Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Having A Baby After A Spinal Cord Injury: An Amazing Fertility Success Story

Revolution Health expert, Dr. Rafat Abbasi, is a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist in Washington, D.C. She told me this exciting story about a miracle baby that brought great joy to a young family. She hopes that this news will bring hope to other young men and women who have spinal cord injuries and want to have children.

Dr. Val: Tell me about the fertility success story that has you so excited.

Dr. Abbasi: A young couple was referred to me because they wanted to have a baby. They had been married for about a year, and had been through one miscarriage already. Sadly, the young husband (he is about 35 years old) was then involved in a freak mountain biking accident and broke his neck, severing his spinal cord. He was paralyzed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair, unable to function sexually. His 29 year old wife and he were devastated.

They came to me wondering if there was any way that they could get pregnant under the current circumstances. And due to the amazing advances in fertility treatments, I was pleased to report to them that there was a chance that they could. I explained how we’d do it.

First we had to collect some sperm from the testes of the husband. We could do this by using an electric current to stimulate a spontaneous ejaculation reflex and then inseminate the wife with the fluid, or if that didn’t work, we could withdraw some immature sperm directly from the testes with a needle. I explained that if we retrieved the sperm with a needle we’d need to mature the sperm in a test tube incubator overnight, and retrieve eggs from her and then use in-vitro fertilization techniques to create embryos to implant into her womb. In order to get the eggs, we’d need to use egg-stimulating hormones (for about 10-12 days) and an ultrasound-guided needle retrieval technique (under local anesthesia).

As it turns out, we used the second method for this couple. We transferred three embryos and one of them took, and she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. The couple is now interested in having a second baby.

Dr. Val: Isn’t it true that spinal cord injury can contribute to infertility? How does that work?

Dr. Abbasi: Over time, men who’ve had a spinal cord injury suffer from testicular atrophy which affects their hormone levels and can make it much more difficult to retrieve viable sperm. Fertility rates start to decrease substantially 5-7 years after a spinal cord injury.

Dr. Val: What made this story touching for you?

Dr. Abbasi: I think the whole story is incredibly touching because this young man, who was in the prime of his life, had a freak accident that took away his hope of ever having kids. His rehabilitation medicine physician thought to refer him to a fertility specialist (because he’d heard about the technique we use to retrieve sperm from patients who’ve had spinal cord injuries) and now he’s blessed with a family. Until then he mistakenly believed that there was no hope for a pregnancy after his injury. His life is different now due to his physical limitations, but he is full of joy because of his baby daughter. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.

To listen to the full interview (with a step-by-step clinical account of how the fertility procedure was managed), click here.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Laughter is the Best Medicine: Amusing Websites and Videos

Thanks to KevinMD and the folks at Science Based Medicine respectively, I have enjoyed a good belly laugh at the following:

1. A satirical website devoted to a new EMR system: “Extormity

“At the confluence of extortion and conformity lies Extormity, the electronic health records mega-corporation dedicated to offering highly proprietary, difficult to customize and prohibitively expensive healthcare IT solutions. Our flagship product, the Extormity EMR Software Suite, was recently voted ‘Most Complex’ by readers of a leading healthcare industry publication.”

2. A video spoof of the TV show “ER,” but run by New Age therapists. It’s called “Homeopathy ER.”

3. And as a bonus website for those of you who may not have discovered it yet, is full of amusing foreign signs and product messages in broken English.

I hope these sites get your endorphins going!This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Catching Up With Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th U.S. Surgeon General

Dr. Val: Dr. Carmona, I recently met you at the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease conference in Washington, D.C., and now you’re here with the STOP Obesity Alliance. You are certainly one busy guy. What are you doing with your life these days?

Dr. Carmona: My life is certainly very full and very fulfilling. After completing my four-year term as surgeon general, many good people in the private sector offered me opportunities to continue my life’s work. All of my endeavors are geared toward improving the public’s health —that is, the health, safety and security of a person, a population, a nation —and sometimes even globally through partners that we work with.

As I surveyed the various opportunities to engage in public health service, I wanted to choose initiatives that gave me the biggest bang for my buck. In other words, I wanted to support programs that would have maximal impact in improving the lives of Americans. The chronic disease burden caused by a preventable condition —obesity — seemed like a really logical place to start.

