I love watching the CBS Sunday Morning News. I just had to share these two great stories that amazed me from the past two weeks (ironically, both with roots in Texas)
(CBS News) In virtually every language in every corner of the world, the first sound a baby makes that can be called a word is MAMMA. In ancient Latin MAMMA became the word for breast – our first source of nurture, comfort and love – and for all humankind a source imagery and medical challenge across the centuries. Our Cover Story is reported now by Tracy Smith:
There are few images in the Christian world more universal and more sacred than these: the Madonna by Leonardo da Vinci, doing what any mother would do: feed her newborn child at her breast. Since the earliest forms of human expression, the breast (in Latin, Mamma) has been front and center.
Beth Rosenberg, who teaches art history at New York’s School of Visual Arts, said breasts have been on artists’ minds since the Venus of Willendorf – a statue dating to about 25,000 B.C. “We see breasts throughout art history because they’re about the world, they’re about life,” Rosenberg said. More specifically, they’re uniquely designed to feed babies.
“Human infants are different from a lot of other mammals in that we don’t have this kind of protuberant snout,” said science journalist Florence Williams. “And if we had really flat mammary glands and a fat infant trying to suckle that, you know, it would be like kissing a mirror. Doesn’t work very well.”
“It turns out that it’s actually a really contentious debate about why breasts evolved,” Williams said. “Because breasts, as apart from mammary glands, are very unique in the animal kingdom. They’re sort of protuberant from puberty on. And it turns out that’s really unusual. Other primates only have breasts while they’re breastfeeding.”
And since human breasts typically arrive long before they have anything to do, Williams says there is disagreement over whether they evolved for food . . . or sex.
“There’s been many decades of scholarship arguing that breasts evolved as sexual signals,” she said. “And then the feminist scholars came along in the 1970s and ’80s and said, ‘Well, wait a minute, maybe they’re something to do with how breasts actually work that might help women survive or help infants survive – and maybe the interest in breasts on the part of men came later.”
It’s a lot more than interest; Dolly Parton was famous for attribute sother than her acting ability . . . .as was Raquel Welch. And who could forget Halle Berry in a bathing suit?
Few people understand this more than Mary Kathryn Langhamer, a veteran bra-fitter at Houston’s Top Drawer Lingerie. “Most women really don’t like their breasts. There’s always something wrong. They’re too big or they’re too little. They always want the opposite of what they have.”
It’s no secret that women have been trying to improve on nature for generations. “There were bras that you could put all sorts of things in – wire, tissue, metal. There were even bras that you could blow up with a straw to make your breasts look bigger,” said Williams.”
In recent years, bigger has often been seen as better. But permanent breast enlargement was a medical puzzle, until a eureka! moment 50 years ago in a Texas blood bank. “There was a doctor in Houston, Texas, who was holding one of these new silicone blood bags,” said Williams. “Blood used to be contained in glass. And he was holding a warm bag of blood and he said, ‘My, that feels good. It feels like a breast.'”
Enter Timmie Jean Lindsey, a divorced mother of six who went to her doctor to have tattoos removed from her chest. When her doctors pitched her the idea of experimental implants, she said yes – but only if they’d also give her an ear tuck. They agreed, and in 1962, Timmie Jean became silicone breast implant recipient number one.
Across the road from a Houston tank farm, Timmie Jean’s house still stands. Timmie Jean is still standing, too. And half a century later, the original silicone implants are still inside her. She says it wasn’t hard for the doctors to sell her on the idea: “I think I was just so comfortable with the doctors. And I might even had a crush on one or two of ’em”!”
When the bandages came off, Timmie Jean was a cup size larger, but it was nothing she wanted to flaunt. “I was too timid, I think,” she told Smith. But she did like the whistles and cat calls. “Oh, yeah, I really liked it. But I didn’t want it to go anywhere. I just wasn’t used to all that attention.” Fifty years on, the implants have hardened, and one has a tear. But Lindsey says she’s still a satisfied customer, and has not had any health problems from the implants.
The FDA says that as many as one in five silicone implant recipients needs to have them replaced within 10 years. And even if we don’t invite trouble, our breasts go looking for it. “The breasts are the most visible part of what women define as being female, and they are the most vulnerable organ to cancer in a woman’s body,” said Dr. Marisa Weiss. Dr. Weiss – a breast cancer specialist at Philadelphia’s Lankenau Medical Center – says breast cancer cases have doubled since the 1940s.
