Monday, February 18, 2019

Black History Month 2019: Celebrating the Achievements of African-Americans in Healthcare and Medicine - Part II

Each year, Black History Month gives us an opportunity to reflect on and honor the ways in which African-Americans have shaped the United States.

For Black History Month 2019, the Louisiana Department of Health will be highlighting African-American pioneers in medicine and healthcare who have not only advanced and advocated for the health of all Americans, but also advanced race relations in the U.S.

To view part one, click here.

Charles Drew - First African American surgeon examiner of the American Board of Surgery and created a system that allowed the immediate and safe transfusion of blood plasma.

Born on June 3, 1904 in Washington, D.C. to Richard T. Drew and Nora Burrell, Charles R. Drew grew up in the city. He attended Dunbar High School, where his excellence in academics and athletics earned him an athletic scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts.

After graduating from Amherst in 1926, he began work as director of athletics at Morgan College before attending McGill University’s medical school in Canada. There, he studied with Dr. Beattie and developed his interest in blood storage before he graduated in 1933. He returned to Washington D.C. to become a professor at Howard University’s Medical School.

In 1938, the Rockefeller Foundation offered Drew a research fellowship at New York’s Columbia – Presbyterian Medical Center to study blood.  While there he discovered that plasma, a pale yellow liquid without the blood cells could be stored, preserved, and used in time of emergency.  Shortly after receiving a Ph.D., he was asked to direct a pilot program for collecting, testing, and distributing blood plasma in Great Britain.  During the five-month program, Drew and his associates collected blood from over 15,000 people and gave about 1,500 transfusions.

With the success of the program, Drew gained international fame and was appointed director of the first American Red Cross Plasma Bank. During World War II, he recruited 100,000 blood donors for the U.S. Army and Navy.  Their blood saved the lives of thousands of wounded soldiers.

He returned to Washington D.C and became the head of Howard University’s Department of Surgery and later Chief Surgeon at the University’s Freedman’s Hospital.

Drew died on April 1, 1950 while en route to a Tuskegee Institute medical conference.

Dhadon, D. (2008, December 30) Charles R. Drew (1904-1950). Retrieved from

Helen Dickens – First African-American woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons

Helen Dickens was born in Dayton, Ohio on February 21, 1909. Her father, Charles Dickens, had been enslaved in Tennessee as a child and moved north to Ohio shortly after the end of the Civil War. It was there he met her mother, Daisy Jane Green, who had migrated to the United States from Canada with her family. Settling in Dayton, the couple had three children. At her father’s insistence, Helen Octavia Dickens attended integrated elementary and secondary schools, deciding to pursue a career in medicine at the age of 12.

Dickens received a B.S. at the University of Illinois in 1932, followed by an M.D. from the University of Illinois School of Medicine in 1934. The only African-American woman in her graduating class, Dickens next completed a 2-year residency in obstetrics at Provident Hospital in Chicago. She then moved to Philadelphia, working with the birthing practice of Dr. Virginia Alexander, part of Asparanto Health Home, a position she would hold for seven years.

In 1942 Dickens returned to school, this time at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Medicine, earning a Masters Degree in Medical Science with a focus on obstetrics. In 1945, she passed the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology board examinations, making her the first African American woman to hold the certification in Philadelphia.

In 1945, Dickens became Director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy Douglass Hospital in Philadelphia, one of only a few racially integrated facilities in the city. In 1951 she joined the staff of the Women’s Hospital, serving as chief of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology from 1956 to 1964, when the hospital was taken over by the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine. Dickens eventually held faculty positions at both the Medical College of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine where she served as associate dean of minority admissions, helping to recruit and retain students of color.

Dickens’ passions extended well outside the classroom and into the community. In 1967, for example, she founded a Teen Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania aimed at aiding young mothers, one of the first such centers in the country. She also promoted early cancer screenings and prevention, especially in underserved communities.  Dickens served on the board of directors for numerous nonprofit organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the Children’s Aid Society, and the Devereaux Foundation.

