to lose their breast than their hair,” said Wade.

Linda Hart has lived with breast cancer for nearly 19 years and has visited the Racine beauty salon once a month, every month for the last few years. In the film the 59-year-old is a striking presence as she counsels younger cancer patients and wrestles with the idea of stopping treatment altogether.

For Hart, going to the Racine salon allowed her to be open about her fears and concerns as a cancer patient and to help others going through the same thing.

“We sat and we cried and talked and laughed, and I felt like I had been there before,” said Hart, speaking about her first visit.

After living with the disease for nearly two decades, Hart says she is encouraged that more women are open about their illness in these support groups.

“Years ago people weren’t talking about, [they] held it in,” said Hart. “Now [they let it] out. I pray it comes out even more.”

Hart, who has lost her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes to cancer treatment, has also been treated to a full make-over at the salon, providing needed ego boost.

“I really looked great. Afterwards I put the wig on, I felt like a whole person,” said Hart. “Once I was done-up, I felt alive again.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Michael Douglas Lied: Throat Cancer Was Actually Tongue Cancer

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Michael Douglas has been open about his battle with cancer, sharing several personal and intimate details about how it developed and how his treatment was progressing, but the actor is now admitting he lied about a major aspect of his health battle.

Contrary to what he’d always said, Douglas did not have throat cancer after all. He had tongue cancer, but lied about it because of fears that the potential treatment could be disfiguring, resulting in harm to his career.

Douglas made the revelation to fellow actor Samuel L. Jackson in a segment that aired Friday as part of Male Cancer Awareness Week on This Morning, a British talk show.

Douglas, 69, said he was getting ready for a European tour to promote his movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, when he got the cancer diagnosis in 2010. He said doctors told him to lie about it.

“And I said, ‘Why’s that?’ And he said, ‘Well, if you really want to know why, if we do have to do surgery, it’s not going to be pretty, you know you lose part of your jaw and your tongue, and you know and all of that stuff.’ And I said ‘OK, sure,’” Douglas told Jackson.

Dr. Eric Genden, chairman of the Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery Department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told Good Morning America that the traditional approach for treating tongue cancer can have a significant impact on a patient’s looks.

“Most people, including producers and studios, may not be too happy to hire an actor or an actress with a tongue cancer,” Genden, who has not treated Douglas, said. “The more traditional approach does require a cut in the jaw and it can be very disfiguring.”

Douglas never needed surgery. After aggressive radiation and chemotherapy, Douglas says he now has a clean bill of health and a good prognosis. If he remains cancer-free for two years, there’s a 95 percent chance the cancer won’t return, he told Jackson.

Douglas won an Emmy Award this year for his starring role in HBO’s Liberace bio-pic Behind the Candelabra.

He and his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, recently announced that they had separated, although the actor has said he’s working things out with her and the marriage was fine.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Online Medical Journals Accept Fake Study: Could Public Suffer?


Christopher Furlong/Getty Images(LONDON) -- A fake study that was accepted at dozens of medical journals for a fee has experts worried that lax oversight of published studies could affect the health of patients searching for medical answers online.


The fake paper was written by John Bohannon, a science journalist who received his doctorate in molecular biology at the University of Oxford. Bohannon submitted the paper to 302 open-access medical journals as an experiment over 10 months.

The results of Bohannon's experiment were published in Science, a peer-reviewed general science publication that charges subscription fees.

"I chose, for the start of this, to [target] open-access publishers who charge fees for scientists to publish," Bohannon told "Acceptances kept on coming more frequently than rejections. ...I thought it would be more like 10 percent."

Bohannon's paper, which had bad data and lacked rigorous testing, was accepted at more than half of the journals where it was submitted.

Unlike subscription-based journals or fee-based journals, open-access journals are free of charge, free of most copyright and licensing restrictions and often publish their articles online without a pay wall.

While some online journals have a proven track record for properly vetting studies, Bohannon found that some were merely imitating more established journals by taking on the same name or a similar online format. Some journals that Bohannon thought were reputable ended up accepting the paper.

