Childhood Obesity: Abigail the Whale by Davide Clai & Sonja Bougaeva

Abigail is a sweet girl who hates going to her swimming lessons because all the other children shout, “Abigail is a whale!” when she dives into the pool. She’s obese, but she’s making every effort to do well. Her teacher notices how down she is after one Wednesday afternoon and gives her the advice that changes her life, “You are what you think.”

Abigail makes this her mantra and imagines herself as everything from “gigantic” to “hedgehog” to help her overcome her troubles. Her confidence builds and she is able to channel her positive thinking into various ways to conquer her myriad fears and obstacles. In the end, she is not only able to garner the respect of her peers, but stands up to a bully by owning her size and thinking about being a “super whale.”

Let’s be clear: shaming and bullying children who are obese or overweight is wrong. I don’t care if it’s another child or even an adult making comments on a child’s weight; concern trolling and backhanded compliments are unwarranted, destructive, and downright mean. If you care about a child’s health, you’d better be willing to be a safe, loving, and supportive champion of that child like Abigail’s teacher. Anything short of being positively encouraging is unacceptable in my book. Help, don’t hurt, kids into healthy lifestyles. Period.

Childhood obesity has been called an epidemic and families are warned and advised to do whatever is possible to raise healthy kids. The efforts between local and federal government to do something about childhood obesity is well-intentioned and is absolutely needed. The way in which we approach this epidemic is just as essential as offering appropriate help, guidance, and education. Thankfully, Howard County is dedicated to reducing the rates of childhood obesity and even has a Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit for Howard County Maryland Healthcare Providers. This is an effort we all need to make together, not apart, or from the sidelines.

We all need to think like Abigail. If we think we are capable of curbing childhood obesity and we take the appropriate measures, we will.

JP Landolt is the HCLS Editor & Blog Coordinator for Well & Wise. She is also a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch & STEM Education Center. She is a storyteller, wannabe triathlete, KPOP-addict, baker of cupcakes, cancer survivor, and liver transplant recipient.

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Looking Back at HCGH as Columbia Turns 50

Howard County General Hospital Main Entrance

Histoical photo of Howard County General Hopital’s main entrance.

The Howard County community is commemorating Columbia’s 50th anniversary, which has made us nostalgic for the early days of Howard County Community Hospital. When our hospital opened its doors to the first patients in 1973 – four admitted inpatients, in fact – the community of Columbia was in its infancy and consisted mainly of vast and undeveloped farmland. As the area was undergoing a transformation, Columbia’s visionary founder, James Rouse, realized that residents of the new town would need convenient medical care and a superior hospital that could deliver innovative and exceptional health care to residents. He wanted a health care delivery system as unique as the model city rising in the heart of a farming community.

So, in 1973, the county’s first community hospital opened as a 59-bed facility on the edge of farm land in the yet-to-be developed town of Columbia. Before anyone knew us as Howard County General Hospital, we were known as The Columbia Hospital and Clinics Foundation. The hospital was designed to provide inpatient support for members of the Columbia Medical Plan, providing short-term care, such as overnight stays, infant deliveries and simple surgery. Patients suffering serious illnesses were transferred to the large, specialty teaching hospitals in Baltimore. Even before the hospital opened, however, the local medical community realized that Howard County needed a full-service hospital. Within a year, the facility was turned over to a community-based board of trustees and became a private, not-for-profit institution, a model hospital in a model community.

Much has changed over the last 50 years. Columbia is a vibrant, diverse community and Howard County General Hospital is now a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. We’ve grown to become a leading acute-care medical center with 264 licensed beds, seeing more than 730 patients a day. Our hospital has also become a leading employer in the area with 1,900 full and part-time employees including more than 950 physicians and allied health professionals, representing nearly 100 sub-specialties. This past year alone, we provided service to more than 220,000 people, including: 3,597 babies born, 78,072 emergency room visits, 12,390 surgeries performed and 68,680 people treated in outpatient services.

Steve Snelgrove, HCGH’s President summed up the milestone, saying, “Celebrating the 50th birthday of Columbia and looking back at our past reminds us of what an amazing and special place our hospital is in Howard County. As we look to the future, my hope for our hospital is that we have systems of care in place to ensure that care is delivered flawlessly and that we achieve the outcomes that our patients deserve every time. ”

Cheers to Columbia’s 50th birthday. Howard County General Hospital is honored to have cared for generations of families in Columbia, and throughout the county!

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Color Me Happy: How Colors May Influence Mood

Karen Syed spent 15 years in early childhood education before becoming an independent publisher and published author. Her mental health routine includes jewelry making, coloring, and theme parks. After receiving a heart transplant, she began taking courses to become a Reiki Master and Crystal Therapist.


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Top 5 Gardening Benefits for Your Life and Health

A day of gardening by Howard County General Hospital's Population Health staff to provide Maryland Food Bank shoppers with fresh healthy vegetables.

A day of gardening by Howard County General Hospital’s Population Health staff to provide Maryland Food Bank shoppers with fresh healthy vegetables.

