Kid kissing mother outdoorCurrently, there are more than 120,000 people in the nation waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, including nearly 3,000 in Maryland. The demand for organ donors is at an all-time high – sadly, about 18 people on the national waiting list die every day due to lack of available organs. Johns Hopkins Medicine, together with The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland (LLF), uses Donate Life Month to raise awareness of the need for organ, eye and tissue donors.

In order to raise awareness for organ and tissue donation, the State of Maryland, along with the LFF and Donate Life Maryland, currently have implemented several initiatives to educate and increase donor registration. Presently there are over two million Marylanders already making the decision to designate themselves as organ, eye and tissue donors, either through the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration or the Maryland Donor Registry at www.donatelifemaryland.org. While this is great start, it only represents roughly 50 percent of the state’s population who have the potential to be an organ and tissue donor.

In the state of Maryland, 70 percent of potential organ and tissue donors go on to be actual deceased organ and tissue donors. One donor has the potential to save nine lives through organ donation, give sight to two people and help 50 or more people though tissue donation.

Over the past three years the Johns Hopkins Health System has had 77 deceased organ donors who gave the gift of life. During that same time period, we had 130 donors who gave the life-changing gift of tissue donation.

At Johns Hopkins, we also celebrate those brave individuals who make the altruistic decision to be a living donor. The Johns Hopkins Hospital in east Baltimore performed 98 living kidney and liver donations in 2013 and a total of 367 adult and pediatric transplants.

On Thursday, April 24 from 1 to 2 p.m. join us for a live chat about organ and tissue donation on the Johns Hopkins Medicine Facebook page. Experts from the Living Legacy Foundation and The Johns Hopkins Hospital will be able to answer any questions you may have regarding this topic.

Benjamin Philosophe, M.D., Ph.D., is the clinical chief of the Division of Transplantation for Johns Hopkins Medicine and a Professor of Surgery at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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April is also Alcohol Awareness Month, and has been designated as such by the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) since April of 1987. For over 28 years, this organization, which was founded in 1944, has been tirelessly fighting to support, educate, and help individuals, and their loved ones overcome the negative effects of substance abuse. Widespread awareness on responsible alcohol consumption, as well as the consequences of irresponsible use and the triggers/motives that lead to abuse, are ways in which individuals can empower themselves with beneficial knowledge on how to avoid becoming a victim of alcoholism.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionaryalcoholism has been defined as “a chronic progressive potentially fatal psychological and nutritional disorder associated with excessive and usually compulsive drinking of ethanol and characterized by frequent intoxication leading to dependence on or addiction to the substance, impairment of the ability to work and socialize, destructive behaviors (as drunken driving), tissue damage (as cirrhosis of the liver), and severe withdrawal symptoms upon detoxification.”

The pervasiveness and widespread use of alcohol in our society creates a Pandora’s Box effect, in which the presence of certain factors in an individual may easily lead them from a point of control to one of no return. It seems that alcohol’s persistent popularity is due in part to cultural and social ties that are taught, learned, and reinforced through social media, and common traditions/celebrations. A few examples of settings where alcohol is not only readily available, but also strongly encouraged, are: college and university campuses around the country; sporting events and tail-gating gatherings; momentous life-defining celebrations, such as weddings; parties of all sorts aka the “we just want to party” party; the legendary post-work happy-hour; weekday/weekend restaurant, bar, lounge, club outings; coming home after a long day at work and helping oneself to a “cold one” or a glass of wine. Alcohol consumption in the aforementioned settings demonstrates just a handful of socially “acceptable” places where the ingrained social cues to partake in the act of drinking come into place.

According to the World Health Organization, harmful use of alcohol causes 2.5 million deaths worldwide each year. Therefore, abuse of the ole “giggle water” (early 20th century reference to an intoxicating beverage; alcohol) is truly no laughing matter, and one’s use should be approached with caution and respect. It is easy to lose sight of the detrimental effects it can wreak on the mind, the body, and the spirit when consumed to excess. From a historical standpoint, drinking, in all its multifaceted and two-faced glory, has been a liquid witness to some of the greatest joys and the most heart-wrenching tribulations for many people around the world; we drink it to feel happy, we drink it when we are mad, and we drink it if we are sad. Through these behaviors we reaffirm the power and position of alcohol in our society and culture. And it’s through straightforward and realistic education regarding alcohol use that young people can learn to mature into responsible consumers of alcohol (if they so choose). Boring lectures about alcohol that likens it to the big bad wolf of Little Red Riding Hood fame may not be received with enough serious attention; however, a live Q & A with someone that has experienced and survived the devastating effects of alcoholism may prove rather eye-opening.

