The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

3 weeks ago

UAB doctor advises how to keep flu germs from spreading at home

(UAB/Contributed)

Flu season can take its toll on your health, but one way to fight the virus is to stop the spread of germs at home. University of Alabama at Birmingham Assistant Professor Neena Xavier, M.D., shares these tips to help you and your family strengthen your defenses this flu season.

What are some of the best ways to germ-proof your home?

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You cannot really germ-proof your home, but you can clean and disinfect things to improve your chances of preventing the flu.

First, cleaning surfaces using soap and water and disinfectant sprays can decrease the number of germs and lower the chances of spreading them around.

Second, disinfecting commonly touched surfaces can kill germs and help lower the chances of getting sick. Avoid touching used tissues or other waste when emptying your trash, and wash your hands afterward to avoid getting those germs.

What are the biggest germ culprits in your home, and how should you disinfect them? 

Commonly touched surfaces such as countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, toys, phones and faucet handles are major culprits for carrying germs. Make sure the product you are using is EPA-registered to both clean (remove germs) and disinfect (kill germs). Read the directions on the product on how to use it because different chemicals have different procedures on how many wipes are needed or how long to keep the surface wet – usually three to five minutes.

How can a humidifier or air filter help keep your home flu-free? 

Dry air can cause scratchy throats, congestion and nosebleeds. While there are no scientific guidelines about the use of humidifiers to prevent flu, the germs may be able to survive in the drier air conditions. So the thought is that if you keep the humidity level up in a room, the virus is less likely to survive. Just be careful of warm mist humidifiers because, if not cleaned properly, they can grow bacteria and mold, which can cause serious illness.

How often should you wash sheets and towels during flu season? 

Most studies have shown that the flu virus can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours. However, it is not necessary to wash surfaces every day. Using harsh chemicals to wipe every surface often can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and skin and aggravate asthma if you suffer from it, so you may cause more harm than good. In general, the important thing is to make sure you wash regularly and do not share towels or sheets with those who are sick without washing them first.

Remember, the virus is killed by hot temperatures, so if you do clean your sheets and towels, use the hot temperature setting instead of warm.

What are the best tips to protect yourself if someone in your house already has the flu?

If it is possible, choose a bathroom for the sick person to use and their own bedroom to sleep in. Plan to clean these rooms daily. Have some disposable face masks at the house for other members, especially those who have other medical conditions that make them more likely to get sick.

Xavier is an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences and faculty member with the Physician Assistant Studies program in the UAB School of Health Professions.

For more information on prevention, symptoms and vaccines, visit uab.edu/flu.
(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

 

 

4 months ago

Three siblings share cancer diagnosis caused by rare genetic mutation

The Perkins family got a new lease on life when siblings Kevin, Kiala and Keaira had thyroid surgery at UAB. The children had a rare genetic condition that causes thyroid cancer because of a mutation on the RET gene. (Adam Pope/UAB)

At first glance, Kevin, Kiala and Keaira Perkins may seem like typical 17-, 14- and 11-year-old children, respectively. But, after getting to know them, you might be shocked to find out that all three have suffered from thyroid cancer.

The siblings, from Madison, Alabama, all suffer from a rare genetic condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN2A), a rare, hereditary condition occurring in roughly one in 35,000 people in the United States. It is caused by a mutation in the RET gene, which provides instruction for producing a protein that is involved in cell signaling and is needed for the normal development of several kinds of nerve cells.

“In December 2018, Kevin was tested for MEN2A by his pediatrician, and later received a call from UAB and Dr. Herb Chen,” said LaToya Wade, the mother of Kevin, Kiala and Keaira. “Dr. Chen said, ‘we need you here as soon as possible,’ and soon after we met with Dr. Chen, we scheduled surgery for Kevin.”

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Soon after Kevin’s surgery to remove his thyroid, Kiala and Keaira underwent the same testing. The result: Both tested positive for MEN2A.

People with MEN2A have one functioning RET gene and one that triggers cells to divide abnormally, causing tumors in the endocrine system and other tissues. MEN2A, identified in the children’s father and aunt by the aforementioned blood test, leads to medullary cancer of the thyroid, pheochromocytoma – tumors in the adrenal gland – and hyperparathyroidism, which causes excessive calcium in the blood and can lead to kidney damage. If one parent has MEN2A, the children have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the same mutation.

