By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Annette Tersigni decided at the age of 48 that she wanted to make a difference. She attended nursing school and became a registered nurse three years later. “Having that precious pair of letters – RN – at the end of my name gave me everything I wanted,” she writes on her website. Before long, Tersigni discovered the rewards – as well as the physical and emotional challenges – that come with nursing.
“I was always stressed when I worked, afraid to get sued for making a mistake or medical error,” says Tersigni, who was working in the heart transplant unit of a North Carolina hospital. “Plus, working the night shift caused me to gain weight and stop working out.” Tersigni moved to another hospital, but the long shifts continued. Three years later, she left her job.
Tersigni’s experience isn’t unusual. Three out of four nurses cited the effects of stress and overwork as a top health concern in a 2011 survey by the American Nurses Association. The ANA attributed problems of fatigue and burnout to “a chronic nursing shortage.” A 2012 report in the American Journal of Medical Quality projected a shortage of registered nurses to spread across the country by 2030.
Work schedules and insufficient staffing are among the factors driving many nurses to leave the profession. American nurses often put in 12-hour shifts over the course of a three-day week. Research found nurses who worked shifts longer than eight to nine hours were two-and-a-half times more likely to experience burnout.
“Our results show that nurses are underestimating their own recovery time from long, intense clinical engagement, and that consolidating challenging work into three days may not be a sustainable strategy to attain the work-life balance they seek,” says study author Linda Aiken, PhD, director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
Deborah Burger, RN, co-president of the union and professional association National Nurses United, doesn’t believe that long work shifts tell the whole story. “Most people can work a 10- or 12-hour shift if they’ve got the right support and right level of staffing,” Burger says.
“In order for nurses to feel satisfied and fulfilled with their work, the staffing issues must be seriously addressed from a very high level,” says Eva Francis, MSN, RN, CCRN, a former nursing administrator. “Nurses also need to be able to express themselves professionally about the workload, and be heard without the fear of threat to their jobs or the fear of being singled out.”
A new study suggests that nurses’ burnout risk may be related to what drew them to the profession in the first place. Researchers at the University of Akron in Ohio surveyed more than 700 RNs and found that nurses who are motivated primarily by the desire to help others, rather than by enjoyment of the work, were more likely to burn out.
“We assume that people that go into nursing because they are highly motived by helping others are the best nurses,” says study author Janette Dill, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Akron. “But our findings suggest these nurses may be prone to burnout and other negative physical symptoms.”
RELATED: Managing Job Stress
That finding doesn’t surprise Jill O’Hara, a former nurse from Hamburg, NY, who left nursing more than a decade ago.
“When a person goes into nursing as a profession, it’s either because it’s a career path or a calling,” says O’Hara, 56, who now operates her own holistic health consulting practice. “The career nurse can leave work at the end of the day and let it go, but the nurse who enters the field because she is called to it takes those emotionally charged encounters home with her. They are empathetic, literally connecting emotionally with their patients, and it becomes a part of them energetically.”
Besides driving many nurses out of the profession, burnout can compromise the quality of patient care. A study of Pennsylvania hospitals found a “significant association” between high patient-to-nurse ratios and nurse burnout with increased infections among patients. The authors’ conclusion: A reduction in burnout is good for nurses and patients.
So what can be done? O’Hara thinks the burnout issue should be addressed early on, when future nurses are still in school. “I honestly believe the way to truly help nurses avoid burnout is to begin with a foundation of teaching while in school that stresses the importance of knowing yourself,” she says. “By that I mean your strengths and weaknesses. It should be taught that self-care must come first.”
Burger stresses the importance of taking regular breaks on the job. “If you’re not getting those breaks or they’re interrupted, then you don’t have the ability to refresh your spirit,” she says. “It sounds hokey, but it is true that you do need some brain downtime so that you could actually process the information you’ve been given.”
Tersigni, 63, now works part-time at a local hospital, specializing in the health and well-being of other nurses. She founded Yoga Nursing, a stress-management program combining deep breathing, quick stretches, affirmations, and relaxation and meditation techniques. “All of these can be done anytime throughout the day,” Tersigni says. “I even teach nurses to teach these to their patients. So the nurse breathes, stretches, and relaxes, while also teaching it to the patient.”
