By Elizabeth Baier
Anyone who has spent much time in Minnesota's "Med City" can't help but notice that wheelchairs are everywhere.
From city parking ramps and downtown sidewalks to park trails and the local mall, the chairs have an inescapable presence.
More than likely that has do to with the fact that Rochester is home to Mayo Clinic, visited by thousands of patients every day. Many of them use wheelchairs to get around. So it's not surprising that they exist in big numbers.
The big curiosity is how they end up all over the city with their users nowhere in sight — a fact that some local residents can be oblivious to.
Denny and Carol Scanlan say empty wheelchairs are just part of the Rochester landscape.
"I never even thought of it until just now," Denny Scanlan says over a drink at American Legion Post 92, where he is a member. "Well, I see them kind of everywhere we go, I guess — where you least expect them."
"Yes," says his wife, with a laugh. "At the mall. In a restaurant. " She adds, "We're so used to it that I don't even notice it."
But some people do notice the big blue chairs.
At the Blue Water Salon on the skyway level of the Doubletree Hotel, owner Shelly Joseph often sees them just outside her door, in a public stairwell largely used by hotel staff.
"I don't know why they're in here, but randomly they're in this stairwell," she says. "It's a fire exit, basically."
At the Starbucks across the hall, manager Dawn Lee-Britt sees wheelchairs outside the employee entrance at the back of the coffee shop at least a couple of times a week.
"Sometimes we can't get out," she says. "I'm getting used to it because we see them so often." She adds: "It's like they don't need it anymore or it's time to go.
Mayo Clinic has 1,180 wheelchairs in its Rochester fleet, largely for patient transport. It loses up to 150 chairs each year, says general services manager Ralph Marquez, who oversees patient equipment.
At $550 each, that could be as much as $82,500 a year.
"Yes, it's a financial burden to us from that standpoint, but it's also a service we provide," Marquez says. "And if the patient, you know, truly comes first, sometimes that's the expense of the business."
Because the clinic does not want to keep patients from leaving the campus, the clinic's courier service rounds up wheelchairs weekly, mostly from hotels and other places that alert them.
But the chairs can travel much farther than that.
"We've gotten calls from Orlando Airport. Goodwill up in Duluth had one of our chairs and luckily we were able to retrieve that one. We've had them in Denver, out east in a few airports," Marquez says. "They get back to us dirty and needing to be cleaned. People may take them home for a while. They wind up everywhere."
That includes the Rochester Public Library, where communications manager John Hunziker considers wheelchairs normal.
"I'm sure if you aren't used to Rochester, seeing somebody going down the skyway, you know, pushing an IV on a rolling stand looks kind of weird," he says. "But it's just part of living in Rochester."
And on some days, part of Hunziker's job is to let the Mayo Clinic know there's a blue chair to pick up in the lobby.
With the Ebola outbreak dominating the national discourse, parents and caregivers are inevitably going to be confronted with the necessity of explaining the deadly and exotic disease to children.
One Connecticut company was already poised to help in that process, and it has seen a dramatic spike in sales as a result.
Giantmicrobes Inc. was founded about a decade ago with the intention of creating stuffed toys based on the actual microscopic images of various microbes as an educational tool for caregivers and young children, said Laura Sullivan, vice president of operations, in an interview with CBS News.
"It started with the common cold and similar things," Sullivan said. "It was marketed to pediatricians and parents initially. The idea is that kids respond favorably to stuffed animals."
The thinking is that children would be better able to understand what is happening in their body if they could see a softer, cuddlier version of it, Sullivan said.
Before long, the company's offerings expanded to a number of different of viruses and diseases, and the audience expanded with it.
About five years ago, the company began offering plush toys whose design was based on the microscopic image of the Ebola virus. Now, they are struggling to keep up with demand, Sullivan said.
While she declined to give specific sales figures for the Ebola plush toys, Sullivan said: "They're selling like hot cakes. We're out of stock again."
They have ramped up production with their Chinese manufacturers and are rushing to feed the demand, Sullivan said.
Their Ebola products - which include regular- and giant-sized plush recreations of the virus, as well a petri dish and something called "Primordial Putty" - are currently only available through the company's website, but much of the rest of their line can be found in everything from hospital gift shops to college bookstores to medical supply stores.
Sullivan said this isn't the first case of a headline-making disease affecting their sales. The swine flu outbreak a few years ago caused a similar spike in sales, but Sullivan added it was not quite at the level of Ebola.
