Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Health/Medicine

Chicago News and Views

    A quick look at Chicago’s news, where I now report from, tells me that there are some issues in Chicago that have not made the local Quad City newspapers. For instance, there was a shooting near the Taste of Chicago, which Mayor Daley is trying to play down as having had anything to do with that massive annual event. The cab talk is all about whether it will have a negative effect on Chicago’s bid for the Olympics. If the shooting outside Grant Park and off the Festival site doesn’t do it, then will the 10.25% sales tax deter visitors to this fair city?


     Another city vignette: a newborn baby boy was found abandoned in the courtyard of an Uptown apartment building at about 2:00 a.m. The 5 lb. Baby boy left in the 4600 block of North Beacon Street inside a grocery bag amid shrubbery was crying to save his life (which it did) in the 70-degree temperature. His body temperature had dropped to 86 degrees in the cool night air and he might not have survived if one of the apartment’s residents had not gone outside to investigate, found the child, and taken it to a nearby fire station. The child had cried for at least two hours before anyone thought to investigate, but it was after 2 in the morning.

      A third interesting story detailed how a Lake Hills man known as Edward F. Bachner IV tried to hire a hit man to kill his wife, after he had taken out a $5 million dollar life insurance policy on her. The odd thing is that the wife didn’t know about the “hit-for-hire” until she found out in court, and the method that the would-be murderer eventually settled on to do her in: Pufferfish.  I just wrote a story entitled “Pufferfish.” Who knew that Pufferfish venom is among the most deadly of poisons? Dr. Frank Paloucek, clinical expert in toxicology, says that the Tetraodontidae family of poisons (specifically, the deadly poisonous pufferfish) “would be a terrible way to die, in my opinion, because you could be very easily conscious at the time you stop breathing. You wouldn’t be feeling that you weren’t breathing, and you would be conscious of it, and you would die because you would pass out. The death is a respiratory death. Your lungs stop working and your brain loses enough oxygen for long enough, and then you’re dead.” Yup. That’ll do it. Stay away from Pufferfish. Edward F. Bachner IV had apparently pretended to be someone who had a legitimate reason for owning pufferfish poison, and he had a bunch of it! He also had 50 knives, garrotes that could be used to choke people to death, a gun, two passports, and a phony CIA badge. Wow! The Pufferfish Conspiracy has made all the papers, and I’m thinking that I was way ahead of THAT learning curve with my little story! Just so you know: “If it was a 220-pound person, you would need one-thousandth of a gram, or one-32,000th of an ounce to kill an adult” with Pufferfish poison. Another wow, there. The reason given? Marine animals have to be far more poisonous than land animals to kill their pretty, because they are operating in 3 dimensions instead of 2. (I’m not sure I understood that last part, but I’m just here to report the news of the day in Chicago by the Lake.)

      There was also a story about a 96-year-old man who has a lot of opinions (Garrison Keillor) and a happy story about a young boy who was lost for hours, but was found unharmed. That, at least, was a “happy” ending.

Ames Professor’s Paper Sparks the Design of the Speedo LZR Racer Swimsuit

Speedo LZR Racer Swimsuit

Speedo LZR Racer Swimsuit

I’m always interested to learn that the Midwest has done itself proud. That would appear to be the case in the very hot topic of the LZR (pronounced “laser” swimsuit designed by Speedo and currently showcased in the June 30, 2008, issue of Newsweek with Cindy McCain on the cover.

The controversy over the swimsuit, made of high-density microfiber and lined with polyurethane panels, which appears to be contributing to a rash of World Records being set by those wearing them, has Iowa roots.

It seems that a professor of physiology at Ames (Iowa State University) named Rick Sharp, a former collegiate swimmer himself, wrote two papers questioning Speedo’s performance claims for the LZR’s predecessor, the Speedo Fastskin suit. Speedo did not take offense at Professor Sharp’s comments, but, instead, called him up in 2004 and invited him to lead a team of outside experts that would design a better suit.

Sharp recalls, in the Newsweek article, “I laughed and said, ‘Have you read my papers?'”

Speedo had, indeed, read Sharp’s papers. They had taken his doubts into consideration and, says Jason Rance, Chief of Speedo’s Aqualab global R&D Center in England, “He was asking all the right questions.”

