Author Archives: state of health

Bogus Spine Surgery Hardware Enriched Company, Left Patients in Pain

Derika Moses, a former softball star, lost her job, and then her home, as she grappled with pain and illness after her spinal surgery. (Annie Tritt/CIR)

Derika Moses, a former softball star, lost her job, and then her home, as she grappled with pain and illness after her spinal surgery.
(Annie Tritt/CIR)

By Christina Jewett and Will Evans, The Center for Investigative Reporting

This story was originally published by The Center for Investigative Reporting.

With a metallic clatter, evidence of an elaborate scheme to enrich a few landed in the receiving room of Richard Walker’s surgical supply firm in South Africa.

 ‘I’m a walking time bomb.’

Although the true extent of the caper remains buried in the necks and backs of people scattered around the U.S., it began to unravel that day in 2009.

Ortho Sol makes precision screws for the most delicate of construction projects: spinal fusion. Doctors around the world drive them into the vertebrae of patients with devastating back injuries.

The company had repossessed some of its screws after one U.S. distributor – Spinal Solutions LLC – stopped paying its bills. But now, nestled with the returns, the brighter yellow luster of a few screws caught Walker’s eye.

Testing confirmed his fears. Some were not made of his firm’s medical-grade titanium. Their uneven threads showed potential for backing out or breaking, he said. He feared the laser-etched markings intended to make them look authentic could be toxic to patients. Continue reading

Schools Provide Vision Testing — Eyeglasses A Bigger Challenge

(Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

San Jose student receives eye exam from nonprofit “Vision to Learn.” (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource Today)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource Today

It was a good week for the 90 students at Merritt Trace Elementary School in San Jose who climbed into a mobile eye exam van and emerged with the promise of a free pair of eyeglasses. But for thousands of students across the state who need glasses but don’t have them, it was another blurry week of not seeing the blackboard or the letters in a book.

Effective Jan. 1, two new state laws will clarify and expand the protocol for mandatory vision screening of students. But they don’t address the crux of a major children’s health conundrum: ensuring that students who fail the vision test actually get eyeglasses.

As many as one in four students in kindergarten through 12th grade has a vision problem, but in some California schools, the majority of students in need of glasses don’t receive them, researchers said. One study of 11,000 low-income first-graders in Southern California found that 95 percent of students who needed eyeglasses didn’t have them, one year after their mandatory kindergarten vision screening.

“You would hope that the problems would have been caught,” said Dr. Anne Coleman, a co-author of the study and an ophthalmologist at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. Continue reading

Map: See How Obamacare Transformed Health Insurance Coverage in California

By Ronald Campbell, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

In 2013, 6.6 million Californians lacked health insurance.

Then came the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. By April of this year, Covered California, the
state’s health insurance marketplace, had enrolled 1.4 million people, although not all of them were previously uninsured. Today 1.12 million remain enrolled. An additional 2.5 million people enrolled through July in Medi-Cal, the state’s health plan for the poor.

In the map, click on a county to see the pre-ACA uninsured rate — and the number of people who signed up for Covered California or Medi-Cal. The Census Bureau will have data on 2014 total insurance coverage in September 2015.

Health Reform in California: A State of Accelerating Change

Gail Fulbeck and her husband paid $2,500 a month for health insurance in 2013. This year, they signed up for a Covered California plan and pay $165. (Lauren Whaley/Center for Health Reporting)

Gail Fulbeck and her husband paid $2,500 a month for health insurance in 2013. This year, they signed up for a Covered California plan and pay $165. (Lauren Whaley/Center for Health Reporting)

By Deborah Schoch and Lauren M. Whaley, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

Gail Fulbeck, 64, relies on her body for work. She hauls soda, energy drinks, snacks and water to the 23 vending machines she owns around downtown Sacramento.

The physical demands of her job, coupled with her husband’s history of migraines and bad knees, make health insurance essential.

Last year, Fulbeck and her husband paid a monthly insurance premium of $2,555.

