Friday, October 25, 2019

Knowing your family history can help you catch cancer early

(Note: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The following is a transcript of the video posted above, which was originally shared by Taking Aim at Cancer in Louisiana [TACL] on its Facebook page.)

Hello, I’m Gerrelda Davis, the executive director of the Louisiana Primary Care Association. In collaboration with TACL and its Knowing Your Family History campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d like to tell you about my story.

In 2010, I actually had a mammogram, and it was my second mammogram ever in my life. I was 40 years old and I, thank goodness, had decided when I was 39 and pressured my doctor to have a baseline mammogram. They thought I was too young, but I told them I needed it. I’d only at that point in my family history had one maternal aunt that had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

So, at 40, when I turned 40 and had the test done, unfortunately about a day later I got a call and they were telling me that I needed to come back in for further tests. So, it took me about, I think, five tests later for them to diagnose me with Stage 1 breast cancer. It really turned my life upside down, not knowing whether or not I would survive, what I would have to go through.

Gerrelda Davis, right, with Louisiana Department 
of Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee
But I’d say — and this is not a plug for them, believe it or not — Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, they were so, so welcoming and kind to me, and the doctors that worked there were just a blessing. And, then when I found out that those same doctors had been on the same team that my aunt had been when she was diagnosed, I was just so comfortable, and by the grace of God I got through what I had to get through.

Because of my age, I had to go through a very long and extensive amount of chemo, a chemo regimen, and after that I had to do radiation. But I had the support that I needed from family, from friends, from work. I had the best bosses at that time who allowed me to take off when I needed to, to do my treatment and come back into the office whenever I could. And, it was just an experience I’d say that could have really shattered my life but didn’t because of the support that I had, the connectedness.

And then, though, at the very end, after the radiation, after the chemo, I will say that for anyone, you, that after you’re not going to the doctor every single day or every week it makes you feel lost. And, I did feel lost. Because I wasn’t sure. Every time I thought about it, I’m like, “OK, is it gonna come back?” Also, I had that survivor’s guilt — I thought about all those people that were diagnosed who didn’t survive. But thank goodness, by the grace of God I got through that because of, once again, the support system that I had.

And, I’ll tell you, there’s this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that I actually decided to make a mantra for in my life and it says, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do,” and that’s to be a survivor. And, I determined after all of that, that no matter what I would be a survivor. No matter what, whether or not my hair grew back, my eyebrows grew back — you know, being a female and being very, I guess, vain about those types of things — no matter what, I determined that I would be a survivor.

And, here I am, nine years later, still surviving — going to my oncologist every six months, having a clean bill of health — and thankful and very grateful that I determined to survive. And, by the grace of God, I have. Thank you.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Flu season’s making an early appearance this fall

By DR. GINA LAGARDE | Medical Director, LDH Region 9

As the heat of a seemingly endless summer finally begins to wane and the crisp coolness of fall takes its place, it’s the perfect time to schedule flu vaccinations for you and your family. Why now? Because here in Louisiana, flu activity is off to an earlier start than usual.

The Louisiana Department of Health’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program has already seen statewide influenza-like activity, which is a fever greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit plus a cough and/or sore throat, in the absence of another diagnosis. In Louisiana, 4.4% of patient visits were due to influenza-like illness, which is higher than the regional baseline of 3.8% and the highest level of influenza-like activity so far in the nation this flu season.

The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness that kills thousands of people every year. Last year in Louisiana, there were 14,000 hospitalizations, 1,400 deaths and one confirmed pediatric death. If you are 6 months or older and you don’t have a medical reason, such as a prior allergic reaction to the flu shot, you should get vaccinated. It’s the best way to reduce your chance of getting and spreading the flu.

Cold or flu?

It’s often hard to distinguish the difference between a cold and flu since both illnesses share several of the same symptoms. While both are unwelcome, a cold settles in gradually and flu shows up abruptly. Here’s how to tell the difference between the two.
  • It’s flu if you have …
    • Fever
    • Cough
    • Sore throat
    • Runny or stuffy nose
    • Body aches
    • Headaches
    • Chills
    • Fatigue
    • Diarrhea
    • Vomiting
  • It’s a cold if you have …
    • Loss of appetite
    • Sore throat
    • Sneezing
    • Cough
    • Vomiting

With plenty of fluids, rest and treating symptoms with over-the-counter medications, most people will recover from the flu on their own. If you have had the flu, stay home for at least 24 hours after the symptoms subside, unless you’re very sick and in need of medical care.