NASA fluid-mechanics engineer Stephen Wilkinson was also enlisted to use wind tunnels to detect surface friction on spacecraft re-entering Earth’s atmosphere technology to blow air across a variety of fabrics at 63 mph, the simulated speed of a swimmer as fast as Michael Phelps, this year’s American gold medal hopeful.

Samples were stitched together and tried out on Iowa State University swimmers. Says Sharp, “We had one suit that looked great on paper. But then, when we dove into the pool, it ballooned out like a parachute.”

The polyurethane panels that act like a girdle to streamline the swimmers bodies also had to be redesigned so that the girdle structure wasn’t too far up the rib cage, therefore inhibiting swimmers’ breathing.

Whatever the case, the LZR, which had been previously approved for use at the Beijing Olympics, has sparked a storm of protest from competitors, who claim that it constitutes an unfair advantage for other swimmers. The Speedo people, for their part, don’t expect to market many of the $290 a pair men’s jammers nor the $550 full bodysuit. They are meant for true athletes like Phelps and could be considered “the couture version” of Speedo, according to Warnaco Group President Helen McCluskey. The $40 to $78 knock-off versions with stars-and-stripes motifs that will be marketed to little kids: that’s where the market is, with 300,000 kids on swim teams.

Meanwhile, even endorsers of other swimsuits seem to be defecting in droves to the new LZR Suit to get the “rocket” effect that NASA was aiming for. One prominent endorser of a competitor, Olympic medallist Erik Vendt, who previously shilled for TYR, the second-largest U.S. swimwear maker, has switched to the Speedo LZR Racer. A Japanese swimmer under contract to Mizuno just set a world record wearing a LZR. Speedo spent tens of millions developing the LZR Racer over the last four years and, says U.S. swim coach Mark Schubert, “every world record is in jeopardy. The suit is definitely a factor.”

Transfused Blood Over Six Weeks Old May Kill You


     A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Colleen Gorman Koch and Cleveland Clinic colleagues, examined the transfusion records for 6,002 cardiac surgery patients in the wake of several smaller studies that indicate that, if transfused blood is nearing its expiration date (6 weeks), recipients are 64% more likely to die in the hospital.

     In Dr. Koch’s study, 2.8% of those who received old blood died in the hospital, compared to 1.7% who got fresher blood.

    Over 14 million units of blood are transfused into patients across the United States each day.  Blood can be stored and used for as long as six weeks, although evidence exists that the loss of nitric oxide over that six-week period can render the old blood less effective than fresher supplies.  That finding has led other researchers to attempt to rejuvenate the old blood with this critical agent (nitric oxide) for delivering oxygen to tissues.  Nitric oxide has been shown to disappear from the blood after six weeks in storage, in other studies.

     On Wednesday, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) stated, “The New England Journal of Medicine” study is narrow and non-randomized,” and that FDA regulatory action would be “premature.”

     Dr. Ross Herron, medical director for the American Red Cross said, “I don’t know if we would be able to get enough blood donors to offset that (regulatory action by the FDA).”

     Heart surgery patients are among the largest consumers of donor blood.  Some hospitals have already modified their procedures for cardiac surgery to minimize the need for blood transfusions for heart patients.

My Cholesterol Levels on Lipitor, Even Though Nobody Cares

I just knew that all of you were awaiting the results of my latest blood draw. Yes, I can hear you now saying, “I wonder how Connie’s blood is doing, these days.” It is actually the truth that I had to have blood drawn and go in for a routine physical. It was mainly to see what effect, if any, Lipitor has been having on my previously-high (272) cholesterol.

  Mind you, I have been the proud possessor of high cholesterol since my teens, I think. I know I had cholesterol of over 300 at one point, just before I began a diet at a hospital where I ate no solid food whatsoever and my cholesterol dropped from that, alone. I also remember inflating it, artificially, at a nurse’s suggestion once, to qualify for a hospital diet program, by eating tubs of cottage cheese. But nevermind about all that ancient history.  

