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VA Initiatives Reduce Staph Infections In Veterans

 

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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.”

Source: www.va.gov

Sick Man Has 'Complete Turnaround' After Hospital Reunion With Lost Pet

 

By Eun Kyung Kim

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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.'”

Source: www.today.com


Interpreter Services | UCLA Health (Video)

 

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.

Source: Youtube

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg And Wife Donate $25 Million To Fight Ebola

 

By  JAMES MARTIN

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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."

Source: www.cbsnews.com

How A Cooling Cap Could Change Breast Cancer Treatment

 

By JESSICA FIRGER

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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.

Source: www.cbsnews.com

New Test To Bump Up Diagnoses Of Illness In Kids

 

By MIKE STOBBE

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For more than two months, health officials have been struggling to understand the size of a national wave of severe respiratory illnesses caused by an unusual virus. This week, they expect the wave to start looking a whole lot bigger.

But that's because a new test will be speeding through a backlog of cases. Starting Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is using a new test to help the agency process four or five times more specimens per day that it has been.

The test is a yes/no check for enterovirus 68, which since August has been fingered as the cause of hundreds of asthma-like respiratory illnesses in children — some so severe the patients needed a breathing machine. The virus is being investigated as a cause of at least 6 deaths.

It will largely replace a test which can distinguish a number of viruses, but has a much longer turnaround.

The result? Instead of national case counts growing by around 30 a day, they're expected to jump to 90 or more.

But for at least a week or two, the anticipated flood of new numbers will reflect what was seen in the backlog of about 1,000 specimens from September. The numbers will not show what's been happening more recently, noted Mark Pallansch, director of the CDC's division of viral diseases.

Enterovirus 68 is one of a pack of viruses that spread around the country every year around the start of school, generally causing cold-like illnesses. Those viruses tend to wane after September, and some experts think that's what's been happening.

One of the places hardest hit by the enterovirus 68 wave was Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. The specialized pediatric hospital was flooded with cases of wheezing, very sick children in August, hitting a peak of nearly 300 in the last week of the month.

But that kind of patient traffic has steadily declined since mid-September, said Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatric infectious diseases physician there.

"Now it's settled down" to near-normal levels, Newland said. Given the seasonality of the virus, "it makes sense it would kind of be going away," he added.

The germ was first identified in the U.S. in 1962, and small numbers of cases have been regularly reported since 1987. Because it's not routinely tested for, it may have spread widely in previous years without being identified in people who just seemed to have a cold, health officials have said.

But some viruses seem to surge in multi-year cycles, and it's possible that enterovirus surged this year for the first time in quite a while. If that's true, it may have had an unusually harsh impact because there were a large number of children who had never been infected with it before and never acquired immunity, Newland said.

Whatever the reason, the virus gained national attention in August when hospitals in Kansas City and Chicago saw severe breathing illnesses in kids in numbers they never see at that time of year.

Health officials began finding enterovirus 68. The CDC, in Atlanta, has been receiving specimens from severely ill children all over the country and doing about 80 percent of the testing for the virus. The test has been used for disease surveillance, but not treatment. Doctors give over-the-counter medicines for milder cases, and provide oxygen or other supportive care for more severe ones.

The CDC has been diagnosing enterovirus 68 in roughly half of the specimens sent in, Pallansch said. Others have been diagnosed with an assortment of other respiratory germs.

As of Friday, lab tests by the CDC have confirmed illness caused by the germ in 691 people in 46 states and the District of Columbia. The CDC is expected to post new numbers Tuesday and Wednesday.

Aside from the CDC, labs in California, Indiana, Minnesota and New York also have been doing enterovirus testing and contributing to the national count. It hasn't been determined if or when the states will begin using the new test, which was developed by a CDC team led by Allan Nix.

Meanwhile, the virus also is being eyed as possible factor in muscle weakness and paralysis in at least 27 children and adults in a dozen states. That includes at least 10 in the Denver area, and a cluster of three seen at Children's Mercy, Newland said.

Source: http://news.yahoo.com


Olympic Skier Mikaela Shiffrin Moved To Tears By Young Fan Who Battled Leukemia

 

By Eun Kyung Kim

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It takes nerves of steel to win World Cup, World Championship and Olympic titles like Mikaela Shiffrin. Yet, the alpine skier melted into a pool of tears after hearing from a young Swedish girl she has called her “little lucky charm.”