Anyone suspected of having the flu is strongly recommended to take antiviral drugs. This treatment may make the illness milder, shorten the time a person is sick and prevent serious complications and/or even death. If you or a family member may have the flu, call your doctor immediately.

These healthy everyday habits help slow the spread of flu:
  • Coughing/sneezing into your sleeve or tissue and throwing the tissue in the trash
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water, or using an alcohol-based sanitizer
  • Avoiding close contact with sick people

Why the flu shot matters

Flu can be especially dangerous to the very old, the very young, pregnant women and people who have certain chronic medical conditions. When everyone around people from these groups is vaccinated, the so-called “herd immunity” of a large population of vaccinated people helps to keep them from getting sick.

Pregnant women are especially at risk when it comes to flu, but don’t worry — it’s safe to get your flu shot, and it’s recommended by the CDC. Changes in the immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women and up to two weeks after birth more prone to severe illness from flu, including illness resulting in hospitalization. Flu is also a danger to the developing baby, who may have neural tube defects or other complications due to flu symptoms in the mother. Fortunately, a mom who gets her flu vaccine during pregnancy will pass antibodies on to her baby, helping protect the baby from flu after birth.

Schoolchildren are another group particularly affected by flu. Every year, about 28% of school-age kids come down with the flu. For every 100 children with the flu, there’s an average of 63 missed school days a year. Not only that, but for every 100 kids with the flu, 25 family members will come down with the flu within three days, leading to lost work time and reduced productivity.

Don’t wait — vaccinate!

An annual vaccination is your best prevention against the flu. It’s available either as the traditional shot or a nasal spray. The spray is recommended for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are not pregnant and don’t have chronic illnesses, but check with your doctor or other primary care provider before getting the spray.

We have had flu vaccines for more than 50 years now and they are very safe. The CDC and FDA closely monitor vaccine safety, and vaccines are given in a setting where healthcare staff can rapidly recognize and treat a potentially severe allergic reaction with equipment on site. Besides safety concerns, people cite lots of reasons why you shouldn’t get a flu shot. These reasons are all wrong. Learn more about these myths – and the facts –here.

This October and November, flu vaccine clinics where you can get a flu shot at no cost to you are being held around Louisiana. To find the location closest to you, click here. Make sure to bring your private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare card, and wear short or loose-fitting sleeves. If you’re unable to make it to one of these clinics, you can get a flu shot at any time during flu season from your parish health unit, local pharmacies, clinics, doctors’ offices and federally qualified (community) health centers. Find a provider near you by clicking here.

For more information, visit

Friday, October 11, 2019

Traumatic Head & Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund Program is here to help

Whether it’s from a motor vehicle accident, a fall, a near-drowning experience, physical assault or some other trauma, a traumatic head and/or spinal cord injury can be a life-changing event. This kind of event doesn’t just affect the individual — it also impacts the lives of their loved ones, who may eventually become the caregiver, assisting with daily living activities like bathing and dressing.

In Louisiana, the Traumatic Head & Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund Program (THSCI) helps those with such injuries, who meet eligibility requirements, to return to a reasonable level of functioning and independent living in their communities. The Louisiana Legislature created the program in 1993 with Act 654. Through this act, the program is funded by imposing additional fees on motor vehicle violations in Louisiana for the offenses of driving under the influence, reckless operation and speeding.

The Louisiana Department of Health’s, Office of Aging and Adult Services administers the THSCI Program, which includes but is not limited to processing admissions to the program, paying service providers for services on behalf of eligible individuals and reviewing Plans of Care. In addition, the Brain Injury Association of Louisiana (BIALA) serves as the program’s designated resource center for people with traumatic head and/or spinal cord injuries.

Who may be eligible for assistance through the program?

Louisiana residents who have suffered a traumatic head and/or spinal cord injury may apply for program assistance.

A traumatic head injury is caused by an external physical force, such as falls, which affect the brain, producing diminished or altered state of consciousness. The injury can lead to impaired cognitive and/or physical functioning. Degenerative or congenital conditions do not meet the definition of traumatic head injury as it relates to the program. For example, a person with Alzheimer’s would not be eligible for the THSCI program.

Similar to traumatic head injury, a spinal cord injury is caused by an external force, such as a car accident. This kind of injury can lead to paraplegia (paralysis of the legs and lower body) or quadriplegia (paralysis of both the arms and legs). Degenerative and congenital conditions do not meet the definition of spinal cord injury as it relates to the program. For example, a person with spina bifida would not be eligible for the THSCI program.