"This sting operation," Bohannon said in Science, shows "the contours of an emerging Wild West in academic publishing."

Bohannon found that many journals that appeared to be based in the United States were actually run out of foreign countries. Approximately one-third of the journals were run from India, making that country the largest base for open-access journals.

With more patients taking to the Internet to read about their diseases, experts worry that patients searching for a cure online might come across studies that have not been properly vetted and get incorrect information about their health.

Dr. Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Emory Center for Ethics in Atlanta, said patients often come in to their doctor’s office armed with data found online and that more bad data means that patients could be swayed into requesting unproven treatments.

"Speak to clinicians, and they'll tell you: [Patients] give them the diagnosis and the treatment before they've been examined," said Wolpe.

"Equally problematic is self-treatment," he said. Look up diabetes, "and you can find 20 different websites that all contradict each other."

Bohannon said there is not an easy way for a person without a scientific background to discern between a properly vetted and peer-reviewed study and one that was merely rubber stamped. He said he hoped that the scientific community could establish some kind of independent monitoring agency that could test journals in a similar manner to his experiment to make sure they were doing their due diligence.

"Hopefully, people will jump on this problem," said Bohannon, who thinks patients should vet studies with an expert on their own before believing them. "Until then, the main thing is, like, you have to ask the doctor. If you need scientific advice you need to talk to a scientist."

Other experts stress that that putting well-vetted studies from established journals online could help many more patients and help combat the poorly researched articles.

Paul Wicks, head of research and development at a health-data-sharing website, Patients Like Me, said that the medical community is now focusing on more collaborative treatment with patients, and it can be helpful for patients to be reading medical literature so they can bring up new information or treatment with their doctor.

"[We're] moving toward patient-centered care and shared decision making," said Wicks. " The doctor is not always going to say, 'I think we should do this. ...It's option a, b, c, and here are the pros and cons.’"

Wicks said there are many open-access journals that are doing their due diligence when releasing data and that some researchers have started to pay an extra fee so their vetted and peer-reviewed studies that are published in subscription journals are able to appear to the public online.

Wicks said the Internet could become a major help for patients if more vetted and established journals were putting their articles online.

"When you block of sources of credible reliable information, patients who want information, they'll flow like water around a rock," said Wicks. "They’ll turn to online sources that are not as reputable."

Wicks recommended that patients who find interesting data online should try and ask questions of reputable experts in that field by email or Twitter and take findings with a grain of salt. In spite of the pitfalls, Wicks said, the Internet is a vital source of information for patients.

"I think it's important to say that information landscape has never been better for patients," said Wicks.


Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio




Breast Cancer 'Thriver' Completes Avon Walk in Nine Cities

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MANVILLE, N.J.) -- The numbers are in: 340 miles, 9 cities, $90,000.


Those are the totals that Sherri Lynn, 49, notched up after completing her ninth and final Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in September. But the figures are nothing compared to the Manville, N.J., resident's nearly two-decade long journey since her breast cancer diagnosis in 1995.

That November, Lynn felt a lump in her breast. She didn't give it much thought since she assumed that it couldn't be cancer unless she had a family history of breast cancer.

But when a week passed, and the lump hadn't gone away, she made an appointment with her primary care physician. He sent her to get a mammogram, followed by a visit to a surgeon, who scheduled a biopsy for the next day.

After the procedure, she and the surgeon walked down the hospital hallway and she could feel that the news wasn't going to be good. Lynn asked to sit down. The doctor opened a broom closet.

"I think I sat on a bucket," she recalled. "I don't know because it kinda got a little dark. Tunnel vision. And he told me I had breast cancer."

She was 31 years old.

"I sat in the parking lot for about 5 minutes, cried, had a cigarette, and then I thought, 'Okay, bring it on, bring it on. We’re gonna do what we need to do,'" she recalled.

Lynn opted for a mastectomy, which was followed by six months of chemotherapy. The experience of breast cancer crystallized the thought that she shouldn't delay the things she'd always wanted to do. They became priorities, "as important to me as breathing," said Lynn.