 There are currently many resources and services within Howard County that are available to those who feel they may be struggling with their ability to manage or control their use of alcohol. The Howard County Department of Health provides substance abuse and addiction services; Howard County General Hospital often provides classes and ongoing support groups regarding substance and/or alcohol abuse; Alcoholics Anonymous (Al-anon/Alano) meetings are held at the Serenity Center, and other locationsHoward County Mental Health Authority provides an extensive list of individual and group addiction counseling/therapy locations. Exploring each of the many resources available can be helpful, in order to discover what works for one’s personal goals towards recovery.

Let us take the time this month to reflect on our own personal relationship with alcohol, or reach out to someone in our lives who may be struggling with alcohol abuse right now. While there are many helpful resources for individuals, there are also plenty of resources available for their friends and family, i.e. Smart Recovery for family friends and Al Anon Family Groups.

Alcohol can be enjoyed with control and moderation. However, when drinking takes a dark turn, and abuse and addiction surfaces, seek the help you need. Just remember, you’re never alone.

When Jinelee De Souza isn’t channeling her inner super-heroine at Howard County Library System as an Instructor & Research Specialist, she’s doing so at the gym, during impromptu photoshoots with her bff, and everywhere in between.

 


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Doctor Talking To Senior Couple On WardEthel, a sweet, elderly grandmother of 13, was sitting in the admissions cubicle of a local hospital. The admissions coordinator asked Ethel routine questions about her insurance, her address, her doctor’s contact information, and whether she had an advance directive. Ethel sucked in her breath, turned to her husband and grabbed his arm. “She wants me to talk about my death? Harvey, I thought I was here for a routine procedure! What are you not telling me? Is it time? Am I dying?”

Religion, politics, and sex are generally considered unsuitable topics for dinner conversation. In most social circles, we can add “death” to that list. American culture harbors so many fears and taboos surrounding death that we often put our collective heads in the sand when it comes to discussing end-of-life issues – until we have to. “If we don’t talk about it, maybe it won’t happen.” On the other hand, there is a saying that the only things in life we can count on are paying taxes and dying.

What if we have specific ideas about how we want our medical team to treat us at the end of life? Do we know what they are? Have we told anyone? The dichotomy of knowing that death is inevitable but not wanting to talk about it can cause unnecessary anguish and pain for people dealing with a family member or loved one who is at the end of their life but has not clearly expressed their wishes about the kind of medical care they want to receive. When people wait until they are unable to speak for themselves, they put their families in the uncomfortable position of having to make end-of-life decisions for them.

As a clinical social worker at Howard County General Hospital and Director of the Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center, I have had a lot of experience with difficult end-of-life conversations. We are a medical institution. If we can’t help people talk about what type of medical treatment they want or don’t want at the end of their life, who can? Filling out an advance directive can help people document their wishes in a legally valid way, giving their family members and medical team a guide to their care.

An advance directive document, which only covers medical decisions, is different from a power of attorney, which is financial. Completing an advance directive is free. There are many different forms available: the Maryland Attorney General form can be found at oag.state.md.us/Healthpol/adirective.pdf, and “5 Wishes” form at agingwithdignity.org, both available in a variety of languages. You do not need a notary, but the document does need to be witnessed. There are three parts to an advance directive:

  • Selection of a health care agent – someone you trust to voice your health care decisions for you in the event you cannot voice them yourself.
  • Creating a living will – states your preferences about artificial treatments that might be used to sustain your life.
  • Completing the witness page – two people who are not related to you need to witness your signature, but not your choices.

Putting medical treatment wishes into writing is very important. Completing an advance directive for your family is really a gift, giving them the comfort of knowing how to follow your wishes.

