Tips to follow for a safe Halloween for children

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

It’s almost Halloween again. Before sending your little ones out in search of candy, consider the following to ensure that he or she has a trick-free Halloween:

• Don’t buy a costume unless it’s labeled “flame-retardant.”

• Make sure that wigs and beards don’t cover your child’s eyes, nose or mouths.

• Encourage your child to choose a costume without a mask. Masks can make it difficult for your child to breathe. Use face paint instead.

• Suggest a light-colored costume for your child or add glow-in-the dark tape on the front and back of a dark costume.

• Avoid oversized or high-heeled shoes that can cause your child to trip and fall.

• Make sure that accessories, such as swords or wands, are flexible.

• Put a name tag with your phone number on or inside your child’s costume.

If your child will be trick-or-treating: Continue reading

Shameless happiness is easy as A, B, C, D, E

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Some time ago, The Daily News ran a series of columns by a young lady whose optimism and positive thinking I found inspirational.

In a world of bad news and low expectations, it seemed she found something cheerful to write about each column. I used to think of her as Ms. Sunshine and have missed her contributions.

I ran into her and her wonderful family, now with three gorgeous kids and one on the way at the recent Galveston ArtWalk. Watching the very active boys, I could certainly understand why she didn’t have much time to write these days.

Still, it seems to me that happiness is way undersupplied these days and there ought be a remedy.

As a physician, I have the opportunity to see plenty of unhappiness, much of it for good reason — abuse, trauma, stress, horrific family stories, mental and physical pain and disease. These problems are challenging, and sometimes nearly impossible to solve. Continue reading

Synthetic biology could revolutionize medicine

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Synthetic biology sounds like an oxymoron. One word means artificial while the other means natural.

Put together, what those two words really mean is a combination of biology and engineering that will allow scientists to harness biological processes for human use.

Imagine genetic engineering and biotechnology on steroids.

In short, synthetic biology aims to manipulate cells or their components to achieve a certain result, such as advancing human health, producing energy, manufacturing products, producing food or protecting the environment.

There are plenty of applications for synthetic biology in many important fields.

Scientists want to create cells with new and unique properties that are programmed to fulfill a directed purpose.

For example, these engineered cells might be programmed to synthesize new biofuels.

One practical example of the promise of synthetic biology is directed at malaria, a disease caused by a single-celled parasite called Plasmodium that has been killing humans throughout our recorded history. Continue reading

Flu season is arriving and it’s time to prepare for it

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

Flu season 2013 is here with the first few cases reported. Protect your family against the flu with vaccination.

The 2013 flu vaccine protects against the most likely strains to be spread this winter.

The flu vaccine is recommended for all children 6 months and older. A nasal spray version of the vaccine is available for healthy older children and adults. You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine. It can give you a sore shoulder, body aches and a slight fever, but not the flu. The more of us that are protected, the fewer people there are to give you the flu.

The flu is a miserable illness that for most people is like a common cold times 1,000. Most everyone we see, from babies up to teenagers and adults, have at least a fever of 102 to 103, and it’s not uncommon for their temperature to be 104 to 105. The height of the fever does not necessarily indicate the severity of the illness — the flu is still just the flu. However “just the flu” kills children — and adults — every year. Continue reading

Finding a more effective flu vaccine

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

While most think of the flu as a miserable weeklong inconvenience, it can be quite serious. In fact, it kills an average of 36,000 Americans every year.

The virus can mutate quickly, so to create an effective vaccine, each year scientists must predict the dominant strains. But advances in nanoparticles and molecular biology have the potential to revolutionize the flu vaccine.

Current flu vaccines include three different strains. To harvest these strains, chicken eggs are infected with the different types of influenza viruses included in the yearly vaccine. That’s a lot of eggs, considering millions of doses are needed! It just goes to show, to make omelets you have to break some eggs.

But all those laying hens may be out of a job thanks to recent advances in protein nanoparticle technology. Continue reading

Healing sounds

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

It had been a rough week: Ma in Hospice, the fools on the Hill in D.C., and the Longhorns just barely beating Iowa State. Iowa State, for crying out loud!