“Thyroid cancers, including medullary thyroid cancer, start out so small that you don’t notice them,” Chen said. “With genetic testing in patients with MEN2A, if the child tests positive, I can tell a parent there is a 100 percent chance their child will develop thyroid cancer.  Importantly, we can do surgery ahead of time to remove the thyroid before the cancer develops.”

Chen, chair of the UAB Department of Surgery, says cases like the Perkins’ are an example of how genetic testing can diagnose someone’s risk and eventual prevention of cancer by doing prophylactic surgery (an operation before the cancer develops in the organ).

To treat the Perkins family, Chen removed the thyroids of all three children in addition to Kiala’s parathyroid. They will have to take medications for the rest of their lives to make up the hormones their body loses after removing the thyroid glands.

It is a small sacrifice to prevent a larger problem.

“We were fortunate to treat the Perkins family while their cancers were very, very small,” Chen said.

Wade said finding out a loved one has cancer is always scary, let alone three of her children. However, she knew her family would be in the best of care with Chen and Nurse Practitioner Kelly Lovell.

“For me, this was a trying process,” Wade said. “When your kids have surgery, you never know what’s going to happen. I just didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t want to tell them I was nervous, so I had my moments alone, and I just kept praying. My mind was all over the place, but now they are doing well. They’re on top of their game.”

Chen agreed the siblings have a bright future ahead.

Kevin, a senior in high school, plans to study engineering in college, while Kiala and Keaira want to become an actress and a doctor, respectively.

Wade said she hopes her family’s story will help others seek genetic testing, so doctors can prevent more cases of thyroid cancer from developing.

Chen, who also serves as a senior scientist with the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, echoed her wishes.

“We’re taking a cancer that could cause harm and completely removing it before it starts,” he said. “That’s why it is so important that people hear about this condition.”

If you would like to learn more about this rare genetic condition, the UAB Endocrine/Neuroendocrine Neoplasia Program of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Department of Surgery in conjunction with AMENSupport Foundation will host a multiple endocrine neoplasia patient conference Saturday, Nov. 16.

For more information, visit the Department of Surgery’s website.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

State of addiction: How UAB is making an impact on the opioid crisis

(UAB/Contributed)

The numbers – and the heartbreaking stories contained within them – are staggering.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two out of three drug overdose deaths involve an opioid. Overdose deaths from opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl, have increased almost sixfold since 1999. Opioid-involved overdoses killed more than 47,000 people in 2017, and 36 percent of those deaths involved prescription opioids.

Alabama is not immune to the consequences of opioid use. In 2017, the state had the highest overall opioid prescribing rate.

Why is that, and what can be done to make sure people are cared for while not harming them at the same time?

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has made significant contributions in the battle against opioids in the research field and at the bedside, all in an attempt to answer those questions and, ultimately, save more lives.

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How did we get here?

Dr. Stefan Kertesz, an addiction scholar and professor in UAB’s Division of Preventive Medicine, has been a vocal leader in the fight against addiction. He has been an influential national voice by demanding opioid prescribing policies be made clearer, on behalf of patients and the doctors prescribing them.

Kertesz said there is no single person or entity to blame for the meteoric rise in opioid-related deaths, but physicians have been part of the problem.

“Part of how we got here certainly reflects a change in medical practice,” Kertesz said. “And that change was that we prescribed a lot more, and we created a market for people in pain – both with a history and with no history of addiction – to have more access to opioids.”

According to the CDC, after a steady increase in the overall national opioid prescribing rate beginning in 2006, the total number of prescriptions dispensed peaked in 2012 at more than 255 million. The prescribing rate was 81.3 prescriptions per 100 people. Although the overall rate has decreased in the past few years, in a number of U.S. counties enough opioid prescriptions were dispensed for every person to have one.

Because of the high volume of patients with opioid-related addictions, UAB saw an opportunity to strengthen its care of these patients. One route it took to enhance care was to create the Addiction Scholars Program.

The nation’s ongoing opioid crisis created a situation in which medical staff in virtually every unit of the hospital can, at some point, expect to find themselves treating patients who are abusing opioids and other drugs.