April is Advance Directive Month and Howard County General Hospital is holding a free seminar on this topic April 25 in the Wellness Center from 6 to 7 p.m. Participants will have the opportunity to complete an advance directive. To register, click here or call 410-740-7601.

Leslie Rogers, MSW, LCSW-C, OSW-C, is an oncology social worker and Director of the Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center at Howard County General Hospital.
 


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In April 2001, the National Minority Health Month Foundation inaugurated National Minority Health Month. The goal is to raise awareness about the health disparities that affect racial and ethnic minorities and to strengthen the capacity of local, state, and federal organizations to reduce those disparities. Prevention, early detection, and control of disease complications are important keys to advancing health equity. This year the theme focuses on prevention: Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity. Chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, to name a few, are among the most common and more importantly preventable of all health problems in the United States.

This April you can take action for a healthy heart. Heart disease and stroke are a leading cause of death for all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Some of the things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease are eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, limit alcohol use, and do not smoke.  Take a moment to read the CDC fact sheet on heart disease, which includes information on signs and symptoms, risk factors and prevention. Howard County offers wellness activities, workshops, walks, nutrition education, health screenings, and more through Get Active Howard County. You can also find many books on heart disease at one of the Howard County Library System (HCLS) branches.

Some minority populations including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and American Indians are at a higher risk of developing diabetes and related complications. This April is the perfect time to develop strategies including diet and lifestyle changes to prevent the onset of diabetes.  Visit the Johns Hopkins Diabetes Center for more information on the disease, diabetes education, including classes, and nutrition, including education and counseling.  If you or a loved one is living with diabetes, HCLS has an extensive collection of materials to help navigate your meal planning, exercise, and diabetes education.

A leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States is tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes causes devastating disease and premature death across all races and ethnicities, but smoking is more prevalent in some racial and ethnic minority groups. The US Surgeon General said, “Smoking cessation represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives.”

If you live or work in Howard County, there are free smoking cessation and tobacco treatment programs offered through the Health Department. Visit here or call 410-313-6265 for more information. Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine will be offering Smoke-Free Lungs seminars this summer.

Immunizations are a powerful way to prevent disease. In April you can ensure that your immunizations and your family’s immunizations are up to date. Immunizations not only help the recipients, they also help persons who come in contact with them.  Protecting children from vaccine-preventable diseases is an effective tool for advancing health equity.  You can see the vaccine requirements for children attending school in the state of Maryland here. Also, take a moment now and mark your calendar to remind yourself and every member of your family to get the flu vaccine this fall.

If the fact that you are under-or uninsured is preventing you from taking the steps to help manage or reduce your risk for chronic disease, please visit the Howard County Health Department or call 410-988-3737 for more information on health care programs and services that may be available to you and your family. Also, HCLS will host a class to help older adults and individuals with disabilities navigate the MAP & SHIP programs, presented by the Howard County Office on Aging’s Aging and Disability Resource Center in May.

This April, do yourself and your loved ones a favor by taking action for a healthy you. Educate yourself and ask your doctor about disease risks more common to your racial or ethnic background, and learn what you can do to prevent those conditions. Knowing your risks gives you power. Reducing those risks can lead to a healthier you and longer life.

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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You can’t tell if someone has high cholesterol by what they look like – a fact I can personally attest to as a person with high cholesterol. I don’t look like someone with high cholesterol, as I keep getting told. The problem is I don’t really know what it means to have “high cholesterol,” so I decided to do some research and figure it out.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that can be found in all parts of your body. It aids in the production of cell membranes, many hormones, and vitamin D. The cholesterol in your blood comes from two sources: the foods you eat and your liver. However, your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. Cholesterol and other fats are transported in your blood stream in the form of spherical particles called lipoproteins. The two most commonly known lipoproteins are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).Johns Hopkins Health Library

I started with Controlling Cholesterol for Dummies (Rinzler & Graf, 2008), which says that a high level of LDL particles (low-density lipoproteins, also referred to as “bad” cholesterol) correlates to a higher risk of heart disease or attack (p. 17). Lipoproteins are fat and protein particles that carry cholesterol into your arteries (LDL) or out of your body (HDL). The more cholesterol in your bloodstream, the higher the risk for buildup and possible heart attack. This can also happen in cranial arteries, blocking the flow of blood to your brain and potentially causing a stroke (p. 30).