By Felicity Dryer
Infographic Courtesy of PresidioHomeCare.com
By Felicity Dryer
We live in a high-stress world. Between having to attend to work, kids, homes and run back and forth between meetings and all of the other demands of everyday life, to say that things can get stressful is an understatement.
If your constant on-the-go lifestyle has left you feeling run down, beat down and just plain old exhausted, then you need to stop and smell the proverbial roses for a little bit.
Taking time to enjoy something that is peaceful and that is just for you can do wonders for your health, your mental clarity and for your happiness. You don’t have to invest much time in such activities, either; reserving just 30 minutes a day to something that you enjoy and that promotes a bit of peacefulness and tranquility can do wonders.
Here’s a look at some activities that you can do for just 30 minutes a day and that will provide you with some simply amazing benefits.
Yoga: It seems like yoga is all the rage in the fitness world as of late (well, not really as of late; it’s been a trend for quite a while) – and there’s a reason why; yoga provides some pretty amazing benefits.
Just 30 minutes of yoga a day will help to increase your strength and flexibility, as well as tone your body. In addition to physical benefits, yoga can also increase your brain function. A recent study conducted by the University of Illinois found that people who participated in just 20 minutes of yoga a day experienced an increase in the speed and accuracy of their brain functions. Yoga also helps to reduce stress levels and boosts mental clarity; talk about some pretty amazing benefits for just 30 minutes of your time each day.
Meditation: Another activity that can provide fantastic benefits in just 30 minutes a day is meditation. When you think of people meditating, what comes to mind? People who are more peaceful, more astute and have more clarity? If so, there’s a good reason why – Because meditation helps to promote all of these things.
In fact, just 30 minutes of meditating a day can boost your creative thinking abilities, heighten your energy levels, decrease your stress levels and even ease the feelings of depression.
A Long Walk: If someone tells you to ‘go take a walk’, take them up on it! There are so many wonderful benefits associated with walking, and the best part is, it is so easy to do. Walking for just 30 minutes a day improves your cardiovascular health, decreases stress and anxiety, helps to keep off excess weight, tones muscles, boosts energy levels and it can even help to decrease your risk of dementia. Walking also just makes you happy. So kick off those painfulwork shoes and dust off your sneakers, and get moving. There is nothing more therapeutic than soaking up the warm sunshine and observing the beauty of nature while walking on a nice day.
Reading: Everyone knows that reading is important, but do you know why? Reading for just 30 minutes each day can increase your vocabulary, boost your creative thinking and critical thinking skills, stimulate your mind, improve your memory and focus and decrease stress levels. So, when you’re feeling like you just need to escape for a little while, curl up with a book or a magazine and submerse yourself in reading.
No matter how crazy your lifestyle is, you can spare just 30 minutes a day to enjoy the benefits that one of these activities can provide. You’ll be amazed by how much happier you will feel – you owe it to yourself!
By David McNamee
Wearable tech is all the rage right now, with Google Glass and now the Apple Watch being gadget fiends' latest must-have items. Electronic activity monitors may be the most popular example of health-monitoring wearable technology. A new analysis from researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston - published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research - compared 13 of these devices.
"Despite their rising popularity, little is known about how these monitors differ from one another, what options they provide in their applications and how these options may impact their effectiveness," says Elizabeth Lyons, senior author of the new study and assistant professor at the Institute for Translational Sciences at the university.
"The feedback provided by these devices can be as, if not more, comprehensive than that provided by health care professionals," she adds.
Lyons and her colleagues assessed 13 wearable activity monitors available on the consumer market. The team wanted to see how the devices may promote healthy and fit behaviors and determine how closely they match successful interventions.
The researchers also compared the functionality of the devices and their apps with clinical recommendations from health care professionals.
In their analysis, the researchers write that most of the goal-setting, self-monitoring and feedback tools in the apps bundled with the devices were consistent with the recommendations health care professionals make for their patients when promoting increase in physical activity.
