Vital Signs 5What does health look like for you, your family, and your neighborhood? Share your story about what your community needs to be healthy on our Tumblr or on air.

If you would like to learn more, please contact KQED’s Jeremy Raff.


Treating Type 2 Diabetes With A Dose Of History

San Francisco poet Erica McMath has seen the devastating effects of type-2 diabetes first hand (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Erica Sheppard McMath has seen the devastating effects of Type 2 diabetes first hand (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

The diabetes epidemic is not abstract to Erica Sheppard McMath. As a girl, she watched her uncle deteriorate each time she saw him at family events. His eyes yellowed before he went blind. Then, his foot was amputated. Finally, he died from diabetes-related complications.

“It’s like seeing someone literally fall apart limb by limb because of what they’re putting in their mouth,” said McMath.

Growing up, diabetes was everywhere. In just a few years, one aunt was blind at 32, another was on dialysis, and a 9-year-old cousin started insulin treatment.
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Mental Health ‘Warm Line’ Helps Prevent Crises With Good Listening

Daisy Matthias is a counselor at the San Francisco-based Mental Health Triage Warm Line. Most callers are struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and stress. (Jeremy Raff /KQED)

Daisy Matthias is a counselor at the San Francisco-based Mental Health Triage Warm Line. Most callers are struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and stress. (Jeremy Raff /KQED)

Editor’s note: a warm line is a place where people struggling with mental illness, but not in an acute state of crisis, can call and talk to a trained counselor as long as they need to. As part our community health series Vital Signs, we caught up with Daisy Matthias, a counselor at San Francisco’s new warm line, in between phone calls.

By Daisy Matthias

The majority of the people call about anxiety, depression, loneliness, or even stress.

We’ll be there for as long as you need us. We don’t have a time limit. And other warm lines sometimes will have a time limit of 20 minutes, 30 minutes.

Every counselor has a history of dealing with mental health. Continue reading

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

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 is 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

Keeping A Watchful Eye On Farmworker Health

Ephraim Camacho, a community worker with California Rural Legal Assistance, hands out brochures on the Affordable Care Act, heat illness, and wage theft at a farmworker health fair in Huron, Calif. (Jeremy Raff/KQED).

Ephraim Camacho, a community worker with California Rural Legal Assistance, hands out brochures on the Affordable Care Act, heat illness, and wage theft at a farmworker health fair in Huron, Calif. (Jeremy Raff/KQED).

Editor’s note: California’s farmworkers face a litany of health hazards on the job: working bent over and carrying heavy loads of produce is hard on the back, hips, and knees; long hours in the sun can mean heat exhaustion, or worse. Employers don’t always provide the state-mandated access to shade, drinking water, and restrooms. The state’s regulatory agencies can’t keep a very close eye on such a large area.

To help fill this gap in enforcement, community health worker Ephrain Camacho drives the back roads with a pair of binoculars, pulling over wherever he sees a crew of workers to make sure they have the workplace protections they’re entitled to. As part of our community health series Vital Signs, we followed him to a health fair near Fresno to learn more about his work and about farmworker health.

By Ephraim Camacho

We call it ‘reading the land.’ You park on the side of the road and observe. The first thing we look for is the porta-potties, drinking water, and the shade.

If we see that there are not enough toilets, or that they’re lacking drinking water, or even drinking cups, we enter the field and talk to the employer about voluntary compliance. Continue reading

Video: San Francisco Homeless Veterans Get Permanent Place to Live

By Katie Brigham

At 58 years old, Clarence Cook finally has a place of his own to call home.

Living on the streets of San Francisco since 1997, the Army veteran has been in and out of jail for more than three decades while battling a heroin addiction.

Today, Cook has been clean for six months. Earlier this month, he become one of the first 30 residents to move into 250 Kearny — a single-room-occupancy property on the edge of San Francisco’s Financial District that has been newly renovated to house 130 homeless veterans. Continue reading

Video: Meet 72-Year-Old Rollerblader Frank Hernandez

Editor’s note: For seniors, exercise is an important way to prevent injury and retain independence. But it can be difficult to come up with a routine that works for you. Frank Hernandez of the Central Valley town of Delano solved that problem by turning to rollerblading. He’s now 72 and shows no sign of stopping. We visited the skatepark with Hernandez as part of our community health series Vital Signs.

