Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Three must-reads in this week's "Sunday Review"

The New York Times "Sunday Review" section carried several must-reads about health issues this week.

On the cover, "Status and Stress," by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, explores the toxic effects on stress for those who feel helpless about their life circumstances. "Even those who become rich are more likely to be ill if they suffered hardship early on."

"The Hype Over Hospital Rankings," by Elisabeth Rosenthal, explores the meaning - or lack of meaning - in all those Best Hospital rankings that marketing departments like to pass along as news.

Frank Bruni's column, "Our Pulchritudious Priesthood," describes the fad among New Yorkers of hiring personal trainers. "What therapists were to the more cerebral New York of yesteryear, trainers are to the more superficial here and now: designated agents of self-actualization, florid expressions of self-indulgence, must-have accessories, must-cite authorities."

Monday, July 29, 2013

Two pioneering health professionals supported each other through cancer

When it comes to getting things done, it’s often the people behind the scenes, as much as the big names in front, who deserve the credit.

That’s true for two pioneering women who shunned the spotlight and whose recent deaths are a great loss for the Charlotte region’s health community.

Donna Arrington, 69, who helped start a regional HIV/AIDS organization in the early years of that epidemic, died May 13 of multiple myeloma.

Donna Arrington
Sharon Dixon, 68, a nurse who helped create Charlotte’s first hospice, died June 27 due to complications from a rare lymphoma – Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia – that she lived with for 20 years.

Arrington and Dixon not only worked together as professionals in fields that often intersected, they became friends. They shared not only their passion for helping people, but their love of animals, and in the end, companionship during treatments for cancer.

In 1990, Arrington became the first executive director of what was then called the Regional HIV/AIDS Consortium. It came “at a time when people were afraid to even touch a person that had AIDS,” recalled Joe Gentry, Arrington’s longtime administrative assistant.

Sharon Dixon
But Arrington, with a supportive board – that for some years included Dixon – helped regional leaders make plans and raise money to help prevent HIV infection and serve people who already had it.

“She had a great ability to put the right people in touch with the right people,” Gentry said. “You wanted the right people at the table.”

One of them was Dr. Bill Porter, a Charlotte oncologist who served a stint as consortium chairman in those early days.

“What I remember is how easy Donna made it for me to sit in that chair and how dependable she was and how confident she was that the work she was doing was terribly important,” he said.

Today, Porter is a physician for Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region, and he also recalls the beginning of that organization in 1978.

“Sharon was present at the creation,” Porter said.

In the early years, Dixon was the only nurse, visiting up to 12 dying patients and their families in their homes.
Later, in administrative roles, she helped hospice grow and thrive. Today it serves 450 patients, has about that many employees and operates two residential centers for dying patients whose symptoms can’t be managed at home.

 “Sharon sort of figured it out – who you needed to talk to, where the money was,” Porter said. “She did all this while she was sick for years with this cancer that finally took her life.”

Dixon’s interest in hospice grew out of childhood experience in Oklahoma. At 17, she took care of her mother who suffered tremendous pain while dying, said Marilyn Morenz, a friend and hospice nurse.
“Sharon never wanted anyone else to experience that kind of suffering.”

In recent months, Arrington and Dixon found comfort in their shared circumstance.

When she felt good enough, Dixon would sit with Arrington through hours of infusion therapy, said Cathy Morelli, Arrington’s partner of 15 years. “Donna in turn would do the same for Sharon....They both did good deeds in their lives and then good deeds for each other as their ends came near.”

When Arrington died first, that was “a really tough loss for Sharon,” Morenz said. “As much as they were able, they were there for each other at the end.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Outdoor Nation encourages young people to get active

Outdoor Nation has teamed up with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and North Carolina Recreation and Park Association to encourage young people to get outside and get active.

The groups are offering 2013 GO NC! Health Challenge Grants to support initiatives that increase physical activity and promote healthy lifestyles. Grants of up to $7,500 will be awarded for projects from the eastern, central and western parts of North Carolina. They must be based in North Carolina and use outdoor recreation as a way to address health concerns. 

To apply, submit your proposal by Aug. 30. Awards will be announced Sept.18.

Chris Fanning, executive director of the Outdoor Foundation, the organization that started the Outdoor Nation movement, called Outdoor Nation a national initiative that reconnects "millennials" -- also known as Generation Y, born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

In the past year, Outdoor Nation has awarded more than $250,000 to youth for projects that reconnect young people with nature. 

“Since 2012, our GO NC! initiative has worked with organizations across the state to increase access to greenways and public bicycles. We’re thrilled to expand this work to support creative and passionate youth who are keyed into new and exciting ways to promote healthy lifestyles in our state,” said Kathy Higgins, BCBSNC vice president of corporate affairs.

The grant program announcement follows the recent Outdoor Nation Signature Summit on the Outdoors. In late June, nearly 200 young people gathered at UNC-Chapel Hill and camped overnight at the 47,000-acre Jordan Lake State Recreation Area to brainstorm and develop projects that get more people outdoors.