"It's a neat little product," Sullivan said. "In the case of Ebola, it's been a helpful way for families talk about it and take some of the scariness away."
By Robert Preidt
Cesarean delivery was the most common inpatient surgery in the United States in 2011 and was used in nearly one-third of all deliveries, research shows.
The new study found that 1.3 million babies were delivered by cesarean section in 2011. The findings also revealed wide variations in C-section rates at hospitals across the United States, but the reasons for such differences are unclear.
"We found that the variability in hospital cesarean rates was not driven by differences in maternal diagnoses or pregnancy complexity. This means there was significantly higher variation in hospital rates than would be expected based on women's health conditions," lead author Katy Kozhimannil, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, said in a university news release.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 1,300 hospitals in 46 states. They found that the overall rate of C-section was about 33 percent. Between hospitals, however, that rate ranged between 19 and 48 percent, according to the study.
For women who'd never previously had a C-section, the overall C-section rate was 22 percent. Depending on the hospital, that rate ranged between 11 percent and 36 percent, the researchers said.
C-section rates ranged from 8 percent to 32 percent among lower-risk women and from 56 percent to 92 percent among higher-risk women, according to the study published Oct. 21 in the journal PLoS Medicine.
The findings highlight the roles that hospitals' policies, practices and culture may have in influencing C-section rates, the study authors concluded.
"Women deserve evidence-based, consistent, high-quality maternity care, regardless of the hospital where they give birth, and these results indicate that we have a long way to go toward reaching this goal in the U.S.," Kozhimannil said in the news release.
By Meghan Holohan
For children with food allergies, Halloween usually means they receive far fewer treats than their friends. But this year, their luck may improve if they can spot a teal pumpkin by the doors where they trick-or-treat.
That’s because a new campaign from the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), Teal Pumpkin Project, aims to make Halloween safe for everyone.
“Food allergies are potentially life-threatening. When we are looking at a Halloween celebration, it is really nice to provide something that is safe,” says Veronica LaFemina, spokeswoman for FARE.
LaFemina says that one in 13 children in the United States has a food allergy.
“The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages people to raise awareness of food allergies by providing non-food treats and painting a pumpkin teal … [which] indicates that house has non-food treats,” she says. Teal is the color for food-allergen awareness.
FARE recommends that families hand out stickers, glow-sticks, vampire teeth, bouncy balls, or spider rings instead of candy, which frequently contain allergens.
“What people don’t understand or realize is that the small candy bars that people pass out for Halloween are manufactured differently,” says Beth Demis, whose 4- year-old son Luke is allergic to tree nuts and coconut. “A regular Hershey bar is okay but a smaller one [is not].”
Demis says she learns this kind of information by being a vigilant label reader and participating in groups where people share information about allergens. But people unfamiliar with food allergies often don’t realize that smaller versions of safe candy are dangerous.
While most parents of children with allergies provide a plan to their children, trick-or-treating remains a chore. FARE recommends that parents fill out an emergency plan with the help of their allergists and make sure they carry all the needed gear, including epinephrine autoinjectors (also known as EpiPens).
“For Halloween time, they are just like other kids and want to dress up and participate,” says LaFemina. “It can be tough when you have to say ‘no thank you’ and trade away most of your candy because it’s not safe.”
Demis, who lives in Cincinnati, says that her three children abide by a long-standing rule: No one can eat any candy until mom or dad examines it. Luke can swap with his brothers for candy that is safe and it is placed in his own plastic baggie. He knows he can’t touch his brothers’ candy.
Katherine Eagerton’s 3-year-old son, Caden, is allergic to soy, milk, strawberries, and tomatoes. He knows he should stay away from food that’s red, but he doesn’t quite understand what having a food allergy means. She’s excited that the Teal Pumpkin Project encourages non-food treats so that her son can enjoy Halloween like other children.
“I’m excited to see that it’s actually catching on,” says Eagerton, who lives outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She’s using Facebook to encourage others in the state to offer non-food items this Halloween.
LaFemina says that 4.5 million people viewed the campaign’s first two posts and they have been shared 44,000 times.
Eagerton says that helping kids with food allergies feel included at Halloween will have a tremendous impact.
“These little treats will make such a big difference,” she says.
BY ISSIE LAPOWSKY
When you’re deaf, finding a job isn’t easy.
The trickiest part, explains Ryan Hait Campbell, is the interview. “You’re not required to tell an employer you’re deaf until the interview, but sometimes, they’re a little shocked,” says Campbell, who has been deaf since birth. “They don’t know how to handle it.”
