The Wire

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


    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


    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


    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.

1 week ago

Are swimming pools safe during COVID-19? Tips for safely enjoying the water


Visiting the pool or lake is synonymous with summer fun. As hot weather approaches, parents and swimmers alike are concerned about what COVID-19 means for water-based activities this season. The key question people have is whether COVID-19 can be transmitted through pool water.

“If a pool is maintained with chlorine or bromine and managed, there is a very low chance of getting coronavirus through the water,” said Ellen Eaton, M.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Infectious Diseases. “Years of research around pool maintenance ensures that, if a pool is using the chemicals per standard guidelines, it’s a relatively sterile environment. Although there are some viruses and parasites that are waterborne, coronaviruses are not among them.”


Eaton cautions pool-goers to worry less about coronavirus spreading through water, but rather, focus more on practicing proper physical distancing and hygiene tips when near the water.

“When kids play in the water at a pool, they are often very close to one another, playing on the same ladders and rafts and grabbing the same pool noodles. That’s what worries me — transmission due to close proximity and not properly sanitizing common items found in a pool setting.”

As a way to beat the crowds, she encourages pool visitors to go at off hours — right when the pool opens or toward the end of the day when there are not lines and group gatherings. If there are large pockets of people congregating and socializing, it is not the best time to let your family attend.

“I know that my children want nothing more than to cool off in the pool during the heat of the day; but realistically, that is the most crowded time to visit the pool,” Eaton said. “If we can visit during less popular days or hours, I think that will be the best way for us to continue to enjoy fun family time together while also being responsible and mindful of minimizing any spread of the virus.”

Another tip Eaton shared is to decrease opportunities to touch items and surfaces that do not belong to you. Whether that is using the restroom before you visit the pool, sanitizing the pool chair you may use, or not sharing sunscreen or pool toys, these measures can help make a difference and keep your family safe.

While Eaton stresses that practicing social distancing and being mindful of the virus is important, she does not want a family’s fear of the virus to stop scheduled activities, specifically swim lessons. Water safety should still be a priority for parents. It may mean reorganizing swim lessons to be in a smaller or more private group. Eaton emphasizes that it is still critical that children receive proper swim training and instruction through classes that are often taught during the summer months.

As some families visit a community pool, others will be visiting the lake or beach. Eaton is not as worried about transmission of COVID-19 through either of those types of water — primarily due to the capacity and size of the water body — but reinforces visitors to practice the same physical distancing, hand hygiene and wearing a mask when not swimming, similar to when visiting any public place.

“At the end of the day, it’s important to still make memories and enjoy time with our families this summer. We can still accomplish that, but just in a way that keeps the health and safety of ourselves and others top of mind.”

(Courtesy of UAB)

7 months ago

UAB website tells how to prevent, treat flu and safeguard loved ones


More than 42 million people were affected by the flu during the 2018-2019 season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu season has started in the United States and is expected to run from October through late March.

In response to high flu rates from previous years and in preparation for the peak of the upcoming flu season, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is taking extra measures to promote flu education and prevention through its one-stop flu resource website,

Visitors can find information on about where to get the flu shot, what to do if they have the flu, how to avoid spreading it and other frequently asked questions. It also includes resources such as informational “myth vs. truth” videos and posters that can be shared by schools, churches and other public places. The site is UAB’s primary flu resource center and will be kept up to date regularly throughout the season.


Staying flu free

UAB experts agree that a flu shot is a simple way to avoid the flu. Not only can getting the flu shot keep you from getting the flu, but it can help reduce any symptoms you may experience should you end up having the flu. Another important reason to get the flu shot is that it protects people you come in contact with from becoming infected.

The CDC recommends getting the flu shot before the end of October if possible, as it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect. While you can still get a flu shot in January, experts urge that getting vaccinated earlier in the season better prepares your immune system to fight off any contact with the flu virus, whereas getting it later in the season can lead to less protection.

