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Archive for November 2011

What family stories remain untold?

Just finished an interview for a future Sunday story. The mother and daughter are working together to write a book about a family tragedy in 1958. The mother is 89 and a key person to remembering important details. The interview reminded me of the importance of mining stories out of our elders before it's too late. My four uncles all saw action in World War II. My Uncle Armand even invited me to a reunion of his battleship. I declined, because I was in my 30s, busy with other things and figured there would be other opportunities later.

Nope. Never got to the reunion. And Uncle Armand has passed on, as have my other three uncles who served.

What family stories do you wish to record — before it's too late?

The Alzheimer’s diet

My dad was a big guy all his life, way over 200 pounds, and often trying to shed a few pounds. But his sweet tooth always got the best of him.

In the late 1980s, he began to shed weight and everyone thought it was great. He was walking every day but his sweet tooth continued. We wondered, later, if the weight loss was related to his Alzheimer's.

Now, in our family, when someone is dieting, we say: “Well, you can just wait for the Alzheimer's diet.”

On Monday, the U.S. National Library of Medicine sent out a press release that finally links this early weight loss with an early symptom of Alzheimer's disease, perhaps part of the “metabolic dysfunction” that occurs with the disease.

Concerning weight and Alzheimer's: Studies show that people who are overweight in mid-life, like my father was, are at greater risk. But those who are overweight in later years “actually have a lower risk of Alzheimer's, something known as the 'obesity paradox,'” according to the press release.


Children and pneumonia: the danger signs

In a recent teleconference, organized by the Global Coalition against Child Pneumonia, two experts in pneumonia research and prevention talked about how risky pneumonia is for children in the United States – and throughout the world.

Pneumonia is the biggest killer of children under 5; every 20 seconds a child somewhere in the world dies of it.

Symptoms can escalate quickly. Some danger signs:

• A child is working so hard to breathe that he or she can’t nurse or sip a bottle.

• A child has an apprehensive expression while trying to breathe.

• A child has a cold and then develops a high fever on top of it.

• A child who is blue around the lips.

• A child who is breathing very fast.

• A child whose chest is moving in a way that indicates it’s extremely difficult to breathe.

The researchers also expressed frustration with parents in the United States who resist pneumonia vaccinations for their children. It’s a different story in other countries.

Dr. Orin Levine with the International Vaccine Access Center said: “Every time we go to Africa to film a documentary about pneumonia, we say, ‘Is there a child in this hospital with pneumonia?’

“They show us a child and every time, there is a kid that dies. When we go to those communities and say there’s a new lifesaving pneumonia vaccine, we don’t get the pushback about the adverse reactions. We get 6,000 people in the football stadium wanting the vaccines.”

Soul Food

I went to a “praying with poetry” gathering at my Catholic parish last night. Well over 60 people attended with most of us close to either side of 60 years old. Our priest read poems by William Stafford, Sherman Alexie and others. I was reminded that at this time of Advent – the four weeks before Christmas – we are called by the Church season to wait and be still and watchful – and reflective.  I stepped over Black Friday and  ignored Cyber Monday to get to my place in church where words filled the pockets of my heart, packages of faith – never neatly tied – I carried all the way home. Here is one for you:


Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island.
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.

William Stafford

(S-R Archives photo)

Modern surprise: hospital gift shops

My Sunday story was about the updated image of hospital gift shops. So if you're visiting someone at the hospital and forgot a gift, duck in. You might be surprised what gift shops now sell.

From the story:

Many retail stores are ailing in these tough times. But the gift shops at Providence Sacred Heart and Deaconess Hospital enjoy healthy revenues, thanks to changing trends in retail and health care and the buy-local movement.

(S-R photo by Colin Mulvany)

Carly Crooks: A daughter’s wise grief

Carly Crooks, 11, recently wrote a book report for her class that her father, Gary Crooks, associate editor on the newspaper's editorial board, first heard during conferences. Father and teacher were both in tears afterward.

Gary's wife, Laura, died suddenly five years ago. She was a journalist here, too. And just 37 when she died. Carly was only 6 years old.

From Carly's book report (about a girl waiting for her mother to come home), Carly's understanding of grief is profound and moving. Here are two excerpts, but please, treat yourself today and read the whole thing here.

