• Cincinnati Childrens Hospital Medical Center(CINCINNATI) -- Valeka Riegel gave birth to her son, Zakary, in December of 2016. She would not see his face for the first time until April, after doctors completed a delicate and complex surgery to seal a hole in his skull that had caused a sac-like protrusion to obscure the front of his head. “I was first told that he may have a cyst on his cheek,” said Riegel. As it turned out, it was more than a cyst. Zakary had what is known as a congenital bony defect in his skull. Specifically, it was a hole that allowed the fluid surrounding the brain – and even some of the brain matter itself – to escape the skull, leading to a balloon-like pouch so large it covered his face. Technically referred to as an encephalocele, it restricted his breathing, thus requiring him to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit for four-and-a-half months until he grew big enough for the surgery to correct it. “The growth covered (his face) from his nose to his mouth and when you looked at him as a baby, all you saw was a little mouth,” Riegel said in a media interview for the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC). Riegel, herself a surgical nurse, lived by her baby son’s bedside for most of the time he was in the NICU, driving back home for her 12-hour work shifts on Fridays and weekends. “I knew how complicated this was emotionally, physically and medically,” she told ABC News. “As a mother I was blessed with a pregnancy and was placed in a difficult position.” Yet she held her cool until the big day. “Two hours before surgery was when severe panic set in,” she said. Dr. Charles Stevenson, the pediatric neurosurgeon who led the team involved in Zakary’s care, said the surgery involved much more than simply revealing Zakary’s face. Essentially, doctors were faced with the challenge of removing part of the baby’s brain, closing up the hole in the skull, and ensuring that everything happened in a way that the baby would not only survive, but also have a chance at a normal life. “There were several steps involved, including exposing the forehead, exposing the defect, amputating all that tissue, and then reconstructing a normal brain, and then reconstructing all of the normal layers or barriers which had formed a the time of development,” Stevenson said of the nine-hour procedure. One of the most delicate aspects of the operation was harvesting tissue from one section of the membrane covering the brain to close over the open hole. The other aspect of the surgery – how Zakary would look afterwards – presented another set of challenges. Stevenson had known from the time he saw the results of a fetal MRI that Zakary would need a complex reconstruction of his face. “I phoned a friend very quickly,” he said. Answering the call was plastic surgeon Dr. Brian Pan. “If you’re lucky you may see one or two of these patients over the course of your career,” Pan said. For him, it was his second time, and working alongside Stevenson, he was able to deal with the cosmetic consequences of the condition even as his fellow surgeons worked on the technical hurdles of restoring the integrity of the baby’s skull. For Riegel, it was a nerve-wracking wait. But she was pleasantly surprised when Stevenson walked out of the operating room sooner than anticipated. “He said to me, ‘He doesn’t look like Zakary, but he still has the same beautiful smile,'” Riegel said, recalling Stevenson’s advice to her before she saw her baby’s new face. “Just look at his smile and you will see Zakary, I promise you.” “The first thing he did after extubation was smile, and 23 hours later he was out of the pediatric ICU,” Riegel said. Zakary will be celebrating his first birthday in the company of his mother and his two olde
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  • Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The number of women who use marijuana while pregnant is increasing, especially among teenage and young pregnant mothers, a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggested."Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug during pregnancy," the research letter published in JAMA on Tuesday stated. "And its use is increasing."Researchers examined data from 279,457 pregnant women who were patients at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California health care system from 2009 to 2016, and participated in a self-administered questionnaire on marijuana use since pregnancy, as well as a cannabis toxicology test during their standard prenatal care visits.Among pregnant mothers who were younger than 18, researchers said the prevalence of prenatal marijuana use based on the self-report or toxicology test increased from 12.5 percent to 21.8 percent from 2009 to 2016.For pregnant mothers between the ages of 18 and 24, the prevalence of prenatal marijuana use increased from 9.8 percent to 19 percent from 2009 to 2016, researchers found.In addition, for women aged 25 to 34, the increase was from 3.4 percent to 5.1 percent, and for women older than 34, the increase was from 2.1 percent to 3.3 percent from 2009 to 2016.The JAMA research letter added that while medical marijuana was legalized in 1996 in California, "prenatal use may further escalate in 2018 when recreational marijuana is available legally."The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated on its website that some pregnant women may have "turned to using marijuana to ease nausea or other pregnancy symptoms," as an increasing number of states legalize its medical and recreational use."However, researchers don’t know a lot about what the effects might be, and while the research is in progress, most experts advise pregnant women not to use marijuana," the CDC said.Some research suggests that using marijuana while pregnant can be linked to low birth weight and may increase a baby's risk of development problems, according to the CDC."Any woman who is pregnant or could become pregnant should avoid consuming marijuana," the health organization said. "Mothers may put their babies at risk of health problems when they expose them to marijuana during pregnancy."
