Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lorenzo Odone (of "Lorenzo's Oil" Fame) Dies at 30

Lorenzo Odone, whose struggle against a rare disease led his parents to be activists portrayed in the movie "Lorenzo's Oil," has died at age 30.

His parents fought to save him from the metabolic nerve disease adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) despite the fact that they had no scientific background. Lorenzo Odone died at home on Friday at his home after coming down with pneumonia from getting food stuck in his throat.

You can learn more about ALD at Web sites from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, including a fact sheet, and more technical information from the National Center for BiotechnologyInformation. You can find advocacy information from the ALD Foundation.

Lorenzo Odone ended up living 20 years longer than doctors had predicted. He was diagnosed at age 6 with adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD.

The movie "Lorenzo's Oil" starred Nick Nolte as Augusto Odone and Susan Sarandon as his wife Michaela.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Stomach Bug C. diff Causing More Illness... and Death

A new strain a common stomach bug is becoming more widespread in the U.S.... and is becoming more deadly as well. Clostridium difficile, commonly called C. diff, is making more people sick all over the United States, and an article on WebMD notes that the mortality rate has double among those who come down with the illness.

Diagnosed cases of C. diff in American adults more than doubled from 2000 to 2005, a new study reports. And another group of researchers warned last year that the rate of death from C. diff had been jumping by 35% per year. This has scientists calling C. diff the latest "superbug," and even using the "e" word —epidemic —when discussing C. diff.

C. diff is one of those bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract of many people, and does so without causing any harm. (It also is widespread all around us... in the air, soil, etc.) Like other bacteria, though, it can cause problems with certain harmful strains develop, or when sickness or other reason causes the usually harmless bacteria to grow unchecked and become too prevalent.

As the WebMD article notes, C. diff can still be killed with existing antibiotics... though the dangerous new strain is less susceptible to them. What's more, patients who get sick from C. diff may become ill from it a second time, and sometimes more.

You can learn more about C. diff signs and symptoms, causes, and treatment in this article from the Mayo Clinic. C. diff symptoms can include diarrhea, dehydration, and abdominal pain.

The study reporting the increased incidence of C. diff appeared in the June 2008 edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Compare Health Care Choices at

Americans looking to make more sense of the maze of hospital choices facing them have a new tool to help them, called Hospital Compare at The site attracted a lot of attention when the U.S. government first launched it, and now it will get a lot more notice thanks to a new ad campaign that began today.

WebMD says that the Department of Health and Human Services is spending $1.9 million to publicize Hospital Compare. According to WebMD, Hospital Compare sizes up "about 2,500 U.S. hospitals according to how often they meet 26 performance measures, based on Medicare data." It notes that the site was first created in 2005 and relaunched a second time a couple of months ago, using data from patient satisfaction surveys.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Obstetric Fibula Gets Attention in "A Walk to Beautiful"

Obstetric fibula is a tragic disease that claims the lives of many women, but what makes it worse is that it is totally preventable. An award-winning film called "A Walk to Beautiful" sheds light on the obstetric fibula, following the lives of five women in Ethiopia. While the film may not have gotten a large viewing as a full-length documentary, it is now getting new exposure in a shortened version being shown as part of the PBS network's "Nova" series.

Obstetric fistula occurs when a hole in the birth canal is caused by prolonged labor (which can sometimes last several days). The World Health Organization has called fistula "the single most dramatic aftermath of neglected childbirth," and says that there are more than 2 million women living with fistula worldwide. Many of these cases are due to inadequate obstetric care, the film's Web site says.

You can find out more about obstetric fistula in a United Nations document and at the Web sites of the Fistula Foundation and End Fistula.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kawasaki Disease, a Children's Disorder of the Blood Vessels

Kawasaki disease (also called Kawasaki syndrome) is a childhood illness that involves inflammation of the blood vessels. It affects the mucus membranes, blood vessels (particularly the walls of the vessels), lymph nodes, and the heart, according to the Medline Plus medical encyclopedia.

Kawasaki disease is relatively rare and was first discovered in Japan, which is still the country where it occurs most frequently. In the United States, Kawasaki disease is seen most often in children of Japanese or Korean descent, though it can be found in children of all ethnic groups.

Medline notes that Kawasaki disease is "the most common cause of acquired heart disease in children." Inflammation of the coronary arteries can potentially lead to an aneurysm. The good news is that Kawasaki disease is treatable and the child can make a full recovery is the disorder is recognized and treated early.

The disorder is mainly seen in children under age five. The most common symptom of Kawasaki disease is a high fever (around 102 degrees Fahrenheit or more) that lasts at least five days. But to reach a diagnosis of Kawasaki disease, a number of other symptoms must be present.

You can find those signs and symptoms, as well as information on diagnosis, treatment, and complications, in articles at a number of helpful Web sites, including,, and the American Heart Association.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Krabbe Disease: Signs, Symptoms, Prognosis

The recent Powerball lottery win by a Minnesota couple has put the rare disorder Krabbe disease in the spotlight. The win for Paul and Sue Rosenau came five years to the day that a two-year-old granddaughter of theirs died of Krabbe disease, a disorder of the nervous system.

The couple says it has been working to make testing for Krabbe disease part of routine medical screening for newborns.

Krabbe disease, which is also called globoid cell leukodystrophy, is a degenerative disorder caused by a deficiency of an enzyme involved in the growth and maintenance of myelin, a substance that acts as a sheath or protective covering around some nerve cells in the body, similar to the way the plastic coating on electrical wire helps protect the wire and enable it to transmit electricity.

For a clear layman's explanation of Krabbe disease, check out the entry from the Medline Plus medical encyclopedia.

According to the U.S. government's Genetics Home Reference Web page on the disorder, Krabbe disease usually is seen by the age of one in babies, with symptoms including fever, irritability, muscle weakness, and difficulties in feeding. You can find more information at that Web site, as well as at another government Web page from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which defines the illness, gives signs and symptoms, and describes treatment and prognosis.

The Web site has a more scientific look at Krabbe disease, for readers with a more thorough understanding of medicine.

Economic Woes Are Easing the Nursing Shortage

In the every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining department, it seems that the current economic downturn is actually helping to ease America's nursing shortage. Today's Wall Street Journal reports that many nurses who had given up the field are returning to work. The article suggests that falling home prices and rising costs of gas and food are sending people back into nursing. Some of these nurses are seeking income to compensate for the wages of a spouse who lost a job.

The Journal says that hospitals are reporting that part-time nurses are picking up additional shifts, and that nursing schools are finding more people interested in refresher courses.

This easing could be temporary, of course; one hospital administrator quoted in the article notes that as soon as the economy picks up, nurses could leave the field again.

In any case, this easing of the nursing shortage will help a strained health care system, and it would be wise for government and industry leaders to use the time to devise some long-term solutions for the nursing shortage.