On March 4th, 2008,  I had blood drawn because my doctor was going to check my liver function (which they check if you are on statins) and, for that reason, I was very careful to take a Lipitor (10 mg) a night every night for a week. My normal pattern is to take one 10 mg. pill every OTHER night, because my John Deere insurance will not pay for my Lipitor at all. They will pay for all kinds of inferior brands that make me physically ill (I tried them all), but that is it. All of the inferior brands were costing me (in addition to my insurance coverage) a minimum of $56, so I figured I might as well pay for the Gold Standard (i.e., Lipitor) and comparison shop it. In other words, I don’t get any insurance coverage for my Lipitor, as I buy it at Sam’s Club, and those little pills are PRICEY! I never get out of the store having paid less than $70 for 30 pills and, lately, I think it has gone up closer to $90. Anyway, because the pills ARE so pricey, and I am absorbing the total cost myself, I asked my doctor (Dr. Mihm), to write the 5 mg. prescription as a 10 mg. prescription, which I would take either cut in half or every-other-day, to keep MY costs down (and it is MY cost, not my insurance carrier, which prefers that I become physically ill on Brands X, Y and Z.).  If you have a 10 mg. pill, it will take you through 2 months on that $70 to $90. Capice? If I were taking a 5 mg. pill daily, I would pay the same price ($70 to $90) but the pills would only last me 30 days. Therefore, I can get my daily cost for my Lipitor (which Dr. Mihm, himself, takes) down to a manageable $1 a day.

  Today, the results of having taken my 10 mg. pill for at least a week (more faithfully than usual, in other words) were revealed to the public, who does not really want to know. My cholesterol has gone from 272 to 133. My HDL has declined from 76 to 51, which my doctor said would be “normal,” since the overall cholesterol has declined so much. My LDL has gone from 185 to 70, which he described as “ideal.” He said he could hardly believe that a broken-down old relic like me now had such “good” cholesterol…that I was “almost an ideal patient”…or words to that effect.  He was almost giddy with excitement, as, I am sure, you are.

 Afterwards, Dr. Mihm and I talked about politics, and I learned that he supports Hillary (!) and I heard about his nice time in Florida. It is always a pleasure to visit Dr. Mihm, who is almost as old as I am old and delivered Stacey 21 years ago. He is truly a Great Guy, and I know his wife Georgia, who used to be on the Davenport School Board. At the end of the meeting, after we had talked about Eliot Spitzer and politics and cholesterol, he said, “Good talking with you,” and I hobbled off into the day, to go shopping and celebrate my wonderful cholesterol levels.   And, as an added bonus, nobody weighed me, this time. (hehehehehehe).  

Response to Bayer Article

From: Julia Bodeeb White (click to view CP page) Sent: 2008-03-01 07:44:37 Subject: Message from Julia Bodeeb White Message from Julia Bodeeb White I thank you for your article about Bayer. After my Mom’s open heart surgery she suddenly had kidney problems too and had dialysis. She died 4 months after the heart surgery. It was supposed to make her stronger and give her better quality of life. I was so in shock at the time and her rapid decline did not make any sense. Plus she died within months of my grandmother, so it was beyond horrible.
Now that I read your article about Bayer I have to wonder if she got that drug at surgery. I have mailed the article to her doctor to ask. I have also emailed your article to a LOT of friends to tell them to boycott Bayer.I know this email will be hard to read but your article perhaps explains something that never made sense to me…. and is excellent reporting


“Sixty Minutes” Medical Whistle-blower: the Ralph Nader of Medicine

      In a particularly horrifying installment of the popular CBS program “Sixty Minutes” which aired on Sunday, February 17th (directed by Solly Granatstein), the drug Trasylol 1.10, manufactured by Bayer, was exposed as a lethal cocktail for those undergoing heart surgery. The drug was prescribed for patients undergoing heart surgery, but the problem was that the drug also caused renal failure, often leading to the patient’s death.

   This unfortunate side effect of the drug was noted by a Cologne doctor named Juergen Fischer, who notified Bayer, but says, onscreen, “I felt that Bayer wasn’t interested in exploring it.”

     The drug was used for 14 years and was approved by the FDA in 1993 for use in cardiac transplant surgery, to stop bleeding. In 1998, Trasylol’s use was extended by the FDA to include approval for all heart surgery. However, in the CBS piece, it was revealed that FDA “approval” did not necessarily mean that the drug was safe, which, indeed, it was not. Bayer never paid to have any extensive testing of the drug done and the FDA “approval” meant only “It’s certifying that it doesn’t appear to be unsafe.”

    How wrong Bayer was! The drug was used on 4 and ½ million patients over its 14 year run, one-third of those patients were Americans. Many of them died. What made their deaths even more difficult to understand and/or accept was that the FDA was warned, not once, but at least two times. Bayer and the FDA certainly dropped the ball on protecting the public, and they dropped it Big Time.

