UVA Health System Blog

Stories about the patients, staff and services of UVA


Podcast Tuesday: Ski Injuries [AUDIO]

On January 27, 2015 | At 8:35 am


Watch MLK Day at the Health System [VIDEO]

On January 23, 2015 | At 9:11 am

For many, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was more than a holiday from work and school. Middle and high school students spent their afternoon learning about health care careers, even getting some hands-on practice in the School of Nursing’s simulation center.

Afterward, UVA hosted a program on diversity in health care education, featuring guest speaker Marc A. Nivet, chief diversity officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges. Congratulations to nursing school dean Dorrie K. Fontaine, who received the Health System’s 2015 Martin Luther King, Jr. Award.

Watch us celebrate MLK Day:

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Patricia Conant Saves Choking Victim By Performing Heimlich Maneuver

On January 22, 2015 | At 10:10 am

It was an average day in the hospital cafeteria for Pat Conant and her coworker, Marie Spilman. That was, of course, until they noticed a man stand up and appear to be regurgitating. He did not grasp at his throat but instead, experienced one particular characteristic of a choking victim.

While choking, the body produces extra saliva in an attempt to lubricate the lodged item — a telltale sign Conant had seen before. A nurse practitioner with over 20 years of experience, her instincts sent her into action. She feared she wasn’t strong enough, but in a matter of seconds and three pumps under the man’s breastbone, the emergency was over.

Place fist under the breastbone and press into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust

Before coming to UVA’s Advanced Cardiac Valve Center, Conant worked in cardiology, interventional radiology and the ER. She also gained experience performing the Heimlich maneuver in two other emergency situations. “I’ve done the Heimlich three times. Many people have never done it before, ever, even healthcare professionals,” she says.

Bystander Intervention Act On Your Instinct

Conant, Spilman and their coworker, Kanwar Singh, MD, were the first responders in the cafeteria that day. Conant recalls knocking over a chair on her way to the man’s side, making noise and alerting others to the scene. But reactions from the onlookers went unnoticed as she blocked out all background noise and focused on the task at hand.

“I knew what was happening, so I just ran over and did the Heimlich,” says Conant nonchalantly. Although she understands the impact of her actions, she knows it was just what she was meant to do. “I think anyone would have done it, I really do. I’m not any hero,” she says.

The three coworkers agree the situation would have been more difficult if the man had been sitting or fallen to the floor. Conant was thankful for the support of Spilman and Singh by her side. They later found out that the 32-year-old man has a young baby with another on the way. “Somehow he found me and wrote me an email and said, ‘Thanks for saving my life,’” she says.

After the incident, others approached Conant praising her actions. She received an award from her managers and staff recognizing her. Dr. Heimlich, the patented inventor of the maneuver, even personally mentioned her in a tweet!

Steps to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver

There are a few variations for performing the Heimlich maneuver. However, there really isn’t an incorrect way. And for those worried about hurting the individual? Well, you should be covered under the Good Samaritan Law, which offers legal protection to those who give reasonable assistance to ill or incapacitated individuals.

Choking can happen to anyone, anywhere. Conant strongly urges everyone to become CPR certified and know how to perform the Heimlich. Meat is the most common type of choking hazard and usually occurs when an individual is eating quickly and taking large bites. The American Heart Association technique:

    1. Stand behind the person. Wrap your arms around their waist. Tip the person forward slightly
    2. Make a fist with one hand. Position it slightly above the person’s navel, underneath the breastbone and avoiding any ribs.
    3. Grasp the fist with the other hand. Press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust — as if trying to lift the person up.
    4. Perform a total of five abdominal thrusts. If the blockage doesn’t dislodge, repeat the cycle.

 Get Yourself CPR Certified

Check out what is available in your community. Local Red Cross and rescue squad affiliates offer various health and safety training programs. UVA offers the Heartsaver First-Aid overview class with the optional inclusion of a CPR certification. UVA’s Heartsaver CPR AED Course teaches individuals:

    • How to perform adult, child and infant CPR
    • How to use an automatic external defibrillator (AED)
    • Hot to perform the Heimlich maneuver

So, take a class and be prepared! And don’t be afraid to use your knowledge in case of emergency. You never know when it can come in handy — it just might be while taking a casual lunch break with a friend.


Occupational and Physical Therapy: A Joint Force to Help Premature Babies

On January 21, 2015 | At 10:22 am

When children are born prematurely, they’re at risk for complications ranging from changes in respiratory functions to cardiac issues. It’s not uncommon for a premature baby, averaging 30 weeks old, to spend 100 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). During that time, their care team considers more than their physical health. They’re also looking at major developmental milestones. That’s where pediatric physical and occupational therapy come in.