We have to figure out how to reverse obesity in more than 9 million children, and we need to help the two out of three adults who are overweight or obese. Obesity has a huge impact on diseases across the board —asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers and a whole host of chronic diseases. Obesity either causes or is a comorbid [simultaneous and independent] factor in each of these.

In addition to my involvement in the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and in the STOP Obesity Alliance, I am involved in the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, where I chair the Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition — which endeavors to ensure that our children get their full complement of vaccines.

In a country where we spend more on health care than any other nation in the world, our metrics put us somewhere between 25th and 40th in terms of life expectancy, childhood vaccinations, maternal child mortality and things like that. We have to step back and ask: “Where are we missing the boat here?” I think part of the answer is that many of our children don’t complete their immunization series. In Arizona just recently, we had a measles outbreak. That shouldn’t happen in this country.

When I was a child, every mom worried about her son or daughter getting polio. We don’t have to worry about that any more because of vaccines. In a global economy where people move freely across geopolitical borders, vaccination has never been more important —both here in the U.S. and internationally.

Dr. Val: Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing at Canyon Ranch. People may have some misperceptions about the population that Canyon Ranch exists to serve (i.e., wealthy spa-goers). But I know there’s a lot more to it than that.

Dr. Carmona: I’m the vice chairman and CEO of Canyon Ranch [resorts in Arizona, Massachusetts and Florida], and I am always looking for opportunities for the organization to contribute to health policy issues. Our goal is to help the people who come to us to find a path to optimal health and wellness through prevention strategies based on a true integration of the mind, body and spirit.

The Canyon Ranch Institute is the nonprofit arm of our organization that takes our best practices at Canyon Ranch and translates them to underserved populations around the country. So we serve the upper echelons of society, but we also have a strong social responsibility to “give back” to underserved communities and to help eliminate health disparities. Through the institute, we partner with [for example] the Urban Health Plan in the South Bronx [in New York City] — which is in one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States. We’ve committed to helping some of the poorest Hispanic people in America because they struggle with disproportionate disease burden as a group.

Essentially, we’re building a Canyon Ranch Institute Life Enhancement Program in a federally qualified community health center to change the health metrics of that population. And we’re going to focus on disease prevention and an integrative approach to health and wellness. We’re going to measure our impact scientifically. We do everything in peer partnership in a way that honors the culture of the community, and we respect what they’re already doing to serve their population. With everything we do, we plan and act as consultants to the local community leaders. In this case, we took the local community physician and other health leaders and brought them to Canyon Ranch on a scholarship program. We trained them and then sent them back to the Bronx with a small team of staff to help them put together a life enhancement program. And now, we’re building a curriculum with them.

Dr. David Satcher and I are discussing a new initiative in Atlanta, perhaps through his institute — the Satcher Health Leadership Institute. We also have a partnership with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, in which we’ve come together with other surgeons general to bring forth a collective call to action on cancer prevention and survivorship — which we’ll announce this summer here at the National Press Club. This is the first initiative to include all the past surgeons general, so it’s really exciting.

We’re doing many innovative and entrepreneurial things that we can initiate quickly with a lot of smart and willing people. You can move a little more nimbly in the private sector than you can in the federal government, so it’s a joy to be able to pull all these people together to address the unmet needs of various populations at all levels of society.

Dr. Val: How do you incorporate the “mind, body, and spirit” approach to health without getting too far afield from science?

Dr. Carmona: At Canyon Ranch and the Canyon Ranch Institute, we believe that achieving optimal wellness involves taking an integrative and holistic approach to the many dimensions of health and well-being —enhancing the physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual and environmental aspects. We’re also helping to translate this integrative approach to underserved communities through the Canyon Ranch Institute.

I have a small group of integrative health doctors and other health professionals who meet on a regular basis at Canyon Ranch. Their job is to read their scientific literature and meet periodically with me to present the new and emerging science in health and wellness. Then we review the science together and ask ourselves if there’s anything applicable that we could use as a product to improve the health of those we serve at Canyon Ranch or through the Canyon Ranch Institute’s nonprofit efforts.