So when I heard from a friend that the Beach Boys were in town, I was lucky to grab some last-minute primo front row tickets someone had turned in at the Grand Opera House. Thanks, Judy at the Grand box office!

As we sat down to watch the performance and equally as interesting, the audience moving and grooving with the show, I thought once again about the healing power of music. One of life’s mysteries and delights is how a two-hour musical performance can bring healing, reminiscence, joy, and camaraderie to a packed house.

Music entertains, engages, distracts, elicits memories, laughter and tears. Music calms us, excites us, makes us jump up and dance, and brings us together. Healers over the centuries have used drums, flutes, gongs, ringing bowls, choirs, chorales, songs, hymns, chanting, chimes, organs, violins, guitars and every other kind of music-making instrument to reach where words cannot. Continue reading

Ways to help children through grieving process

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

When a family member dies, children react differently from adults. Preschool children usually see death as temporary and reversible — a belief reinforced by cartoon characters who die and come to life again.

Children between 5 and 9 begin to think more like adults about death, yet they still believe it will never happen to them or anyone they know.

Adding to a child’s shock and confusion at the death of a brother, sister or parent is the unavailability of other family members who may be so shaken by grief that they are not able to cope with the normal responsibility of child care.

Parents should be aware of normal childhood responses to death in the family as well as danger signals.

According to child and adolescent psychiatrists, it is normal during the weeks following the death for some children to feel immediate grief or persist in the belief that the family member is still alive. Continue reading

Breast cancer: Making the tough decisions

Drs. Techksell Washington & Karen Powers

Drs. Techksell Washington & Karen Powers

The BRCA1 and 2 gene mutations that predispose women to aggressive breast cancer got a lot of attention this year when actress Angelina Jolie shared her preventive double mastectomy with the world.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and as breast specialists at the University of Texas Medical Branch, we think it’s a good time to take another look at some of the details surrounding genetic testing, treatment options and reconstruction decisions.

Jolie’s public sharing of her personal story surely resonated with many women who think they may be at risk. If you were one of them, we advise speaking with your primary care physician about genetic testing.

UTMB’s Breast Health and Imaging Center has a high-risk clinic with genetic counselors who can guide patients through screening and potential genetic testing for the BRCA1 and 2 mutations. Women with those mutations have a more than 80 percent chance of developing breast cancer and a 40 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer during their lifetimes. Continue reading

More than just mammograms

Dr. Angelica Robinson

Dr. Angelica Robinson

As the director of breast imaging at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, I am often asked to give public talks during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Invariably, during the question and answer period, someone in the crowd timidly asks me to explain what exactly I do as a radiologist.

Radiologists are doctors who interpret images from X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, PET scans, MRI scans and mammograms. We have many years of specialized training – four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, five years of residency training in diagnostic radiology and a final year of subspecialized fellowship training for those of us who choose to focus on a specific aspect of radiology (such as breast imaging).

Radiologists do not “take” the actual images. Radiology technologists are the health professionals who do that. Our job is to review the final images, interpret the findings in the context of the patient’s clinical history and provide a written report that details the findings and provides an impression of those findings. Continue reading

Breast cancer treatment continues to evolve

Dr. Colleen Silva

Dr. Colleen Silva

Breast cancer treatment has changed dramatically in the past 25 years.

When I entered the field of breast surgery in the late 1980s, modified radical mastectomy was still the standard treatment.

We removed the entire breast, all the lymph nodes under the arm, the nipple and much of the breast skin.

Breast reconstruction was rare.

Today, however, we offer breast-conserving surgery to two out of three women with early-stage breast cancer. The partial mastectomy or lumpectomy has replaced the total mastectomy as the treatment of choice whenever possible.

When mastectomy is required, we now perform a skin-sparing version of the procedure, sometimes even saving the nipple.

We also offer immediate breast reconstruction — a procedure that has been fully reimbursable by insurance since the federal government mandated coverage in 1998. Patients can choose saline or silicone implants or they can choose tissue transfers from their own lower abdomen, back or buttocks. Even if a woman had her mastectomy many years before the coverage mandate went into effect, she can still undergo breast reconstruction now and receive full reimbursement. Continue reading