Employees and students across UAB and UAB Medicine have access to free flu shots, and community members can find where to get their flu shots through the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder.

Treating the flu

According to UAB Hospital Epidemiologist Rachael Lee, M.D., the flu can strike with zero warning.

“You will have fevers, body aches, a sore throat and coughing, and then you can have other symptoms as well, such as shortness of breath,” Lee said. “You can feel dehydrated, meaning you may be dizzy, and you may be a little bit confused.”

Once you have the flu, what can make you feel better?

“Give it time,” said Starr Steinhilber, M.D., physician in UAB’s Division of Internal Medicine. “Viruses will run their course, and there’s very little you can do to speed them up; but there are things that can make you feel better in the meantime.”

Her tips include:

  1. Do not underestimate the power of ibuprofen or acetaminophen. For older children and adults, it can make a world of difference in relieving symptoms.
  2. Rest.
  3. Drink plenty of fluids.
  4. Take an antiviral medicine if prescribed by your doctor.
  5. A humidifier, steam from a hot shower or saline spray will help with sinuses temporarily and do not have many side effects. The more sinuses drain, the less likely you will get a sinus or ear infection.
  6. Lozenges or anything to suck on will help the throat feel better. Your throat hurts because of sinus drainage, and keeping it moist helps reduce that pain.

For more information and helpful tips regarding the flu, visit UAB’s flu resources at

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

UAB School of Dentistry awarded $22.4M to continue national research leadership efforts

(Savannah Koplon/UAB)

The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry has been awarded a seven-year, $22.4 million grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, to continue a national dental practice-based research network designed to improve the nation’s oral health.

Since 2012, UAB has served as the National Administrative and Resource Center by NIDCR, leading the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network. The network is a consortium of participating practices and dental organizations committed to advancing knowledge of dental practice and “practical science,” advancing ways to improve it, and further benefiting real-world, everyday clinical practice.


In this role, UAB leads and oversees six smaller regional research centers in Birmingham; Rochester, New York; Gainesville, Florida; Minneapolis; San Antonio; and Portland, Oregon.

“The dental practice-based research network is a unique investigative union of real-world practicing clinicians and academic clinical scientists that aims to improve the nation’s oral health by expanding the knowledge base for clinical decision-making and moving the latest evidence into routine care,” said Gregg Gilbert, DDS, MBA, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Clinical and Community Sciences, grant principal investigator and national network director. “The network is a precious national resource for our profession and our patients, and we are fortunate that NIDCR has invested in the future of our profession.”

Gilbert said an important aspect of this network is the participation of community practitioners at every step of the process, including serving as authors in peer-reviewed journals and as presenters at national meetings. Furthermore, the network presents a different paradigm for conducting clinical research by making a point of tapping into the practical clinical wisdom that exists in the dental community at large.

“We are thrilled that UAB’s School of Dentistry has been selected to lead this important national research effort,” said Michelle Robinson, DMD, M.A., interim dean of the School of Dentistry. “This network gives the everyday clinician a key voice in the science behind patient care. Including this most-recent grant, Dr. Gilbert’s network has brought more than $117 million in NIH funding to UAB since 2005.”

In addition to Gilbert, Sonia Makhija, DDS, MPH, associate professor in the Department of Clinical and Community Sciences, will serve as the national director of Communications & Dissemination, ensuring that research information reaches practices and is implemented.

This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

Tinted visor from UAB changes way vision-challenged athletes see the game

(Savannah Koplon/UAB)

For 11-year-old Talyn Lewis, playing outdoor sports posed unique challenges. As he was born with albinism, a genetic condition in which a person is born with little to no pigment in their skin, hair and/or eyes, extreme light sensitivity makes it harder for Talyn to play sports outside because he naturally has no melanin in either iris to block the sun.

“The refs didn’t want me to use a tinted visor even though my pediatrician said I could,” Talyn recalled.

