In a few rare cases, people defy cancer without medical treatment or by using therapies that are considered inadequate, a phenomenon known as spontaneous remission. Scientists have been fascinated and baffled by these developments for as long as cancer has been recognized as a disease. Was it luck? Or did the patients do something special to harness the awesome power of the immune system? Studying these exceptional people, however, is fraught with difficulty, controversy and the dangers of promoting bad science. The potential benefits of highlighting the unusual recoveries should be balanced against the risks, experts warn, including offering patients false hope, blaming those who succumb and encouraging alternative treatments in place of conventional methods that could prolong or save lives.
A proposal from the Illinois attorney general’s office to allow camera monitoring in nursing homes is drawing cautious support from elder care advocates, who have raised concerns about the privacy of seniors. Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s proposal would allow video cameras and audio recording devices in nursing homes if residents consent and if they or their family members cover the costs. The cameras could help deter abuse or neglect at nursing homes, and in cases where abuse does occur they could help hold accountable the people responsible, Madigan said.
Magazine cutouts of Michael Jackson , stylish young rockers and characters from the “Twilight” series cover the walls of Stephanie DiCara’s bedroom in North Barrington, where a nurse watches closely over the ventilator that keeps the young woman alive. But if her father loses a legal battle with an insurer over the costs of her care, DiCara fears she could be forced out of the room she’s decorated to match her interests. "I try not to think about it, because it stresses me out," said DiCara, speaking in bursts timed with the cycles of the ventilator.
As furniture makers move to phase out toxic, ineffective flame retardants, the chemical industry is waging an aggressive last-ditch campaign to preserve a lucrative market that reaches into virtually every American home. One of the world’s leading manufacturers of flame retardants sued California to block a new flammability standard that starting next year will allow furniture manufacturers to eliminate the chemicals from new upholstered sofas and chairs sold nationwide. The industry’s chief trade group, the American Chemistry Council, also lobbied fiercely to thwart a California bill that would require labels on any new furniture that still contains flame retardants. Ads in the online editions of local newspapers urged people to tell state lawmakers “to oppose legislation that misleads consumers about weakened fire safety standards.”
Polish authorities have returned a fugitive to Chicago to face reckless homicide charges in a 2004 car crash that killed two people. One of several dozen criminal suspects featured in the Tribune’s 2011 "Fugitives from Justice" investigation, Andrzej Rybka was apprehended several months later in Poland. On Friday he appeared in bond court where Judge Peggy Chiampas denied bail and ordered him to surrender all passports.
Dr. Kim Williams thought he followed a heart-healthy diet: He avoided red meat and fried foods. He ate his chicken breast without the skin. But in 2003, the Chicago cardiologist realized his level of LDL, the so-called “bad” cholesterol, was too high. Inspired by a patient’s success with a plant-based diet, Williams began using “meat substitutes” for protein. Within six weeks, he says, his LDL level plummeted almost by half into the healthy range. Now a firm believer in the vegan way of eating — no meat, fish, eggs or dairy — Williams is about to step into a prominent leadership role as president of the American College of Cardiology. When he wrote an essay on the benefits of a plant-based diet for cardiac patients, it kicked off yet another rancorous debate over how people should eat to best protect their hearts.
For years, Dr. Michael Reinstein was a prolific prescriber of a dangerous antipsychotic drug in nursing homes and mental health facilities, giving it to more than 50 percent of the patients under his care. The psychiatrist’s prescriptions of clozapine, known as a risky drug of last resort, were linked to three patients’ deaths and triggered federal accusations of kickbacks and fraud. Now, the Illinois medical board has indefinitely suspended Reinstein’s license, saying he received $350,000 in illegal payments from the drug’s maker while disregarding its life-threatening effects and alternative treatments. Clozapine can cause seizures, a decrease in white blood cells, inflammation of the heart wall and increased risk of death in elderly patients. The disciplinary action comes more than four years after a joint investigation by the Tribune and ProPublica focused attention on Reinstein’s prescribing habits.
On a recent afternoon, Dr. Evan Lyon of the University of Chicago Hospitals wrapped his stethoscope around his neck, packed a blood pressure cuff and a pulse oxygen meter into his backpack, and set off to see a patient. Katie White, the patient, was not in a clinical setting but in the bedroom of her small South Side home, about 2 miles from the hospital. She is participating in a clinical trial designed to test an old-new system of delivering health care: having the same doctor treat patients both in the hospital and elsewhere, including making house calls when necessary. The $6 million study is one of dozens of research projects made possible by the Affordable Care Act. While the focus of the federal law is to expand access to medical care, it also established the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to fund comparative effectiveness research. Such studies seek to evaluate the benefits and harms of different treatment options to better inform health care decisions.
One flame retardant is linked to cancer and was voluntarily taken out of children’s pajamas in the 1970s after researchers discovered it mutated DNA. The other was touted as an eco-friendly chemical that would neither escape from household furniture nor show up in people. Signs of both compounds turned up in mothers and children tested for a new study that shows how difficult it is for even the most diligent parents to avoid toxic chemicals added to furniture, toys, electronics and other household products.
A state task force formed in response to a Tribune investigation has recommended sweeping reforms to address absenteeism in Chicago elementary schools, saying the future of the city’s children and its economy are at stake. For one, it said, Chicago Public Schools should bring back its long-disbanded army of truancy officers in an updated form. At schools with the highest rates of missed days, these trained and certified “attendance coordinators” would not only track down absent students but also help their families resolve underlying problems that keep children out of school.