The health benefits of gardening are numerous. There is a certain symbiosis that exists between you and the earth when you start digging in the dirt.

Recently, the Population Health department at Howard County General Hospital volunteered to plant vegetables in the Howard County Community Garden as a team building exercise and as a way to give back to our community. The vegetables we planted will be donated to the Maryland Food Bank, providing people in need with healthy, organic and fresh vegetables.

Most of our team members had never gardened before and were amazed at how much they enjoyed the experience. As we prepared the garden plot, planted different types of vegetable plants and then mulched the beds to promote its health and future growth, we all stood back and admired the hard work of producing healthy, fresh food.

As a home gardener, it was wonderful to share my passion with my colleagues and to be a part of a movement that is promoting healthy eating and providing fresh, nutritious food to our community. There are many benefits to starting your own garden that go beyond just the food you produce.

Gardening is:

  1. Cost effective. One vegetable plant can produce vegetables throughout the season, saving you trips to the market and money on fresh produce. Vegetable and fruit plants as well as seeds are relatively inexpensive and are truly the gift that keeps on giving, all season long.
  2. Convenient. Once your plants start producing vegetables, just go into your yard and pick your own food.
  3. Organic. You don’t have to worry about toxins and chemicals on your own food because it’s all grown organically.
  4. Relaxing. Gardening can be a very therapeutic activity. In fact, studies have shown gardening’s positive benefits on reducing anxiety and stress, increasing activity levels, and improving mental clarity in people, not to mention producing healthy food that benefits overall wellness.
  5. Educational. Being out in the garden provides an opportunity to learn about the environment in which we live and how gardening success is dependent on natural factors such as weather (think April showers) and insects like bees that are critical to the pollination that makes our plants grow.

Gardening Tips for Newbies

  • Start small. Try an herb garden which is easy to grow and can be started in pots, and even grown inside on a windowsill.
  • Consider container gardening. Container gardens are great for individuals with small yards or no yard, or for people who are new to gardening and not ready to commit too much time and energy. Almost all vegetables grow well in containers and will produce all season long. Drill small drainage holes in inexpensive, large plastic pots, plant your veggies and watch them grow. Add some plant food a couple of times throughout the season, provide water and sun and enjoy your fresh produce.
  • Discover a community garden. Many communities throughout Maryland, including Howard County, have community gardens where you can rent a plot of land and plant your own garden. Universities may also sponsor a community garden and many communities provide access to master gardeners who can answer questions and help you get started. Learn more about Howard County Community Gardens.

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, you’ll be amazed at what you can grow on your own. If gardening isn’t right for you, don’t despair! Throughout the spring, summer and fall growing seasons, local farms share their abundant produce at farmer’s markets throughout the county, so fresh and healthy foods are always ready for the picking.

Learn more about gardening from Gardening: It Does a Body Good and Beyond Veggies: Why Gardening is Good for You.

Laura Torres, LCSW-C, is a behavioral health program manager in Howard County General Hospital’s Population Health Department. Learn more about our Population Health programs at

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Lifesaver: Knowing What to Do When Stroke Strikes

May is stroke awareness month, which is a perfect time to remind people about the signs and symptoms of stroke and why it is imperative that a person exhibiting signs receives immediate medical attention.

You may have heard the phrase, “Time lost is brain lost.” When a stroke occurs, it’s often sudden. Understanding the symptoms will allow you to act quickly and decisively. Every minute a stroke victim remains untreated could mean the difference between a full recovery and loss of important functions such as speech or movement.

5 Stroke Symptoms Everyone Should Know

How would you know if a family member is having a stroke? Look for these classic signs and take immediate action to get medical attention:

If a loved one experiences a sudden onset of:

  • Abnormal speech or loss of speech or confusion
  • Weakness or numbness of the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side of the body
  • Severe imbalance, difficulty walking or dizziness
  • Loss of sight in one or both eyes
  • Severe headache

He or she may be having a stroke. Call 9-1-1 Immediately at the first sign of any or all of these classic stroke symptoms.

Family Members Play a Crucial Part in Saving a Loved One’s Life from Stroke

Now you know that time is brain and immediate action and medical attention can save a stroke victim’s life. But, did you also know that family members and those living with the patient play a key role in if and when lifesaving stroke treatments are delivered?

According to Eric Aldrich, M.D., medical director of the stroke center at Howard County General Hospital, one of the first questions emergency personnel, including EMS workers and Emergency Department physicians, will ask is at what time the first symptoms of stroke began.

“Believe it or not, stroke diagnosis comes down to and starts with good old fashioned history,” said Dr. Aldrich. HCGH’s emergency medicine physicians work closely with a team of neurologists and will ask family members about the patient’s first signs of stroke including:

  • When was the patient last seen normal?
  • Did the patient stop speaking? If so, when?
  • Is his or her right side of the body weak?

“This history and description provided by family members, coupled with the medical exam and CT imaging, helps our team make the quick decision on whether it’s appropriate to give tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) – the clot busting drug that dissolves the clot causing the stroke.” Dr. Aldrich added that being within the 4 to 4 ½ hour window from onset of stroke symptoms to when the tPA is given makes a big difference in how a stroke victim recovers function.