Because of things like this, he says, unemployment rates are staggeringly high among the deaf. Hard numbers are tough to come by, but some figures estimate that around half of people with hearing disabilities are unemployed.
But Campbell wants to change this. He’s the co-founder and CEO of MotionSavvy, an Alameda, California-based startup that’s developing a case for tablet computers that can serve as a virtual interpreter for the deaf. Known as UNI, the case uses gesture recognition technology developed by Leap Motion to translate sign language into audible speech. It then merges this with voice recognition technology to convert spoken word to text. Because there are a variety of signs for any given word, users can upload new signs using a feature called Sign Builder. The system learns how individual users sign, while also distributing each new sign to every UNI device.
‘THIS COULD REALLY GIVE DEAF PEOPLE THE POWER TO LIVE THE LIFESTYLE THEY WANT TO LIVE. WE THINK THAT IS VERY POWERFUL.’
On Tuesday, MotionSavvy launched an IndieGoGo campaign for UNI to raise money and recruit beta testers to help build its dictionary of signs. For $499, a discounted rate, 200 selected backers will get a tablet and UNI case to try at home. “This could really give deaf people the power to live the lifestyle they want to live,” Campbell says, “and we think that is very powerful.”
Such technology would have seemed a distant dream not long ago. But the past decade has brought a wave of investment and interest in both gesture recognition technology and voice recognition technology, driven by companies like Apple and Microsoft, as well as smaller players like Nuance and Leap Motion. That hasn’t gone unnoticed by those who want to improve the lives of the deaf community. MotionSavvy is one of several players trying to capitalize on the convergence of these trends.
Just last week, Transcense, launched an IndieGoGo campaign for an app that provides real-time voice recognition so deaf people can follow a conversation. But unlike UNI, it doesn’t give deaf people who haven’t mastered speech a clear way to talk back. For MotionSavvy, that is the final—and most important—puzzle piece.
“It’s kind of like solving a quadratic equation at this point. It’s figuring out the right variables and stacking things together in such a way that they’ll all perform efficiently,” says Stephen Jacobs, associate director of Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Media Arts, Games Interaction, and Creativity.
Jacobs introduced Campbell to MotionSavvy CTO Alexandr Opalka when both were studying at RIT. Opalka, who also is deaf, had been working on similar technology as a student in RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. They teamed up with four other deaf students, and in 2012, launched MotionSavvy.
The technology is in its earliest stages. UNI recognizes only 300 signs, and its voice recognition component remains unreliable, though Opalka says UNI will come equipped with new and improved voice recognition for beta testers. And yet, during a demo of UNI at WIRED’s New York City office, it wasn’t hard to see just how transformative a technology like this could be. Campbell used it to sign a few common phrases to Opalka, such as “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from?” Yes, it was wonky, but still it struck me as sort of magical.
‘I BROUGHT THIS TO A TABLE OF OLDER DEAF PEOPLE, AND THEY ALL FREAKED OUT.’
Campbell says that reaction’s not entirely unique. “I brought this to a table of older deaf people, and they all freaked out,” he says.
But it’s not just the deaf and hard of hearing who are excited about UNI. Campbell says the FCC has gotten in touch. For many low-income deaf people, translators, video relay services, and other communication tools are prohibitively expensive. So the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program picks up the tab. When the commercial version of UNI launches in 2015, it’ll cost $799, plus a $20 monthly subscription for Sign Builder. It’s not cheap, but it’s better than the alternative.
Campbell acknowledges the product is a “moonshot,” and admits it may never replace human interpreters. In fact, he and Opalka hope that it does the opposite. If UNI can achieve its intended purpose—facilitating one-on-one communication— then it could become easier for deaf people to get decent jobs. And who typically pays for interpreters? Employers. “If you can’t communicate during an interview, you’re not getting the job,” Opalka says. “With UNI, we predict more people who are deaf will be able to get jobs and stay working, and that’s how we’ll get more people to hire interpreters. There will be more people in the workforce.”
A Department of Veterans Affairs initiative targeting staph infections in hospitalized patients has produced positive results, according to data released by the VA.
Among VA patients in ICUs between 2007 and 2012, healthcare-associated MRSA infection rates dropped 72% — from 1.64 to 0.46 per 1,000 patient days. Infection rates dropped 66% — from 0.47 to 0.16 per 1,000 patient days — for patients treated in non-ICU hospital units.