So, for example, we’ve been taking a close look at the brain fitness movement in order to see what we could apply to older adults. When you and I went to medical school, we were taught that when you hit 60 or 70, you couldn’t really learn anything new and you need to be put out to pasture. The fact of the matter is that the science is now very clear that not only can you learn, but you can grow your knowledge and ability in many areas — even when you’re into your 90s and 100s. So at Canyon Ranch, we combine physical fitness with brain fitness, and we have holistic programs to develop cognitive skills through nutrition and mind exercises to increase intellectual capacity.

We have also been investigating whether or not touch can be healing. I believe it’s a gray area — some of it may be hocus-pocus, but some may also have scientific merit. So we’re working with Gary Schwartz, Ph.D., an expert in energy medicine, to take a closer look at this and to conduct some trials to see what works. I know this is pushing the envelope, but it’s not implausible that the comfort and stress reduction one experiences from gentle touch might improve immunity.

I recognize that holistic medicine is a very dynamic and challenging field to be in, but we vet everything and make sure that we have some scientific validity before we move forward with anything as a product. We try to stay open-minded as we study these so-called complementary and alternative medicine practices to see what works. And if we find a benefit, we incorporate it. If not, we reject it and move on.

Dr. Val: And do you practice what you preach? How are you taking care of yourself?

Dr. Carmona: I get about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes of exercise five to six times a week. I even have staff meetings while working out at the gym sometimes. I’ll say: “I have 24 hours a day, and you guys get 23. But I need one for exercise. If it’s so important that you need to see me during that hour, then you have to work out with me. We can swim or walk, and you can debrief me while we’re doing that.” Sometimes they’ll take me up on it, but not always. Last night we didn’t finish our business dinner until 11 pm. Everybody went to bed, but I went to the gym.

I do a lot of cross-training. I don’t run that much anymore because my knees are getting sore. I use elliptical machines and the StairMaster. I swim, and then I do a weight training circuit every other day.

Just keep moving. I think that’s the important thing.

Dr. Val: And what do you do nutritionally?

Dr. Carmona: I’m careful about what I eat. I eat a little bit of beef, but not much. I do eat a lot of chicken. I have fish allergies so, unfortunately, I can’t eat seafood. I eat a lot of whole grains, nuts and fruits, and I control my portions. My typical breakfast is oatmeal, fruit and a glass of skim milk. For lunch, I have a sandwich and some salad, and then I have a full but portion-controlled dinner. I allow myself some vices. I used to joke with my staff all the time about not being able to pass a Baskin-Robbins without stopping in to get a vanilla ice-cream cone.

Dr. Val: Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors … and you pick vanilla?

Dr. Carmona: That’s right. I told them they’re wasting their time on the other 30. There’s only one flavor that I need: vanilla. Every once in a while, I’m really risqué and I’ll try French vanilla.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

My Doctor’s Going to be on Good Morning America!

Faithful readers of my blog will recall my effusive praise of my family physician, Dr. Alan Dappen. He is boldly going where few physicians have gone before – offering affordable care to the masses with a transparent fee structure and access to him via phone and email. How is it possible? This is what a doctor can afford to do when he has almost no overhead – he doesn’t have to pay multiple staff to transcribe coding and billing or fill out reems of documentation to satisfy third party payers. He doesn’t have to see patients in person to fill a prescription or otherwise change their management (because payment is not contingent upon a physical exam). No, he gets paid for what the patient actually needs - whether that’s an in-person visit, an email, or a phone call. And the cost for the average person is far lower than a monthly insurance premium would be. A high deductible plan (for potential catastrophic events) and a pay-as-you-go relationship with Dr. Dappen is all that many people would need for good, affordable healthcare.

Well, Good Morning America has caught wind of Dr. Dappen and is featuring him tomorrow morning (Wednesday, May 28th) between 7:30-8:00am. I’m really pleased that he’ll receive more attention this way. Of course, I knew he was great before they did. Do I get credit for finding him first?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Which Physicians Are Most Likely To Lose Their License?

Thanks to KevinMD who flagged this interesting journal article:  Characteristics Associated With Physician Discipline.

Can you guess which physicians are most likely to undergo disciplinary action (license revocation, practice suspension, probation, and public reprimand)?

  • Males
  • Older physicians
  • Those who trained at medical schools outside the US
  • Physicians who are not board-certified

Score one for the lady docs. Woo hoo! This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »