Call the Midwife: A Home Birth Story

The author's wife, Pippa, and their daughter, Caitlin, who was born at home, in 1982. (Courtesy: Nick Allen)

The author’s wife, Pippa, and their daughter, Caitlin, who was born at home, in 1982. (Courtesy: Nick Allen)

By Steven Talbot

My wife, Pippa, gave birth like a giraffe, standing up.

I was astonished. This wasn’t quite the nativity scene I’d imagined. Then again, I should not have been too shocked. Pippa grew up in South Africa, she’s very keen on giraffes, and she likes doing things unconventionally.

I should also mention that this was happening at home, in our bedroom, in the middle of the night, and that no one else was around. Except for our two-year-old son asleep in another room.

Not to worry. Women have been giving birth in their homes, in their own fashion, for centuries, right? Well, actually, not so much these days, at least not in this country. A mere 1.36 percent of births in the United States in 2012 took place outside a hospital. Continue reading

Governor Appoints New Director of Health Care Services

Jennifer Kent was  most recently executive director of Local Health Plans of California.

Jennifer Kent was most recently executive director of Local Health Plans of California. (Courtesy: DHCS)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) appointed Jennifer Kent as the new director of the Department of Health Care Services, a $9 billion state agency that oversees the Medi-Cal program.

DHCS is the agency that oversees Medi-Cal.    
Kent had most recently been the executive director of Local Health Plans of California, an organization representing 14 not-for-profit public health plans across the state.

“I’m very excited,” Kent said. “It’s a big job, so I’m both thrilled and a little overwhelmed.”

Kent replaces Toby Douglas, who was DHCS director for the past four years. Kent has worked at DHCS in the past — in fact, she and Douglas were both deputy directors in the department at the same time. Kent worked at the department from 2004 to 2007. She headed legislative affairs for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and has experience in both the public and private spheres of health care. Continue reading

Not Vaccinated? ‘Stay Home from School,’ Says Marin Dad of Leukemia Patient

Rhett Krawitt, outside a classroom at Reed Elementary, in Tiburon. (Courtesy: Carl Krawitt)

Rhett Krawitt, outside a classroom at Reed Elementary, in Tiburon. (Courtesy: Carl Krawitt)

Carl Krawitt has watched his son, Rhett, now 6, fight leukemia for the last 4½ years. For more than three of those years, Rhett has undergone round after round of chemotherapy. Last year, he finished chemotherapy, and doctors say he in remission.

Do you want to help the family of a child with cancer? Make sure your own children are vaccinated, doctor says.
Now, there’s a new threat, one that the family should not have to worry about: measles.

Rhett cannot be vaccinated, because his immune system is still rebuilding. It may be months more before his body is healthy enough to get all his immunizations. Until then, he depends on everyone around him for protection — or what’s known as herd immunity.

But Rhett lives in Marin, a county with the dubious honor of having the highest rate of “personal belief exemptions” in the Bay Area and among the highest in the state. This school year, 6.45 percent of Marin’s kindergarteners have a PBE which allows parents to lawfully send their children to school unvaccinated against communicable diseases like measles, polio, whooping cough and more. Continue reading

Amnio Alternative: Blood Test Gives Women New Option for Prenatal Screening

Ultrasound is often used for prenatal screening. It's just one of several prenatal screenings available to pregnant women. (Getty Images)

Ultrasound is often used for prenatal screening. It’s just one of several prenatal screenings available to pregnant women. (Getty Images)

By Nell Greenfield-Boyce, NPR

When Amy Seitz got pregnant with her second child last year, she knew that being 35 years old meant there was an increased chance of chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome. She wanted to be screened, and she knew just what kind of screening she wanted — a test that’s so new, some women and doctors don’t quite realize what they’ve signed up for.

This kind of test , called cell free fetal DNA testing, uses a simple blood sample from an expectant mother to analyze bits of fetal DNA that have leaked into her bloodstream. It’s only been on the market since October 2011 and is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration — the FDA does not regulate this type of genetic testing service. Several companies now offer the test, including Sequenom and Illumina. Insurance coverage varies, and doctors often only offer this testing to women at higher risk because of things like advanced maternal age.

“I think that I initially heard about it through family and friends,” says Seitz. “They had had the option of it given to them by their doctors.” Continue reading

Answers to Five Common Measles Questions

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Amanda Stupi

An outbreak of measles and a new report that identified clusters of vaccine refusals in Northern California have become this week’s hot topics. As such, KQED’s daily talk show Forum devoted an hour to the outbreak, and opened up the phones to listeners’ questions. The result: the sharing of some very good information. Here are answers to five common questions:

1. Can people who have been vaccinated against the measles still get it? 

Of the confirmed measles cases in California, at least five are people who were fully vaccinated. Experts aren’t exactly sure why this is the case.

“No vaccine is 100 percent effective,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital. The measles vaccine comes close — it protects 99 out of 100 people, but that’s “one percent of a lot of people,” she said. Continue reading

Judge Rules on Medi-Cal Backlog, Orders Timely Access to Benefits

(s_falkow: Flickr)

(s_falkow: Flickr)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

On Thursday, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction requiring the state to adhere to a 45-day limit for processing Medi-Cal applications.

The ruling by Judge Evelio Grillo was a victory for health care advocates in a lawsuit over the state’s extensive backlog in processing Medi-Cal applications. The Medi-Cal expansion and the first open enrollment period for Covered California brought millions of applications to the door of the Department of Health Care Services, which oversees Medi-Cal.

Computer issues hampered the processing of many of those applications, and in March 2014 the backlog of unprocessed claims peaked at more than 900,000 applications. It took many months to clear the bulk of those applications. Some of them are still hanging fire almost a year later, said Jen Flory, senior attorney in the Sacramento office of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Continue reading

California Bill Would Allow Terminally Ill to End Their Own Lives

Brittany Maynard, 29, terminally ill with brain cancer, ended her own life on Nov. 1, 2014. (Compassion and Choices/BrittanyFund.org)

Brittany Maynard, 29, terminally ill with brain cancer, ended her own life on Nov. 1, 2014.
(Compassion and Choices/BrittanyFund.org)

By April Dembosky

State lawmakers are renewing a call to give terminally ill patients more say over how and when they die. Senators Lois Wolk of Davis and Bill Monning of Santa Cruz introduced the “End of Life Option Act” on Wednesday. The bill would allow physicians to prescribe lethal medication to patients who request it.

If the bill passes, California would become one of six states that allow ‘aid in dying.’
“Seeing a daughter suffer and die slowly is torture,” said Robert Olvera, whose daughter, Emily Rose, died of leukemia last year at age 25.

The last four months of her life, she was bedridden, blind, and plagued by excruciating headaches that no medicine would alleviate. Olvera, a doctor, says his daughter wished she’d had the option to end her own life. Continue reading

State Measles Cases Now at 73; Expect More

Five Disney staff members are among California's cases. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Five Disneyland staff members are among California’s cases. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Update, Monday, 1/26: The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said Monday that California now has 73 confirmed cases of measles.

Update, Friday, 1/23: The CDPH said Friday that 68 Californians have confirmed cases of measles.

Original post, Wed. 1/21:

State health officials report 59 confirmed cases of measles in nine counties. The patients range in age from 7 months to 70 years. The California Department of Public Health has linked 42 of these cases to people who visited Disneyland or Disney’s California Adventure Park. Initially, cases were linked to people who visited the parks in mid-December, but there are more confirmed cases who visited the parks in January while infectious.

The outbreak has spread beyond California with seven cases in Utah, Washington, Colorado and Oregon. Mexico has also confirmed a case.

Vaccination status is known for 34 of the California patients. State officials say that 28 were not vaccinated at all, one was partially vaccinated and five were fully vaccinated. (Six of the unvaccinated were babies, too young to be vaccinated.)

“Devastating Consequences”

“Measles is not a trivial illness,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez. “It can be very serious with devastating consequences.”  Those consequences include pneumonia, encephalitis, and even death. Before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, 500 people a year died of the disease nationwide. In the current outbreak, 25 percent of people with measles have been hospitalized. Continue reading

For Greater Happiness, Avoid the ‘Busy-Ness’ Trap

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Jill Suttie, Berkeleyside

In 2009, Christine Carter felt like she had it all. Working her dream job at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, she was helping further the study and dissemination of the science of happiness. She had two wonderful kids, a best-selling book called Raising Happiness, a popular blog, and frequent requests for speaking engagements.

“Researchers call busyness ‘cognitive overload’ — which makes us worse at everything.”

Then she got sick. At first, it seemed like no big deal—just a little strep throat. But she took a round of antibiotics and didn’t recover; then she took more. Nine courses of antibiotics later, she still hadn’t healed. Instead, she ended up in a hospital with a severe kidney infection. The diagnosis?

“Exhaustion,” says Carter. “My body had basically lost the ability to heal itself.“

That’s when she realized something was really wrong. Her life had become completely out of whack, and it was taking its toll. Continue reading

Some Employers Say Same-Sex Couples Must Get Married

(David Lucas/Getty Images)

(David Lucas/Getty Images)

By Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News

Until recently, same-sex couples could not legally marry. Now, some are finding they must wed if they want to keep their partner’s job-based health insurance and other benefits.

Will companies eliminate benefit programs for unmarried partners?

With same-sex marriage now legal in 35 states and the District of Columbia, some employers that formerly covered domestic partners say they will require marriage licenses for workers who want those perks.

“We’re bringing our benefits in line, making them consistent with what we do for everyone else,” said Ray McConville, a spokesman for Verizon, which notified non-union employees in July that domestic partners in states where same-sex marriage is legal must wed if they want to qualify for such benefits. Continue reading