PreemieTherapists like Walter Farrell (OT) and Bette Anne Connaughton (PT) work with each baby’s doctor, nurse practitioner, nurse and others to come up with the best care plan to improve their quality of life. Therapists in the NICU focus on management of state control and the facilitation of motor and visual skills.

Developmental Focus: Three Major Areas

1. State control – How well do the infants tolerate stimulation like touch? Are they able to remain stable and calm?  What can we do to help them?

The therapists have a very sensitive task of recognizing an infant’s stress and coping signals to see what he or she can handle. Connaughton describes this period as calm state support. “You need to read a baby’s signals, and when the baby can be touched,” she said.

There are therapeutic techniques that can be used to help infants accommodate stimulation like touch and position changes while maintaining a calm and alert state. If handling and interactions are performed improperly, babies can generate more stress, which can compromise their immediate health. Additionally this is a time when the therapists teach parents how to touch their baby without overstimulating them, mitigating any negative effects from the environment.

2. Motor skills – many times premature infants experience hypotonia, a state of low muscle tone where the baby displays a floppy appearance.

A newborn’s growth and development is closely monitored. Therapists check head positioning, ensure babies can perform hand-to-face movements and move both sides of the body at the same time. Therapeutic handling is introduced to help babies use their trunk muscles for stability and promote smooth motor skills.

What does a PT and OT do?

Occupational therapists identify and eliminate environmental barriers that can hinder infants from their independence in daily activities.
Physical therapists promote mobility and train an infant’s movements and developmental behaviors to facilitate normal function and prevent future problems.
Together they provide direct patient care and consultative services for premature and medically complex infants in the NICU.

3. Visual skills – most of the infants have their eyes shut a majority of the time. However, the therapists monitor each baby’s progress and help teach them to focus and track with their eyes when they are ready.

Farrell and Connaughton are also concerned with how efficiently the patient’s vision allows them to function. Teaching babies how to track and focus their eyes early on can be beneficial later in dealing with depth perception and their relation to objects around them. Emphasis on visual skills helps contribute to better eye-hand-body coordination, essential for everyday tasks.

The Gift that Keeps Giving

Although challenging, the fields of occupational and physical therapy are very rewarding. Critical thinking skills and teamwork are crucial to the successful, individualized development of each baby. Therapists strive to help patients as much as possible before they’re discharged, giving them a head start to continue improving at home.

To Farrell, his practice goes beyond physical intervention; he prepares the babies for the challenges ahead. Farrell states, “Therapists are the vanguards of hope. I don’t have a day where I feel like I haven’t helped someone.”

Likewise, Connaughton is motivated by the long-lasting relationships she forms with her patients and their families. She feels a special bond with the preemies as they graduate from the NICU. “I learn something new every day. It is a very personally rewarding experience,” she says.

NICU Services at UVA

Our 53-bed NICU is nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Learn more about the care team and the UVA NICU.

Filed under : Children's Hospital | By
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Podcast Tuesday: How Can a Pediatric Neuropsychologist Help Your Child?

On January 20, 2015 | At 9:21 am


7 Quick Questions: Meet Dr. Kenneth Liu

On January 15, 2015 | At 8:33 am

Ever wonder what your doctor or health provider does outside the exam room? Our 7 Quick Questions series gives you a personal glimpse into the people of UVA.

Kenneth Liu, MD, performs neuro-interventional surgery at the UVA Neurosciences Center. He is the only neurosurgeon in Virginia versed in both endovascular and skull base techniques.

1. What did you want to be when you were little?

Dr. Kenneth Liu, UVA neurosurgeon

Neuro-interventional neurosurgeon Kenneth Liu, MD

My mom tells this story where I was probably 8 and saw some PBS show on some neurosurgeon and I said, “That looks cool; I’ll do that.” And after that, anytime an adult asked me, I said brain surgeon. The response was so positive, I thought that was the right answer. When it came time to grow up, that’s the only thing I really knew.

And it’s an amazing field, with so much going on. I feel like the neurosurgery field itself will splinter into more fields. Neuro-interventional surgery, my subspecialty, is quickly becoming its own thing. I love what I do. It’s a lot of fun; there’s a lot of technology and gadgets and new stuff being constantly invented and discovered.

3. What’s your favorite place to travel?

Hawaii. I’ve been to Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Latin America, and I’d like to go to New Zealand and Antarctica.