Even before she fully recovered from the surgery, she managed to pull on a winter coat and shovel her entire driveway just to be outside. A few months later, she and her sister rollerbladed for the first time. From there, Lynn kept going: winter camping, snow tubing, whitewater rafting, hang gliding, power paragliding, dog sledding.

"Appreciate every single moment and just live every day as if it's your last," said Lynn. "Because you really don't know. Breast cancer actually saved my life. Because I was putting so many things off that I wanted to do. It just gave me a new respect for life and a new energy for life. So, I'm grateful to breast cancer. I am so grateful."



"I am way past survivor, I'm a thriver," she said of her current health status.

With her cancer in remission and a new outlook, Lynn wanted a bigger physical and emotional challenge, and a way to celebrate her survival. She completed her first Avon Walk in 2002, close to home in New York City. After four walks in that city, her niece and her best friend proposed a great way to see the country -- doing the Avon Walk in all nine cities where it is held.


Lynn went on to complete walks in Boston, Washington, Chicago, Houston, Charlotte, Rocky Mountains, Colo., and San Francisco. She walked the final one, in Santa Barbara, Calif., on her 49th birthday last month. The $90,000 she has raised over the last decade has helped fund mammograms and given meals to people who couldn’t cook while in treatment.

After she returned from every city, Lynn wrote a multi-page letter, illustrated with photos and filled with details of her training and the event, sent by mail to each person who donated to her walk.

"Closing ceremonies always manages to bring it home for me," Lynn wrote after her San Francisco walk in 2012. " I am reminded annually of how very lucky I am. I walk into closing ceremonies, holding the hands of someone who may have just gotten diagnosed, just completed treatment, just made the 5-year mark, or just been told there’s no more doctors can do for them. It is humbling, heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time."


Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Crippling Multiple Sclerosis Takes Filmmaker on 'Wild Ride' to Be Independent


Larry Busacca/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Jason DaSilva was trapped in his apartment -- and in his own body -- when his wife Alison Cook was rushed to a New York City hospital in 2012 when her miscarriage bleeding would not stop.


Unable to walk and confined to a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis, DaSilva couldn't get a taxi cab that was handicapped accessible. So he sat alone in his Brooklyn apartment, unable to support the woman he loved.

"She had lost too much blood," DaSilva told "Everything just fell apart. It was horrible. We knew it was happening long in advance, but there was no way for me to get to the hospital. It was so surreal. She had to get in a cab and get there herself without me."

DaSilva, a Canadian filmmaker who has traveled to Africa, Iraq and India for his stories, was diagnosed with progressive primary multiple sclerosis at age 25, a disease that has advanced so virulently that today, at only 35, he has lost his ability to walk, use his hands to eat and, to some degree, even his vision.

DaSilva decided to chronicle his physical decline in a film, When I Walk, a documentary that takes the viewer from the moment his legs collapsed and he fell on the beach in 2006 to the present day as he champions the rights and needs of the disabled.

He says in the opening of the film that his diagnosis and struggle for independence has been a "wild ride."

"You really don't have the same sense of freedom you once had," he told "I didn't realize that my life would only be limited to a few things I could actually do. It's very isolating and lonely as well."

The film, which was an official selection this year at the Sundance Film Festival, has its theatrical release on Oct. 25 in New York City and a Nov. 1 in Los Angeles.

DaSilva said that when he was able-bodied, "I never thought about people in wheelchairs going up and down stairs and taking cabs. Only after it happened to me, did my eyes get opened up. The weird thing is that everyone understands the problem, but the changes required take so long. I want to get the word out to the mainstream."

DaSilva has primary progressive multiple sclerosis, which differs from other forms of MS because the disease course has no distinct relapses, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It is characterized by a steady worsening of neurological functioning and is incurable.

As DaSilva spoke to by phone from a film event in Vancouver, he said he continued to have transportation issues.

"It's the same situation," he said. "These things exist and they need to change. Even on this trip I was panicking on how to get to the airport in a car service that could take my wheelchair."