When it comes to stroke, be aware and act FAST.

Watch Dr. Aldrich explain how a stroke is diagnosed, the symptoms and prognosis, and how families can assist with care and a loved one’s road to recovery.


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Multiple Sclerosis: More Questions Than Answers

When I was growing up we often visited my mom’s cousin, Audrey, who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis or MS. She was always kind and always in a hospital bed on the first floor of her home. As a child I did not think much about it; it was just the way it was and it never changed. Now my college-age daughter has been dating a young man whose mother suffers from MS, so I thought it was time that I learned more about this disease with no clear etiology and no known cure.

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. In MS the immune system attacks nerve fibers. The resulting nerve damage disrupts communication between the brain and the body. Its symptoms are variable and can fluctuate over time and its effects can range from relatively benign to disabling. Some of the symptoms of MS include blurred or double vision, difficulty walking, muscle weakness in the extremities, difficulty with coordination, loss of sensation, speech problems and fatigue. Doctors have to use a variety of tools and lab tests to rule out other possible disorders before confirming the diagnosis because these symptoms are common with other disorders. Unfortunately, there is no single test than can diagnose MS. Multiple Sclerosis is not contagious or inherited directly. However, Multiple Sclerosis occurs more frequently in women than in men, affects people between the ages of 20 – 40, and it predominantly affects people of European descent.

There is no cure yet for Multiple Sclerosis, so treatment varies depending on an individual’s symptoms. Researchers from around the world, including those at Johns Hopkins, are trying to identify what causes MS so they can develop better diagnostic tools and better treatments. The complications from MS can range from mild to severe, and treatments are only partially effective.  Doctors can treat flare-ups, help manage symptoms, and improve function and mobility in their MS patients.

There is still much to learn about this chronic disease and its many manifestations. The library has excellent resources if you have questions about MS or know someone who is diagnosed with MS. Living with Multiple Sclerosis is a great challenge and there remains many unanswered questions for patients of MS, doctors and researchers. Let’s hope that one day there will be answers and a cure.






Nancy Targett is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She lives in Columbia and is the proud mom of three boys and a girl and a Siamese cat.

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Three Cheers for Hospital Week – Celebrating What, and Who, Makes HCGH Great

Howard County General Hospital 1972 Construction

Howard County General Hospital 1972 Construction

Each year in May, hospitals across the nation celebrate National Hospital Week, a time to reflect on what makes a hospital truly great. There are so many examples we can point to when talking about what makes us great – our infrastructure, advanced technology, our many community programs and services as well as the dedication to and delivery of superior patient care day in and day out. HCGH is more than a place where people go when they are sick. It’s a center of healing and a place of hope for so many people in Howard County. It’s the history we have with generations of families who have turned to the hospital for care for decades, and it is the people who deliver the care that make a difference in the lives of so many in our community.

In honor of Hospital Week 2017, here are our top three reasons why HCGH is great. We hope that you’ll have a few reasons of your own as well and share them in the comments section.

  1. HCGH has a long history of delivering exceptional care. Did you know that HCGH is a 70s baby? The hospital was “born” in 1973 as a 59-bed hospital on the edge of farm land in a yet to be developed town called Columbia. We were known as The Columbia Hospital and Clinics Foundation. Since then, we’ve grown up a bit. Today, we are Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine, a comprehensive, acute-care medical center with 264 licensed beds specializing in women’s and children’s services, surgery, cardiology, oncology, orthopedics, gerontology, psychiatry, emergency services and community health education.
  2. HCGH is always there when called upon. On our first day of operation in 1973, the hospital had 36 patients in the emergency room and four patients admitted. Today, our staff interacts with more than 730 patients a day and evaluates and treats more than 78,000 people in the ED each year.
  3. Our people are the true greatness within. We’d be nothing without the amazing people who make up HCGH. If not for the commitment and collective efforts of HCGH’s 1,900 full and part-time employees, there wouldn’t be as much to celebrate during this commemorative week. From the front line care providers to all those who work behind the scenes, HCGH’s team works like a well-oiled machine to provide the highest level of patient care and extraordinary commitment to the community.
Howard County General Hospital Today

Howard County General Hospital Today

Who makes HCGH great?
Everyone from: physicians, nurses and clinical staff, environmental services technicians, telecommunications, radiology and diagnostic imaging, central transporters, central sterile processors, information technologists, case managers and social workers, oncology support staff, dietary services, maintenance and plant management, biomedical engineers, pathology and lab professionals, surgical services and documentation specialists, general stores and purchasing, finance and compliance, front desk staff, administrators, volunteers, and donors. The list of people who make HCGH great goes on, and on, and on.

Hospital Week is a time to celebrate just how far we have come in our mission of serving all patients with the highest quality care to improve the health of our community. The HCGH team ensures that the hospital remains ready and reliable to focus on the well-being of our community, now and for the future. We’d say that’s pretty great. Happy Hospital Week!

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