“Yes, we’re getting better at finding it, but there’s more to it than that,” she said. “Breasts soak up toxins, and there are a lot more toxins out there now – hormones in beef and dairy products, preservatives and fragrances that can have hormonal effects. These are things that never used to be out in the environment, and now they’re out there everywhere.” She described breasts as “sponges.” And, Dr. Weiss says, women with immature breasts – that is, women who haven;t carried a baby to term – are more vulnerable to those toxins.
“When breast gland tissue is immature, it is very suggestible,” Dr. Weiss said. “It’s ready to fool around with any host of things that might look like, smell like, taste like hormones, that could potentially stimulate extra breast cell growth – which could be unhealthy growth, including the start of a cancer.”
Of course, having a child (or three) is no guarantee against cancer, either. Two years ago, Marisa Weiss found something on her own mammogram.”As soon as I saw the films myself I knew that it was a cancer there,” she said. “Was there a thought that went through your head when you saw that malignancy, when you knew?” asked Smith. “Grandchildren,” Dr. Weiss replied. “I have three kids, and I want to see those grandchildren.” Dr. Weiss is back at work now, cancer-free, and a stronger voice than ever for breast cancer prevention. “We have to pay attention to this,” she said. “We have about 1.3 million cases today worldwide. We expect that to double by the year of 2040. The breasts are telling us that we’ve got a problem out there, and we have to listen. We can’t ignore it. There’s too much at stake.”
This story just affirms what I have been seeing on so many of the food movies and books I have read. I think with all the genetically engineered food, processing, antibiotics, mass marketing of meat and grains, we our hurting our health. Our buying power is our most effective voice as consumers. If we want change in the way our food is produced, inspected and treated, we need to put our money where our mouth is. Look at labels before you buy. Where does your food come from?
(CBS News) Back pain is one of the most common of human complaints, which is why new treatments in the works are raising so many hopes. Our Sunday Morning Cover Story is reported now by Martha Teichner:
Consider the human spine, in all its glory. The 24 vertebrae, cushioned by gelatinous discs . . . the little facet joints that help make your back flexible . . . all the ligaments and muscles and nerves. The spine’s elegant complexity is a miracle of engineering, or a curse when something goes wrong. Eight out of ten Americans will experience debilitating back pain sometime in their lives. “My pain was very excruciating,” said Lenda. “I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t bend over. I couldn’t lie down.” “I’d say, ‘Oh Lord, can’t you help my back, it does hurt bad’ – he didn’t help me a bit,” said Leila.
And the most common culprit?
“I think most people would think it’s the inter-vertebral discs, whether it’s herniated or whether it’s just worn and arthritic and associated with pain,” said Dr. Augustus White, a professor at Harvard Medical School. He has literally written the book on lower back pain. He says the easiest way to understand a herniated disc is to think of a jelly doughnut: When what Dr. White calls “the jelly” gets squeezed out, it presses on nerves, which can mean excruciating pain. Barring serious illness, the first line of treatment may not be what the patient (who only wants a quick fix) wants to hear. “You need to make sure the patient doesn’t have tumor or infection,” said Dr. White, “but once you rule those out, you can be confident that you’re not going to harm the patient by saying, ‘OK, give yourself four to six weeks.'”
Believe it or not, 90 percent of disc injuries heal themselves after a few weeks, especially with physical therapy. But waiting it out can be torture, and not everybody gets better. So that’s where surgery comes in. More than 1.2 million Americans undergo spinal surgery each year. That’s more than TRIPLE the number of coronary by-pass surgeries (415,000), and nearly FOUR TIMES the number of hip replacements (327,000).
Approximately 300,000 of those back surgeries were spinal fusions, where vertebrae are joined surgically so they can’t move. They’re often held in place, permanently, with metal screws or rods.
For many patients, surgery is the only answer – salvation. But for all too many others, it can be a nightmare. Which brings us to Dr. Kevin Pauza, a founder of the Texas Spine and Joint Hospital in Tyler, Texas. “I spent decades treating patients who’ve had surgery, the surgery was fusions,” Dr. pauza said. “Patients would do well for a year or two, and they’d always come to me and need more help.”