4. What’s one thing you always have in your fridge?

Dr. Pepper, Devil’s Backbone and Tito’s Vodka.

5. What’s the most unhealthy thing you eat?

Ramen — the real ramen from Korea and Japan. I think my blood pressure goes up 50 points when I have one, but it’s delicious.

6. What’s the most exciting thing/research happening in your field right now?

I’m in one of those fields that’s really exploding. We don’t know about the brain and what we know is really constantly changing. Ten years ago I would say that the majority of aneurysm surgeries were done open and now it’s the complete opposite, where a lot of what we do is minimally invasive or less invasive.

Also, stroke is very quickly becoming one of the leading causes of disability and death, so there’s a lot of effort, money and research being put into better treatment and prevention of stroke. It’s all very exciting and has the potential to positively affect a lot of patients.

7. Who’s your inspiration/hero?

In no particular order:

  • Douglas Adams, because he is a brilliant writer and activist, and he has a hilarious, hysterical vision for the future that jives well with mine.
  • James Hetfield. I admire him as a musician, and I identify with him because as a kid, I was very shy. He’s a quiet guy but when you put a guitar in his hand, he transforms. I had a band in medical school and have a very similar response to having an instrument in my hand. For somebody like me who’s not great with words, but when I have a guitar in my hand, I feel like I can finally express myself.
  • Steve Jobs. I think he had a real knack for finding beauty in simplicity. And I think in this day and age, especially with neurosurgery, things can get complex. But I think there’s a certain beauty or satisfaction with finding the simplest solution to the problem. I think as a businessman, he was very focused on the consumer experience. As a surgeon, our patients and the referring physicians we work with are our customers; I think it is important to focus on improving their experience with the UVA Health System. Jobs had a profound impact on the world in a way no one really expected. He’s really changed so many things about how technology can impact our lives.
  • Lori Guidone, my wife. Need I say more?
Filed under : Neurosciences,The People of UVA | By
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Podcast Tuesday: Heart Conditions — Diagnosis Through Imaging [AUDIO]

On January 13, 2015 | At 10:07 am

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A Personal Perspective on Celiac Disease

On January 7, 2015 | At 10:16 am

You may have heard about it as a fad diet and perhaps even tried it yourself. Some people claim going gluten-free makes them feel more energetic and awake. But for those with celiac disease, it is a necessary lifestyle change that can help to prevent other serious health conditions.

My Celiac Story

Lentils are a gluten-free alternative for people with celiac disease

Lentils are a gluten-free alternative that provide protein and fiber

I have always struggled with stomach discomfort, which various childhood doctors attributed to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But in college, my stomach pains worsened, and my family and I speculated I had an ulcer. So, I sought out a gastroenterologist and went in for an endoscopy.

The procedure is quick and painless (due to being sedated), and it involves sending a camera through the mouth to take a look at the stomach lining. A biopsy is taken of the intestine and a microscope notes the absence of intestinal villi (fingerlike follicles). This is a surefire way of recognizing the condition.

I woke up from the procedure with the gastroenterologist standing next to me saying, “No more beer for you — you’ve got celiacs.”

Gluten-Free: More Than Just Buzz Words

I’ve spent the past four years learning about the condition and finding out why sticking to a strict gluten-free diet is so important. There are definitely times where I crave glutenous goodies, but I find the hardest thing is explaining the disease to others so they know I’m not just glorifying the fad. I enlisted the help of UVA dietitian Katherine Basbaum to get the scoop on some important celiac information.

Celiac disease (CD) is a genetic autoimmune disorder of the gut triggered by the protein ‘gluten’ in wheat, rye and barley. Common foods containing gluten are breads, pastas, cereal, pastries, beer, etc. Unfortunately, for me, that means no more flour tortillas — a weakness of mine! Basbaum says when someone with CD eats anything containing gluten, the “body’s immune system will react as if gluten is an invader and proceed to attack the lining of the small intestine and prevent the body from getting key nutrients.”

There is no treatment besides a lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. Ingesting even small traces of gluten, like crumbs from a piece of toast, can trigger intestinal damage. Reading labels has become a daily ritual of mine, especially for foods I never thought contained gluten: soy sauce, seasoned rice, imitation crab, soup bases and veggie burgers.

“Just A Bite” No Longer Applies

Going gluten-free due to celiac disease has opened my eyes to new bean varieties.