     Dr. Daniel T. Mangano, who runs a non-profit agency to test drugs and make sure that they are, indeed, safe for public consumption, wrote an article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1995 that had, as its base of study, 5,065 patients in 17 countries. The study showed that patients who were given Trasylol during surgery were at “an elevated risk of death and acute renal or kidney failure.” Independent physicians backed this up a second and a third study.

    One of those physicians, who concurred with Dr. Mangano, was (Dr.) Nicholas Kukuchas, of Missouri Baptist Medical Center, who started a study in 1992 on 20 heart patients. Of the 20 patients in his small study, 65% or 13 of 20 had problems after being given Trasylol, so the study was discontinued “because the patients were dying.”

    Enter Dr. Alexander Walker of Harvard, who conducted a study at Bayer’s request, which looked at the medical records of 70,000 patients given the drug and concurred that it was dangerous. It was especially irresponsible to use Trasylol 1.01 when 2 other less-expensive drugs, Cycklikapron and/or Aminocaproic acid could perform the same task (i.e., stop bleeding in cardiac surgery patients) at a cost of about $50 per shot, versus $1000 for the Trasylol 1.01, which might well cause a fatal failure of the patient’s kidneys as a side-effect to stopping the bleeding.

    Witness the story of Joe Randoni, heartbreakingly portrayed onscreen. Joe was a healthy 52-year-old husband and father who went into the hospital to have a congenital heart murmur fixed by having heart valve surgery. Prior to undergoing the operation, his wife Josephine and daughter Marissa were told that the surgery had only a “5% post operative risk.” For four hours during his surgery, he was given the drug Trasylol 1.01 intravenously.

    As a result of the operation, , Joe Randoni’s kidneys failed. He endured 19 operations in a period of 8 months. His gall bladder had to be removed. He was so bloated that his eyes had to be sewn shut to prevent cornea damage. Both legs had to be amputated due to poor circulation. Ten days after Joe Randoni’s surgery, the article about the dangers of Trasylol 1.01  written by Dr. Mangoni appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine entitled “The Risk Associated with Aprotinin in Cardiac Surgery.” But Dr. Mangano’s whistle-blowing article came too late to save the life of Joe Randoni.

    Joe’s life was not as important as the $300 million in sales in 2005 that Bayer realized from Trasylol 1.01, nor the $750 million they projected they would make in 2006. Still, despite the deaths of trusting individuals like Joe Randoni, the company kept quiet about the perils of using Trasylol 1.01. 2006.   In 2006, when high-ranking Bayer officials appeared before the FDA, they never mentioned the ongoing study with Dr. Alexander Walker of Harvard, which supported Dr. Mangano’s warnings.

   Dr. Mangano wanted the FDA committee to review the data and take Trasylol off the market. For one thing, unbelievably, Bayer withheld the information that a second study (Dr. Walker’s) was backing up all of Dr. Mangano’s warnings. So another 2 years dragged by, 2 years in which approximately 1,000 lives a month were lost because doctors were using Trasylol 1.01 in their operating rooms, thinking it was ‘safe” when it wasn’t.

     On September 13, 2006, Dr. Walker of Harvard told Bayer of his corroboration of Dr. Mangano’s studies, but the FDA chose to withhold that information from the FDA and, as a result, 431,000 additional patients were treated with the lethal drug during cardiac surgery and 1,000 a month died during this 2-year foot-dragging period. When Dr. William R. Hiatt, a high-ranking FDA review doctor was asked how that made him feel, he finally admitted that not telling the FDA was irresponsible and immoral. “I thought it was truly inappropriate,” he said, in the mildest terms possible.

     Dr. Mangano kept blowing the whistle until, finally, Canada also conducted a study, which caused both Canada and Germany to ban the use of the drug. To me, Dr. Mangano emerges as the Ralph Nader of cardiac surgery medicine. Just as Ralph Nader warned us that a car was “unsafe at any speed,” Dr. Mangano warned physicians world-wide that use of Trasylol 1.01 was “unsafe for any cause.”   

 Here is Dr. Mandano’s  parting comment: “Good medicine demands that you protect the patient. That’s at issue here. (You protect the patient), and not the drug, and not the profit margin.”

     Thank you, Dr. Mangano.

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