Category Archives: medical news

Taiwan creates interesting back story in Ebola fight

A fascinating back story has emerged in the worldwide campaign against the deadly Ebola virus.

It involves Taiwan, a country I’ve visited five times since 1989. It’s a highly developed, modern, technologically advanced country of some 25 million people packed onto an island of less than 14,000 square miles.

Taiwan is now playing a key role in combating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It is sending medical teams into the infected regions, lending aid and expertise. It’s also planning a stepped-up effort to protect its own population against any possible outbreak.

According to an essay written by Kent Wang, a Taiwanese foreign policy official: “Relevant agencies have been directed to remain on high alert as Taiwan needs to prepare for the worst. While no cases have been reported to date, Taipei is taking every precaution. This includes strengthened entry inspections, health education, international collaboration and quarantine exercises. Taiwan CDC had set up an emergency response team August 8 and organized three expert consultation meetings and 1,212 training sessions for more than 100,000 medical professionals and individuals.”

So, what’s the back story?

Taiwan doesn’t belong to the World Health Organization. It does have “observer status,” meaning that it can peer over WHO’s shoulder, but doesn’t reap any of the real benefit of actual membership. It’s been blackballed from joining the WHO by the People’s Republic of China, which still claims Taiwan as a “renegade province.” You see, Taiwan broke away from China in 1949 after the communists took control of the mainland government. Taiwan’s government set up shop on the island, made Taipei its capital, then set about building a first-rate economy.

The nations co-existed in a virtual state of war for decades. Taiwan was expelled from the United Nations after the U.N. recognized China in the early 1970s. The United States broke off diplomatic ties with Taipei when it set up its embassy in Beijing during the Carter administration.

There’s a certain irony today with Taiwan emerging as a key Asian player in the Ebola struggle. A nation that has been expelled from relevant worldwide health organizations is being seen as a leader in fighting an emerging health menace.


Two decades since Ronald Reagan said 'good bye'

This video is worth sharing today for a couple of reasons.

President Ronald Reagan spoke in his final major political appearance on Aug. 17, 1992 at the Republican National Convention in Houston’s Astrodome. I had the high honor to hear it while sitting in the press gallery.

Now, was I a huge fan of the former president? No. I never voted for him. But two decades-plus since this speech, I continue to marvel at how disarming he could be while calling down his political foes. He did so without the overt rancor we hear so much of today.

It’s instructive to listen to how he is able to make his points with strength and conviction, but without the open hostility his political heirs seems to delight in using — even while they invoke his name, as if it somehow legitimizes their vitriol.

The second reason I want to share this video is because precisely 20 years ago today President Reagan said farewell to a nation that elected him twice to the presidency. He did so in an open letter in which he proclaimed he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a terminal brain disorder that robs people of their cognitive skill.

He would live another decade before dying of the disease. His letter is as poignant as any I’ve ever read. Its eloquence is simple but profound.

It touched me deeply when I read it for the first time, as my own family struggled with saying goodbye to one of our loved ones, my mother, who died a decade earlier of this killer disease.

The letters is attached here:

My affection for Ronald Reagan has nothing to do with his policies. It does have to do with the courage he showed in telling the world of his affliction and, yes, the good humor he exhibited as he took his final bow on the national political stage.

I wish we had more of both — courage and self-deprecating humor — in today’s political world.


Assisted suicide causes serious conflict

Some social, moral and theological issues are clear to me.

Women have the right to choose whether to end a pregnancy; homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice, but is predetermined by one’s genetic code; God created the world, but didn’t do it in six calendar days. Those are my views, for better or worse.

Assisted suicide? Oh, brother. Someone pass the Pepto.

Brittany Maynard took her own life over the weekend in Oregon, my home state, which also allows for assisted suicide. She had suffered from terminal brain cancer. Doctors said she had no hope of surviving. She was left with two choices: die a slow, agonizing death and subject her loved ones to untold misery or take her life peacefully, quickly and clinically.

She’s now gone.

The debate rages on.

I’ve long struggled with whether human beings should be entrusted to do God’s work, to determine whether someone should live or die. The issue confuses and confounds me.

I get Brittany’s struggle. I understand fully her desire to spare her family such untold agony. I also try to understand the family’s desire to spare her the pain and agony that surely awaited her.

Then I ask myself: Would I want (a) to end my life or (b) allow a member of my family to make that decision?

The answer is “no” to both parts of that question.

But then I come back to what Brittany Maynard and her family wanted. Is it up to me or anyone else to make that decision for them? No. It’s their call exclusively.

Come to think of it, I might have persuaded myself that assisted suicide is one of those issues that only can be decided by those affected directly by it. The rest of us have no business determining someone’s fate.

The issue, however, still upsets my stomach.


Breakthrough in Alzheimer's research? Yes … maybe

For more than three decades I’ve had this intensely personal fascination with Alzheimer’s disease.

My mother died of complications from this horrific affliction. I’ve seen friends waste away and succumb to it, just as Mom did.