Created in 2017, UAB’s Addiction Scholars Program gives health care providers training and insight on opioid addiction. The initiative recruits hospital staff – physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers and more – who undergo a 15-month curriculum taught by UAB experts in addiction medicine. The goals are to better prepare staff for the challenges patients face with opioid addiction and to find better ways to provide the appropriate care to this patient population.

“Most physicians don’t receive formal training in addiction management,” said Dr. Eddie Mathews, a hospitalist and one of the first scholars. “Yet there is a clear need for enhanced education for all medical professionals. We need to learn about the disease process in addiction and learn how we can better treat these patients, both for their opioid use and for any underlying or concurrent medical issues.”

At UAB’s School of Dentistry, professors are taking the lead in the dental field to combat the growing opioid epidemic in hope that their measures will be translated into other practices and fields across the state and country.

“The public health crisis we are dealing with stems from many roots, ranging from easy access to prescription medication and the quantity in which medication is prescribed, to the inability of physicians to set realistic expectations with patients about pain,” said Dr. Nico Geurs, chairman of UAB’s Department of Periodontology. “As dentists, we’re facing a watershed time when patients have a list of requests for pain medications that they think they need and expect to receive, none of which are in line with reality. Pain management with opioids has been normalized in American culture, and it’s rapidly spiraling out of control.”

UAB dental students study pain, anxiety and pharmacology, and they learn to care for people in active addiction and recovery. Their training emphasizes best practices in pain management – such as dispensing small medication doses – and the complex factors to consider when prescribing. Two examples: UAB dentists take thorough patient histories, noting requests for specific painkillers, a possible sign of abuse. They check the Alabama Prescription Drug Monitoring Programdatabase to see who already has received potentially addictive medications.

“Closing the loop isn’t easy, and this is new territory for all of us,” Geurs said. “For the School of Dentistry to be in a position where we can help alter the trajectory of this epidemic is one that we take with great responsibility, and we hope public and clinical education will help protect others moving forward.”

More students at UAB’s School of Nursing use its state-of-the-art Nursing Competency Suites to train students to treat infants born to mothers who used opioids during pregnancy. Students are trained to treat these infants through an NICU simulation lab, which includes an NICU infant manikin that is able to mimic symptoms of a baby suffering from opioid withdrawal.

Strengthening commitment to care

Opioids can affect many different people – chronic pain patients, pregnant mothers – and often lead to other forms of addiction.

UAB Medicine’s Addiction Recovery Program offers an individualized approach to the assessment and treatment of alcohol and substance abuse. Staff includes licensed and certified counselors and social workers who work with patients individually and in groups to provide thoughtful, caring treatment for addiction.

Recovery is possible, Dr. Cayce Paddock emphasizes.

“Some of the most psychologically and emotionally healthy people I know are in recovery from a substance abuse disorder,” said Paddock, who leads the program alongside Dr. Peter Lane. “When I see someone in active addiction, I see them at their lowest. But they can live and thrive. When I meet people in active addiction, I see them as they can be, not as they are in that moment.”

Unfortunately, opioid addiction can affect the most vulnerable as well.

The National Institutes of Health found that a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal every 15 minutes in the United States. Use of opioids during pregnancy can result in a drug withdrawal syndrome in newborns called neonatal abstinence syndrome, or neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NAS/NOWS).

The Comprehensive Addiction Pregnancy Program, led by Dr. Lorie Harper and UAB’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine team, provides an environment in which women suffering substance-use disorders during pregnancy and postpartum can experience recovery through comprehensive, peer-supported, multidisciplinary care. CAPP’s group prenatal care area provides a full complement of obstetric addiction therapy, including opioid replacement therapy, sub-specialty pediatric follow-up, care coordination, social services, peer recovery support and in-home parenting education.

In April 2019, CAPP celebrated its first year of outpatient treatment, graduating more than 40 women through the program from pregnancy to postpartum support. The program is growing tremendously and serves a critical role in providing necessary care and support to addicted mothers.

Alabama hospital emergency departments have become all too familiar with patients suffering from opioid overdose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jefferson County alone had 98 deaths from heroin and 104 from fentanyl use in 2017.

“Emergency departments are the tip of the spear where societal problems meet health care,” said Dr. Erik Hess, vice chairman for research for the UAB Department of Emergency Medicine. “The nation’s opioid epidemic plays out every day in our emergency departments.”