However, Cholesterol Clarity: What the HDL is wrong with my numbers? (Moore & Westman, 2013) posits the idea that cholesterol isn’t the problem we’ve been taught. In fact, the real issue may be chronic inflammation as caused by smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, consuming trans fats and processed carbs, and stress (p. 38). Cholesterol can’t accumulate in your arteries on it’s own, they need to be inflamed first.

A good indicator of this inflammation is the C-reactive protein, a level which can be checked by your doctor (p. 39). Additionally, LDL cholesterol varies in size from large, fluffy, and harmless (Pattern A) to small, dense, and potentially dangerous (Pattern B) (p. 98).

How can you get your cholesterol levels and what should they be?

Cholesterol levels are usually obtained through a blood test at your primary care physician’s office. It’s important to know your LDL and HDL numbers as well as your total cholesterol measurement since a high level of HDLs is good for your body. A high total cholesterol number can be less serious if your HDLs are high, just as a low total cholesterol number can be bad if your HDLs are low. What amounts to a dangerous level? A total measurement above 240, HDL’s below 40, and LDLs above 160 (Rinzler). The size of LDL particles can also be tested through a particle size test that can be ordered by your doctor or by individuals online (Moore & Westman, 2013, p. 99-102).

How can you manage your cholesterol?

A few simple steps should help lower your bad cholesterol level: exercise, reduce fatty food consumption, lose a little weight, and reduce damaging behaviors like smoking and drinking. Exercising and avoiding fatty foods are two categories where almost every person can find some health benefit, regardless of cholesterol level. Some resources for heart healthy cooking are the American Heart Association’s Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook, The DASH Diet Action Plan, Quick & Easy Cookbook, and The Mediterranean Diet for Every Day.

 

 

 

 

We’re still learning what cholesterol does for our bodies and how we can live long and healthy lives. The most important thing is to be your own health advocate. There’s nothing wrong with getting a second opinion when it comes to your health and well-being. The best thing to do with any health concern is read all the information and consult your doctor, who’ll be best suited to help you with your questions.

Jessica Seipel is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She has worked for the Howard County Library System, in various positions, for a decade.

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For more years than I can remember certain seasons have been a struggle with congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes and the uncomfortable symptoms of allergies. Only recently did I brave a visit to an allergist and discover many reactions to a variety of common allergens: grass and tree pollen, molds, dust, and much more. Now I had an explanation for why I can be sniffly all year, but much worse in the spring and fall when certain allergens temporarily explode into activity.

I had been self-medicating with over the counter drugs, but the allergist has been very helpful in trying some stronger prescriptions and experimenting with a regiment to provide more relief. I’ve learned about medications, nasal sprays, and even eye drops (I don’t do eye drops – no, I really don’t, just ask my husband). Part of the process is just trying out medications to see what works for me.

Knowing what allergens spike reactions can be helpful, but they are nearly impossible for me to avoid. The doctor also shared information about cleaning and methods to minimize allergens indoors. Hopefully, managing my exposure at home will help me to feel better and get through the worst weeks of the year.

Another treatment I’m considering is supposed to have longer-term effects: allergy shots. They work to calm down the immune response to allergens that causes the uncomfortable symptoms like sneezing and congestion. The series starts more frequently and in time can be spaced out until the allergic reactions stop or are minimized.

One of the questions I’ve been pondering is if my allergies have a relationship to my rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Both are autoimmune-related diseases with RA attacking the joints and allergies attacking my sinuses (or so it seems). While my research hasn’t revealed a connection confirmed with research, I can’t help but wonder. It makes sense to me that my aggressive RA would be linked to strong allergies.

In the meantime, I visit my doctors and pursue treatment for each condition. Seeing the allergist has been very revealing for me to understand the discomfort of allergies and what I can do to feel better. I may never know why I have these allergies, or RA for that matter, but it’s good to be on a path to treat and hopefully better manage my health.

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.

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