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

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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

Fresno Community Garden is Sanctuary for Hmong Refugee

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Cha Deng Vang, 68, tends to the community garden at Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries. Working in the garden helps Vang, a refugee from Laos, relieve anxiety and get exercise. (Annabelle Beecher/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Refugees face unique challenges building lives in the United States. Cha Deng Vang fled Laos in 1987 after fighting as soldier in the US-backed forces. As part of our ongoing health series, Vital Signs, we hear from 68-year-old Vang who has found that a community garden for Hmong refugees at Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries has helped him build community and relieve stress. Chong Vang and Sam Chang helped to translate his story.

By Cha Deng Vang

On this side we are growing Hmong pumpkin. They’re very round and very big compared to the American version.

Growing up my parents taught me how to garden and farm. As soon as I turned 18, I became a soldier, and that was basically my entire life.

When I first came to America, I had no education. I couldn’t find a job which equals no money to help my family. So with no financial support, it was a lot of stress on the entire family. And on top of that we also had a lot of illness in the family, which also caused a lot of stress on me as well. Continue reading

Clues to Dementia Often Missed in Vulnerable Older Adults

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Dr. Anna Chodos, a UCSF geriatrician, has worked with many seniors who lived in dangerous situations due to lack of awareness and early screening for dementia. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: As Californians live longer, the number of dementia, a disease that destroys not only memory but also critical-thinking skills will grow. As part of our ongoing series on health, called Vital Signs, we hear from Anna Chodos, a physician specializing in geriatrics. She says that social services can often keep people with dementia safe in their homes, but many older adults aren’t getting the diagnosis they need. 

By Anna Chodos

To diagnosis [dementia] early is to give people a chance to be a part of planning for the future in a very meaningful way. And that’s exactly what I’m not seeing. I’m seeing people stuck in situations where they now don’t have the ability to engage with you in complicated decision making and they’re not making safe decisions for themselves.

Dementia can affect your ability to remember to pay bills. It affects your ability to comply with your medical plan. Continue reading

Gaining Respectful Health Care, a Struggle for Transgender Elders

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Pamela Howland, 76, moved back to San Francisco in part because of the discrimination she faced in Arizona hospitals because she is transgender. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: In the coming years, California’s senior population is expected to grow more than twice as fast as the total population. As part of our occasional series on health called Vital Signs, we’re spending the month focusing on older adults. Today we meet 76-year-old Pamela Howland. When she retired, Howland decided she could finally live as a woman after spending her entire life as a man. But being a transgender senior has come with many challenges, including discrimination, even in health care settings.. 

By Pamela Howland

I had decided that the years I had left, I wanted to live the way I wanted to live. It was a shame that I had to make the change because it would have been so much easier to continue living as a male rather than encounter the difficulties of living as a transgender female that doesn’t pass as female. Continue reading

In Oakland, Finding a Safe Place for Kids to Play

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The fear of street violence in her East Oakland community prevents Maria Peña (left) from taking her children to neighborhood parks and from allowing them to play in front of their home. A supervised playgroup provides that opportunity. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: When it’s too dangerous for children to play outside, what can parents do? Thirty-five-year-old Maria Peña recalls her own childhood in East Oakland as one spent playing happily on the streets with neighborhood children. Today, her community’s high crime rate makes the street a hazardous place for her two kids. As part of our ongoing health series Vital Signs, Peña describes how an East Oakland playgroup called Room to Bloom gives her four-year-old daughter a safe space to be a kid.

By Maria Peña

We were going to leave to a baseball game and something held us back from leaving. It was a drive-by in broad daylight.

My daughter is 4-years-old, and she’s like, “Why are they shooting? Why are these people doing this?” Continue reading

Turn Off Your Truck: Central Valley Teens Campaign to Cut Emissions

Theresa Moreno, 15, talks to a trucker about strategies to reduce pollution. (Alice Daniel/KQED)

Theresa Moreno, 15, talks to a trucker about strategies to reduce pollution. (Alice Daniel/KQED)

At the intersection of I-5 and Highway 41 lies Kettleman City, a frequent stop for big-rig truckers. But drivers often leave their trucks idling while they have a meal, and residents worry about the resulting air pollution. As part of our first-person health series “Vital Signs,” we hear from two people: Theresa Moreno and Maricela Mares-a la Torre, a community organizer with Greenaction. She trains young people to talk to truckers about air pollution. Mares-a la Torre begins:

What we find is that a lot of the truckers that are stopped up here at the junction, they’re going into the restaurants, they’re hanging out, checking their email, eating their lunch, and they’re letting their trucks idle because supposedly, they don’t want the air conditioning to turn off. But that’s against the law.