University of Alabama at Birmingham optometrists and ophthalmologists who specialize in retina, neurology, low vision and pediatrics worked with lead medical personnel from the Blazers’ athletics department and changed the paradigm for Talyn and other vision-challenged children. Together, they developed a special visor to enable those with medical-related light sensitivity to play football and worked to modify existing restrictions that did not allow for tinted visors or other apparatuses.


“Many kids who have severe light sensitivity want to be like other kids, and that means many want to be part of a team playing outdoor sports,” said Kathy Weise, O.D., professor at UAB’s School of Optometry and director of UAB Eye Care Pediatric Optometry Services. “However, the light sensitivity that kids with certain health conditions experience can be very significant. We knew we could help maximize comfort, safety and access to play for more kids with special conditions. When I was asked to consider ideas that might help kids with light sensitivity or light-induced health issues, I immediately thought of my pal Talyn and wanted to help.”

Weise helped develop BlazerVision, a partnership between UAB Athletics, the School of Optometry and the Department of Ophthalmology, but knew that change needed to start at the high school level. UAB’s team of eye doctors, along with its lead football team physician and athletic trainer, helped develop a list of specific vison and health conditions that may benefit from adding a tinted visor in a football helmet. They pitched it to the medical director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association, where the ball really got rolling.

“We haven’t seen tinted visors meet regulation standards in sports like football because, although they may seem practical, it may be harder to check the face or the eyes quickly through the visor, or factors like weather may cause the visor to fog up,” Weise said. “So, the tinted visors aren’t for everyone. However, knowing that there are a variety of eye and health conditions that could benefit from having a tinted visor, this is a great first step in keeping these eager kids playing sports that they love, just like their peers.”

When Weise and her UAB team of eye and athletic experts presented the idea to the AHSAA, they suspected that Alabama may be the first in the country to offer this type of help for kids.

In spring 2019, the AHSAA approved allowing physician-recommended tinted visors to be worn by athletes with “inherited and/or congenital eye conditions that limit useful vision in daylight or bright-light environments.”

While this comes at the high school level, Weise sees great potential that a tinted visor could one day be allowed at the collegiate level as well.

“We know these eye and systemic conditions aren’t outgrown, so if we are keeping athletes engaged in sports in high school by means of the tinted helmet visor, these kids could have a chance to play in college, too — maybe even as a UAB Blazer,” Weise remarked. “UAB Football would love to continue to develop ways to enable more kids to stay healthy through all types of sports.”

As for Talyn, he still has a few years until he can play sports in high school, but his eyes are definitely open. He loves basketball and knows the path to play football in high school is one he can pursue.

“He’s always been walking around squinting and has always had to keep something on his eyes, so it’s exciting when you find out that there are options out there,” said Karen Gunter, Talyn’s grandmother. “Just to know that something like this tinted helmet visor exists is simply fantastic. It’s really special knowing that there are doctors out there who understand.”

To see a full list of approved eye and systemic conditions that may indicate tinted helmet visors by the AHSAA, visit here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

‘Bean Bags’ aim to give UAB Hospital families basic comforts, necessities

(Savannah Koplon/UAB)

After Kim Bean’s husband Jeremy died in November 2012 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital due to complications from esophageal cancer, she wanted to find a way for her and her two young daughters to give back to the place where they felt a deep connection.

In reflecting on their stay in UAB’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit, Bean realized there were basic comforts and necessities many patient families often do not know they need until they begin to spend an extended time in the hospital. With that in mind, Bean and her daughters, Lilly and Olivia, then ages 6 and 3, respectively, came up with the idea to create “Bean Bags” in memory of their father and husband, Jeremy Bean.


“I had gotten so attached to this hospital and everyone here, and my one constant was coming to this place,” Bean said. “We just started making these bags, and it gave me a reason to come back; I felt good about coming back to UAB.

“After you have practically lived in a hospital, you realize there are so many other families who are literally living in waiting rooms, feeling helpless, not wanting to leave their loved one.”