And just recently I learned that another member of my family has been diagnosed with it.

I am dreading what lies ahead on the road for this beloved family member.

Then I saw an item out of Florida that suggests a breakthrough might be at hand.

USA Today reports that scientists believe a common blood pressure medication might hold the key to treating a “trigger” that causes the disease to begin destroying a person’s brain.

Here’s how the newspaper reported it: “Scientists at the Roskamp Institute in Sarasota, Fla., have discovered a common enzyme in all three known triggers of the disease. The enzyme is shut off by the key chemical in Nilvadipine, a blood pressure medication used overseas for the last 20 years.”

It sounds rather complicated. It’s not a cure, per se. It’s not even the discovery of a drug that arrests the advance of the disease. The findings suggest that scientists have found a way to stop one of those so-called “triggers” through the use of a common drug to treat high blood pressure.

The disease affects more than 5 million Americans. The number is going to accelerate as the Baby Boom generation — that includes my wife and me — continues to age.

One doesn’t see telethons or lots of celebrities lining up to proclaim their desire to stop this killer. It just does its dirty work and people die quietly. Yes, plenty of famous folks have been taken from us by this monstrous disease.

The news out of Sarasota, though, heartens me and I’ll continue to raise awareness of findings as they occur.

I’ll also say prayers for the researchers to stay on the hunt for more potential miracles. I can tell you that millions upon millions of American families — not to mention others around the world — are cheering them on.


Sexual orientation or preference?

Apple boss Tim Cook has just burst out of the closet by declaring he is homosexual.

OK. That’s a big deal? I think not. He is who he is and that’s all fine and dandy.

Then comes U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Loony Bin, to suggest something else is at work here.

“Those are his personal choices,” Cruz said of Cook’s sexual orientation, meaning, I reckon, that Cook chose to be gay.

Cruz then added, “I love my iPhone.”

Is there any doubt now as to why Cruz and other outspoken Republicans are having trouble connecting with gay Americans?

I keep coming back to this notion a person’s sexuality is pre-determined. One doesn’t come into this world, in my view, grow toward adolescence, and then, when puberty kicks in, decide to become attracted to individuals of the same sex.

One’s sexuality is part of who they are. It’s in their genetic code, in their DNA.

For the freshman senator from Texas to ridicule someone’s sexual orientation by comparing it to his “love” for his iPhone cheapens the discussion.

As a friend once said to after me he revealed to the world many years ago that he had become infected with HIV/AIDS while also disclosing his own homosexuality, “Why would I ever choose to become the object of scorn and revulsion?”

He answered his own question. He didn’t choose it at all.



Perry to N.Y.: Learn from us

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has placed an important phone call to his colleague in New York and offered a critical piece of advice.

Don’t make the mistakes we made in Texas when handling an Ebola case, Perry reportedly told Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Good advice, governor.

The Texas Ebola case ended tragically for the Liberian man who brought the disease to the state. He died under the care of medical professionals in Dallas. A nurse who cared for him has just been released from medical care after she came down with the virus. Now  New York doctor who was in West Africa treating Ebola patients has been diagnosed with the disease and he apparently is responding to treatment.

Perry called Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to offer his assistance on how to handle the disease. Gov. Perry’s prime advice? Follow all the necessary medical protocols to the letter. A breach in protocol in Dallas apparently led to the nurse getting infected, according to the governor’s office.

The good news is that the nurse, Nina Pham, is now Ebola free.

There was some more advice Perry gave to Cuomo and de Blasio, according to the San Antonio Express-News:

“Perry shared some more lessons in separate Friday phone conversations with the officials, including regarding ‘the importance of informing the public about the realities of the Ebola virus in order to reduce misconceptions about its transmissions,’ his office said.”

Ah, yes. Public information.

A lack of accurate information has helped lead to the near-hysterical response in some quarters to the arrival of this disease.

A thorough dissemination of facts always should be of prime concern.

It’s good to remember that Ebola likely wasn’t on medical professionals’ radar when the patient arrived from Liberia. It’s on everyone’s mind now.

Gov. Perry has some valuable experience to share and it’s good that he’s sharing it.


Hey, what about that lawsuit?

Politico asks an important question: Why haven’t congressional Republicans filed that lawsuit against President Obama, contending that the president has misused his executive authority regarding the Affordable Care Act?

It’s just a short distance from Capitol Hill to the federal courthouse. The House GOP could file the lawsuit and get this thing started, yes?

Well, I have a two-part theory: First, the lawsuit lacks merit and, second, filing the lawsuit now with the world focused on much more grave issues, such as international terrorism, makes Republicans look petulant.

Politico also points out that the employer mandate, which is what the president delayed through his executive action, is set to kick in on Jan. 1. If the mandate starts — requiring employers to offer insurance to employees — then the lawsuit becomes moot.

House Speaker John Boehner announced his intention to sue Barack Obama with great fanfare. Then the world went up in flames in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Nigeria, Ukraine — have I missed anything?

The president has been tested time and again by real crises, not pestered by made-up problems brought to bear by political opponents at home whose sole intent is to stick it to him.

