Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Actress Natasha Richardson Has Died at Age 45

A sad end to this story: Actress Natasha Richardson died today, her family announced in a statement. Richardson suffered head trauma Monday while skiing in Canada.

It sounds as if it was known when she was hospitalized in Canada that her situation was grave, and her family decided to bring her to New York to give her family a chance to say goodbye to her. The decision was made today to take her off life support. The New York Times has a brief obituary of Natasha Richardson tonight; they'll probably have a more complete one up by tomorrow.

Natasha Richardson's Head Injury: An FAQ from WebMD

With questions swirling about the brain injury suffered by actress Natasha Richardson, WebMD has put up an informative article about Richardson's injury.

Among the questions addressed are how such a seemingly minor accident could have such a life-threatening impact; why she seemed fine at first, only to become gravely ill later; what are the symptoms of a brain injury; and what doctors can do about bleeding in the brain.

CNN Health published an article today that also sheds light on brain trauma, explaining why head injuries that seem minor may not be.

There has still been no word on Richardson's condition from her doctors or family, but gossip columnist Liz Smith has been reported as saying that the actress is brain dead and the family decided Wednesday afternoon to take her off life support.

Natasha Richardson's Ski Accident: Just How Bad is Her Head Injury?

Tony-winning actress Natasha Richardson suffered a head injury the other day while skiing in Canada, but it's unclear just how severe her condition is. Reports are that the 45-year-old actress fell down during a beginner's lesson and originally felt fine, but then started feeling ill an hour or so later and was taken to a nearby hospital.

It's suspected that she may have had internal bleeding in the head or neck, which can cause such symptoms. Some stories speculated that Richardson is brain dead or suffering what's been called "talk and die" syndrome (seeming fine at first, but then having a delayed reaction as blood builds up and puts pressure on the brain). One doctor at NYU Medical Center (who has not treated Richardson) says that Richardson's symptoms seem consistent with epidural hemorrhage, a buildup of blood between the skull and the brain. Other news sources have used terms such as epidural hematoma or subdural hematoma to describe Richardson's condition.

What is known is that Natasha Richardson is now at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital; her sister Joely Richardson and mother Vanessa Redgrave have been seen entering the Upper East Side hospital. Richardson's husband, fellow actor Liam Neeson, left a film shoot in Toronto to be with her and is now presumably in New York.

It seems strange that a person with a serious head injury would be moved such a distance... of course her family wants to be near her, but is it a good idea to transport someone in what may be critical condition? I'd guess Richardson is hooked up to all kinds of tubes and breathing equipment. And if she was able to be transported, does that mean that her condition is better or worse than has been reported?

We'll have to wait until her family decides to make a statement about her condition and prognosis. It may be that they are waiting to see what course the injury takes before saying anything. In some cases a person with a head injury can have dire symptoms, but those can decrease as swelling in the brain (if that's what Richardson has) decreases, either on its own or due to drainage and other medical interventions.

(On a related note, the New York Times notes today that Richardson's accident has put new life in the debate over whether skiiers should wear helmets (the actress was not wearing one at the time of her accident).

For those not familiar with Natasha Richardson, she has been in movies ranging from "Nell" (with Jodie Foster and Liam Neeson) to "The Parent Trap" (with Dennis Quaid and the young Lindsay Lohan), and has also acted on Broadway (winning a Tony award for "Cabaret.") Her mother is the actress Vanessa Redgrave, and her father is the late British director Tony Richardson, known for films including "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Health News: Finding Good Health Care in Bad Times

Many Americans were having problems affording good health care even before the recent recession and wave of layoffs began. The economic downturn has only made things worse. The Wall Street Journal has two articles on finding good health care in hard times.

One story looks at how a family's health care support system unraveled in the recession. The family's children have a rare bone-marrow disorder and relied on donations to meet the costs insurance didn't cover. But the economic downturn has greatly reduced the donations; contributions to their former church's medical care fund are down, and a fundraiser held to gain contributions has yielded less money this year than last.

On a more positive note, there's an article explaining how some new online services have arisen to provide basic medical consults in an easy, low-cost manner. Patients can interact with doctors in a variety of ways (online video, text chat, or phone), and the fees can be as low as $10 for a 10-minute consult. Other services charge a monthly fee and then a per-consult fee. This article looks at some of the companies now offering these services, and notes their pluses and minuses.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Merck to Buy Schering-Plough

Drug makers Merck and Schering-Plough have announced that they will merge in a $41 billion deal made up of cash and stock. The merger of the two New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giants comes just a month and a half after news of another blockbuster merger between Pfizer and Wyeth. The merged company will keep the Merck name.

Merck and Schering-Plough are co-marketers of the cholesterol drugs Zetia and Vytorin.

These mergers are spurred by economic pressures created by drug pipelines lacking new drugs to replace the bestsellers due to come off patent in the coming years, and by what's perceived as coming pressure by the U.S. government to reduce prices. The Wall Street Journal discusses the Merck Schering-Plough deal, and offers a live blog of the companies' analyst conference call.

Shares of Merck stock (MRK) were down more than 6% in early trading Monday, while Schering-Plough stock (SGP) was up sharply, seeing a 15% rise.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Health News: Health Care Reform Problems and Prognosis

Health care in the U.S. seems destined to change somehow during the Obama administration, though nobody knows how. A cople of recent articles look at some of the issues and problems involved, and what solutions might be needed.

The L.A. Times offers a story called "A National Health Care Primer," which examines some of the big issues that will have to be tackled as the debate gets underway. Among them: Will people be able to keep their current health insurance? If I don't have insurance now, would I have to buy it? And, of course, How can the country pay for all this re-jiggering of the health care system?

One person who knows the pluses and minuses of the U.S. health care system is Dan Cortese, the outgoing CEO of the Mayo Clinic. The Wall Street Journal's health blog sat down with him and asked him a few questions about a subject that he's become more and more involved in over the last few years: national health policy and how to design a health care system.

The point person for health care reform in the Obama administration will be Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, the newly named secretary of health and human services. Another article in the Journal's health blog looks at the successes, and setbacks, she's had in trying to push through health reform in her state.