When my mother was dying in the hospital, I had to wait with my brother at our neighbor’s house. Wait, for what I was worried my dad would say. That she isn’t coming home. I still wish I had said “I love you” to her before it happened.

It is clear that since people die every day, we are lucky that our loved ones come home. Even if they never do, it’s important we keep them forever in our hearts, because they are always at home there.

(S-R archives photo)

Things pass away, too

Great line from the novel “The Underpainter”: “Entire kingdoms of objects have disappeared from the planet…Think of all the gear associated with the horse-drawn carriage, the winter sleigh, all the straps and bits and bells, the reigns and shoes and blinkers.”

Not enough thanks at the end

The holiday movie season (coupled with Thanksgiving) makes me think of the seasonal movies in which the main characters face death and realize that they had much to be thankful for in their lives and for them, it's not too late to act on it and change.

Of course, A Christmas Carol comes to mind. Scrooge “sees” with the Ghost of Christmas Past all the people in his life who reached out to him and he was just too miserly in spirit to reach back.

In It's a Wonderful Life, the Jimmy Stewart character tries to kill himself because he doesn't realize how many people feel gratitude and love for him.

If the end of your life was nearing, who would you need to thank before you go? And toward whom have you shown great kindness? 

(S-R Archives photo)

Gather, give thanks, skip the shopping

Rebecca's post describing Thanksgivings past sounds familiar. I remember sitting at the dining room table with my sisters, parents, grandparents and great aunt and uncle. I loved the candlelight, the fancy dishes and the music in the next room, courtesy of the hi-fi. My mom did ALL the work and I mean all of it. She claims she had the week to prepare, with no working outside the home, she worked endlessly within that home.

Today our little family of three drove 120 miles to reunite with cousins and more cousins - from 17 to 73-years-old. Our family today includes people who left Russia for Denver to start a new life 14 years ago. We ate turkey, but also homemade ravioli, courtesy of the Italian heritage. And we carefully assessed the possibilities in the just-brought-it last-week- from-Germany box of chocolates.

Our tradition has evolved in our family: our group travels farther, the atmosphere is more casual,  we share a unique diversity, but the gratitude for good food, laughter and stories of our family remains. We are a touchstone for all that has been.

How did this American custom of Thanksgiving begin?? (Hint: Had nothing to do with Black Friday or Cyber Monday)

My mother’s Thanksgivings

My mother did our Thanksgivings, all my growing up years — with the six kids and later, their spouses and their children. It's my favorite holiday.

Our family felt big back then, but now it has grown even bigger. Mom has 15 grandchildren and more than 30 great-granchildren. Five of her six kids live in the Inland Northwest, and my sister Lucia is moving back in January, after 40 years living in the East.

Nearly half my grown nieces and nephews, and their children, also live here.

We would have to rent out a hall to fit us all and none of us grown daughters, or our sisters-in-law, inherited the cultural and familial imperative that the matriarch must do the holidays, without much help and without complaint.

So tomorrow, little family groups, tiny moons circling a giant Earth of a family, will gather in twos, threes, fours, fives all over the town, all over the land. My 91-year-old mother will go out to dinner with my brother Rob and his wife, Mariko.

And though we have all sorts of good excuses why none of us can, or should, do a family Thanksgiving for 50 people, it still evokes grief in me, the loss of something I took for granted all my growing up years.

So when I see this photo, taken on Thanksgiving Day, 1970, in my childhood living room, I feel gratitude for my mother (in the red shirt, giving the peace sign) for all the years she did it, without complaint, without much help. We couldn't follow your footsteps, we modern daughters. But thanks, Mom, for walking the Thanksgiving trail anyway.

( Nappi family photo, Thanksgiving 1970)

Water, water everywhere

We are preparing for a flood here in the Pacific Northwest. I receive lists of emergency supplies and plans on what to do if we get stranded at work. I did get stranded at work a few years ago when the rivers rose and we became an island. It was the best slumber party I ever attended! We knew the water was coming so we arrived at work with our personal survival kits of DVDs, comfort food, crossword puzzle books, grocery store magazines and really tacky sweats to sleep in.  Sleeping two nights on my office floor I could have lived without, but we sat up late and created party central.  Jokes and stories and true confessions kept us entertained. While the rivers rise, I am not thinking of flashlights as much as “what can I bring to the party?”