I still contend the speaker is a reasonable man. He knows how it would look for him to pursue this lawsuit now.

Almost no one in Washington believes that the ACA will be repealed. It’s working. It is providing insurance to millions of Americans.

If the Republicans were going to strike a blow against what they say is executive abuse of power, well, the time has passed.

Let’s move on to things that really matter.

Let’s try governing.

Alzheimer's marches on and on and on

Readers of this blog know that I’ve commented several times over the years about the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

It struck down my mother at an early age. She was 61 when she died 30 years ago. She never got the chance to grow old, to watch her grandchildren grow up and to enjoy those so-called “golden years.”

I’ve noted with dismay that research for Alzheimer’s disease — a degenerative condition that eats away at a person’s brain — has been given the short shrift. Public attention has turned to HIV/AIDS, various forms of cancer and even chronic depression.

Why, I learned this week that Congress is planning a hearing to discuss the dangers of drowsy driving.

Drowsy driving is dangerous? Who knew?

Meanwhile, 5 million Americans are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Their loved ones will suffer the most. Eventually, Alzheimer’s patients lose all cognitive ability. They won’t know their names, or the names of those who love them. They tend to become incontinent. The effects of this disease are ghastly in the extreme.

The numbers are going to grow as the nation continues to age.

Well, another member of my family has announced that he has been diagnosed with early onset of this disease. I won’t reveal who it is because he doesn’t yet know that I am disclosing this news.

He said in an email that he has “a long way to go prior to ‘losing it.’ and now I’m on medication to slow the progression even further.”

This family member is very dear to my wife, our sons and to me.

My intention is to use this forum as a bully pulpit to keep calling attention to the need to step up Alzheimer’s disease research, to find a cure, perhaps a vaccine and to improve therapies that can arrest the inevitable deterioration that this disease brings upon those who suffer it.

While the media keep hyping an Ebola “crisis” that doesn’t exist in this country, they are giving scant attention to an actual crisis that is claiming the lives of Americans every day.

NIH boss blames budget cuts for Ebola mess

A dose of self-awareness is in order for critics of the Obama administration’s response to this Ebola matter.

Pay attention, congressional Republicans. I’m talking about you.

The head of the National Institutes for Health says budget cuts have derailed efforts to find a vaccine for the deadly disease that has killed thousands of people in West Africa — and one in the United States.

As the Huffington Post reported: “Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said that a decade of stagnant spending has ‘slowed down’ research on all items, including vaccinations for infectious diseases. As a result, he said, the international community has been left playing catch-up on a potentially avoidable humanitarian catastrophe.”

The Post goes on: “Money, or rather the lack of it, is a big part of the problem. NIH’s purchasing power is down 23 percent from what it was a decade ago, and its budget has remained almost static. In fiscal year 2004, the agency’s budget was $28.03 billion. In FY 2013, it was $29.31 billion — barely a change, even before adjusting for inflation. The situation is even more pronounced at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a subdivision of NIH, where the budget has fallen from $4.30 billion in FY 2004 to $4.25 billion in FY 2013.”

Here’s the maddening part, from my perspective.

The very people who now complain about government’s inability to deal with this matter (I refuse to call it a “crisis” in the United States) are the same folks who keep slashing money because — they contend — the United States cannot afford to spend it. They are critical of the NIH, calling it some sort of “liberal-leaning arm of government” that pushes “agendas.”

And yet these are the folks who are feeding much of the hysteria that keeps showing up on right-wing mainstream media outlets by contending that Ebola is about to break out badly in this country, even though health professionals insist that is not the case.

What can be done? How about giving the NIH the resources it needs to find a vaccine for Ebola before it becomes a crisis in the United States?

Oops! GOP governor tells truth, then backs off

Hey, I always thought Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich was a straight shooter.

Turns out he needs to get his sights re-set.

Kasich told The Associated Press that the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is here to stay, that Republicans have no hope of repealing it, even if they win control of the U.S. Senate after the Nov. 4 mid-term election.

‘AP reported this: “‘The opposition to it was really either political or ideological,’ Kasich said of Obamacare. “I don’t think that holds water against real flesh and blood, and real improvements in people’s lives.'”

That sounds pretty darn reasonable. But wait! Gov. Kasich’s people said AP got it wrong. The governor was referring to the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.

The ACA should be repealed and replaced, the governor’s office said — speaking for Kasich.

Here’s the deal, folks.

The ACA is working. Millions of Americans have signed up for health insurance who didn’t have it before. It’s providing comfort to those who prior to the law’s enactment couldn’t afford to be insured.

The ACA rollout was a Keystone Kops affair, to be sure. The computerized system crashed. It was a mess.

Then it got fixed. Yes, the rollout likely caused Kathleen Sebelius her job as health and human services secretary.

I’ll stick with Kasich’s initial view that repeal of the ACA ain’t going to happen.

Congressional Republicans, I’m quite certain, will have no trouble finding other issues with which to pick fights with the president. It’s in their DNA.