During her career, Dickens received honorary degrees from both the Medical College of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania. She was recognized by the American Medical Women’s Association, the National Association of Medical Minority Educators, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the National Council of Negro Women, and the Frederick Douglass Society. Following her retirement in 1998, the University of Pennsylvania named a clinic in her honor: the Helen O. Dickens Center for Women’s Health.

Dr. Dickens passed away on December 2, 2001 at the age of 92.

Mahoney, E. (2017, December 24) Helen Octavia Dickens (1909-2001). Retrieved from

Friday, February 15, 2019

Protect your heart and celebrate #OurHearts during American Heart Month

By the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Did you know that people who have close relationships at home, work or in their community tend to be healthier and live longer? One reason, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), is that we’re more successful meeting our health goals when we join forces with others. To underscore this point and mark American Heart Month this February, NHLBI is launching the #OurHearts movement, to inspire people to protect and strengthen their hearts with the support of others.

Here are some facts, how-to tips and resources to inspire you to join with others to improve your heart health. 

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. Most middle-aged people (90 to 95 percent) and young adults (75 to 80 percent) have one or more risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, or being a smoker or overweight. Having more than one risk factor increases your risk for heart disease much more than having just one.

Why reaching out is good

Having positive, close relationships and feeling connected with others benefits our overall health, including our blood pressure and weight. Having people in our lives who will motivate and care for us helps, but having feelings of closeness and companionship helps our health too.

Making the following heart-healthy lifestyle changes will be easier and more successful if you work with other motivated people:
  • Get physically active.
  • Achieve a healthy weight and maintain it.
  • Eat heart healthy foods.
  • Quit smoking.

Remember, you don’t have to make big changes all at once. Small steps will get you where you want to go. Here are some tips to get you going.

Move more

Invite family, friends, colleagues, or members of your community to join you in your efforts to be more physically active:
  • Ask a colleague to walk with you on a regular basis, put the date on both your calendars, and text or call to make sure you both show up.
  • Join an exercise class at your local community center and bring a neighbor along. Carpool to make it a regular date.
  • Grab your kids, put on some music and do jumping jacks, skip rope or just dance.
  • Make your social time active and encourage everyone—family and friends alike— to think of fun things that get you off the couch and moving.

If you have a health condition, including heart disease or high blood pressure, talk with your doctor before increasing your activity.

How much physical activity is enough? Aim for at least 2½ hours of physical activity each week — that’s just 30 minutes a day, five days a week. In addition, do muscle strengthening exercises two days a week. Can’t carve out a lot of time in your day? Don’t chuck your goal, chunk it! Try 10 or 15 minutes a few times a day. NHLBI’s Move More fact sheet provides ideas to get and keep you moving.

Aim for a healthy weight

If you’re overweight, find someone in your friend group, at work or in your family who also wants to lose weight. (Every little bit can help!) Check in with them regularly to stay motivated or join a weight loss program together. Do healthy activities together, like walking or playing on a neighborhood sports team, and share low-calorie, low-sodium meals or recipes. (Pregnant women should not try to lose weight, but they can exercise.)

Eating heart healthy

We tend to eat like our friends and family, so ask others close to you to join you in your effort to eat healthier. Need healthy eating ideas? Try NHLBI’s Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. It’s free and scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and improve blood cholesterol levels.

Quit smoking

To help you quit, ask others for support or join a support group. Research has shown that people are much more likely to quit if their spouse, friend or sibling does. Social support online can also help you quit. All states have quit lines with trained counselors — call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). You’ll find many free resources to help you quit, such as apps, a motivational text service, and a chat line at the websites and (Louisiana also offers help at

If you need extra motivation to quit, consider the health of your friends and family: Being around other people’s smoke, called secondhand smoke, is dangerous. Thousands of adult nonsmokers die of stroke, heart disease and lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.