In the documentary, DaSilva is at first able to use just a cane to get around, but is soon reliant on a scooter to go about his filmmaking. He wants to continue living in vibrant New York City, but is hampered when his disability prevents him from gaining access to restaurants and other older buildings that have been granted exemptions from laws requiring wheelchair accessibility.

The subways are "treacherous," he said.

In the seven years it took to make the documentary, he created Axs Map, a mobile app for smartphones that maps handicapped accessibility in cities like New York and can be used not just by those with mobility challenges but the visually and hearing impaired.

The mapping project -- a crowd-sourced platform that is a kind of "Yelp for disabilities" -- continues throughout other cities for the 13.2 million in North America with mobility impairments.

DaSilva discovered that in cities like New York, nine out of 10 businesses on a block may be inaccessible to those with wheelchairs and scooters.

DaSilva's journey includes meeting his wife Alison, an environmental engineer, at a support group for MS families. Her father has the disease, but Cook struggles with the loss of her own freedom in making a commitment to a man whose health is rapidly declining.

"I think it's a love story, more than an activist's film," said DaSilva. "It's about the triumph over challenges -- that's the crux of the whole story. I have MS and am able to find love within it. I want people to draw parallels with their own challenges, however big or small, and draw their own conclusions with their own lives."

Throughout the film, DaSilva tries to find a medical cure for his MS, even attempting surgery for constrictions in his neck veins that one doctor attributes to MS. But the procedures cure only his headaches, not his disease.

But even that fails and in cinema verite style, the viewer watches his frustration negotiating the locations for his filmmaking and trying to make his hands work well enough to edit on his computer. By film's end, he cannot dress or feed himself.

Today, he relies on the help of voice-activated technologies to help him continue making films and now has numerous interns. "I have to adapt," he said.

"It's definitely gotten worse since the last scene of the film where I am transferring myself onto a chair and am able to lift my arms above my head and point at things," DaSilva said. "Now I need someone to help. My hands are kind of curling up into a ball. Now, it is going after my smaller fine-motor skills."

His voice weakens when he is tired, but on a joyful note, the couple now has an 8-month-old son who has enriched their lives.

Cook, who is 36, said the couple is "surviving" with additional help because of the baby and her husband's needs. DaSilva's symptoms have worsened significantly in the year since the film wrapped. "Every day is a struggle," she said.

She, too, said she has felt "stuck at home" because the city has not made more efforts to help the disabled. "It's frustrating and making me more of an advocate because I think it's so unnecessary -- these are such small accommodations."

"I think we in the United States are ones to show compassion to the most vulnerable," said Cook. "I don't buy the argument that it costs too much."

"The best moments are joyful and we are excited about what we are doing," said Cook. "The biggest thing he gets excited about is his work. Creativity can help you survive, though it's really tough when you are challenged."

Both were thrilled that DaSilva's next film, which also addresses the needs of the disabled, has received funding.

"But the feelings of frustration and isolation aren't going away," said DaSilva. "I don't think the fight is over -- that's really the big message. I feel like this is a battle in a way. I am not going to stop until people know what we are going through as people who are disabled and have mobility challenges.

"Just because the film is finished, doesn't mean I am going to stop," he said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio





Phoenix Airport Screenings Under Fire from Disabled Travelers

Creatas/Thinkstock(PHOENIX) -- Screenings at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are excessive and humiliating, say disabled travelers who've filed complaints with the Transportation Security Administration.

According to 2012 records, the airport received 26 complaints, more than double the national average, about its security checkpoint procedures. The majority of the grousing came from disabled passengers, or those who'd had breast cancer, who complained that they were made to remove various prosthetics in public. The complaints were first reported by The Arizona Republic.

"Passengers with prostheses can be screened without removing them," the TSA states on its website, a policy that seems in conflict with multiple accounts from women who stated in complaints that they've been asked to take out their prosthetic breasts in public. One of these complaints came from an 82-year-old woman.

"At her age and physical capability, she posed absolutely no risk whatsoever to anyone's safety and should not have been subjected to such invasive and (undignified) treatment," the woman's grandchild wrote in the complaint obtained by The Arizona Republic.