Despite this, the analysis also finds that some proven successful strategies for increasing physical activity were absent from the monitors. These included:
- Action planning
- Instruction on how to do the behavior
- Commitment and problem solving.
Interestingly, though, the authors suggest that the apps with the most features may not be as useful as apps with fewer - but more effective - tools.
The researchers also consider that how successful any monitor is largely depends on matching individual preferences and needs to the functionality of the device. For instance, someone who gets most of their exercise from swimming will benefit the most from having a waterproof monitor.
Applications for activity monitors beyond aiding weight loss?
The report also contains suggestions on applications for these monitors outside of their typical role as weight loss aids.
For instance, the researchers suggest the wearable activity monitors could be useful for patients who have been released from the hospital. These patients could use the monitors to measure their recovery and quality of life.
Also, health care professionals could use data from the monitors to identify at-risk patients for secondary prevention and rehabilitation purposes.
"This content analysis provides preliminary information as to what these devices are capable of, laying a foundation for clinical, public health and rehabilitation applications. Future studies are needed to further investigate new types of electronic activity monitors and to test their feasibility, acceptability and ultimately their public health impact."
The study only looked at devices compatible with personal computers and iOS mobile devices, and the researchers admit it is possible "the experiences of Android users may differ from our experiences."
For three young siblings, eating is a life or death proposition, thanks to a rare white blood cell disease, reported KSL.
The Frisk children— Jaxen, age 9; Tieler, age 7; Boston, age 4— have spent weeks in the hospital and are allergic to pets, pollens and multiple foods. The siblings all have eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorder (EGID), an abnormal build-up of eosinophil white blood cells in their GI tracts that can cause inflammation and tissue damage in response to foods and allergens. While the disease is relatively rare, it has increased in prevalence over the past decade affecting one in 2,000 people, according to the American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders.
"You need food to survive. But it is also what can kill you in our house," their mother, Jenny Frisk, told KSL.
When they’re exposed to their triggers, the children could have an anaphylactic reaction— potentially fatal allergic symptoms throughout the body.
"Tieler had one sip of milk when she was 1-year-old, and instantly started projectile vomiting and got hives all over her body," her father, Gary, told KSL. "It's a life and death situation at birthday parties, or religious events, or anywhere we go, because food is such a big part of our culture."
Between the three children, they’ve endured 11 surgeries and eight extended hospital stays, with more expected in the future.
On top of the children’s health issues, Gary battled cancer two years ago and Jenny had to have several surgeries due to serious adrenal insufficiencies that were unrelated to EGID.
The family has been bankrupted twice by medical bills. While they make too much income to qualify for help, they don’t make enough to pay for their children’s medical needs. Friends and family have started a GoFundMe account to raise money to pay for genetic testing and treatment.
"When we're looking at an illness that is not curable, and the treatment isn't covered (by insurance), the light at the end of the tunnel is really far away," Jenny said.
By David McNamee
Recently, Medical News Today reported on a breakthrough in xenotransplantation - the science of transplanting functional organs from one species to another. Scientists from the Cardiothoracic Surgery Research Program of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) demonstrated success in keeping genetically engineered piglet hearts alive in the abdomens of baboons for more than a year.
While that is a sentence that might sound absurd, or even nightmarish to some, xenotransplantation is a credible science involving the work of leading scientists and respected organizations like the NHLBI and the Mayo Clinic, as well as large private pharmaceutical firms such as United Therapeutics and Novartis.
What is more, xenotransplantation is not a new science, with experiments in cross-species blood transfusion dating as far back as the 17th century.
Why transplant the organs of animals into living humans?
The reason why xenotransplantation is a burning issue is very simple: because of a crippling shortage of available organs for patients who require transplants, many people are left to die.
US Government information on transplantation reports that an average of 79 people receive organ transplants every day, but that 18 people die each day because of a shortage of organs.
The number of people requiring an organ donation in the US has witnessed a more than five-fold increase in the past 2 decades - from 23,198 in 1991 to 121,272 in 2013. Over the same period, the number of people willing to donate has only doubled - 6,953 donors in 1991, compared with 14,257 donors in 2013.