To be determined eligible for services, a person must:
  • Meet the definition of traumatic head/spinal cord injury (above), per their treating physician
  • Be a resident of Louisiana and officially domiciled in Louisiana at the time of the injury and while receiving services
  • Have a reasonable expectation to gain improvement in functional outcome with assistance, per their treating physician
  • Have exhausted all other Medicare and Medicaid sources as attested to by the applicant
  • Provide proof of denial from other sources, if requested
  • Be willing to accept services from an approved facility or program
  • Complete and submit the appropriate application for services
  • Cooperate with program requirements

What services are available?

Participants work with their assigned case manager to develop a Participant Service Plan that offers flexible services aimed at improving how they function in their homes and communities as it relates to their injuries. Eligible participants may receive services including, but not limited to:
  • Evaluations and therapies
  • Post-acute medical care rehabilitation
  • Home and vehicle accessibility modifications
  • Medication and medical supplies
  • Personal Care Attendant Services
  • Equipment necessary for activities of daily living
  • Transportation for non-emergency medical appointments
  • Other goods and services deemed appropriate and necessary
  • Post-acute medical care rehabilitation
Service providers must be THSCI Program approved, with in-state facilities and programs receiving priority. All services are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Is there a cap on what I can receive?

An individual’s expenditures are limited to $15,000 for any 12-month period or $50,000 total per person per lifetime

How do I apply?

Call (225) 219-2410 or (888) 891-9441 for questions, additional information or to have an application for services sent to you. You can also download and print the application at this link. Mail the completed forms with original signatures to the THSCI Trust Fund Program, P.O. Box 2031 – Bin #14, Baton Rouge, LA 70821-2031.

Additional resources are available through the Brain Injury Association of Louisiana Resource Center, 8325 Oak St., New Orleans, LA 70118. The association also staffs a 24-hour support line at (504) 982-0685.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Stop the bleed, save a life

By DR. LACEY CAVANAUGH | Region 5 Medical Director, LDH Office of Public Health

You are driving home and a motor vehicle crash happens in front of your very eyes. Wanting to help, you pull over and immediately recognize a life-threatening bleeding situation. What do you do?

Or, maybe it is not a crash. Maybe it is a hunting accident, a power tool injury, a sporting event or a shooting. An injured person may only have minutes to live if bleeding is not controlled immediately. Uncontrolled bleeding is actually the number one cause of death after a mass casualty event.

Knowing what to do in this situation, before emergency medical services are available, can save lives.

The Stop the Bleed program is part of a nationwide movement to help laypeople possibly save a life if ever faced with life-threatening bleeding. Stop the Bleed was developed by the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma. The program teaches people the basic steps to stop bleeding, which include calling 911, ensuring personal safety, looking for life-threatening bleeding, then compressing and controlling bleeding using pressure, packing and/or a tourniquet. These skills are intended for field use until the injured person can be transported to a medical facility.

Hands-on learning

The Region 5 Office of Public Health, in collaboration with several community partners, held two Stop the Bleed trainings for the LSU residents, faculty and staff at the Lake Charles Memorial Hospital Family Medicine Residency
Program on August 30 and September 20.

Ted Colligan with the Louisiana Emergency Response Network was the lead instructor and several staff from other local partner organizations assisted with training the participants. The training consisted of a presentation and discussion period, followed by a hands-on practice session of newly learned skills.

The intent of this class was to train future Louisiana physicians to be Stop the Bleed trainers, so that they can then assist in training the rest of the community. This was a unique audience of mostly physicians and a wonderful example of cross-sector collaboration between partners to achieve a goal. Forty-three participants completed these two trainings and nine of them signed up to be instructors.

Representing OPH Region 5 were Public Health Emergency Response Coordinator Mike Parent, Hospital Nurse Coordinator Janet Rider, and APRN Nadine Blake. Jessica Leboeuf with the Calcasieu Parish Medical Reserve Corps, Lake Charles Memorial Hospital System RNs Rezalynn Vincent and Crystal Rollins, and Dr. Danette Null, associate professor with the LSU Family Medicine Residency Program all took part in leading two three-hour classes. We want to thank all of our partners and instructors, in addition to Lezlie Fletcher with the LSU Family Medicine Residency Program, for their assistance in making this training a reality.

For more information, to find a class near you or to request training at your facility, click here.