In his experience, fusion was usually the wrong answer: “The spine’s made to be a structure that bends with every movement we make, and if we immobilize a segment of the spine, the adjacent segment breaks down. That’s known as the domino effect. “So my thought was, can we do something to that disc so that we don’t have to fuse it? Can we bring the disc back to life?” And that’s the headline of this story. Just imagine: A procedure that repairs and re-grows discs, that doesn’t involve spinal fusion, that’s no more than minimally invasive, outpatient surgery. The inspiration came to him when he thought about something as basic as how an ordinary cut heals.
“I realized what heals a cut is something that’s very simple: It’s two products that are in you and I, they’re in everybody.” In our blood plasma – they’re called thrombin and fibrinogen. For the cut to heal, the two components come together, and they make a substance called fibrin. When the two components, in concentrated form, are injected into the disc through a kind of squirt gun Pauza invented, just like epoxy glue, they combine and become fibrin. Injected into the damaged disc, the compound acts like a sealant, filling cracks and crevices, and eventually allowing the disc to re-grow. “It allows our degenerated disc to turn into a young, healthy, normal disc,” said Dr. Pauza.
Rusty Templeton is typical of Dr. Pauza’s failed fusion patients. He had his surgery in 2008, but the pain came back and was agonizing. “I’ve kind of damaged the disc above and below my fusion, and of course that fusion disc is also in pretty bad disrepair,” said Templeton. Templeton is given a local anesthetic. The procedure takes about five minutes…there’s no incision..no hardware…
Typically, at first, patients feel discomfort. “Some patients even say, ‘Gosh, I wish I never had this done,'” said Dr. Pauza. “And then several weeks later, the patients just turn a corner. We tell them that they can expect that there will be one day where they have pain, and the next day, it’ll just stop.” Dr. Pauza is hoping for Food and Drug Administration approval of the procedure by 2015, and to make it available to the public shortly thereafter. Phase III clinical trials are underway now at 20 sites around the U.S. Dr. Pauza has successfully treated more than a thousand patients in his private practice. “We started treating the first patients approximately five or six years ago, and the success rate is approximately 86 percent,” he said.
So how did Rusty Templeton do? “My pain before was at least a ten,” he said. And two months after the procedure? “It’s still around a five, because I have underlying issues. But I can lay down now. I can, you know, walk around. I can drive where I couldn’t drive before. “The pain level I had before the procedure was probably around anywhere from about a six to worse, eight,” he said.
Christopher Joseph is a home restorer who was in a car accident. How was his pain two months after the procedure? “Right now, it’s at zero.” Dr. Michael DePalma is a spine specialist in Richmond, Va. The North American Spine Society has just published his paper on the latest experimental therapies involving disc restoration.
“Stem cells are something that’s being investigated to replenish cells within the disc directly, injecting growth factors, which are proteins, to try to stimulate repair in a disc have also been evaluated,” said Dr. DePalma.
He is involved in 4 different FDA trials of the new procedures and believes these so-called biologics are the future of back treatment. Based on the results so far, he thinks Dr. Pauza’s fibrin sealant offers the most promise. If the treatment, asked Tecihner, is even 50% successful with someone, is that significant? Dr. DePalma replied, “It’d be huge.”
And then there’s the cost. Compare spinal fusion and fibrin treatment: “The treatment for a fusion – and this is the hospital fee – typically is in the $100,000 range, not including the physician’s fee,” he said. “We don’t have a set cost for [fibrin] treatment yet, but it’s approximately 95 percent less than the cost of a fusion.”
Dr. Pauza expects it to be widely available within five years.
“It’s the first time in history that we’ve been able to cause new tissue to grow within the spine. This procedure is the procedure that really the world has been waiting for,” he said.
Is it? The procedure is only for back pain sufferers with specific disc problems, but there are a lot of those . . . and Dr. Kevin Pauza is absolutely sure he’s found a better, safer, cheaper way of improving their lives.
My mother-in-law had back surgery a few years ago and she was in the hospital for over a month with complications. She still suffers pain. This new procedure is amazing. I am floored how much medicine has advanced in a short period of time. It is still a science, but it gets better everyday.