Although some researchers are attempting to solve this shortage by developing mechanical components that could assist failing organs, these devices are considered to increase the risk of infection, blood clots and bleeding in the patient.
Stem cell research is also actively pursuing the goal of growing replacement organs, but despite regular news of breakthroughs, the reality of a functional lab-grown human organ fit for transplant is a long way off.
As the NHLBI's Dr. Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, who led the team responsible for the baboon trial, explained:
"Until we learn to grow organs via tissue engineering, which is unlikely in the near future, xenotransplantation seems to be a valid approach to supplement human organ availability. Despite many setbacks over the years, recent genetic and immunologic advancements have helped revitalized progress in the xenotransplantation field.
Xenotransplantation could help to compensate for the shortage of human organs available for transplant."
Xenotransplantation's eccentric history
The earliest known example of using animal body parts to replace diseased or faulty components of human bodies dates back to the 17th century, when Jean Baptiste Denis initiated the clinical practice of animal-to-human blood transfusion.
Perhaps predictably, the results were not successful and xenotransfusion was banned in Denis' native France.
Fast forward to the 19th century and a fairly unusual trend for skin xenotransplantation had emerged. Animals as varied as sheep, rabbits, dogs, cats, rats, chickens and pigeons were called upon to donate their skin, but the grafting process was not for the squeamish.
Medical records show that, in order for the xenosurgeons of the time to be satisfied that the donor skin had vascularized (developed capillaries), the living donor animal would usually have to be strapped to the patient for several days. However, the most popular skin donor - the frog - was typically skinned alive and then immediately grafted onto the patient.
Despite several reputed successes, modern physicians are skeptical that these skin grafts could have been in any way beneficial to the patient.
The first corneal xenotransplantation - where the cornea from a pig was implanted in a human patient - took place as early as 1838. However, scientists would not look seriously again at the potential for xenotransplantation until the 20th century and the first successes in human-to-human organ transplantation.
In 1907, the Nobel prize-winning surgeon Alexis Carrel - whose work on blood vessels made organ transplantation viable for the first time - wrote:
"The ideal method would be to transplant in man organs of animals easy to secure and operate on, such as hogs, for instance. But it would in all probability be necessary to immunize organs of the hog against the human serum. The future of transplantation of organs for therapeutic purposes depends on the feasibility of hetero [xeno] transplantation."
These words have been described as "prophetic" because Carrel is describing the exact line of research adopted by xenotransplantation scientists a century later.
A few years later, another leading scientist, Serge Voronoff, would also predict modern science's interest in using the pancreatic islets of pigs to treat severe type 1 diabetes in human patients. However, other xeno experiments by Voronoff have not endured critical reappraisal quite so well.
Voronoff's main scientific interest was in restoring the "zest for life" of elderly men. His attempt to reverse this element of the aging process was to transplant slices of chimpanzee or baboon testicle into the testicles of his elderly patients.
Incredibly, this surgery proved quite popular, with several hundred operations taking place during the 1920s in both the US and Europe.
By the 1960s, despite limited availability, the transplantation of kidneys from deceased to living humans had been established by French and American surgeons.
Dialysis was not yet in practice and given that, in the absence of an available donor kidney, his renal failure patients were facing certain death, the Louisiana surgeon Keith Reemtsma took the unprecedented step of transplanting animal kidneys. He chose chimpanzees as the donor animals, due to their close evolutionary relationship with humans.
Although 12 of his 13 chimpanzee-to-human transplants resulted in either organ rejection or infectious complications within 2 months, one patient of Reemtsma continued to live and work in good health for 9 months, before dying suddenly from acute electrolyte disturbance. Autopsy showed that the chimpanzee kidneys had not been rejected and were working normally.
Experiments in the xenotransplantation of essential organs continued in living patients until the 1980s - without lasting success. However, the procedures attracted widespread publicity, with some attributing a subsequent rise in organ donation to the failed attempt to transplant a baboon heart into a baby girl in 1983.
Where does research currently stand?
Despite the more obvious similarities between humans and other primates, pigs are now considered to be the most viable donor animal for xenotransplantation.