If you were stranded at work for three days, what do you consider essential to have for comfort? For entertainment? For survival?

(From the S-R photo archives: A truck drives down flooded Interstate 5 in Lewis County in 2009)

Life in the 90s

If you have any family member in his or her 90s, the U.S. Census Bureau report released last week on our country's 90-year-olds is a fascinating read. And baby boomers really need to pay attention. These oldsters among us are blazing the new trails here.

In 2050, 9.9 percent of the population will be 90 or older, boomers all.

Some other interesting tidbits from the report (with my editorial opinion thrown in!)

Keep studying

Education is a strong indicator of longevity. The current 90-somethings attained higher education than average for their cohort; 61 percent had completed high school. So those college and graduate degrees in liberal arts we boomers pursued that haven't resulted in the big bucks might give some longevity payback later on.

Go to your reunions

More than 80 percent of the folks 90 and above are widows. The longevity gap between men and women is expected to narrow, but women who hope to be married in their 90s should keep in touch with men from their youth — or with younger men!

Will we be as lucky?

99.5 percent of the 90-plus population has health-care insurance (Medicare mostly). Will 90-plus boomers be able to say the same?

(AP photo of Nelson Mandela, who is 93)

Yet another reason to age naturally

From Associated Press:

Police say a South Florida woman posed as a doctor and gave a series of toxic injections to a woman who wanted a bigger backside and curvier body. Sgt. Bill Bamford is with the Miami Gardens Police Department. He says Oneal Ron Morris was arrested Friday after a yearlong hunt. Morris, who was born a man but identifies as a woman, has been charged with practicing medicine without a license with serious bodily injury.Morris was released from jail on bond, and a telephone listing for her could not be found. Police say Morris injected cement, mineral oil and a sealant used to fix flat tires into another woman's rear end in May 2010. Investigators believe Morris performed this same procedure on herself and possibly on other people.

Through Eternity into Forever

The third week in November holds magic for our family when we celebrate National Adoption Day. My teen-age son and I opt out of our routine and slip over to the courthouse where families gather. Today we witnessed nine children joining seven families. The judge sets aside all courtroom formality and invites the kids forward; they wriggle and shriek and giggle and cling to their new mommies and daddies and siblings. The judge told the single mom adopting a toddler-sibling group of three: “You have saved their lives, literally.” We stand up and clap wildly at the end of the legal proceedings. Kids spill juice and indulge in treats, balloons, face painting and free books during the reception.

Mostly, I slip into my own memories of meeting our infant son in Latin America and spending a morning in that courtroom where my husband and I answered endless questions, swore under oath to love our child - even if our married love for each other ceased (it hasn't). Psychologists asked us (very silly) questions and then we waited for five weeks for the legal dossier to be complete. We traveled through the night sky over Brazil to Miami, through Minnesota and landed in Seattle at midnight. Seventeen years later we still marvel at the amazing child who calls us mom and dad.

Families form in many ways, for many reasons. And families look different than our  traditional model of one mom, one dad. Today, the newly-formed families share the same trait we have in our family: we will love our children through eternity into forever.

Welcome home, sweet children. While others may talk about what good fortune you have found, all adoptive parents know the truth: you are the good fortune of your parents.

Tonight, 9800 children in Washington live in foster care with about 25% of these children waiting for a forever family, children eligible for adoption. Hopefully, soon, they will become the good fortune of waiting families.

Bucket lists and Kubler-Ross

If you've ever wondered why you, or someone else you know, didn't grieve in the stages of grief identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 40 years ago, wonder no more.

Turns out that grief experts in recent years are rethinking those stages. At a Hospice Foundation of America teleconference today at Hospice of Spokane, researchers discussed the new models used to talk about grieving.

With due respect to Kubler-Ross, they said the stages she identified — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — made grief seem like a mechanical car wash.

Now, grief experts say grief processes are much more individualized. One of my favorite new models they mentioned is the “task” process. In other words, what tasks remain undone for the dying person?

They said the term “bucket list” (made famous in the 2007 movie) is now used in Hospice. But for dying people, it's not usually skydiving.

Some examples given at the teleconference.

The request for a large hamburger, but the person might take just one bite.

The request to Skype with a child in Europe.

Another great line from the workshop: People in grief do not need to move on, but carry on.

