My New Brain

August 26, 2010

I watched a powerful and very moving TV documentary last night about one lad’s struggle to recover from a brain injury. The programme followed the progress of 20-year old Simon Hales over six months as he and his family come to terms with the challenges of life after brain injury.

Each year in Britain, 135,000 people end up in hospital with a traumatic brain injury. Most at risk are young men and the effects, though often hidden, can be profound and life-changing for the people affected, as well as their families and friends.

A popular undergraduate at Newcastle University, Simon was on a night out when he and a friend tried to climb back into a nightclub they’d been thrown out of by mistake. In the dark, Simon fell 20 feet and landed on his head, suffering a severe brain injury. He was lucky to survive, but it took Simon five weeks to wake from his coma. Luckily, he did pull through, but nobody could recognise the newly awakened Simon from the Simon of old.

Simon emerged from his coma in what seemed at first to be a blissfully unaware state. He could remember nothing of his life before the accident, and he could not remember the accident itself although he asked about it obsessively. He had also lost his short-term memory. His concentration was hopeless; he couldn’t plan or organise anything. He obsessed about things, especially his accident and his coma.

Although this was a film about the progress of one young man following a severe injury, it also raised questions about the nature of personal identity.  “You can’t blame everything on your brain injury,” his mother said, when his frustration was once again getting the better of him. He had perhaps found a ready excuse for his explosions, but it seemed that the “prison” that Simon had longed to escape was not just represented by the walls of the rehab home.

That said, this sad, tender film was far from depressing. Simon had the love of his close-knit family, and there was hope for much improvement yet. We could also see just how much dedicated care he was receiving at his specialist unit.

The documentary ended with Simon making a speech at his 21st birthday party, surrounded by family and friends. As he took to the floor, he appeared absolutely normal on the ‘outside’ but it wasn’t long before it became obvious that he was still battling with his brain injury. Having got his speech off to a good start, he quickly lost track of what he wanted to say and I felt decidedly uncomfortable watching him as he fumbled through his notes. Touchingly, one of his younger brothers jumped to the rescue and tactfully guided Simon through the rest of his speech.

If there’s one thing to be learnt from this documentary, it is “never to judge a book by it’s cover.” While Simon looked more or less ‘fixed’ on the outside, on the inside it’s a very different story.

You can watch My New Brain on Channel 4od here or on You Tube here (after ads).

Information Source: The Arts Desk.

Red Alert

August 25, 2010

A new campaign to raise awareness among women of how to protect themselves from the risk of heart disease and stroke, begins this September led by the Irish Heart Foundation and supported by the Health Service Executive.

The campaign will focus on specific issues for women including healthy lifestyle behaviours, recognition of signs and symptoms of heart attack, stroke recognition and appropriate management of high blood pressure and high cholesterol as well as the impact of menopause on women’s heart health.

Dr Kate McGarry, Consultant Physician and Chair of the Irish Heart Foundation’s Council on Women and CVD said: “Every two hours a woman dies in Ireland from cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke and blood vessel diseases). When it comes to health issues, women are more concerned about breast cancer even though seven times as many women die from heart disease and stroke in Ireland each year. Our goal is to alert women that especially after the menopause, they are at risk of heart attack and stroke, as much as any man. But the good news is that a positive lifestyle can alter risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Go Red for Women is a wake-up call to every woman in Ireland to take care of her heart health.”

Medical Director of the Irish Heart Foundation, Consultant Cardiologist, Dr Angie Brown said: “The campaign also aims to highlight that the signs and symptoms of heart attack may be different for women to those of men. A woman may experience more vague symptoms such as nausea, tiredness, shortness of breath, rather than the more usual crushing pain in the chest. Unfortunately this may mean that women delay in getting to the hospital and therefore lose valuable time for the necessary treatment.”

Maureen Mulvihill, Health Promotion Manager from the Irish Heart Foundation said: “Throughout the month of September our charity, supported by the Health Service Executive (HSE), will promote healthy lifestyle behaviours so more women will know how to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and will recognise the signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke.

Red Alert – Key Message

* Enjoy life. Take time out for yourself and keep in touch with friends
* Be active – at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity 5 times a week
* Eat more fruit and vegetables and less fat and fries. Eat more fresh food and less convenience foods
* If you smoke, try to stop
* Go easy on alcohol –  no more than 14 standard drinks per week
* Have regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks with your family doctor
* Know your family history and know the signs and symptoms of heart disease

Information Source: Irish Heart Foundation

Any Ideas?

August 24, 2010

On tidying out my sock drawer the other day, I found this souvenir.

NO, it’s not my age! Any guesses what it is?

It’s okay to be sad

August 19, 2010

I’ve just come across some thoughtful words about grief which I’d like to share with you.

The article was written by someone who has been devastated by the sudden death of friend in difficult circumstances, and he is still struggling to come to terms with that loss.

Learning to deal with loss is just one of life’s lessons but knowing this, doesn’t make it any easier. I’d like to dedicate this post to a dear blogging friend who is grieving following the recent miscarriage of a much wanted baby.

“It’s clear that I’m still very much grieving for my friend, but if I could offer any advice to someone who has lost someone dear to them, it would be that it’s okay to be sad.

Grief takes time; there is no right amount of time for you to come to terms with it. Some days it will seem like you are finally ready to move on and then something will trigger a memory and it feels like you’ll never be the same again.

But all I can say is to take every day as it comes. Don’t ever feel guilty for being happy, the best way to honour your lost friend is to enjoy life enough for the both of you.”