Despite diverging from humans on the evolutionary scale about 80 million years ago, whole genome sequencing of the pig has shown that humans and pigs share similar DNA, while the pig's organs - in size and function - are anatomically comparable to humans.
However, perhaps the main advantage of the pig as donor is in its availability - potentially providing an "unlimited supply" of donor organs. If transplantation is viable, pig donors would provide an immediate solution for the organ shortage problem.
Xenotransplantation optimists also believe that the process can improve on the existing success rate of transplantation of human organs. By keeping the pigs healthy, regularly monitored for infection, and alive right until the point when the required organs are excised under anesthesia, the adverse effects associated with transplantation from deceased donors - such as non-function of organs or transmission of pathogens - would be much less likely, this group argues.
However, there are still significant scientific barriers to the successful implementation of xenotransplantation.
The company United Therapeutics - who moved into xenotransplantation research after the daughter of CEO Martine Rothblatt was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a condition with a 90% shortage rate of available lung donors - claim to be making progress with eliminating these barriers.
MedIcal News Today spoke to Rothblatt, who once claimed that the company will have successfully transplanted a pig lung into a human patient "before the end of the decade."
"For a first clinical trial, which was my goal, I think we are on track," she told us. "I said our goal by end of decade is to transplant a xeno lung into a patient with end-stage lung disease and bring them safely back to health."
As well as pioneering lung xenotransplants, the company has ambitions of making pig kidneys, livers, hearts and corneas available for human transplant.
"All are years away, but lung may well be most difficult," admits Rothblatt. "We call it the canary in the coal mine."
In order to make pig lungs compatible with humans, Rothblatt has estimated that 12 modifications need to be made to the pig genome that will prevent rejection. She claims United Therapeutics have now succeeded in making six of these genome modifications.
Also, it was United Therapeutics' genetically modified piglets that provided the world record-beating pig hearts for the NHLBI study in baboons.
Opposition to xenotransplantation
However, science is not the only obstacle to xenotransplantation. Despite clearing all steps of the research with ethics committees at every step, Rothblatt - who has a doctorate in medical ethics - admits there will be unforeseeable regulatory dilemmas and ethics conversations before xenotransplantation can be accepted into clinical practice.
In 2004, the UK's Policy Studies Institute conducted the first major survey of public attitudes towards potential solutions for the organ shortage crisis. The public perception of xenotransplantation was shown to be overwhelmingly negative.
Indeed, response to animal-to-human transplantation was so hostile that some respondents demanded that it be removed as an option on the survey. Although many respondents considered xenotransplantation unethical, the major concern was that animal viruses could infect humans and spread into the population.
Following the survey, an intriguing debate over the ethics of xenotransplantation took place in the pages of Philosophy Now. Making the case against xenotransplantation, Laura Purdy - professor emerita of philosophy at Wells College in Aurora, NY - commented that "the xeno debate proceeds as if saving lives is our top moral priority." She argues that, from this perspective, it suggests that the lives lost down the line as a result of perfecting xenotransplantation do not count.
"What about the 11 million babies and children who die every year from diarrhea, malaria, measles, pneumonia, AIDS and malnutrition?" she questioned. "What about the half-million women who die every year during pregnancy and childbirth when simple measures could save most of them?"
We asked Prof. Purdy why the fact that people die from matters unrelated to transplantation issues would morally preclude science from attempting to also solve the issue of organ donor shortages.
"I agree that, other things being equal, saying that people are dying from other causes doesn't show why we should not also tackle this cause," she replied.
"But once one has taken on board the larger risks to society, both from the research as well as the deployment of the technology, as well as the probability that this is merely a bridge technology that, hopefully will be made obsolete by future developments (such as partial or whole artificial hearts) or advances in public health (making headway against diabetes) and the probability that both research and implementation will be very expensive, that seriously erodes the case for proceeding.
Resources for health are far from infinite. There is a great deal that we could be doing now to advance human health that does not have these downsides - why not focus more there?"
Whether public attitudes toward xenotransplantation have mellowed in the decade since the Policy Studies Institute's survey is not currently known.
However, as the technology advances and the likelihood of implementation draws closer, so too must the public conversation over the perceived rights and wrongs of animal organ transplantation advance in order to hold the science accountable.