(S-R archives photo of Kubler-Ross)

The sadness of suicides

Was just reading Cathy's post below when the police scanners in the newsroom started screaming with activity, sirens and lots of voices. A woman just jumped from the Monroe Street Bridge, a block or two away from The Spokesman-Review building.

We only report suicides when it is done in a public manner, such as a bridge jump. But our scanners tell a bigger story. We often hear of police being called to a home where a person has killed himself or herself — and many, many calls of people attempting suicide.

As the CDC recently reported:

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are important public health concerns in the United States. In 2008, a total of 36,035 persons died as a result of suicide, and approximately 666,000 persons visited hospital emergency departments for nonfatal, self-inflicted injuries.

As children in Catholic school, we were taught to say the “Hail Mary” when we heard fire and ambulance sirens. I wonder, what is an appropriate response when you hear suicide attempts over the police scanner at work?

Morse code or megaphone - listen

Social media can be fun: finding long-lost loves, keeping close with far-away friends and family and even getting a glimpse into the details of co-workers' lives. But at some point, we have to listen, really listen to the tweets and posts and texts.

 No one listened to Texas high school senior Ashley Billasano. And so, she took her life.

No one listened to her reports of abuse; abuse she claimed went on for four years. No one called, asked, informed a teacher or trusted adult about one of her haunting final tweets that read: “I'd love to hear what you have to say but I won't be around.”

Our children communicate however they can; sometimes they are loud and in our faces, but other times they whisper, in barely audible tones, their desperation. Sometimes their cries are as quiet as a tweet.

Adults, friends, teachers…anyone who hears those cries has the moral obligation to act.

Facebooking from her hospital bed

Sarah Blain Bain is one of those Spokane women everyone seems to know. She has 685 Facebook friends, and she probably knows all of them pretty well.

She was instrumental in starting a support group for parents who lose children at birth or shortly after. See story here.

Sarah, in addition to many other things this year, is teaching journalism at Whitworth University. I've been scheduled for a month to talk today with one of her classes today. We were going to meet before class to catch up on things.

But over the weekend, she underwent emergency surgery to remove her appendix. And she Facebooked it, so all I had to do was reassure her I was still good for teaching her class today, so mark that worry off her list.  

Sarah wrote at one point: “The extrovert in me is so grateful to have FB available for my first surgery.”

Wonder if she's the beginning of a trend. Don't have to call, bug or visit folks in the hospital. Just look for their Facebook updates.

Heal quickly, Sarah!

My mom’s first rock concert at 91!

My mom, who turns 91 today, doesn't have much of a bucket list. She's mostly content to wake up every morning alive, with mind intact, and a body that still works pretty darn well.

Seeing a rock concert wasn't ever on her list. But she got to see her one and only Saturday night at Michael Jackson's “IMMORTAL World Tour” at the Spokane Arena. I love Cirque du Soleil performances and expected more along the dance/acrobatic/costume line. But the Jackson show skewed rock concert and the sound was so loud (too loud in my opion) that I plugged my ears most of the show.

It pretty much spoiled the experience for me, but my mom loved it. Why? She had never seen anything like it before and she simply took out her hearing aids.

(S-R archive photo)

Too soon, too young

The accident which killed two University of Idaho students seems too familiar a story. We learn about these tragedies each year. And each year I think of Tyler.

Tyler and I were in high school together; he played a wind instrument in Varsity Band while I “percussed” in the percussion section. He and a few other boys left Minnesota for South Dakota over Easter vacation (we called it Easter vacation back in the 1970s). They were fulfilling an activity to earn their Eagle Scout status. They were good kids.

The van crashed when Tyler drove at excessive speeds.  A tire blew and the van crashed in a remote location. No alcohol - just speed. By the time help arrived, Tyler was critical. His physician dad arrived in time for a last conversation with Tyler. Jim is in a wheelchair forever and Bill sustained neck injuries. They were all best friends.

When my boyfriend, Stephen, arrived home from his Easter vacation, I picked him up at the airport, but kept the car radio turned off: the accident was the lead story on each station. Once in Stephen's house, we hauled his luggage into his bedroom and I slowly told him about his dear friend. We cried together. Grief counselors did not show up at school in those days, we just took care of each other.  We collected money for trees to be planted at the children's hospital in Minneapolis. Band students attended the memorial service where Tyler's father spoke loving words about his son. I still remember crying into my boyfriend's shoulder - he was wearing a brown suede sport jacket.