Going gluten-free has opened my eyes to a variety of beans I never knew existed

Receiving the diagnosis in college seemed like the end of the world with the constant amass of beer at regular functions. At the time, I didn’t realize the consequences of allowing myself to ingest gluten. It wasn’t until I was properly informed that I realized I could be severely damaging my body in the long-run. Sticking to a strict gluten-free diet minimizes the risk for other conditions like:

  • Anemia
  • Early onset osteoporosis
  • Neurological conditions like epilepsy, migraines, dementia, ataxia, etc.
  • Pancreatic insufficiency
  • Gall bladder, liver, spleen malfunctions
  • Gynecological disorders like infertility and miscarriage
  • Intestinal lymphomas and stomach cancers

Gluten-Free is So Healthy — Right?

I noticed a major increase in my energy levels the first month I went gluten-free — a common experience for those who change their eating habits. But I found it a short-lived luxury. According to Basbaum, “Unless you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there is no need to go gluten-free; it will not make you ‘healthier’; in some cases, just the opposite.”

A gluten-free diet can lack important nutrients needed for optimal health, such as fiber, iron, B-vitamins, calcium, phosphorus and zinc. I try to combat this by taking additional vitamins and supplements but it isn’t 100 percent effective.

Basbaum adds, “Not to mention the fact that many people who adopt a gluten-free diet end up gaining unwanted pounds because their diet includes large amounts of high-calorie packaged and processed foods.”

This goes back to reading labels — I have found that many packaged gluten-free foods have higher calorie and carbohydrate counts then the non-gluten-free option. Personally, I stay away from the cookies and crackers and opt to make my own healthier versions. It’s not the easiest method, but at least it allows me to practice my cooking and baking skills!

One Step At a Time

Having celiac disease is by no means an end to dining out or snacking on your favorite foods. I pay more for some of my groceries, especially the specialty flours that I use for cooking or baking, but I can find alternatives to everyday items relatively easily. It also helps to let your friends and family know — that way they will be more willing to branch out with you to find those alternative solutions.

If you think you may have celiac disease, speak with your doctor so he or she can refer you to a UVA dietitian. You can also make an appointment directly at the Nutrition Counseling Center at Northridge by calling 434.200.8433.

UVA also provides celiac support resources like gluten-free diet tips and recipes.

Filed under : Digestive,Nutrition | By
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Podcast Tuesday: Helping Kids with Type 1 Diabetes [AUDIO]

On January 6, 2015 | At 9:39 am

Filed under : Children's Hospital,Podcast Tuesday | By
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Healthy Holiday Tips and More: December Roundup [VIDEO]

On January 2, 2015 | At 9:47 am

In December the blog featured posts about the holiday season with healthy tips, recipes and more. We hope you had a wonderful holiday season, and we wish you a very happy and healthy 2015!

Our healthy holiday tips featured many delicious recipes that were both healthy and satisfying and can be used throughout the year for parties or healthy options for your meals at home. We also included helpful tips for managing stress and arthritis.

The annual Lights of Love celebration kicked off the holiday season at UVA Children’s Hospital. Check out the video for the highlights as one of our young patients helped to light the tree!

The holidays can be a tough time if you, or a family member, are receiving treatment for cancer. UVA Cancer Center offered these 12 tips for remaining healthy and positive. UVA Cancer Center offers counseling, nutritional guidance, educational support resources and many other programs and tools for patients and caregivers year-round.

We caught up with Dr. Craig Portell who treats cancer patients at the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center. Find out who inspires him and the one thing that must always be stocked in his fridge.

Finally, we reviewed a heart-healthy recipe for gingerbread cookies.

The Health System In the News

Mason’s Toy Box honors the legacy of Mason Thomas by collecting and donating toys to UVA Children’s Hospital and other Virginia hospitals every year for the holidays. (Daily Progress)

Sharing your health history with family members may mean more years of holidays together. Matthew Thomas, certified genetic counselor for the UVA Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic, examines inherited versus non-inherited conditions and how to determine if you’re a candidate for genetic testing. (Daily Progress)

UVA Medical Center is partnering with engineering students from Guatemala to develop software that will help deaf children learn the English language. (Newsplex)

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine are launching a major clinical trial to determine the best medication to save people from potentially deadly seizures.

Work co-authored by University of Virginia School of Medicine researcher Wladek Minor, PhD, has been named as one of the most cited scientific papers of all time.

A federal survey ranked UVA Medical Center in the top 5 percent of hospitals nationally for its support of breastfeeding.

Chris A. Ghaemmaghami, MD, has been named chief medical officer (CMO) for the University of Virginia Medical Center after serving as the interim CMO since February.