Do you have a view on this issue? If so, use our comments box to join the debate.
Making the transition to working nights may feel a bit intimidating, but many night nurses, myself included, have grown to love the position! It tends to be quieter and less chaotic because the patients are generally asleep, and there's a special camaraderie that develops between a team of night nurses. Put these tips into practice to survive, and even thrive, in your night shifts.
Stack several night shifts in a row: Rather than spacing out your night shifts during the week and having to switch between being up during the day and up during the night, try to put all your night shifts for the week in a row. That way, you can really get yourself onto a schedule of being awake during the nights you work and sleeping during the days in between.
Nap before work: As you transition from being awake during the day to being awake as you work at night, take a nap in the afternoon to help you go into your first night shift as rested as possible. Alternately, if your schedule allows, stay up later than usual the night before your first night shift and sleep in as late as you can the next morning.
Fuel up with healthy foods: While sugars may seem like they provide energy, they also come with a crash. Before heading into work, eat a filling meal with a healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. Then bring healthy snacks for the night that include protein and fiber to keep you going strong. Some options include yogurt, mixed nuts, hard boiled eggs, cheese cubes, or carrots with hummus dip
Plan caffeine carefully: It can be tempting to drink a cup of coffee anytime you feel sleepy, but you may develop an unhealthy dependence or be unable to fall asleep when you get home after your shift. Therefore, try to limit yourself to just one or two cups of coffee per shift, and drink your last one at least six hours before you plan to go to sleep.
Create a restful sleeping environment at home: The key to surviving night shifts in the long term is getting lots of restful sleep after each shift. Set up room darkening curtains and a white noise machine to help you block out signs of the day. When you get home, don't force yourself to go to bed right away. Instead, develop a routine that includes some time to bathe, read, and relax as your body winds down after work. Try to avoid bright screens, which block your body from releasing melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.
With some attention to detail, you will probably find yourself really enjoying working at night. Many of the night nurses I know started out stuck on the shifts, but grew to prefer them. Plus, the pay differential doesn't hurt at all!
By Robert Preidt
Many children get anxious or afraid when they have to get a vaccination, but there are a number of ways that parents can make these shots easier for their kids, an expert suggests.
The first step is to explain to children in an age-appropriate way that the vaccinations help protect their health, said Rita John, director of the pediatric primary care nurse practitioner program at Columbia University School of Nursing in New York City.
"Children need to know that vaccines aren't a punishment or something negative, vaccines are something that keeps them from getting sick," John said in a Columbia news release. "When parents are anxious, they pass that fear on to their kids. The best way to talk about vaccines is to keep the conversation positive and focused on the benefits of vaccination."
Before a vaccination, you can reduce toddlers' and preschoolers' anxiety if you give them a toy medical kit so that they can give pretend shots to you or a favorite doll or other toy.
When you arrive for the shot, ask the clinician to use a numbing cream or spray to limit the pain caused by the needle. Blowing on a bubble maker or a pinwheel can help distract younger children during vaccinations, while listening to music, playing games or texting may benefit older children and teens.
"If the kids think something is going to reduce their pain, there can be a placebo effect where the technique works because they expect it to work," John explained.
"It doesn't matter so much what you use to make your child more comfortable so long as you do something that acknowledges that they may experience some pain and that they can do something to make it hurt less," she added.
Be sure to reward and/or praise children after a vaccination. For example, give stickers to younger children. "You want the final part of the experience to make kids feel like even if they suffered some momentary pain, it was worth it," John said.
"Good play preparation, a positive attitude about immunization, and bringing something to distract kids during the shots can all help make the experience better," she concluded.
By Jason Lee
Surgeons in Beijing, China, have successfully implanted an artificial, 3D-printed vertebra replacement in a young boy with bone cancer. They say it is the first time such a procedure has ever been done.
During a five-hour operation, the doctors first removed the tumor located in the second vertebra of 12-year-old Minghao's neck and replaced it with the 3D-printed implant between the first and third vertebrae, CCTV.com reported earlier this month.