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  • Melinda Ray(NEW YORK) -- One woman's plea for a liver donor seemed close to impossible until her message made its way to a perfect stranger, who ultimately became her perfect match. Melinda Ray, a 35-year-old wife and mother of three from Colorado, was dying from a genetic disease that was rapidly destroying her liver. "We had just had candidate after candidate being ruled out, and symptoms were progressing. They were progressing fast," her husband James Ray told ABC News. "The days were getting harder." Desperate to find a match, Ray moved her message to Facebook, where her plea for a donor spread from relatives to friends and eventually to complete strangers. Robin Ihnfeldt heard about Melinda Ray's condition through her friend, Melinda’s sister over the summer. She told her husband, Jeff, that Ray had been unable to find a match. Without hesitating, Jeff Bramstedt, a 47-year-old former Navy SEAL from San Diego, California, said, “I’d do it.” “He’s always been an amazing man,” Robin Ihnfeldt said. “He hears bullets and he runs into these situations.” Bramstedt, now a skydiving instructor and Hollywood stuntman for films like "Iron Man" and “Deepwater Horizon,” turned out to be a match for Ray and agreed to the 10-hour transplant surgery. But doctors at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital warned him this could be risky. Chief of transplant surgery Dr. Elizabeth Pomfret said she told Bramstedt, "There’s a lot of things that can go wrong, including the risk of dying." "I think I probably considered it for all of half a second before I said, 'I’m up let’s do this,'" Bramstedt told ABC News. Three weeks ago, Bramstedt traveled over 1,000 miles from California to UCH in Aurora, Colorado, where the surgical teams successfully transplanted 60 percent of his liver to Ray -- unlike other major organs, the liver can regenerate itself. After going through the surgery, doctors joked with Bramstedt that it would be 10 weeks before he could jump out of an airplane again, but he said he has gained something important through the experience. "I feel that I have a little sister now. We literally share DNA at this point,” he said of new bond with Ray. "She gets extended years, she gets to raise her kids, to be the mother that she's always wanted to be and live out life with her husband.” Bramstedt says he hopes other healthy veterans will consider volunteering to make a transplant for someone who needs it. “You’re going to change someone’s life,” he said. “It could be the difference between life and death for somebody." Bramstedt and his wife Robin received holiday cards from Melinda’s children. Kieran, 7, drew a an upside-down, bean-shaped liver with a smiley face, writing, “Your dad is my hero.” "It gave me really great hope, and humanity, and hope that I could be a mom and a wife, because that’s something I wasn’t sure was going to happen through the year," Melinda Ray said. “And just the fact that someone would put their life on hold for me and stop their life and save mine, you know, it meant everything to me."Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Knowing how your blood sugar responds to certain foods could be a key to weight loss, according to the researchers behind a new diet book.Drs. Eran Segal and Eran Elinav of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science tested blood sugar levels in 1,000 people after every meal for one week.They found that foods that created a healthy response in some participants produced an unhealthy blood sugar spike in other participants.The key to weight loss, according to Segal and Elinav, is watching how your blood sugar reacts to different foods.For years, we've been trying to search for that silver-bullet diet that would work for everybody and we've been miserably failing,” Segal told ABC News. “And that's because the best diet for each person really has to be tailored to that individual.”"There is not yet any "evidence-based science" to support the practice of blood sugar monitoring for weight loss, according to ABC News' chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, who also holds an M.S. in nutrition."I completely agree with the fact there is no one size fits all for a diet. You have to find what works for you," Ashton said today on "Good Morning America." "But at this time there is no rigorous, peer-reviewed, evidence-based science to support the practice of checking your blood sugar after you eat."Ashton also stressed that the concept of using blood sugar levels to create an individualized approach to a diet applies to non-diabetics only.The program laid out in Segal’s and Elinav’s book, “The Personalized Diet,” focuses on finding which carbohydrates are best for each person. Determining that, they say, requires testing your blood sugar via a finger prick after meals.Our solution gives you a way to find out which carbohydrates would actually be best for you to integrate into what we believe would be a healthy diet for you,” Segal said.Segal and Elinav say their algorithm, based on blood sugar reactions, determines what foods you should avoid and what foods to add to your diet.Some people, for instance, may be able to eat white bread, instead of wheat, while others may need to spread fats like avocado, olive oil or butter on the bread.What we were surprised to find out was just like any other food, there is no such thing as a good bread,” Elinav said. “The response to bread was completely individualized.”Other foods sometimes not associated with diets, like cheese, are fine to eat for weight loss, as long as they are not paired with a carbohydrate, according to the pair’s research.When you don't have carbohydrates, those foods will not spike your blood sugar levels,” Segal said.Segal and Elinav also found that traditional pre-competition foods for athletes like bananas and dates, both high in carbohydrates, may actually cause more fatigue.When it comes to achieving weight loss, Ashton recommends taking an approach that is "safe, simple and sustainable."She also added a fourth item to the list, saying, "You have to watch the sugar."Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements may not actually lower fracture risks for elder adults living independently, according to a new analysis of past studies published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.The researchers looked at 51,145 participants from 33 clinical trials and found that there was not a significant difference in the risk of hip fractures for those who used calcium supplements, vitamin D supplements or both, compared to those who took a placebo or no supplements at all.The participants were all adults who were over 50 years old, not living in a nursing home, not on anti-osteoporosis medications and had no history of steroid-induced bone breakdown."No significant associations were found between calcium, vitamin D, or combined calcium and vitamin D supplements, and the incidence of nonvertebral, vertebral or total fractures," researchers added as part of their secondary outcomes.In addition, further analyses found these results to be "generally consistent" regardless of the calcium or vitamin D dose, sex, fracture history and dietary calcium intake.Researchers only looked at supplement studies and did not assess studies that looked at dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D.The chances of breaking a hip increase with age, and approximately 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling sideways, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).To prevent hip fractures, the CDC recommends talking to your doctor, getting screened for osteoporosis, doing strength and balance exercises, and having your eyes checked. In addition, the CDC recommends taking simple steps to make your home safer, including getting rid of things you could trip over, putting railings on both sides of any set of stairs and making sure your home has lots of light.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In a year largely dominated by headlines on politics, natural disasters and international events, a handful of topics on health and medicine nevertheless managed to capture the attention of the country. From health insurance to hurricane response efforts, 2017 was a year that showcased some of the most crucial issues affecting Americans today from a health perspective.Below, in no particular order, are just a few of the topics that had us talking about health and medicine this year.1) The Affordable Care ActWith the entrance of the new presidential administration came repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. And while an all-out repeal of the landmark health insurance legislation met a narrow and dramatic defeat in the Senate in July, the Republican-led revamp of the tax code succeeded in removing the individual mandate -- a key component of the law that required all Americans to purchase health insurance or face a fine. While the elimination of the individual mandate falls short of a full ACA repeal, analysts suggest that it could have big implications for the way the law works -- as well as for the 13 million fewer Americans that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will have health insurance in the decade to come as a result of the move.2) The opioid crisisAmerica is coming to grips with its epidemic of opioid painkiller addiction. In 2017, the most sobering numbers yet from the opioid epidemic hit the headlines. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, current statistics suggest that 91 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses. And the agency just this month released a report revealing that opioid misuse may well be driving an overall dip in American life expectancy -- a decrease that experts first saw last year and again this year. The nation’s problem with painkillers is so severe that President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis to be a “national public health emergency” in October.3) Updated blood pressure guidelinesIf health insurance and the opioid crisis aren’t enough to get your blood pressure up, know this: Your hypertension status may have changed this year, even if your blood pressure didn’t inch even a point higher. This past November, the American Heart Association changed the definition of hypertension for the first time in 14 years. While past guidelines defined hypertension at 140/90, the new definition puts this critical ratio at 130/80. The change means that an estimated 46 percent of American adults -- nearly half -- will now be defined as having hypertension. Meanwhile, with the announcement of these new guidelines, the number of American men under 45 with hypertension has tripled, while the number of American women under 45 with hypertension has doubled. So, for 103 million Americans, the change could mean that we should be watching our weight, cutting back on salt, exercising more and maybe even taking medicine to keep our blood pressure in check.4) CAR-T and cancer immunotherapyFor decades, fighting cancer in the medical setting revolved largely around three key pillars of treatment: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. But in recent years, with the advent of new and powerful ways to use the body’s own immune system to battle the disease, this is changing. And this year, with the approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of the first-ever chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy for a particular form of leukemia, doctors treating this and other cancers may soon have another entire arsenal of weapons against other forms of cancer as well. In this treatment, doctors extract a particular type of white blood cell, known as T-cells, from the patient. They genetically tweak these cells to better recognize a certain type of cancer and create many more of them before re-introducing them into the patient. CAR-T is just one of several immunotherapies
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