We’ve trained our youth to go out and talk to truckers about idling and diesel emission safety. We try to go out in pairs just because it makes you a little braver if you’re with somebody, and truckers can be, you know, a little bit gruff. Continue reading

How The Stigma of HIV Can Linger and Keep People from Care

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Lenworth Poyser (left) works with a colleague at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Poyser is a health educator for a project focused on reaching young, gay men of color who are HIV-positive. (Susan Valot/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Lack of health insurance isn’t the only barrier to getting medical care. The stigma and fear around HIV can keep people from seeking help. As part of our ongoing health series Vital Signs, we hear from Lenworth Poyser. He was homeless and living with HIV. Now, Poyser helps young HIV-positive men support each other through a group at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. 

By Lenworth Poyser

When I first came out, when I was still in Texas, I left my mother’s house. At the time I was 18. What she was basically saying is: You can be in this house, just don’t be gay in this house. And I couldn’t do it. So, I threw my clothes into a trash bag and got out.

My sister had invited me to move out to L.A., move out to L.A. And, when HIV hit, I was like, “Oh, life is too short.” So, I decided to just do it. Continue reading

Working with the Dying in California Prisons

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Reverend Lorie Adoff has trained over 130 inmate-volunteers to sit with and support dying prisoners at California Men’s Colony, a minimum- and medium-security prison in San Luis Obispo. After training inmates for eleven years, Adoff retired in 2013. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Many people hope to die surrounded by friends and family. But for prison inmates death can be unusually isolating. As part of our ongoing health series called Vital Signs, we hear from retired hospice chaplain Lorie Adoff. More than a decade ago, she helped launch a project called Supportive Care Services at the California Men’s Colony — a prison in San Luis Obispo. The program trained inmates serving life sentences to sit with other men dying behind bars.

By Lorie Adoff

First of all imagine, it’s very, very stark. There is nothing pretty about a hospital in prison. Nothing.

But I have discovered, working with the dying in prison, there is transformation. 

They have the opportunity to have family come and visit them on a limited basis. A lot of times because they’ve been there so long though, they don’t have anybody who it matters whether or not they die in prison. They’ve been in prison for 30 years or 40 years and who cares? So, dying alone is a very, very real situation in prison.

Before Supportive Care Services, there really wasn’t anything in place to be with the dying inmates. Patients who were dying in the hospital would be put in a room. A nurse would check on him periodically, until he died. Continue reading

Giving Birth in Prison: One Woman’s Story

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Natasha Smith, 37, plays with her children at her grandfather’s home in Huntington Beach. A unique program allowed Smith to live with her two youngest children while she served a four-year prison sentence. (Susan Valot/KQED)

Editor’s Note: In the past three years, more than 250 California inmates gave birth. Natasha Smith had her youngest daughter, Lydia, while at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla. The mother of four was serving time for drug possession and grand theft. This month, as part of our ongoing health series, Vital Signs, we’re bringing you personal stories of health care behind bars. Smith talks about reuniting with her baby — seven years ago — in a program that lets mothers serve their time outside of prison. There were once several such programs in the state. Now, only one Southern California facility remains. Reporter: Susan Valot

By Natasha Smith

I had a normal delivery, a vaginal delivery, so I got 48 hours. And then at the end of the 48 hours, I had to either arrange for someone to come pick up my child or she would go into the [foster care] system. So, I actually had Lydia’s father’s mother come and pick up the baby. And I didn’t really know her. It was very emotional handing over your baby to somebody you never even met.

You just kind of shut yourself down because it’s too hard to deal with: “Where’s my baby?” You just had a baby and your breasts are leaking. I mean, you’re lactating and everything else but there’s no baby. Continue reading

Life on the Street: Homeless Vietnam Veteran Fights Cancer

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John Buckingham, 62, a homeless Vietnam veteran, stands outside of a San Francisco grocery store. He lives on the streets and is fighting cancer. (Nick Arce/KQED)

Editor’s Note: For the nearly three million Americans who served in Vietnam, more likely than death in combat was a post-war life on the street. On a single night in 2013, more than 15,000 homeless Californians were veterans, many of whom served in Vietnam. As part of our ongoing health series called Vital Signs, we’re spending the month hearing from homeless Californians. John Buckingham is a 62-year-old homeless Vietnam vet living with cancer on the streets of San Francisco. He talks to us about his battle with illness. Reporter: Nick Arce

By John Buckingham

You know, I can be walking and all of a sudden I’ll get this real heavy pain in my body. I mean, like an earthquake hitting the ground and my whole body shakes. And then, all of sudden, I won’t feel so hot. I’ll feel like these cold and hot flashes. And I’ll see things.

It’s all because of the war. Because of Agent Orange.

Continue reading