At a Varsity Band reunion many years ago, I learned that at least two classmates have sons named Tyler.

The 38 years have eased our grief, but not the acute memories of losing a good friend to tragedy, too soon. My prayers for the surviving students, the grieving families and UI officials.

(S-R archives photo)

You just never know…

Seems that suffering and pain are no respecter of persons. Recently George Clooney spoke out about his suicidal ideations during the time he was hospitalized and experiencing excruciating pain.  

Health care professionals look at pain management as an essential component of treatment and as a science unto itself. However, science is not perfect. George's story reminds us to pay attention to those around us who suffer all kinds of pain: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual because you just never know…

(S-R archives photo)

Carol’s final gift: Speaking about Alzheimer’s

Ran into Carol Speltz today at the Veterans Day benefit her husband Karl organizes every year at Jack and Dan's.

Carol, who is in her early 70s, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease two years ago. The longtime educator and Christmas Bureau volunteer has been open about her diagnosis from the beginning. See story.

I haven't seen her for several months but saw her today and Carol seems to be still tracking well. And she looked great. She has given talks to seniors groups on what it's like to live with early Alzheimer's, and she asked me to spread the word that she is willing to give more of those talks. Carol is still amazing eloquent, especially about what it's like to know you are losing your memories.

If you are interested in contacting Carol let me know at

(S-R archives photo)

How long is your warranty?

A new piece of furniture arrived yesterday and the warranty information read: The term “lifetime” as it is used in this warranty is defined as 25 years. 25 years? What if we all arrived on Earth with warranties? How long would your lifetime warranty last?

Should alcoholics get new livers?

Carla Johnson, a former S-R staffer now working for the AP, has an interesting story about this debate.

An excerpt:

Some gravely ill alcoholics who need a liver transplant shouldn't have to prove they can stay sober for six months to get one, doctors say in a study that could intensify the debate over whether those who destroy their organs by drinking deserve new ones. In the small French study, the vast majority of the patients who got a liver without the wait stopped drinking after their surgery and were sober years later. The study involved patients who were suffering from alcohol-related hepatitis so severe that they were unlikely to survive a six-month delay.

What's your opinion?

Dead or alive in there?

Have you ever worried that you might end up (after an accident or a stroke) with a body that doesn't work at all but a brain still active?

It happens. Read or watch The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the true story of the writer who was still intact in his brain and ended up writing a book by blinking his eyes and choosing letters on a chart.

Anyway, scientists recently discovered that EEG tests can help indicate if anything is still going on in the mind of a person unable to communicate. According to an Associated Press story:

Researchers used an EEG machine to examine brain waves and found that three of 16 vegetative patients could understand what they heard and follow instructions. EEG machines are far more common and less expensive than the large functional MRI scanners that have shown awareness in some vegetative patients in previous studies. So they could be set up in a patient's room, avoiding logistical problems that can make it dangerous or impossible to have a vegetative patient scanned at an fMRI facility, researchers said.

Fly with your suit on

An advantage to having a “death blog” (as its nicknamed in the newsroom) is the conversations that now happen around my desk.

This morning, we talked about proper funeral attire, and my colleague Gina Boysun told me that three of her male relatives wore their funeral suits on the plane to their grandmother's funeral in central Montana.

They didn't have to use suitcase space to pack the suits. And the suits didn't wrinkle.

Good tip, Gina. Thanks. 

Just a test: world won’t end tomorrow

Tomorrow, the federal government is testing the Emergency Alert System at 2 p.m. Eastern time, 11 a.m. Pacific time.

We've been getting memos today from government agencies asking us to let our readers know that when the usual honking/buzzing noise comes on the TV tomorrow for 30 seconds, it might not indicate in a texting streamer that this is, indeed, just a test. (The words will be spoken, supposedly, but not seen).

There are worries that people will freak out, Orsen Welles War of the Worlds style, and call 9-1-1.

The memos prompt this question:

In your lifetime, do you think you'll ever hear the alert system and it WON'T be just a test?

Life and death at 3 a.m.

My niece Gretchen who lives in LA is traveling in the East and her Facebook post read this morning: “Woke up at 2:30am and now can't go back to sleep.”