“These results are striking,” Carolyn Clancy, MD, VA’s interim under secretary for health, said in a news release. “Healthcare-associated infections are a major challenge throughout the healthcare industry, but we have found in VA that consistently applying some simple preventive strategies can make a very big difference, and that difference is being recognized.”
VA’s prevention practices consist of patient screening programs for MRSA, contact precautions for hospitalized patients found to have MRSA, and hand hygiene reminders with hand sanitizer stations placed in common areas, patient wards and specialty clinics throughout medical centers, according to the release. Practices are reinforced via computerized reminders, training, measurement and continual feedback.
MRSA infections are a serious global healthcare issue and are difficult to treat because the bacterium is resistant to many antibiotics. In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2012 MRSA surveillance report from its Active Bacterial Core surveillance, the CDC cites 75,309 cases of invasive MRSA infections and 9,670 deaths due to invasive MRSA in 2012, according to the release.
“The VA healthcare system is able to implement and assess these prevention strategies,” Martin Evans, MD, director of VA’s MRSA control program, said in the release. “What we’ve learned translates into better healthcare for the veterans we serve.”
By Eun Kyung Kim
James Wathen had stopped eating. Frail and barely able to speak, the 73-year-old whispered to a health care worker that he missed his dog, a one-eyed Chihuahua he hadn't seen since paramedics whisked him away to a Kentucky hospital weeks earlier.
So a team of nurses hustled to learn the fate of Wathen's beloved pet, Bubba, hoping a reunion might provide some peace and comfort to their heartbroken and deteriorating patient — even if arranging one meant bending ahospital rule against pets.
A series of phone calls eventually led the nurses to the Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter, where Bubba was taken and placed with a foster family, said Mary-Ann Smyth, president of the non-profit facility.
Coincidentally, Bubba had also recently fallen ill.
"The dog quit eating a week ago, which is very strange," Smyth told TODAY.com. "The dog didn’t know where James was and James didn't know where the dog was and believe it or not, they both stopped eating at about the same time."
Plans were made to bring the little pooch, who lacked his bottom row of teeth along with his right eye, to the hospital over the weekend.
“He was so sad at first. We had him wrapped in a baby blanket and he was shivering,” Smyth said. “The minute we got about 20 steps from this guy’s room — I kid you not — his little head went up. His eyes got real bright and he was like a different dog.”
She says a similar transformation took place in Wathen during his roughly 30-minute hospital reunion Saturday with Bubba.
"They didn’t think James was going to make it," she recalled being told during her initial visit to the hospital. “I was 10 feet from his bed and you could barely understand him because he was so hard to hear. The nurse had to lean up right against his face to hear what he was saying."
But he slowly perked up as his dog snuggled with him on his bed. By the time Bubba returned for a second visit Tuesday, visible changes were noticeable in both man and his best friend.
"He’s done a complete turnaround. He's speaking, he's sitting up, he’s eating. He doesn't look like the same guy," said Smyth, who didn't attend the second visit but saw Wathen in footage recorded by the shelter's director. "And the dog is eating and doing better now, too."
Baptist Health Corbin, the hospital treating Wathen, did not return repeated messages left by TODAY.com seeking comment.
But nurse Kimberly Probus told WKYT-TV a team of nurses went looking for Bubba after "one of our social workers realized it was mourning the loss of the dog that was making our patient even worse and emotionally unhealthy."
Smyth said she's not surprised at the healing power pets provide their owners.
"I hope this story will show to people the tremendous difference that animals can make in people’s lives," she said. She also hopes it will encourage people to think about rescuing pets from shelters like hers, which is rebuilding its facility after its previous home burned down in a fire last November.
“One of the biggest problems we face is the way some people think of animals. People just don’t see animals as creatures and beings, they see them as property,” she said. “I hope people understand they’re not 'its,' they’re 'beings.'”
The UCLA Health Interpreter/Translation and Deaf Services program provides services to all UCLA Health inpatients, outpatients, and their relatives at no cost. Every attempt is made to provide services in any language. The service will be provided by an in-person interpreter, video conference or by telephone.
By JAMES MARTIN
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan are donating $25 million to the CDC Foundation to help fight the Ebola epidemic, which has taken the lives of more than 4,000 people and continues to rage out of control in West Africa.
The donation will be used for the CDC Ebola response effort in the most severely affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and other areas of the world where the disease poses the greatest threat, the foundation said Tuesday.
"The Ebola epidemic is at a critical turning point," Zuckerberg said Tuesday in a statement posted on Facebook. "It has infected 8,400 people so far, but it is spreading very quickly and projections suggest it could infect 1 million people or more over the next several months if not addressed."