Shiffrin met 11-year-old Emma Lundell two years ago in Are, Switzerland, after winning her first World Cup title, NBC Sports reported. Emma was battling leukemia at the time and had asked Shiffrin for a photograph.

“That was the biggest wake up call," Shiffrin recalled for Swedish publication SPORT-Expressen, which surprised her with a video update from Emma, who is now 13 and has finished chemotherapy treatments. Emma, whose hair has grown back, says she's even healthy enough to resume cross-country skiing.

“I’m so honored that you have thought of me. To be mentioned as your lucky charm is the nicest and greatest thing ever,” she said in her message to Shiffrin, who repeatedly wiped away tears while watching.

“Wow,” Shiffrin said. “She looks so good. Oh my gosh, that makes me so happy. I wonder about her a lot actually.”

And the skier's reply to her young fan was equally moving. 

"Emma, I’m so glad that you’re healthy, and that your chemo is done, and your hair is beautiful,” she said.

“I hope I see you again, maybe in Are. I think about you a lot and I’m very glad that I met you because you keep me grounded when I get arrogant. And I think about how tough it must have been for you, and I’m so glad to have met you and I wish you the best.”

Source: www.today.com

National Nursing Survey: 80% Of Hospitals Have Not Communicated An Infectious Disease Policy

 

By Dan Munro

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Released on Friday, the survey of 700 Registered Nurses at over 250 hospitals in 31 states included some sobering preliminary results in terms of hospital policies for patients who present with potentially infectious diseases like Ebola.

  • 80% say their hospital has not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola
  • 87% say their hospital has not provided education on Ebola with the ability for the nurses to interact and ask questions
  • One-third say their hospital has insufficient supplies of eye protection (face shields or side shields with goggles) and fluid resistant/impermeable gowns
  • Nearly 40% say their hospital does not have plans to equip isolation rooms with plastic covered mattresses and pillows and discard all linens after use, less than 10 percent said they were aware their hospital does have such a plan in place
  • More than 60% say their hospital fails to reduce the number of patients they must care for to accommodate caring for an “isolation” patient

National Nurses United (NNU) started the survey several weeks ago and released the preliminary results last Friday (here). The NNU has close to 185,000 members in every state and is the largest union of registered nurses in the U.S.

The release of the survey coincided with Friday’s swirling controversy on how the hospital in Dallas mishandled America’s first case of Ebola. The patient ‒ Thomas E. Duncan ‒ was treated and released with antibiotics even though the hospital staff knew of his recent travel from Liberia ‒ now the epicenter of this Ebola outbreak.

On October 2, the hospital tried to lay blame of the mishandled Ebola patient on their electronic health record (EHR) software with this statement.

Protocols were followed by both the physician and the nurses. However, we have identified a flaw in the way the physician and nursing portions of our electronic health records (EHR)interacted in this specific case. In our electronic health records, there are separate physician and nursing workflows. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Statement ‒ October 2 (here)

Within 24 hours, the hospital recanted the statement by saying no, in fact, “there was no flaw.”

The larger issue, of course, is just how ready are the more than 5,700 hospitals around the U.S. when it comes to diagnosing and then treating suspected cases of Ebola. Given the scale of the outbreak (a new case has now been reported in Spain ‒ Europe’s first), it’s very likely we’ll see more cases here in the U.S.

As an RN herself ‒ and Director of NNU’s Registered Nurse Response Network ‒ Bonnie Castillo was blunt.

What our surveys show is a reminder that we do not have a national health care system, but a fragmented collection of private healthcare companies each with their own way of responding. As we have been saying for many months, electronic health records systems can, and do, fail. That’s why we must continue to rely on the professional, clinical judgment and expertise of registered nurses and physicians to interact with patients, as well as uniform systems throughout the U.S. that is essential for responding to pandemics, or potential pandemics, like Ebola. Bonnie Castillo, RN ‒ Director of NNU’s Registered Nurse Response Network (press release)

As a part of their Health Alert Network (HAN), the CDC has been sounding the alarm since July ‒ and released guidelines for evaluating U.S. patients suspected of having Ebola through the HAN on August 1 (HAN #364). As a part of alert #364, the CDC was specific on recommending tests “for all persons with onset of fever within 21 days of having a high‒risk exposure.” Recent travel from Liberia in West Africa should have prompted more questioning around potential high-risk exposure ‒ which was, in fact, the case.

As it was, a relative called the CDC directly to question the original treatment of Mr. Duncan given all the circumstances.