The department has launched a new initiative to help patients with opioid use disorders get appropriate therapy and referral for further assistance in an effort to put a dent in the epidemic.

The program, called the ED MAT, or Medication Assisted Treatment Protocol, is funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The program has several components. ED MAT protocols include the use of buprenorphine/naloxone in the ED to treat the symptoms of opioid withdrawal and to decrease cravings. It is followed by a short-term prescription of buprenorphine/naloxone, if appropriate, and a take-home naloxone kit. Buprenorphine/naloxone, also known as Suboxone, is used to treat opioid use disorder. It can reduce withdrawal symptoms for 24 hours. Patients are connected with a peer navigator while in the emergency department. The navigator assists patients with referrals to follow treatment through the Recovery Resource Center of Jefferson County at Cooper Green Mercy Services.

Prevention through technology

Monitoring the latest tactics in drug sales used online to mask the activity, such as new street names for drugs, is the focus of a partnership between the UAB Computer Forensics Research Lab and Facebook. UAB works closely with Facebook’s Community Operations team to flag content that may violate its Community Standards for illicit drug sales.

“Our partnership with Facebook has grown from identifying spam to anti-terrorism work and now combating drug sales online,” said Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics in UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Our students receive hands-on learning in monitoring online communities to identify and develop a database of terms attempted by bad actors to skirt detection. These key terms will be used within the coalition to fight drug sales across multiple platforms.”

With the expertise based at UAB, CFRL shares insights from its research with Facebook and from what is monitored elsewhere on the web.

The CFRL works closely with the UAB Forensics Science Program led by Elizabeth Gardner, Ph.D., in the Department of Criminal Justice to study emerging drugs of abuse, and counterfeit and illicit drugs purchased online. The interdisciplinary partnership combines the online criminal expertise of CFRL and Gardner’s ability to perform drug analysis, along with her and her students’ chemical expertise, to assist a variety of law enforcement and government agencies.

In working with Gardner and her chemists, the CFRL team now has more than 350 search terms for synonyms and analogues of fentanyl. A combination of pairing these keywords with phrases about the purchase and shipping of drugs, combined with a complex “white list” of academic, medical and journalistic mentions of drugs, helps the team quickly target drug sales sites while avoiding many unhelpful sites.

Future of care

Unfortunately, experts agree that opioid-related issues seem to be here to stay – at least for the time being. With that understanding, UAB has commissioned an Opioid Stewardship Committee. A kickoff meeting will take place this summer, when the committee of about 40 members will be present.

The committee’s mission and vision is to provide safe, effective and patient-centered pain management at UAB Medicine. It will create an organizational infrastructure that advocates for safe opioid prescribing while sustaining effective, patient-centered pain management throughout UAB Medicine through engagement and education of patients, clinicians and administrators.

“The opioid crisis has had a significant detrimental impact on our community,” said Dr. Juhan Paiste, an associate professor of anesthesiology who will chair the Opioid Stewardship Committee. “With the Opioid Stewardship Program, we hope to address the complex issues and pain management needs that our patients have, and ensure our providers have access to the most innovative, efficient, evidence-based and safe-practice guidelines. We know that, once we have our resources and best practices in place, we can make a positive difference for everyone.”

UAB’s commitment to lead in the delivery of the highest-quality patient-centered integrative care is clearly defined in the university’s strategic plan, Forging the Future. Its desire to engage with the community and expand access to resources is a key focus, as is improving the welfare of our society.

The knowledge and will to fight the opioid epidemic from all angles – from the medical care and services it provides to aiding law enforcement and social media giants as they work to identify, squeeze and dismantle online drug dealers —  is why UAB is best positioned to combat the far-reaching opioid crisis.

“UAB is a national leader in research, clinical care and medical education,” said Jordan Demoss, UAB Medicine vice president of Clinical Operations. “We have a responsibility to find solutions to this problem. Our goal is to truly implement a multidisciplinary, integrated approach to battling this epidemic.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

UAB researchers discover new biomarker for age-related macular degeneration

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, along with collaborators from the University of Iowa, have discovered a genetic biomarker that is associated with age-related macular degeneration and delayed rod-mediated dark adaptation – the first visual function for incident AMD in older adults with normal macular health and early AMD.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AMD is a major cause of blindness worldwide and is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness for Americans age 65 years and older.