I was up at 3 this morning and never returned to slumber. I bet all over the land, people are experiencing some restless nights and early mornings, the byproduct of falling back to “normal” time Saturday. It takes about a week for the body to adjust.

A while back, I read somewhere how we should embrace the existential 3 a.m. hours, as irritating and fearful as they can be. The questions, the anxiety, the regrets and the worries that emerge often allow us a sort of life review.

In the awake-but-wish-I-were-sleeping state, some truths can emerge, because the distractions are gone. It's just you and the middle of the night.

What do you do think about in the existential hours of the night? 

 (S-R archives photo)

Andy Williams talks about his bladder cancer

Andy Williams, 83, has bladder cancer. He announced it at a concert Saturday in Branson, Mo.

As the celebrities of my childhood age and pass away, the memories stir.

One of the first grown up movies I ever saw was I'd Rather Be Rich at the Fox Theatre in 1964. My sister and her husband took me along for some reason (I was in third grade) and I was astonished at the couples in the dark theater making out. I kept staring. Once couple behind me finally told me to quit staring.

And when his ex-wife, Claudine Longet, was accused of shooting her skier husband, in 1976, it was THE story, especially Andy's devotion to her, and the Saturday Night Live skits that followed soon became infamous.

Just how we mark time by the aging of family members, we do it with famous people, too.

(S-R archives photo)

Naming names

Every year, in a Sunday that falls closest to All Saints and All Souls Day, the names of all the parishioners who have died in the past year are read aloud at St. Aloysius Church on the GU campus.

After a month's worth of names are read, the congregation sings:

“All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.”

Wouldn't be a bad thing for all of us to ask in our final days.  

Did you ever wonder…

…how Andy Rooney spent the minutes outside of 60 Minutes?

The legendary commentator died Friday from post-surgery complications. He was 92.

His words, his attitude, his I'll-say-whatever-I believe voice gave us perspective and always something to think about after the second hand stopped.  He earned three Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and a Writers' Guild of America award. He was a syndicated newspaper columnist.

He reminded me of a crabby uncle who in any moment would offer advice, kindness or a little extra cash should you need it.

His words remain his legacy - no wondering about that. 

(Photo courtesy of

The silent season

This is my favorite time of year, the slow move of fall toward winter. I welcome the change back to standard time and the 4 p.m. darkness. Even as a child, I loved the foggy post Halloween nights. Mostly, I love how things quiet down. At 9 p.m. in summer evenings, people mow their lawns. In these fall and winter months, the outside is dark and the noises shut off. Exhale.

Dr. Hrair Garabedian: Lifesaver

Thirty five years ago today, my nephew Ian was born in Spokane. Right away, doctors knew something was wrong because he looked blue/black. A valve to his heart had not opened properly. Surgery wasn't an option. He was given the last rites.

Many in the family remember it was the only time anyone saw my father cry.

A pediatric heart specialist, Dr. Hrair Garabedian, was called in. He told the family that a drug that had been tried only on adults with this condition would be a long shot, but he wanted to try it. The medication worked. Ian lived to celebrate 35 years of life.

I saw Dr. Garabedian in 2008 when he received the Peter Claver Award, a high honor from Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. I thanked him for saving my nephew's life. He told me he actually remembered Ian, and he especially remembered my dad — a big, strong patriarch — crying in the waiting room, thinking all was lost with his newborn grandson.

Happy Birthday, Ian. And thanks again, Dr.Garabedian.

(Family photo of Ian as a toddler)

Saving teens: graduated drivers licenses

Need some good news this afternoon? Here's some from the National Institutes of Health.

Programs that grant privileges to new drivers in phases — known as graduated licensing programs — dramatically reduce the rate of teen driver fatal crashes, according to three studies funded by the National Institutes of Health.Such graduated licensing laws were adopted by all 50 states and the District of Columbia between 1996 and 2011. The NIH-supported research effort shows that such programs reduced the rate of fatal crashes among 16- 17-year-olds by 8 to 14 percent.

World Pneumonia Day coming soon

There's a well-known quote: “Pneumonia is the old person's friend.” This means that an older person who is in very ill health and would like to pass on is sometimes helped along by pneumonia.