“I feared other people might also get infected if he wasn’t taken care of, and so I called them [the CDC] to ask them why is it a patient that might be suspected of this disease was not getting appropriate care.” Josephus Weeks ‒ Nephew of Dallas Ebola patient to NBC News

The CDC has also activated their Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

The EOC brings together scientists from across CDC to analyze, validate, and efficiently exchange information during a public health emergency and connect with emergency response partners. When activated for a response, the EOC can accommodate up to 230 personnel per 8-hour shift to handle situations ranging from local interests to worldwide incidents.

The EOC coordinates the deployment of CDC staff and the procurement and management of all equipment and supplies that CDC responders may need during their deployment.

In addition, the EOC has the ability to rapidly transport life-supporting medications, samples and specimens, and personnel anywhere in the world around the clock within two hours of notification for domestic missions and six hours for international missions.

Source: Forbes

Turnover Among New Nurses Not All Bad

 

By Debra Wood

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One out of every six newly licensed nurses (more than 17 percent) leave their first nursing job within the first year and one out of every three (33.5 percent) leave within two years. But not all nurse turnover is bad, according to a new study from the RN Work Project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“It seemed high,” said Carol S. Brewer, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor at the University at Buffalo School of Nursing and co-director of the RN Work Project, the only longitudinal study of registered nurses conducted in the United States. “Most of them take a new job in a hospital. We’ve emphasized who left their first job, but it doesn’t mean they have left hospital work necessarily.”

While many nursing leaders have voiced concern that high turnover among new nurses may result in a loss of those nurses to the profession, that’s not what the RN Work Project team has found. Most of those leaving move on to another job in health care.

“Not only are they staying in health care, they are staying in health care as nurses,” said Christine T. Kovner, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor at the New York University College of Nursing and co-director of the RN Work Project. “Very few leave. A tiny percent become a case manager or work for an insurance company, verifying people had the right treatment.”

Such outside jobs tend to offer better hours, with no nights or weekends. The nurses are still using their knowledge and skills but they are not providing hands-on care.

The RN Work Project looks at nurse turnover from the first job, and the majority of first jobs are in the hospital setting, Brewer explained. However, in the sample, nurses working in other settings had higher turnover rates than those working in acute care.

Kovner hypothesized that since new nurses are having a harder time finding first jobs in hospitals, they may begin their careers in a nursing home and leave when a hospital position opens up. On the other hand, those who succeed in landing a hospital job may feel the need to stay at least a year, because that’s what many nursing professors recommend. Hospitals also tend to offer better benefits, such as tuition reimbursement and child care, and hold an attraction for new nurses.

“Our students, if they could get a job in an ICU, they’d be happy, and the other place they want to work is the emergency room,” Kovner said. “They want to save lives, every day.”

The RN Work Project data excludes nurses who have left their first position at a hospital for another in the same facility, which is disruptive to the unit but may be a positive for the organization overall, since the nurse knows the culture and policies. The nurse may change to come off the night shift or to obtain a position in a specialty unit, such as pediatrics.

“That’s an example of the type of turnover an organization likes,” Kovner said. “You have an experienced nurse going to the ICU [or another unit].”

While nurse turnover represents a high cost for health care employers, as much as $6.4 million for a large acute care hospital, some departures of RNs is good for the workplace. Brewer, Kovner and colleagues describe the difference between dysfunctional and functional turnover in the paper, published in the journal Policy, Politics & Nursing Practice.

“Dysfunctional is when the good people leave,” Brewer said.

The RN Work Project has not differentiated between voluntary and involuntary departures, the latter of which may be due to poor performance or downsizing. And some nurse turnover is beneficial.

“If you never had turnover, the organization would become stagnant,” Kovner added. “It’s useful to have some people leave, particularly the people you want to leave. It offers the opportunity to have new blood come in.”

New nursing graduates might bring with them the latest knowledge, and more seasoned nurses may bring ideas proven successful at other organizations.

Once again, Brewer and Kovner report managers or direct supervisors play a big role in nurses leaving their jobs. Organizations hoping to reduce turnover could consider more management training for people in those roles.

“Leadership seems a big issue,” Brewer said. “The supervisor support piece has been consistent.”

Both nurse researchers cited the challenge of measuring nurse turnover accurately. Organizations and researchers often describe it differently, Brewer said. And hospitals often do not want to release information about their turnover rates, since nurses would most likely apply to those with lower rates, Kovner added. When assessing nurse turnover data, she advises looking at the response rate and the methodology used.