Starting Jan. 1 of this year, the couple’s premium for a nearly identical plan totaled $165. It was, she said, almost unbelievable. Continue reading

Look Out for Nasty Flu Season, CDC Says

(Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

(Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

By Rob Stein, NPR

We may be in for a nasty flu season. That’s the warning out today from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC is worried because the most common strain of flu virus circulating in the United States is one called H3N2. In previous years, H3N2 strains have tended to send more people to the hospital than other strains — and cause more deaths, especially among the elderly, children and people with other health problems.

Another concern is that more than half of the H3N2 viruses tested so far this year have “drifted,” meaning they have mutated slightly from the strain used to make this year’s flu vaccine. Continue reading

How Obesity Spills Over Into Our Sex Lives

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Irene Noguchi

Journalist Sarah Varney’s book might make you think twice the next time you step on a scale.

Over two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and that extra weight increases the risk of all kinds of physical health problems.

But Varney looked at an under-reported area — how being significantly overweight contributes to sexual problems, both emotional and physical — in her new book “XL Love: How the Obesity Crisis is Complicating America’s Love Life.”

For starters being overweight or obese leads to riskier sexual behavior for girls and women and erectile dysfunction for men, she described recently on KQED’s Forum. Continue reading

In Mexico, People Drinking Less Soda After New Tax

Armando Huerta was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes two years ago. He says he's since cut out soda and fried foods. (Katie Schoolov)

Armando Huerta was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes two years ago. He says he’s since cut out soda and fried foods. (Katie Schoolov)

By Jill Replogle

Clinic number 27 in Tijuana is the biggest family medicine clinic in Mexico. A full 30 percent of workers— and their families — in this border city come here when they have a cold or joint pain. But the most common ailments, says clinic director Alonso Perez, are related to diabetes.

“That’s basically one of the critical diseases we have here,” Perez said. “Obesity and diabetes are rising, their complications are rising, and every day it’s from younger patients.”

Thirty percent of Mexico’s schoolchildren and 70 percent of adults are overweight or obese. In recent years, the country has competed with the U.S. for the unflattering title of fattest country in the world. Continue reading

FDA Considers Lifting Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Mina Kim and Peter Shuler

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will consider Tuesday lifting a 31-year-old ban on blood donations from gay men.

Originally fueled by fear and little understanding of AIDS, federal regulators in 1983 banned donations from men who have sex with men. Now a federal health advisory committee recommends that the FDA ease that ban, saying that men who have not had sex with another man for a year may donate blood.

Hank Greely is a professor of law and medicine at Stanford and directs the Center for Law and the Biosciences. He reminded listeners of how little we knew about AIDS when the ban was first put in place. “No one really knew what caused AIDS” at that time, he said. “They did know people were getting the disease from transfusions, and that gay men were one of the groups that had the highest incidence of the disease.” Continue reading

Scientists Show Dogs Really Do Understand What We Say

(emdot/Flickr)

(emdot/Flickr)

By Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR

Scientists — and anyone who lives with a canine — know that dogs pay close attention to the emotion in our voices. They listen for whether our tone is friendly or mean, how the pitch goes up or down and even the rhythms in our speech.

But what about the meaning of the words we say?

Sure, a few studies have reported on super smart dogs that know hundreds of words. And Chaser, a border collie in South Carolina, even learned 1,022 nouns and commands to go with them.

But otherwise, there’s little evidence that dogs differentiate between speech with meaningful words from sounds that contain only inflections, says neurobiologist Attila Andics, at the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest. Continue reading

Statewide Program Delights Schoolkids with California-Grown Produce

(David Gorn/KQED)

California-grown persimmons and pears on the lunch line in Elk Grove. (David Gorn/KQED)

By David Gorn

At Elk Grove Elementary School, just outside Sacramento, it’s lunchtime and kids are doing what kids do when they’re let loose from the classroom: running around, laughing and generally having fun.

Tying farm to school so children understand the connection.

But this day at Elk Grove has a little extra charge to it. It’s “California Thursday,” a program that brings locally-grown food into school lunch rooms. And more.

Out on the playground, there’s a lottery wheel going. Someone is running around in a carrot suit. Volunteer Katie O’Malley, a student from UC Davis, mans the almond-butter booth: whole almonds go in the top and come out below in a thick paste — sending 9-year-olds into fits of giggles.

And that’s the point, O’Malley said, making food fun. Continue reading