Since 2012, the Bean family has created and donated more than 100 “Bean Bags” to UAB. The bags are full of items they needed during their time in the hospital. It is their way to pay it forward to other families on a similar journey.

“It’s got everything you may need from a comfy pillow and blanket to over-the-counter medicines, basic toiletries and pre-moistened wipes, to quarters to do laundry or get snacks from the vending machine, and even crossword puzzles,” Bean said. “What started as something that we wanted to do to give back has now gotten others in our community involved who want to contribute to the bags, too.”

Bean explained that, while these items seem basic, being able to brush your teeth or use a comfortable pillow can make you feel a little bit better when you are going through a challenging season. Even a simple crossword puzzle can take one’s mind off things for a few moments.

“Many may not realize it, but those additional basic comforts make all the difference in a person’s quality of life when they are in some ways living in a waiting room,” Bean shared. “During those last two weeks of Jeremy’s life, I didn’t want to leave my husband at all, and I benefited from the kind deeds and actions of others. This is how I can help give back.”

While creating “Bean Bags” has been a great way for Bean and her daughters to honor their late husband and father, their mission speaks volumes about finding positive ways to channel grief after the loss of a loved one.

“What healthier response to grief is there and what better way to spread meaning than to help other people and celebrate their person’s life,” said Wendy Walters, clinical ethics consultant at UAB Hospital, about the genesis of the “Bean Bags” and how the Bean family focused their grief. “When you lose somebody you love, you have the opportunity to figure out how to make meaning out of the loss and how to frame it positively. This is what being a part of a healthy society is all about – taking care of each other.”

Now six years after Jeremy’s death, the Bean family still hand-delivers “Bean Bags” stuffed to the brim to families at UAB with the help of Walters, who distributes them to units in the hospital that have a particular need.

The Bean family’s big takeaway? They are lucky to continue Jeremy’s legacy and to help others.

“We want to keep his memory going, and we think he would really like this,” Bean said. “If nothing else, I hope other patients take comfort from the bags and that, whenever they are in a position where they are in a better place, maybe they will want to give back and pay it forward.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

How one Alabama mother and her 152-day NICU warrior navigated their prematurity journey

(Savannah Koplon/UAB)

When Alisha Thompson Congress, D.O., a family medicine physician at Medical West Hospital, an affiliate of University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System, found out she was pregnant, she recalls it as the perfect surprise. After issues with fertility, this pregnancy was “good until it wasn’t,” Congress recounted.

On April 17, 2016, Congress gave birth to a baby boy, Langston Miles, born at 23 weeks and three days’ gestation, or just over five months of pregnancy. A fragile 1-pound, 7-ounce baby, Langston was just a little heavier than a bottle of water.


He was immediately admitted to UAB’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the only Level IV NICU in Alabama, while his mother – a physician herself – watched.

“It was surreal because, as a doctor, I knew what every beep of the monitor meant. I knew all too well what his labs and vitals indicated, and I knew what the risks were. I couldn’t turn it off,” Congress said. “I just remember praying to be his mom and not a doctor. I am a doctor to thousands, but I am a mother to just this boy – this is my job.”

According to March of Dimes, 380,000 babies are born prematurely – or born before 37 weeks’ gestation – in the United States each year, with complications from premature birth serving as the No. 1 cause of death of babies in our country. November is Prematurity Awareness Month, helping to spotlight the serious health problem that is prematurity and how it impacts the health of babies born too soon.

Langston spent 152 days in UAB’s RNICU, while Congress balanced the ups and downs of understanding what being a NICU parent meant, including the physical changes her body was experiencing post-birth as she was nursing, as well as the emotional rollercoaster associated with not bringing her baby home from the hospital as planned.

For NICU parents, the uncertainties and sense of unfamiliarity can be trying. During a time when parents end up spending uncertain periods of time in the RNICU and/or Continuing Care Nursery, the team at UAB aims to try to provide a sense of normalcy and individualized care to help the family through their journey.