On another occasion, a 92-year-old man in a wheelchair was reportedly asked to walk through a body scanner at the Phoenix airport, despite having had childhood polio.

The TSA recommends on its website that travelers with disabilities carry a TSA Notification Card to communicate issues discreetly and to alert security agents to any problems before the screening process begins.

"The Transportation Security Administration strives to treat every passenger with dignity and respect," a representative from the TSA told ABC News. "During the screening process, if an anomaly is detected, secondary screening is required to ensure the passenger does not have threat items, such as explosives concealed under clothing. A passenger should not be asked to remove or lift any article of clothing to reveal a sensitive body area or to remove a prosthetic."

The representative went on to say that the "TSA works with numerous groups, including breast cancer organizations, to continually refine and enhance our procedures to improve the passenger experience while also ensuring the safety of the traveling public."

When asked why the number of complaints ranked so much higher in Phoenix relative to the rest of the United States, the TSA did not offer comment.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Preliminary Study Finds Link Between Heart Surgery and Mental Decline

Image Source/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Researchers may have linked a certain gene with increased risk for mental decline after heart surgery.

Between 30 and 50 percent of heart surgery patients show a decrease in mental function after the surgery, HealthDay News says. It has not been previously determined whether deteriorating mental faculties were due to the surgery itself, anesthesia, or pre-existing neurological disease.

A preliminary study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists in San Francisco, looked at 233 elderly, white patients who had their mental functions analyzed before heart surgery as well as five years post-surgery.

Those patients who possessed the APOE4 gene were more likely than others to experience memory loss, attention problems and difficulty understanding written or spoken words after the surgery, the study says.

The APOE4 gene can be detected in a blood test, says HealthDay News.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Parents Find Time with Children More Rewarding than Work

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Kids can be exhausting but well worth it, especially when compared to work.

That’s the main takeaway from a Pew Research Center analysis of parenting in the U.S.

According to the poll, adults with children under age 18 in the home say 62 percent of their experiences raising kids are “very meaningful.”  Meanwhile, parents also acknowledge that 12 percent of child-care activities are “very tiring.”

Parents say they’re “very happy” in just over a third of the activities spent with their children.

This is in marked contrast to how parents feel about what kind of rewards they’re getting from their jobs.

They say that just 36 percent of paid work-related activities are “very meaningful.”  Five percent of these work activities are ranked as “very tiring.”

Meanwhile, only 19 percent of their paid work-related activities make parents “very happy.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


NFL Star Fined After Wearing Cleats to Support Mental Illness Awareness

David Banks/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall will pay a fine for violating the National Football League’s uniform policy after he wore bright green cleats during a game with the New York Giants, according to Marshall wore the custom-made lime green cleats on Thursday to support Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Although many football players are allowed by the NFL to wear pink during October to raise awareness for breast cancer, Marshall’s green cleats were not approved.

The NFL has strict uniform guidelines that can mean fines or even expulsion for a player who refuses to wear approved uniforms correctly. However, the NFL agreed that Marshall could play in the green shoes as long as he paid a fine.

“I’m going to get fined and I’m going to match that [fine],” Marshall told “We’re still working on the details to give, really give back to an organization that is doing work in the mental health area.”

In 2011, Marshall announced he had been diagnosed with borderline bipolar disorder. After the announcement, he started the Brandon Marshall Foundation, which aims to raise awareness for mental illness and help those in need gain access to mental health resources.

After Thursday’s game Marshall took to Twitter to explain his thoughts on the fine.

“The money the league will fine me is nothing compared to the awareness raised tonight,” Marshall wrote on his Twitter.

Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, has released a statement praising Marshall for his actions.

“NAMI applauds Brandon Marshall’s leadership in raising public awareness about…mental illness,” said Fitzpatrick.

After the game, the bright green shoes didn’t end up buried in Marshall’s gym bag. He is auctioning them off to raise money for his foundation. If you’re interested in taking to the field in lime green cleats, the current price is $2,000.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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