"This is the first use of a 3D-printed vertebra as an implant for orthopedic spine surgery in the world," said Dr. Liu Zhongjun, the director of orthopedics at No. 3 Hospital, Peking University, who performed the surgery.
The boy was playing football when he headed the ball and injured his neck, and it was later confirmed that he had a tumor, Minghao's mother said.
Prior to the surgery, the patient had been lying in the orthopedics ward for more than two months, and he could occasionally stand up, but only for a few minutes.
Normally, a diseased axis would be replaced by a standardized, hollow titanium tube, Liu told Reuters.
"Using existing technology, the patient's head needs to be framed with pins after surgery," as his head cannot touch the bed when he is resting for at least three months, he explained. "But with 3D printing technology, we can simulate the shape of the vertebra, which is much stronger and more convenient than traditional methods."
Five days after the surgery, Minghao still could not speak and had to use a writing board to communicate. However, doctors said at the time that he was in a good physical condition and they expected him to make a strong recovery.
BY JULIANNE PEPITONE
Google mapped the world's streets and developed self-driving cars to roam them. Now, the company wants to map something much larger: perfect human health.
Google Baseline, announced last week, will collect molecular and genetic information from an initial 175 volunteers and later thousands more. The philosophy is to focus on the genetics of health itself, rather than focus on disease.
Health research experts agree that Google brings a fresh perspective and technological expertise to the complex world of genetics. But they aren't sold on all facets of Google's approach.
"We want to understand what it means to be healthy, down to the molecular and cellular level," Google said in a press release. Google repeated the phrase "what it means to be healthy" a few times -- and that's what worries one expert.
"My immediate question is, what does Google mean by that? Healthy for a six-year-old boy, or a 75-year-old woman? You're injecting values about the range of humanity, right off the bat," said Arthur Caplan, the director of the division of medical ethics at the NYU Langone Medical Center and an NBC News contributor.
Google isn't purporting to develop a model of the singular perfect human. The goal is to analyze participants' data from to uncover "biomarkers," or patterns, that can be used to detect disease earlier.
"It's a perfectly reasonable approach, but I wouldn't do it under the 'what it means to be healthy' mission statement," Caplan said. "Those are fighting words. The mother of a child with Down's syndrome may consider her child perfectly healthy."
What's more, genetics alone doesn't provide a full picture of health or of disease, pointed out Kedar Mate, M.D., the vice president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a Massachusetts-based not-for-profit.
"Genes are about 15 to 40 percent, behavioral patterns 30 to 40, socioeconomic factors 20 to 30, etc.," Mate told NBC News. "So even a wonderful genetic model is not a total picture of health."
What makes Baseline different, Google argues, is that it will "try to connect traditional clinical observations of health" like diet and other habits with genetic information.
But while Google (nor anyone) can't create the full model of perfect health, the company still brings two major advantages to the field: technological power and an outsider perspective.
"Anyone can collect 175 DNA samples," Caplan said. "But Google is a very, very powerful computational company. That's what makes it exciting."
Google's trove of technology resources and know-how could create a faster, smarter process for analyzing the links between genes and disease.
But not everyone in the field considers Google's computational power a major boost. Some genomics experts scoffed online at Google's assertion that Baseline is a "clinical research study that has never been done before."
"Frankly, anything Google does gets attention," Mate said.
"What would make it really different is Google's knowledge of so much of our behavior," he added. "If Google could take all of that and combine it with genetic information -- no other organization can offer us that."
But given what little we know about Baseline, it doesn't sound like Google is planning to do that -- at least not now. It's not clear they could, even if they wanted to.
Google declined to comment to NBC News on that point, or on the Baseline project overall. But the company told the Wall Street Journal, that use of data will be limited to medical and health purposes -- and won't be shared with insurance companies, for example.
Whether Google would -- or even could -- move to combine health data with the rest of the information it knows about our behavior, Mate insisted the nature of Google's business adds a unique element to the pursuit of health.
"You wonder if they’ll bring a fresh and different perspective, because this isn’t a stodgy academic project," Mate said. "The entry of a player like Google has the ability to stimulate the space -- and break it out of the way things have always been done."