By Frank Hernandez

When I first started I would rollerblade the skate paths, then I said, “I need more than this.”

I used to look at the X-Games, and I saw the rollerbladers back then in the 90’s, and I said, “Oh, I’m going to do that someday.” Continue reading

Out of Prison — and Hungry

Aus Jarrar was released from an eleven-year prison sentence with $200. He's got an internship as a drug and alcohol counselor, but until he starts to earn a wage he's relying on charity food-- he doesn't qualify for food stamps.

Aous Jarrar was released from prison after an 11-year sentence with $200. He has an internship as a drug and alcohol counselor, but because he doesn’t qualify for food stamps, he is relying on charity food. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Editor’s note: For nearly two decades, people with drug-related felonies were banned for life from getting food stamps, but that’s all changing now. Starting April 15, thousands of former inmates will be eligible for food stamps and other public benefits.

Until then, how do you feed yourself when you get out of prison with no money and little help? As part of our health series Vital Signs, we hear from Aous Jarrar. He was recently released from prison after serving an 11-year sentence for bank robbery. Now, without food stamps, he’s one charity meal away from hunger. We caught up with him as he rushed around downtown Oakland looking for food.

By Aous Jarrar

Walking by that restaurant back there, I smelled some barbecue. Somebody’s really cooking. You know the funny thing? Since I got out, I’ve been really full maybe three times.

It was a shock to me the morning I woke up out here that my breakfast wasn’t ready. I was in prison for a total of 11 years. I took breakfast for granted.

I’m Palestinian. I’m not a citizen so I don’t qualify for food stamps.

The prison system, they give us $200 to leave with. I had no clothes, and I have no food. So I had to make the choice: do I want look professional, so I can get a job? Or do I want to eat? Continue reading

Through Photos, Oakland Youth Focus On Neighborhood Health (Video)

Fifteen students stand facing an imaginary line bisecting the room.

“If someone in your family has diabetes, cross the line,” said Sidra Bonner, the UCSF medical student leading the session on community health. Twelve of the 15 students cross the line. “If you have been affected by gun violence, cross the line.” Every student shuffles across.

The game is called “cross the line.” The students playing have all returned to school here at Civicorps, an Oakland-based non-profit that helps high-risk young adults get a high school diploma and job training. The school is right next to the Port of Oakland. Outside, trains whistle and trucks rumble down the freeway.

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Video: Why the New Autism Benefit Is So Important to Medi-Cal Families

Effective this week, Medi-Cal now covers a key autism therapy, and some 12,000 kids stand to benefit statewide. One of the children who will benefit is Timothy Wilson, a bubbly 6-year-old who will now be able to get Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for people who are low income. ABA is the clinical standard of care for autism.

Timothy was 2 when he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. “He didn’t say mama, didn’t say dada,” says his mother, Jazzmon Wilson. He threw tantrums and hardly made eye contact. “You just see all your dreams go by the wayside.”

The Wilsons enrolled him in the Regional Center of the East Bay, where children under 3 receive state-funded services. He began ABA therapy, which breaks down everyday skills into bite-sized, learnable portions, then uses repetition, memorization and rewards to reinforce or discourage behaviors. Parents learn to lead their child in the therapy as well. In the video, Jazzmon works with Timothy — or Bubba as she calls him. Seeing him now, it’s hard to believe how affected he was at a younger age. Continue reading

School Nursing in Small-Town California: Much More Than You Think


Bernice Arnett, school nurse for the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District, is in charge of student health at the district’s seven public schools. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: School nursing is more than Band-Aids and ice packs. Nurses help students with complex medical conditions and tough home lives. Bernice Arnett is a nurse for seven schools in Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District — two Central Valley towns just south of Modesto. This month, our ongoing health series called Vital Signs focuses on prevention. Arnett talks about how she’s working to keep students and families in her community healthy.

By Bernice Arnett

There have been days where I have visited all seven sites in one day. But I was doing reactive nursing rather than proactive nursing. There were times that I’d have to actually triage in my head what I should go do first.

You treat the whole student. Sometimes you treat the whole family. And a lot of times, families are desperate. They don’t know where to turn. Continue reading