The CDC Foundation says the money will go towards urgent needs on the ground, including equipping community care centers, hiring and training local staff, identifying Ebola cases and tracing contacts, vehicles to be used for specimen transport, burial support, and translation services and communications -- all of which it says are vital to fighting the outbreak.
"The most important step we can take is to stop Ebola at its source," CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement. "The sooner the world comes together to help West Africa, the safer we all will be." He said today's "significant contribution from Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan will help us rapidly advance the fight against Ebola."
By JESSICA FIRGER
When Donna Tookes learned she had breast cancer last winter, the 59-year-old thought she had no choice but to accept one of the most dreaded side-effects of chemotherapy: losing her mane of silver hair, a feature that strangers young and old frequently stopped to admire.
"I had resigned myself," Tookes told CBS News. "I had purchased an array of scarves, about 10. And I actually practiced tying them."
Tookes was diagnosed with breast cancer in January after her annual mammogram, when her doctors detected some mild calcifications in her right breast. These clusters of white flecks visible on her scan indicated there might be something seriously wrong. After a few subsequent tests, Tookes learned she had HER2 breast cancer, an especially aggressive form that can be difficult to treat. Though her doctors caught the cancer early, they wanted to be certain it would never return, which meant a unilateral mastectomy followed by 12 rounds of punishing chemotherapy.
"You have a consultation before you start chemotherapy," said Tookes, who lives with her husband and children in Stamford, Connecticut, and has worked for more than three decades as a flight attendant. "I was told I would lose my hair. And then the nurse assured me, she told me 'you're beautiful,' and that I was one of the only ones who could carry the bald look because I have that bone structure."
But her family could see that losing her hair would take a serious toll on her psyche. Tookes had heard about some treatment in Europe that helps prevent chemo-related hair loss, though she didn't know many details. Secretly, her husband began to conduct research. He wrote to friends in Sweden, who were able to obtain information about a new and innovative therapy called a scalp cooling cap. He soon found out that Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City was involved in a clinical trial on the device, known as the DigniCap System, which is worn by a patient during chemotherapy transfusions.
The snug cap is secured onto a patient's head each time she undergoes chemotherapy. It chills the scalp down to 5 degrees Celsius so that the blood vessels surrounding the hair roots contract, meaning that less of the toxins from chemo enter the hair follicle. This minimizes -- and in some cases completely stops -- a patient's hair from falling out.
At first, Tookes was slightly skeptical, but her family finally convinced her to move her cancer treatment from her hospital in Connecticut to Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City.
Dr. Paula Klein, assistant professor of medicine, hematology and medical oncology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and principal investigator for the clinical trial, told CBS News the device has been effective at limiting hair loss in nearly all of her patients enrolled.
"Unfortunately, in breast cancer the two most active agents are associated with significant hair loss," said Klein. "For many women with early stage breast cancer, they are getting chemotherapy for prevention of recurrence."
Klein said overall, women who use the cap lose just 25 percent of their hair. There are some patients who lose more and a lucky handful who lost no hair at all.
The clinical trial is now in its final phase. The company behind the cap, Dignitana, will be submitting results to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of November, and hope to win FDA approval for the cap in 2015.
For women struggling through a difficult medical ordeal, the benefit is significant. Research published in 2008 in the journal Psycho-Oncology looked at 38 existing studies on breast cancer treatment and quality of life issues, and found hair loss consistently ranked the most troubling side effect of treatment for women. "Significant alopecia [hair loss] is problematic," said Klein. "Every time you look in the mirror, you remember you're getting cancer treatment."
Many breast cancer survivors report that even when their hair finally grows back after chemotherapy it is often different in color or texture than the hair they had before, due to the period of time it takes the hair follicles to recover from the damage caused by the drugs.
Moreover, the feelings associated with hair loss impact nearly every aspect of a breast cancer patient's life -- from her self-image and sexuality to whether or not she is comfortable at work or even walking into the supermarket to buy a quart of milk.
When she first prepared for treatment, Tookes worried how people would react to her appearance if she lost all of her hair. But it didn't happen. Seven weeks into chemo, she finally felt confident enough to return the unused wardrobe of scarves. She still had a full head of hair. Because the cooling therapy was used only on her scalp, Tookes did still lose her eyebrows and "everything south of there."
Tookes is now cancer-free and says the therapy helped her stay optimistic about her prognosis. "My mother used to say, you just comb your hair and get yourself together and you'll get through hard times," she said.