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Eye Health

Leah Sarich | posted Tuesday, Oct 18th, 2016


For the DeRaaf family it was just another annual eye exam for the kids. But this year, they would be shocked by what they found. Optometrist Dr. Farrah Sunderji says she noticed Abby was having trouble doing the eye exam even though she was wearing glasses. And, there were no lenses that appeared to help. After looking at her retina photographs Dr. Sunderji knew there was something seriously wrong and referred Abby to a Pediatric Opthamologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

Turns out, Abby has a macular dystrophy that is progressive and for which there is no cure. Her brother Bryson has it as well. The diagnosis was devastating for the children and their family, but these days they’re moving forward. Their mother, Joel, says it was a “deer in the headlights” kind of feeling at first but these days the family is adjusting. While there are no glasses that will help the children see better, there are many low vision aids that are helping them live a more normal life. Smartphones and tablets are also incredibly helpful.

In the meantime, the DeRaaf family has become very passionate about encouraging all families to get their children’s eye examined. For Eye Health Month, she wants families to take advantage of the fact that all eye health exams in Alberta are covered by the province for children. She says you never know what you’re going to find.


For more information on what an eye exam is all about visit this website.

Getting Ready for Flu Season

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Oct 12th, 2016


Hard to believe but flu season is already upon us. In fact, Calgary is a bit of a hot spot already for influenza activity in the province. I spoke with Medical Officer of Health Dr. Judy Macdonald who tells me for the month of September there have already been 18 lab confirmed cases in Calgary, 37 in the entire province.

But the good news is the public immunization clinics open in Calgary in just over a week an a half on Monday October 24th. And yes, the vaccine is still the best way to protect yourself from this serious illness. However, this year, there may be some confusion about what vaccine delivery method is best for the kids. This flu season, the United States has decided to move away from the nasal spray vaccine, saying it doesn’t work. But here in Canada, officials are sticking with the nasal spray. Dr. Macdonald says the National Advisory Committee on Immunization in Canada has reviewed the relevant data, including recent Canadian data which the Americans may not have considered, and says the nasal spray is still effective and safe. So this year in Calgary, when parents take their children to get immunized they will be offered both the nasal spray for children or the shot. The only difference is the nasal spray will not be touted as the preferred method to deliver the vaccine. Both options will be presented as equal.

Dr. Macdonald is encouraging everyone 6 months of age and older to get immunized against influenza. She reminds us that the flu is not a simple cold, it’s a serious infectious disease. Last year, there were 1600 lab confirmed cases of influenza, 62 of those people died. Influenza comes on suddenly with fever, runny nose and cough as well as debilitating body aches, fatigue and fever. These symptoms can last for weeks. Those people most at risk of developing complications from the flu include pregnant women, children under the age of 5, seniors and those with chronic illnesses or who are immune compromised. But the flu can be very difficult even for healthy people. Dr. Macdonald says the vaccine is free for everyone in the province. People can get the vaccine at one of the public health clinics across the province, some pharmacies and doctor’s offices will also be offering it.

Again, the public health immunization clinics open Monday October 24th. To find a location that’s right for you go here, to find out more information on influenza go here. 

New Digestion App

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Oct 5th, 2016


So many of us, myself included, have various problems with digestion whether it be true celiac disease, gluten or lactose intolerance or IBS. And there is a lot of evidence to suggest that digestive health is directly linked to your overall health, however, sorting out these problems with digestion can be really tricky.

But now, there’s a new app that can help that was developed right here in Calgary by University of Calgary and Mitacs researcher Justine Dowd and her team. It’s called My Healthy Gut and it’s based on the most current scientific evidence in this area.

Dowd says when people first download the app they get basic education on digestive health, then there are the top foods to eat if you’re gluten intolerant as well as supplement suggestions and a meal plan. The app also includes a diet tracker where people can enter what they’re eating and the corresponding symptoms. The app will then do a report for you which you can then go over with your health care provider or even use for your own information. There’s also an opportunity to look up foods that you might want to eat to see if they’re safe to consume.

The ultimate goal, says Dowd, is to help all people optimize their digestive health to improve their overall health and well being.

The app is available now on iTunes for IOS systems. You can also access the app through their website.



Breast Cancer Supportive Care

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Sep 21st, 2016


Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women, but the good news is more and more women are surviving. In fact, they’re living longer than ever with the disease which is why breast cancer is now considered a chronic disease. And in Calgary the Breast Cancer Supportive Care Foundation is there to support these women at any point on their cancer journey.

BCSC is a not for profit organization run by medical professionals. Medical Director Dr. Ardythe Taylor explains the care they offer is “like a step up from the family doctor and a step down from the cancer team.”

Brenda Ortlieb, a breast cancer survivor, says BCSC “was a godsend.”  Brenda was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2013. She had a mastectomy and then four rounds of chemotherapy. She says after her mastectomy which she had at the end of June, both her family physician and her surgeon were on holiday when her pathology report became available in early July. Her friend recommended BCSC and Brenda met with Dr. Taylor for an hour to figure out her next steps, something Brenda says is “unheard of” with a physician. Brenda says her family and particularly her youngest son was struggling with her diagnosis, but Dr. Taylor met with Brenda’s son and then had him sit down with one of the BCSC psychologists who was very helpful.

There are a wide range of resources at BCSC including six family doctors, nurses, social workers, a psychologist and psychiatrist all with specialized training in dealing with cancer and its impact on patients and families. Many family doctors refer breast cancer patients to BCSC, but patients can also refer themselves.

The goal is to maximize each patient’s resources and supports in order to get best outcome possible.

And the best part is all these professionals are available to patients and their families for free.