“Having a preterm baby is a huge surprise to most families, and my job is to support them as they navigate a journey most never anticipate. No one puts premature birth or the NICU in their birth plan,” said Sandra Milstead, family nurse liaison in UAB’s RNICU and CCN. “They go through a time of shock and then begin to settle into a foreign place that will be their home for days, weeks – sometimes for months. It’s a trying time for these families, and we aim to help them by providing the best care for the baby and his or her family, as well as providing opportunities to make special moments and memories.”

Langston is now a healthy, vibrant, energetic 2-year-old, and Congress looks back on his time in the NICU as a part of their unique journey, blogging about how her family navigates life after the NICU on her blog, Miracles and Milestones, with the hope of providing support and guidance for other NICU parents; she has even written a book – “Miracles and  Milestones” – with the same purpose.

“Even on good days it can be hard to breathe, as it is easy to feel hopeless when you can’t directly care for your baby,” Congress said. “My hope is that our story can help others who are in the same position know about the struggles, joys and victories of parenting a premature baby.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

From strangers to brothers: An unlikely bond kicked off over UAB soccer

(UAB Athletics)

Sometimes the hope that someone is looking for comes from an unexpected source. That was the case for Thomas Mackley, 4, who received both hope and a forever bond after a chance meeting with a UAB men’s soccer player.

UAB’s men’s soccer team visits Children’s of Alabama each year leading up to their Soccer for a Cure tournament. It gives the players an opportunity to interact with patients and gain a different life experience. Chandler Stroupe, an information systems major from Birmingham and a defender on the soccer team, noticed a boy visiting with the team and took it upon himself to try to interact.


“The first time I saw Thomas, he was in a wagon looking a little shy,” Stroupe said. “I went over and he hopped out, and we started passing the ball around. From there, it kicked off and we hit it off.”

Thomas has pandisacharidase deficiency, a genetic disorder marked by the body’s inability to produce the enzymes needed to break down complex sugars into simple ones. It causes severe stomach pain. Thomas also has primary ciliary dyskinesia, another genetic disorder that leaves him unable to clear his lungs; it can turn a simple cough or cold into an upper respiratory disease or pneumonia.

“Thomas was hospitalized last fall at Children’s for about a week because of some stomach problems,” said his father, Chris Mackley. “I just so happened to see a flier for a soccer event, so we took it upon ourselves to come.”

Mackley noted that Thomas has had trouble making friends and that he was not in good health at the time. Fortunately, that did not hold Thomas back from making an instant connection with Stroupe.

The initial meeting between Stroupe and Thomas was on a Saturday, and by the following Monday, Thomas and his family were in the stands to cheer on the Blazers against Missouri State. The game was motivation for Thomas to get well enough to attend. It encouraged him to eat and drink more and built his confidence.

“The first game I saw him, I wasn’t expecting him to be there,” Stroupe said. “But sure enough, it was him and that pumped me up. After the game, I was able to bring him on the field and pass the ball around. After that, it never stopped.”

The new connection brought the Mackley family to the Blazers’ seven remaining home games, where once again, Thomas found himself on the field surrounded by the entire team.

“At first, it was kind of weird because we were wondering why college kids would want to hang out with a 3-year-old,” said his mother, Ashly Mackley. “It was cool to see them want to play with him, and to have them accept Thomas as one of their own was awesome. The best way to describe it is that Chandler and Thomas have sort of become brothers.”

Thomas was in the stands to see Stroupe play his final game for UAB, but the bond and friendship did not end after the last game. The unlikely best friends have continued their relationship, going trick-or-treating together and meeting up whenever Thomas is in town for doctor appointments. Stroupe has even traveled to the Mackleys’ home in Oxford for a night of wrestling and Xbox matches.

“It’s hard going in the hospital and seeing these kids at such young ages in the situations that they’re in and what they have to deal with so early on in life,” Stroupe said. “But seeing Thomas’ positive outlook and every time I saw him running and jumping into my arms, always having a smile on his face, it was really cool to see.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)