“There are huge inconsistencies in reports about turnover,” Kovner said. “It’s extremely important managers and policy makers understand where the data came from.”

Source: www.nursezone.com

 

After 30 Years, Blind Patient Can See With 'Bionic Eye'

 

By Linda Carroll

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For years Larry Hester lived in darkness, his sight stolen by a disease that destroyed the photoreceptor cells in his retinas. But last week, through the help of a “bionic eye,” Hester got a chance to once again glimpse a bit of the world around him.

Hester is the seventh patient to receive an FDA-approved device that translates video signals into data the optic nerve can process. The images Hester and others “see” will be far from full sight, but experts hope it will be enough to give a little more autonomy to those who had previously been completely blind.

Hester’s doctors at Duke University Eye Center believe that as time goes on the 66-year-old tire salesman from Raleigh, N.C., will be able to “see” more and more. After only five days, there has been remarkable progress.

“I hope that [after some practice] he will be able to do things he can’t do today: maybe walk around a little more independently, see doorways or the straight line of a curb. We don’t expect him to be able to make out figures on TV. But we hope he’ll be more visually connected.” said Dr. Paul Hahn, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the university in Durham.

It was at Duke three decades ago that Hester learned that something was seriously wrong with his eyes. After a battery of tests, doctors delivered the disheartening news: Hester had retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that would inexorably chip away at the rods and cones in his retinas, eventually leaving him blind.

“It was a pretty devastating blow, frankly,” Hester said. “I was 33 at the time.”

But Larry Hester wasn’t the sort of guy to sit around feeling sorry for himself. With the support of family, friends and a devoted wife, he found a way to live his life as normally as possible, depending on his memory to help him navigate around his home and his workplace.

One day his wife, Jerry, saw a story about a device that might help Larry. The FDA had just approved it for use in people who suffer from the same condition as Larry —some 50,000 to 100,000 in the U.S.  

Larry was just the kind of patient that Hahn was looking for to try out the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis system, and he became the first to get the device at Duke.

Argus was designed to bypass damaged photoreceptors and send signals directly to the next layer of retinal cells, which are on the pathway to the optic nerve.

A miniature video camera seated in a pair of glasses captures what the patient is “looking” at and sends the video through a thin cable to a small external computer that transforms the images into signals that can be understood by that second layer of retinal cells. Those data are then sent back to the glasses, which transmit the information through a small antenna to an array of 60 tiny electrodes that implanted up against the patient’s retina.

The electrodes emit small pulses of electricity that make their way up the undamaged retinal cells to the optic nerves, creating the perception of patterns of light. The hope is that patients will learn to interpret those patterns as images.

Last week with the new glasses perched on his nose, Larry sat in a chair at Duke surrounded by medical staff and his family — all waiting for Hahn to turn on the device. Directly in front of Larry was a brightly lit screen.

“At the count of three, we’re going to hit the start button and we’ll see what happens,” Hahn said.

At three, a smile started to play on Larry’s lips.

“Yes,” he said and the smile broadened across his face. “Oh my goodness!”

Jerry looked at him and exclaimed, “Can you see, Larry?”

After giving her husband a kiss, she asked again, “Can you really see?”

“Yes. Flashing. Big time flashing.”

Experts see the new device as the start of something big.

“It’s a fairly limited device, but it’s an amazing leap forward,” said Dr. Colin McCannel, a retinal expert at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It’s not the vision you or I are used to. But for someone who has been in complete darkness it must be amazing to see again. I think it’s absolutely phenomenal.”

Dr. Neil Bressler turns to the space program for an analogy.

“It’s like the first rocket ship that went up and down, or when John Glenn went into orbit,” said Bressler, a professor of ophthalmology and chief of the retina division at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “If you asked can we put a man on the moon the next day the answer would be no. It was the first of many steps to achieve the objective of putting a man on the moon.”

While the device isn’t even close to giving Larry back the vision he was born with, he can see contrasts, which allows him, for example, to distinguish between a white wall and a darkened doorway.

If you’ve lived in darkness for decades, that little bit of new-found vision can be a huge gift.

“The other night I was sitting on a dark leather chair,” Jerry said. “He was able to scan over and see my face because it was lighter. And he reached out and touched my face. That is the first time he had done that in a long time. It was a sweet and precious moment.”

Linda Carroll is a regular contributor to NBCNews.com and TODAY.com. She is co-author of "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic” and the recently published “Duel for the Crown: Affirmed, Alydar, and Racing’s Greatest Rivalry.”

Source: www.today.com

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