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Professors Cynthia Owsley, Ph.D., and Christine Curcio, Ph.D., say there are no current proven strategies for preventing AMD or stopping its progression early in the disease when sight could be saved. Two of the strongest genetic associations for age-related macular degeneration are common polymorphisms – variants in DNA sequence – at chromosome 1 (CFH) and chromosome 10 (ARMS2).

“We have previously shown that delayed rod-mediated dark adaptation is the first functional risk factor for early AMD,” said Owsley, the Nathan E. Miles Chair of Ophthalmology. “Delayed dark adaptation means it takes these individuals much longer to adapt to a dark environment – for example, after entering a darkened movie theater – than other individuals. This was important, because vision in bright light was known to be relatively preserved late into the disease. Night vision is affected much earlier. ”

In other words, older adults with delayed dark adaptation have a heightened risk for developing AMD within the next few years.

In the recently published study, Owsley and Curcio, with collaborators Robert Mullins and Edwin Stone of the University of Iowa, established that older adults with delayed dark adaptation are also more likely to have these high-risk genetic polymorphisms at chromosome 1 and chromosome 10.

“This finding was the first genotype-functional phenotype association found in AMD research,” Owsley said. “What we find particularly exciting is that the ARMS2 genotype-phenotype association emerges even at pre-clinical stages of AMD – that is, in older adults who do not yet have AMD. Being able to assess risk at such an early stage could lead to new preventive measures.”

Owsley says the ARMS2 gene is poorly understood from a biological standpoint and is also challenging to study because it is not expressed in adults.

“However, our study suggests that making ARMS2 a research priority will lead to new ways of tackling AMD and developing treatments to prevent this disabling disease,” she said.

Funding for this research was provided by National Institutes of Health grants, the Dorsett Davis Discovery Fund, the National Center for Advanced Translational Sciences of NIH, the Alfreda J. Schueler Trust, the EyeSight Foundation of AlabamaResearch to Prevent Blindness and the Macula Foundation.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama cancer survivor Valerie Powell: ‘Career move saved my life’

(Adam Pope/UAB)

After an eight-year struggle to figure out why a lump formed under her jaw, to say Valerie Powell believes all things work together for good is an understatement.

In 2009, Powell, program coordinator in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Radiation Oncology, noticed a tiny nodule near the hook of her jaw that had not been there before. She assumed it must be a side effect of the several Novocain shots she received at the dentist for a cavity filling. After calling her doctor, Powell received regular CT scans, which provided no further insight.

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After six years, Powell’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, which led to Powell’s wanting another CT scan for her nodule.

“I figured after Mom’s diagnosis and the fact this little nodule had obviously gotten angrier in size and tenderness that I should check on things again,” she said.

Her doctors determined that she had an extra piece in her parotid gland and advised her not to worry.

Things began to change for Powell after she landed her program coordinator job in UAB Radiation Oncology in March 2017. She started researching oncology protocols as part of her duties, and the first protocol she reviewed was a salivary gland tumor study, which persuaded her to try another CT scan from a different clinic, which also proved to be inconclusive. She also received an MRI, which showed the same results.

Powell knew something was wrong and demanded answers.

“I was pretty frustrated, so I emailed one of our radiation oncologists at UAB and explained that two doctors at a different local hospital were unable to figure out what it was,” she said. “I asked if he could take a look at my scans.”

Soon after, Powell found herself scheduling an appointment with Department of Otolaryngology Chair and Comprehensive Cancer Center Senior Scientist William Carroll, M.D. The nodule in question was diagnosed as pleomorphic adenoma – a common benign salivary gland tumor.

“We scheduled surgery to remove the tumor because Dr. Carroll said he would remove it no matter what if I were his family member,” she said. “From the moment I met Dr. Carroll, he did feel like family. He’s always been patient and understanding, and he’s always done his absolute best to make sure I left his office confident and comfortable with the care I was receiving, and I would say that that’s hard to find.”

After the tumor was removed and pathology tests returned, it was determined that the tumor wasn’t actually benign; it was malignant.

“I was flooded with questions in my head like ‘Why did a CT, an MRI and a needle biopsy all confirm that my tumor was benign when it was in fact cancerous,’” Powell said. “Why was this happening to me at 28 when I’ve barely been married two and a half years, and why had no one paid more attention to this knot in my neck for the last seven years since it had shown up?”