So it was a bit of a surprise to receive this news release today from the Centers for Disease Control. It reports that pneumonia kills more children than any other illness. Approximately 9 million children aged 5 years and under die each year worldwide and 1.6 million die from pneumonia.

There is a vaccination.

World Pneumonia Day, Nov. 12, will raise awareness of this killer and ways to prevent it.


Grieving Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre — five small towns in Italy —was a favorite weekend getaway for Gonzaga in Florence students long before Rick Steves “discovered” the region.

But thanks to Rick Steves' travel blog, I discovered that parts of Cinque Terre were literally torn apart due to massive flooding. Steves' reported:

One of our most beloved corners of Europe suffered a severe natural disaster on Tuesday, October 25. Flash flooding, triggered by unusually heavy rain, ripped through Italy's Liguria region and inflicted serious damage on the Cinque Terre towns of Monterosso and Vernazza. In these towns, flooding was accompanied by landslides, filling streets with rocks, mud and debris up to 12 feet deep.

The YouTube videos of cars in raging waters, rushing to the sea, are heartbreaking. People are missing, the damage is untold and it's unknown whether the trail that connects the towns will be walkable again. That urge to tell others who love Cinque Terre as much as I do reminded me today of the urge you have to tell others when a friend or family member is sick or dying. So the news is now out on our GU in Florence email. And we hope for restoration soon for this heavenly part of the world.

(AP photo)

Transplant recipients at risk for 32 kinds of cancer

As if it's not stressful enough to wait, receive, recover and pay for an organ transplant these days, the National Institutes of Health reported this disturbing news yesterday:

Organ transplant recipients in the United States have a high risk of developing 32 different types of cancer, according to a new study of transplant recipients which fully describes the range of malignancies that occur. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and their colleagues evaluated medical data from more than 175,700 transplant recipients, accounting for about 40 percent of all organ transplant recipients in the country. The results of this study appeared in the Nov. 2, 2011, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Ronald McDonald House mourns little Katelyn

The Ronald McDonald House in Spokane hosts families with children battling illness. The staff, volunteers and other families support one another and love the sick children among them, knowing they will lose some of them.

One of those children, Katelyn Roker, 6, died recently of neuroblastoma, a cancer that attacks nerve tissue. Many people rallied around Katelyn, both in Spokane and in her hometown, Kalispell, Mont.

When they heard Katelyn was coming home from Spokane to die in her home, volunteers in Kalispell, redecorated her room. A donor paid for a private jet to ferry her from Spokane to Kalispell.

Katelyn shared her story with other children and adults. In the photo here, she's giving a talk to  Ronald McDonald House families last February.

Mike Forness, executive director of Ronald McDonald House, attended Katelyn's funeral, along with at least four other families who got to know Katelyn and her family while staying at the house in Spokane. He wrote to the board: “Katelyn’s service was very honoring and the Big Sky country of Montana was as blue as her eyes that day.”

(Photo courtesy of Ronald McDonald House)

The day of your birth

Google undertook an ambitious project a few years ago to digitalize newspaper archives of papers throughout the country. The project has been discontinued but you can still access many stories from the past by googling “News archives.” Last night I scrolled through the Spokane Daily Chronicle on my birthdate in 1955 and though much has changed in 56 years — news of weddings, engagements and society events took up several pages, and the worry about polio is no longer — many of the issues remain similar. The stock market was tumbling up and down, Congress was arguing over the cost of Social Security benefits, city leaders were debating about changes in parking meter times downtown and Judge Carl Quackenbush scolded a woman on trial for passing bad checks. Ah, the circle of life.

The knot of grief in your chest

When my dad died in 1996, my heart literally hurt in a physical way.  I kept saying to people: “It's like a scarf with a huge knot tied right at my heart.”

Now, I know it was a classic symptom of grief. From our column today:

Jackie Kleinjans, director of bereavement services at Hospice of North Idaho, says the physical symptoms of grief can also mimic heart problems. “People say, ‘I’m having heart palpitations. I have this heaviness in the chest and shortness of breath,’ ” she says.“They often put their hand to their chest and say that’s where the heaviness is manifesting itself. There’s a lot of truth and wisdom in that phrase ‘heartache.’ ”

In rare instances, this heartache is an actual physical response to grief known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy, also called broken heart syndrome.

Has your heart ever hurt from grief?

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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