Read More: HEALTHplus

Resistant Bugs

August 12, 2010

Antimicrobial resistance in bacteria is an emerging problem and a serious threat to public health. New research has shown that E.coli and other common bacteria, have begun to pick up a gene which renders them resistant to all but the most powerful antibiotics. The gene, called NDM-1 (New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase-1), modifies bacteria making them highly resistant to antibiotic treatment. Worryingly, there’s no emerging class of drugs that can be used to treat such bacterial infections.

A study, recently published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, said bacteria containing the NDM-1 gene were becoming more common in India and Pakistan, and had now been imported into Britain by people returning from these countries.The spread of the gene is being assisted by countries that promote medical tourism, as more and more people travel to get cheaper medical treatments, including cosmetic surgery.

The so-called superbug gene has already been identified in 37 people in the UK , including 1 in Northern Ireland, who travelled to India or Pakistan for elective surgery. Apart from the UK, the resistant gene has been detected in Australia, Canada, the US, the Netherlands and Sweden. No cases of the bacteria have so far been detected in the Republic of Ireland.

Experts in antibiotic resistance have called the gene mutation “worrying” and “ominous” as it has the potential to become endemic worldwide. They are calling for co-ordinated international surveillance of the bacteria, to monitor the spread of this resistant gene.

Information Source: The Irish Times and mahalodotcom.

Sorry if I’ve depressed you with all this talk of resistant bugs. Now, I’d like to introduce you to a friendly bug… meet ‘Doodle Bug’, my 12 year old cat.

(filmed by my son on his new iPhone)

A Real Milestone

August 9, 2010

Last March, I was fascinated to read an article about groundbreaking surgery to rebuild the windpipe of an 11-year-old boy from Northern Ireland, from his own stem cells. The operation, lasting almost nine hours, took place at London’s Great Ormond Street children’s hospital. Stem cells taken from the boy’s bone marrow, were injected into the fibrous collagen ‘scaffold’ of a donor trachea, or windpipe. The organ, which had first been stripped of it’s own cells, was then implanted into the boy.

I was really delighted to read last week that this pioneering surgery has been hailed a success and doctors now believe it could lead to a revolution in regenerative medicine. What an amazing breakthrough!

“A boy from Northern Ireland was released from hospital yesterday after pioneering surgery to rebuild his windpipe using his stem cells.

Ciaran Finn-Lynch, who in March this year became the first child to undergo a trachea transplant, is set to return home today.

The 11-year-old underwent the operation which involved the removal of his trachea and its replacement with a donor windpipe at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

Doctors used stem cells from the boy’s bone marrow to build up the donor windpipe and ensure the organ was not rejected. Four weeks ago, they were able to describe the transplant as a success after proving blood supply had returned to the trachea.

His parents, Colleen and Paul, described the last few months as a “rollercoaster” and paid tribute to the surgeons. “We’re just so grateful. We are delighted they could give Ciaran a chance.”

Ciaran was born with a condition called long segment tracheal stenosis, which leaves sufferers with a very narrow windpipe, making breathing difficult.

He underwent major surgery to reconstruct his airways but, at the age of 2½, a metal stent used to hold his airway open eroded. When a second stent eroded, the idea of a transplant was raised.

The boy’s parents said: “When they first suggested the procedure, we agreed to it, though we knew it would be the first time it had been tried in a child. We had 100 per cent faith in them.”

The surgery had been tried in Spain in 2008 on a mother of two.

Ciaran’s transplant took place four weeks after a donor trachea was found. The surgical team was led by Prof Martin Elliott, who said, “Ciaran is a wonderful boy and a great friend to us all. His treatment offers hope to many whose major airways were previously considered untreatable.”

Source: The Irish Times

More news BBC News HEALTH

MRSA Awareness

August 2, 2010

Everyone has heard of the hospital superbug MRSA and many have a view on how to stop it. I recently came across the results of a survey carried out in Ireland*, to assess the knowledge and perception of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) among the general public.

The study concluded…

“The public are generally knowledgeable about MRSA but most agreed that they would feel angry and afraid by its diagnosis. Future public education campaigns on MRSA should be aware of this response.”

MRSA infection can be very serious or even fatal so it’s easy to understand why people would be afraid of a diagnosis. I was pretty scared when first diagnosed with MRSA but I can honestly say that I did not feel angry about it. The only time I felt any anger was when I was exposed to the stigma attached to MRSA, by hospital staff who had not been properly trained in infection control. Why is it then that most people in the above survey, agreed that they would feel angry if diagnosed with MRSA?

I can’t help but feel that the media coverage of MRSA has a lot to do with the opinion of the general public. The newspaper coverage tends to be alarmist in nature and is centered around individual’s stories. MRSA is a problem and should be reported but the media should reflect the whole story about MRSA.

Hospital cleaning is part of the answer but so is the reduction of antibiotic use, which is regarded as one of the most effective ways of reducing MRSA. More microbiologists are needed as well as more infection control nurses. Increasing the number of isolation units so those with MRSA can be treated without the fear of infecting others, is also part of the answer as well as reducing bed occupancy rates in hospitals.

And always remember… the most important thing you can do to reduce the spread of MRSA, is to wash your hands thoroughly and often. If soap or water isn’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

How do you think you would feel if you, or someone close to you, was diagnosed with an MRSA infection? Would you feel angry?

* This survey was published in the British Journal of Infection Prevention.