The Breast Cancer Supportive Care’s annual fundraiser Fashion With Compassion is this Sunday at the Hyatt. Go here for more information.

Click here for more information on the Foundation itself.

September Spike

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Sep 14th, 2016


Kids are back to school and cold and flu season is upon us. It’s the perfect storm for children with asthma. In fact, every year around the third week of September a recurring phenomenon occurs called the “September Spike.” This spike refers to an increase in emergency room visits, hospital and ICU admissions and unscheduled doctor visits all for the treatment of asthma.

Dr. Mary Noseworthy, the Director of the Asthma Clinic at the Alberta Children’s Hospital explains the common cold virus is one of the biggest triggers for asthma in kids and allergies can also prompt an asthma attack. So, Dr. Noseworthy encourages all families of children with asthma to have their asthma action plan ready, to make sure all medications are up to date and filled up, to ensure their children wash their hands regularly and get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available. Dr. Noseworthy wants to remind everyone that asthma can be very serious, even fatal, if it’s not controlled or prevented.

Lori-Anne Kochuk, an Asthma Coordinator with the Asthma Clinic at the ACH, says children can show symptoms of asthma for the first time during the September Spike. She says parents should watch for night-time coughing, coughing when the child wakes in the morning, shortness of breath, a child that’s easily fatigued and increased muscle use as the child struggles to breathe…. a pulling in of their ribs and bellybutton or a drawing in of the skin at the base of the neck under the chin. If the child has any of these symptoms parents should seek medical care right away.

Kochuk says HealthLink at 811 is a good option for children not having an attack and if the child is visibly struggling to breathe a trip to the ER is required.

Kochuk also encourages all parents of children with asthma to make sure to let their child’s teacher know their child has asthma and to make sure the teacher has the best contact information for the parent and the appropriate medications ready. Teachers are usually quite familiar with asthma…. one in 5 children in school has asthma.

For more information on asthma and how to control it visit this website. For more information on the September Spike go here.

Back to School Eye Health

Leah Sarich | posted Tuesday, Aug 30th, 2016


Along with all those backpacks and hair cuts, children need to get their eyes checked before they head back to school. Optometrist Dr. Diana Monea explains 80 percent of learning is visual, so if children can’t see they can’t learn properly. In Alberta, 25 percent of children start grade 1 with an undiagnosed vision or eye health problem.  Also, children can be misdiagnosed with ADHD or a learning disability when in fact, they just need a pair of glasses. In fact, research shows 60 percent of children that have a learning disability have a visual problem. So, Dr. Monea encourages parents to get their children in for an eye exam as soon as possible.

Dr. Monea likes to see children as early as 6 months, then again around the 3 year mark, and then right before they start school and annually after that. Dr. Monea says optometrists are looking not only to check their vision, but they can see blood flow in the body and assess the risk of diabetes and brain tumours.

Furthermore, there’s an ability to intervene in children’s eyes between the ages of 2 and 8 and prevent further degradation to their vision, that’s not available as they get older when visual cells stop developing.

And the best part is all children’s eye exams in Alberta are free, covered by Alberta Health. And if your child who is going into kindergarten requires a pair of glasses they can get those free as well through the Eye See I Learn program.

Dr. Monea believes each child should have every advantage to achieve in their life and that includes seeing properly.

For more information on free eye exams go here, and for free glasses for kindergarten go here.

ICU Study

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Aug 11th, 2016


Our population is aging and that means more and more critically ill patients in hospital intensive care units. But how best to care for these increasingly elderly and frail patients? A new study that involves the University of Calgary hopes to answer that very question.

A group of researchers has received 2 million dollars, 1.4 million  from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, for a four year study . One of the researchers involved, ICU physician and University of Calgary investigator Dr. Tom Stelfox, says the hope is to come to up with a strategy that will balance the wishes of patients and their family members with the advancing technologies available to care teams to treat and save the lives of these patients.

Dr. Stelfox says for example, picture the little old lady who’s frail and nearing the end of her life. Is it appropriate to use invasive and often uncomfortable procedures to prolong life and what will that quality of life look like? Every family and patient will likely have a different answer. Dr. Stelfox says it’s a fine balance.

But there’s a real lack of medical evidence in this area because previous research has only been done on younger patients in the ICU. This study wants to better understand the needs and wishes of older patients in the ICU. Researchers plan to talk to patients and their family members directly to get the information required to come up with a new strategy.

Dr. Stelfox says the goal is with a clear strategy there will be reduced costs to the medical system and better patient care for all of us.

For more information on this research visit this website. 

Neighbourhood Walkability

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Jun 29th, 2016


Most of us are not getting enough exercise and most of us know this is bad for our health. University of Calgary Associate Professor of Medicine Gavin McCormack says 20 percent of adults are not getting the recommended level of physical activity necessary to achieve optimal health.

This lack of exercise, says Professor McCormack is increasing our risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, overweight and obesity, depression and even some cancers. But new research, says Professor McCormack suggests the type of neighbourhood you live in can make a big difference. The idea is people need to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives. For example, if you’re walking the kids to school, walking to the transit stop, cycling to work or strolling to the neighbourhood coffee shop, physical activity is built into your day. Research also shows people struggle to maintain and sustain planned physical activities like exercise classes and trips to the gym. Professor McCormack says physical activity needs to be part of every day life.

Even if your neighbourhood is currently not that walkable, Professor McCormack says improvements can be made. He suggests making walking areas more aesthetically pleasing, adding parks and more 4 way intersections to slow down traffic, making sure there are sidewalks on both sides of the street and increasing access to transit stops.

If neighbourhoods are more walkable, the people living in these communities will be healthier in the long run and this healthier lifestyle will affect generations to come.

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