The more she thought about it, Powell says, her faith reassured her that things worked out the way they were supposed to.

“I was supposed to go into surgery knowing it was benign because my little heart couldn’t have handled going into surgery knowing that I had let something dangerous live inside of me for that long,” she said. “God knew I needed the excitement of getting it out to carry me into that operating room with peace and a feeling of security.”

In September 2017, Powell began seeing Sharon Spencer, M.D., professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology and senior scientist with the Comprehensive Cancer Center, for her radiation treatments. It was a familiar setting for Powell since she walked the path every day to her office, which resides just a few steps from patient care areas. She worked closely with Spencer in the months leading up to her diagnosis and treatment.

“This was kind of a neat plot twist in the workplace because I showed up to see Dr. Spencer as a patient instead of needing her signature,” Powell said.

After six weeks of daily radiation, Powell’s co-workers threw her a party to celebrate her final day of treatment.

“When I saw 50-plus people crammed in our break room yelling congrats at me, I lost it,” Powell said. “People from every single department – physicians, residents, billing, check-in, dosimetry, therapy, social work, administration and physics. They had all come for me, and right in the middle was my precious husband, K.T., my parents and my brother.”

Powell credits many people – at work and at home – who helped dry her tears, listened to her worries, and saw how the effects of radiation affected her physically and mentally. She says it was a hard road, but it was exactly where she was supposed to be.

“This was the road that led me to the career I never knew I needed,” she said, “and the career move that saved my life.”

Powell hopes to empower cancer patients and survivors through her blog where she documented her treatment and recovery. Click here to follow her journey.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Bilateral lung transplant gives Montgomery teen chance to graduate, better future

(UAB)

Quintarius Daniels has had a hard road to travel in his 17 years of life, but thanks to University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine surgeons, he now has a bright and less complicated future ahead.

On Oct. 17, 2017, Daniels, a Montgomery, Alabama, native, had a bilateral lung transplant at UAB Hospital after years of battling pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that had ravaged his lungs and compromised their function. On May 18, Daniels walked across the stage at Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School, having earned his high school diploma – not to mention ditching his oxygen tank and being crowned prom king in the past seven months.

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“I’m so excited to be where I am today,” Daniels said. “Before I had my transplant, things were hard, because I couldn’t do things other kids could do.”

Daniels was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis as a child. Pulmonary fibrosis is a scarring of the lung tissue that causes permanent damage to the lungs. As the scar tissue builds up and thickens, it prevents the lungs from transferring oxygen to the blood supply and diminishes the supply of healthy, oxygen-infused blood to the heart, brain and other organs.

The reduced lung function makes it increasingly hard to breathe. While the condition may develop slowly over time, many patients diagnosed die within the first three to four years following diagnosis. There is no cure for pulmonary fibrosis, but certain medicines and therapies can help manage the disease.

Lashunda Harris, Daniels’ mom, noticed he was very sick one morning when he was about 2 years old. She quickly rushed him to the hospital, and he was later transferred to Children’s of Alabama, where he was diagnosed. For the past 15 years, Daniels has lived with an oxygen tank, which can hinder a child looking for a normal life.

“He was very limited as a child,” Harris said. “It was hard for him during P.E. at school to be able to do things every other kid could.”

In October 2017, Harris arrived at Brewbaker Tech to pick up Daniels from school. When she arrived, the school nurse brought him to the car in a wheelchair, which was unusual.

“The nurse said he wasn’t feeling good and his chest was hurting,” she said. “We went straight to Children’s.”

After a week’s stay at Children’s, Daniels was transferred to the cardiac intensive care unit at UAB Hospital. It was there they met Charles W. Hoopes, M.D., director of Lung Transplantation in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, who told them that Daniels had been placed on the waiting list to receive a lung transplant.

After more than a week on a temporary mechanical support system to help his other organs rest and recover, and five days of being on the list, Daniels received a double lung, or bilateral, transplant.

“Dr. Hoopes is a wonderful person,” Harris said. “He’s like another parent.”

Daniels says he was excited – and maybe a little scared – for the transplant, but he knew that it would mean things might start to be a little easier for him.

“I was excited and scared because I didn’t know how it would feel to have a new set of lungs,” Daniels said.

