Mimi Koberlein woke up one morning unable to smell the bacon her husband was frying for breakfast. Confused, she ran to the shower, grabbed her shampoo and inhaled deeply. Nothing. Two years later, Koberlein, 47, still can’t smell lemons, freshly cut grass, her three boys or any other fragrances of life. Diagnosed with anosmia, or smell loss, she has tried decongestants, nasal irrigation, oral steroids and acupuncture. But nothing has worked.
Fiona O’Connell is familiar with the working person’s health care nightmare — the one where you get too sick to work, and then you lose your job, and then you have no insurance to pay for the treatment you need. O’Connell lived that nightmare, and she’s still bitter and angry. But now she can talk about it in the past tense. As of Jan. 1, the cancer survivor has medical insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Leaded gasoline is such a well-known scourge that automobile fuel made with the brain-damaging additive is still sold in only six countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Myanmar, North Korea and Yemen. Shifting to unleaded fuel in the U.S. — the last drop of leaded gas was sold here in 1995 — has paid huge dividends. The amount of lead churned into the air by cars and factories has declined by more than 90 percent since the 1970s. Average concentrations of the toxic metal in children have plummeted almost as dramatically. But one industry stubbornly remains a holdout in the decadeslong push for a lead-free America.
When Lori Witt began pursuing a tubal ligation at age 27, she said physicians refused to even discuss it with her, telling her she was too young and might change her mind about having children. For more than a year, Witt tried to get sterilized. Finally she went with her 28-year-old husband to a military medical clinic overseas, where Witt said he was given a vasectomy with few questions asked. Decades after sterilization became broadly available to women in the U.S., some still have trouble obtaining one of the safest and most effective forms of birth control. In interviews and on Internet forums, women report facing resistance and flat-out refusal from health care providers as they seek permanent contraception. Along the way, they encounter sexist and paternalistic attitudes, such as the assumption that all women desire children or that they’ll come to regret their decision.
Sherry Loveless can see the promise of managed care right through her bedroom door. Saddled with multiple disabilities, Loveless, 61, has been stuck in her Rockford bedroom for months because the doorway is too narrow for her wheelchair to squeeze through. When she moved into the house in December, firefighters carried her to the bed. But soon, thanks to a restructuring in Illinois’ Medicaid program, a renovation project is scheduled to widen the door and build a ramp that will allow her access to the outside.
Ellen Hanrahan, a 36-year-old mother of two, was done having children. To make sure, she had tiny metal coils implanted inside her fallopian tubes, a relatively new form of permanent birth control marketed under the brand name Essure. A year later, Hanrahan began feeling a familiar form of fatigue — one she’d experienced with her previous pregnancies. Incredulous, she took a home pregnancy test. And then another. “I panicked, called my husband and said, ‘We have a problem,’” said Hanrahan, who was, indeed, 10 weeks pregnant. A team of researchers estimated Monday that as many as 9.6 percent of women could become pregnant within 10 years of undergoing hysteroscopic sterilization, or Essure. That is nearly four times the estimated risk after a laparoscopic tubal ligation, the more traditional method. The study, published in the journal Contraception, is the first to compare the effectiveness of the two main choices offered to women who seek a permanent form of birth control. "Overall, sterilization is very effective; the absolute risk of pregnancy is low," said lead author Aileen Gariepy, an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine. "But if … one method is not as effective, that definitely needs to be part of the decision-making process and not overlooked."
Before the electric light bulb ended the Gaslight Era, one of the biggest advances in illuminating Chicago and other cities was the development of a lantern wick that could withstand intense heat while burning brighter than ordinary lamps. The wicks, known as Welsbach gas mantles, were made of gauze soaked in a radioactive element called thorium. To meet demand, several long-forgotten lantern factories north of the Chicago River ground tons of thorium-laced ore during the early 1900s, then gave away the sandy leftovers to shore up soggy areas around Streeterville, at the time a heavily industrialized neighborhood. Nobody kept track of where the radioactive sand from Lindsay Light Co. ended up. But today, developers and street crews confront the company’s toxic legacy every time they dig foundations for hotels and high-rise condominiums that have made Streeterville a magnet for upscale living and tourism.
Meg Finnegan thought she might never be able to afford to have a baby. Finnegan, who is self-employed and has a pre-existing medical condition, was having trouble finding health insurance at all, let alone a policy that would cover pregnancy and childbirth. So she was thrilled to discover that the plan she signed up for last fall under the Affordable Care Act includes maternity coverage. "If I didn’t have insurance, I wouldn’t have a baby. All those doctor’s appointments and tests, and possibly a high-risk delivery — how would you pay for it?" she said. A guarantee of maternity coverage — all new insurance policies must provide it — is just one of a basket of provisions in the federal health law that specifically benefit women. Women’s health advocates also expect women to benefit more from some provisions in the law that apply to people of either sex.
Bernard McCullough grew up above an Englewood church and then worked as a fry cook while honing his comedy act at night. Decades later, after hitting it big in nightclubs, television and movies, Bernie Mac wanted to give back. He founded a small charity in 2005 aimed at helping fellow sufferers of sarcoidosis, a disease that disproportionately affects blacks in the U.S. The organization continued after his death three years later, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and holding fundraisers — including a blues show as recently as February. But public records and interviews show that the charity is falling short of key benchmarks for such organizations, as well as the generous intentions of its founder. For instance, records for the six years ending in 2012 show that 13 percent of the Bernie Mac Foundation’s spending has gone to charitable programs, far below the 65 percent minimum that experts recommend.
In a stern rebuke of a noted surgeon, the state of Washington has issued disciplinary charges against Dr. David Heimbach, who told lawmakers misleading stories about fatally burned babies while testifying in favor of flame retardants. Medical licensing authorities allege that Heimbach, whose activities were exposed in a 2012 Tribune investigation, fabricated testimony, failed to disclose his ties to the chemical industry and falsely presented himself as an unbiased burn expert when he was in fact collecting $240,000 from flame retardant manufacturers.