Visit #OurHearts for inspiration on what others around the country are doing together for their heart health. Then join the #OurHearts movement and let NHLBI know what you’re doing with friends, family, or others to have a healthy heart. Tag #OurHearts to share how you're being heart healthy together.

(For more tips on going tobacco free, healthy eating and active lifestyle, visit

Friday, February 8, 2019

Adult vaccinations: It’s never too late to vaccinate

By DR. DAVID HOLCOMBE | LDH Region 6 Medical Director

Vaccinations are not just for kids. There are at least a half-dozen immunizations that are recommended for adults.  

Influenza still remains the most obvious and well-recognized adult vaccination. In 2017, over 30,000 people died from the flu, most of them either young children or seniors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu vaccine for everyone older than 6 months of age, especially seniors. There is no upper age limit for adults.

The flu virus changes its genetic makeup as it goes around the world, undergoing what is called antigenic shift and drift. Since there is no universal, long-acting vaccine yet, this means a new flu vaccine must be developed each year based on the best educated guesses and data from surveillance sites all over the world.

Because flu vaccines are re-formulated every year, receiving a new flu shot every year is a must. The flu season usually peaks in February, but adults and children should be vaccinated as early as September and all the way through March if necessary. Even though the effectiveness of the vaccine may vary somewhat from year to year, it is always better to have some immunity than none at all. The flu shot never causes the flu.

Although most people know that their tetanus shot should be renewed every 10 years, what is less well known is that tetanus is included in a vaccine called TDaP (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis). The immunity for all three organisms tends to wane with age. While tetanus is still a constant threat, pertussis (or whooping cough) poses a life-threatening risk to infants less than 1 year old, who lack complete immunity at that age despite vaccination. All adults, especially seniors, need this booster at least once for renewed immunity from all three infections, with renewal every 10 years thereafter.
Pertussis (whooping cough) is the most problematical of the three organisms since it is found regularly in adults where it manifests as a chronic, annoying cough (or sometimes no symptoms at all in so-called “carriers”). Parents or grandparents can inadvertently transmit pertussis to infant children who can die from the disease from suffocation. No caregiver wants to be responsible for killing his or her child or grandchild for want of a simple vaccine.

The herpes zoster vaccine is another adult vaccine that is recommended after 60 years of age, although it can be given as early as 50. It prevents or shortens outbreaks of shingles, related to reactivation of the varicella (chicken pox) virus. While children and young adults have been vaccinated against varicella, older adults have not and most have had chicken pox as children. While not usually life threatening, shingles can be a painful and debilitating experience, especially related to herpetic neuropathy. There used to be only one herpes zoster vaccine, Zostovax, but another version, Shingrix, is now available. The latter is more expensive and must be given twice, but appears to be more effective. Vaccine cost may be a factor when it is not covered by insurance, so checking with your pharmacist and Medicare is always suggested.

Another geriatric immunization is the pneumococcal vaccine, which is suggested for all seniors over 65 years of age, plus for some prior to that age in people with underlying health problems. The polysaccharide form (Pneumovax) was the first one available, but it has been joined by a newer product, Prevnar-13. In fact, both are necessary to achieve maximal protection against pneumococcal pneumonia. The current recommendation is to start with the Prevnar-13 and obtain the Pneumovax a year later. The combination is highly effective against the pneumococcal form of pneumonia, which debilities or kills thousands of elderly people every year. Pneumonias of all sorts still remain the greatest killer of seniors, especially those with underlying illnesses.

Another adult vaccine is HPV, or human papillomavirus. This particular vaccine protects against cervical cancer as well as genital warts and some forms of oral cancers. It should be administered as early as 11 years old and should be completed prior to becoming sexually active. It can, however, be safely administered up to 26 years of age in women and 21 years of age in men. Three doses are required in older adolescents (only two in those less than 15 years of age) and cost remains an issue in some cases. Your parish health unit has doses of HPV available for young adults up to age 26. Although seniors are not eligible for this vaccine, they can encourage their pre-adolescent and adolescent grandchildren to get vaccinated. They may save youths from the misery of genital warts or oral and genital cancers.

Since at least half of seniors have at least one chronic condition, and many have multiple conditions, it is imperative to achieve maximal protection with all vaccinations. Immunizations do not stop after childhood. Influenza, TdaP, pneumococcal, zoster and HPV are five that should be administered to adults. Others, such as MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) or hepatitis A or B may be required under certain circumstances, especially if vaccination documentation is limited or foreign travel expected.

Check with your physician, the Louisiana Department of Health or the CDC for more information. Vaccines can be obtained without a prescription in pharmacies, so there is no excuse not to be completely vaccinated.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Black History Month 2019: Celebrating the Achievements of African-Americans in Healthcare and Medicine

Each year, Black History Month gives us an opportunity to reflect on and honor the ways in which African-Americans have shaped the United States.

 For Black History Month 2019, the Louisiana Department of Health will be highlighting African-American pioneers in medicine and healthcare who have not only advanced and advocated for the health of all Americans, but also advanced race relations in the U.S.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Cancer screenings save lives

Every February is recognized in the United States as National Cancer Prevention Month. Annually, Feb. 4 is set aside as World Cancer Day to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment.

Most people are familiar with the term “cancer” but may not fully recognize what that word means. It’s a general term for a disease in which abnormal cells in the body divide uncontrollably and invade other tissues. Cancer cells can occur in any organ and any cell type within the body, spreading throughout the body through the blood and lymph systems. More than 100 kinds of cancer have been identified. Many cancers form solid tumors, or masses of tissue, though blood cancers such as leukemia generally don’t form solid tumors.

With so many different kinds of cancers, the causes of such diseases can be widespread and many are still poorly understood. Some identifiable causes of cancer include a family history of cancer; repeated long-term contact with carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) in the environment, such as tobacco and exposure to the sun; and personal habits and lifestyle, including obesity.

Cancer in Louisiana

Louisiana ranked 44th in the nation for cancer deaths in the most recent America’s Health Rankings report. The cancers with the highest incidence rate in Louisiana from 2010 to 2014 were prostate, female breast, and lung and bronchus, according to the Louisiana Tumor Registry. Lung and bronchus cancers had the highest number of deaths.

The Louisiana Tumor Registry collects information about all cancers that are diagnosed and/or treated in Louisiana. By law, this information is provided to the registry from health care facilities in the state.

The Louisiana Department of Health recently launched a program, Taking Aim at Cancer, to work toward improving cancer outcomes in the state by increasing access to care, improving the quality of care and reducing the cost of care.

The Louisiana Department of Health also provides an online Health Data Portal containing information on cancer cases in the state. Anyone who is interested in viewing this information can see the average annual incidence rates and annual counts of new cases for all age groups and, if noted, childhood groups for the following types of cancer:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (includes childhood)
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (includes childhood)
  • Bladder
  • Brain and central nervous system (includes childhood)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Colorectal
  • Esophageal
  • Female breast
  • Kidney
  • Laryngeal
  • Leukemia (includes childhood)
  • Liver and intrahepatic bile duct
  • Lung
  • Male breast
  • Melanoma of the skin
  • Mesothelioma
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Oral cavity and pharynx
  • Pancreatic
  • Thyroid

Get screened

According to the National Cancer Institute, screening for cancer is important to surviving cancer. Screening can help doctors find and treat several types of cancer early, before they cause symptoms. Early detection is important because when abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread and be harder to treat.

Talk to your doctor about your options for cancer screenings. Common cancer screenings include breast, colorectal, oral, prostate and skin cancers. Some screenings are non-invasive, like a mammogram to detect breast cancer, while others may be more uncomfortable, such as a colonoscopy for colorectal cancer.

Don’t let embarrassment or fear prevent you from getting a screening. A few moments’ discomfort may be the key to saving your life.