After the transplant, Harris says, Daniels is much more of a free spirit. This spring, he was able to run for the first time and often races with his sister. Daniels was also crowned his high school’s prom king, and he’s been able to enjoy time with his friends without having to worry about an oxygen tank.

“I’m very happy that I can live a more normal life as a teenager,” he said. “After the transplant, I’m now able to do more.”

Daniels was thrilled to walk across the stage without the cumbersome oxygen tank to receive his high school diploma. He plans to enroll with the University of Phoenixand later become a video game designer.

“I’ve cried a lot since this transplant,” Harris said. “They’ve been happy tears. We still have a long way to go, but I am so happy he made it through.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

‘A lucky one,’ UAB patient is well after oropharyngeal cancer treatment

(J. Walker)

May 2016 will be a time that Jan Walker will never forget.
Walker, a retired administrative assistant to the superintendent of Boaz City Schools, was getting ready for her regular doctor visit and noticed a lump on her neck. Her primary care physician examined it and determined it was a simple swollen lymph node. Two months later, she began to lose feeling on the right side of her throat and noticed the lump had increased in size.

After seeing other doctors for multiple opinions, she was sent to UAB Hospital, where she met with Department of Otolaryngology Assistant Professor Benjamin Greene, M.D., and found out something she had feared – it was cancer: oropharyngeal cancer, to be precise.

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“I was really upset,” Walker said. “My mom lost her battle with breast cancer, and this just really scared me. The first initial shock of being diagnosed made me think I was going to die, but I’m one of the lucky ones.”

According to Greene, oropharyngeal cancer – the oropharynx includes the tonsils and base of tongue – is a fairly uncommon cancer in general. In non-smokers, in these particular areas, the cancer is usually caused by HPV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 3,200 cases of oropharyngeal cancers were found in women last year and about 13,000 in men in the United States. Walker did not smoke or drink alcohol, which put her in a rare group when she received her diagnosis.

“In general, the five-year survival rate of oropharyngeal cancer has been less than 50 percent,” Greene said. “Of course, this depends on stage at the time of diagnosis; however, we are finding that people who do not smoke or drink heavily do much better. In people who have cancer caused by HPV, the five-year survival rates can be 80-90 percent.”

After receiving her diagnosis, Walker, a Glencoe, Alabama, resident, began her treatment plan in September 2016 and included 35 radiation treatments and five chemotherapy treatments. Doctors also had to put in a port and feeding tube because the radiation made Walker’s throat irritable. Her patient navigators helped set appointments with UAB speech therapists and nutritionists so she could learn how to cope with her new way of life during treatment.

“I had a feeding tube – which probably was the worst part about the treatment – but the doctors told me to be conscious about swallowing so I wouldn’t lose muscle control,” Walker said.

Greene says radiation and chemotherapy for the head and neck can be very hard on people.

“All treatments for this type of cancer can be potentially disfiguring and debilitating,” he said. “It can affect the way we eat, the way we speak and the way we look, as well as our general quality of life.”

After five months of treatment and multiple subsequent follow-up visits, Walker received the news that she was cancer-free in March 2018. She will still have to see her UAB physicians every three months, but she has a new outlook on life and on what could have been a completely disheartening experience.

“This has changed my outlook on life tremendously,” she said. “It has made me closer with God, and I realize now that we’re not promised tomorrow. It was tough on my husband, Tolly, and two sons; but we got through it. We’re much closer as a family.”

Greene says the most important thing people can do to prevent these types of cancers is to quit smoking. Even though HPV is causing more head and neck cancers, smoking is still the No. 1 cause of these diseases. Greene also says it is very important that people go to their doctors whenever they have a sore throat or hoarseness that won’t go away.

“Cancers of the throat can masquerade as many things, such as ear pain, sore throat, hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing, coughing up blood or loose teeth,” Greene said. “Anything that is concerning should prompt a visit to a dentist, primary care doctor or otolaryngologist. It is extremely important to note that any enlarged lymph node or enlarged gland in a person over 40 is not normal and should be examined immediately. In general, people who have their head and neck cancers diagnosed early do much better in the long run and often need less-aggressive treatment.”

The UAB Department of Otolaryngology stands among the nation’s leaders in its field. Physicians provide advanced care across the spectrum of head and neck disorders with surgeons practicing in six areas of specialty. For more information, visit www.uab.edu/medicine/otolaryngology.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)