Tag Archives: Health

Weekly High-Five Report: Brotherly Love Run

Standard

Chris Praetzel is running across America to raise awareness for Organ Transplantation. In 1996, at age 3, Chris’s brother, Brian Praetzel, received a life saving kidney transplant. His doctors had held out little hope, knowing the wait for a transplant might simply be too long for his young body. Fortunately a kidney came through in time.

Today Chris, along with another brother, Jaime offering ground support, is running from Los Angeles to Atlantic City. He started his journey on May 23rd and his latest blog update comes from Craig, Colorado.

With 42% of Americans signed up as organ donors, and 100,000 patients currently waiting for an organ, Chris feels we can do better. He’s right. If you are reading this blog and have not yet signed up to be an organ donor, consider doing so right now.

Along the way Chris has slept on church grounds, been questioned by curious police officers, dodged forest fires and has been extended free meals as a token of other’s great appreciation. Most days Chris is running 30 miles and some days he’s covering as much as 50+ miles. That’s pretty awesome. For anyone who has ever run a marathon, imagine doing that everyday for three months. I’m impressed.

Bravo to Chris for undertaking this worthy cause. His website, Brotherly Love Run, gives details about the course and the motivation behind his undertaking. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. I just love to hear about brave athletes putting out hard endeavors. But add raising organ donation awareness to the mix and I’m thoroughly behind it. Go Chris Go!

Advertisements

Patient 13: A Possible Cure for Diabetes

Standard

When I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 22 (19 years ago for those who don’t want to do the math), my doctor told me not to worry. Diabetics could live “nearly normal” lives, by which I figured he meant taking quiet walks on the beach and holding down a steady job. I was pretty sure my adventurous lifestyle was out of the question. He also told me that in the next five or ten years there would probably be a cure for diabetes. They were that close.

I believed him. I thought I had nothing to worry about. All the bad “complications” of the disease (isn’t that a nice way of putting it?) wouldn’t have time to set in. I was practically off scott free. No need to worry about blindness or amputating a limb or heart disease. They were ON THE VERGE of a cure. Besides I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Just ask my husband. Give me a goal, and I’ll outreach it. My A1C (the little blood test number used to check how good or bad you’ve been for the trailing 3 months, kind of like Santa’s little list but way more important) has always been in the normal range. My doctor once told me I was a “rockstar patient”. I tried not to let that go to my head.

I am also exceedingly optimistic. I kept repeating my doctor’s earlier mantra–there’s going to a cure for this disease ANY DAY NOW. I was sure of it. Until it dawned on me. No one had gotten any closer to a cure since I was diagnosed. The only news about Diabetes was of the Type 2 kind. T1 and T2 are actually not even the same disease at all. The result–a pancreas that doesn’t produce adequate insulin–is the same. But the cause is entirely different. And since most people have T2 diabetes, very little seemed to be happening on the T1 front.

Or at least that’s what I thought. A “cure” for T1 diabetes would be some way of transplanting the pancreatic cells that create insulin (aka islet cells). Until now, these transplants all lead to rejection. But now, Scott King and Hanuman Medical Foundation have created the Islet Sheet, which is a device that produces these cells but protects them from the patient’s immune system. King, a diabetic himself, will be the 13th patient in his own study, which hopes to implant these protected sheets under the skin of patients and essentially cure them of diabetes.

Needless to say, my fingers are crossed. Patient 13 is a documentary film based on the study, following the patient’s progress. While the study hasn’t yet started on humans, they are moving quickly.

Here’s a look at the trailer for the project. Let’s hope this thing works.

 

Facebook Saves Lives

Standard

Are you feeling guilty about all those “wasted” hours on Facebook? Do you scroll through your news feed with a sense of irresponsibility as the work piles up in your inbox?

Well, now you don’t have to. Check out this video explaining how Facebook and Donate Life are saving lives. Just click on the image to start the video.

 

Facebook has partnered with Donate Life America and  recently announced the new “organ donor” status tool. Now, you can declare your live-giving choice to your friends. The first step in organ donation is making the choice. The second step is letting your loved ones know your wishes.

Every day 18 people die waiting for a organ donor. You can save 8 lives and improve many more by becoming an organ donor. No one wants to think about their own death. I don’t. But I signed up to be an organ donor when I was sixteen years old and I have the little heart on my driver’s license to prove it. I never expected that my husband would need a liver transplant some day. When the time came, the wait list was too long. John would have died before he got a liver. Instead, a heroic member of our family donated half of his liver to John and saved his life. Luckily his anatomy matched closely enough for a successful living donor transplant. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Here’s how to declare your status:

Go to Timeline, click on “Life Event,” select “Health and Wellness,” choose “Organ Donor.” And make sure to click on the “Officially Register” link to make your decision to be a donor official by registering in your state. It’s that easy! Please share this post with everyone you know.

Pay Attention to the Good Stuff

Standard

As good as it gets

If there is one phrase I would like to tattoo onto the back of my hand as a constant reminder it is this: Pay attention to the good stuff.

Yesterday, as I sat in the doctor’s office, waiting to see the hand surgeon, I felt myself sinking a little into a funk. I was beginning to realize that just because the stitches were out, my thumb still hurt, and I still wouldn’t be able to move it for two months and even though we had planned to go on a surfing trip this week, instead I was in the doctor’s office with a shriveled and bruised right hand that could have belonged to Frankenstein’s monster, and I was feeling a little sorry for myself.

On the wall of the doctor’s office is a sketch to help patients describe their pain on a scale of 0 to 10. 0 is no pain and 10 is unbearable, excruciating pain. Each number corresponds with a drawing of a face in varying amounts of distress. The 0 face is smiling and the 10 face is crying. Looking around at the world, most people’s faces reflect the same sightly-frowning, arched-eyebrowed 6 face.

6 hurts.

But it isn’t until you’ve visited 10 does your perspective change. Once you’ve felt 10, everything else feels more like a 2. Because unless you have suffered a great loss–an unbearable, devastating loss–do you realize how good you actually have it.

Most of us haven’t felt a 10. Most of us are fortunate. When John was sick, his physical pain level fluctuated between 8 and 10 for an entire year. For me, my emotional pain dipped down into the 4 range during hopeful moments and spiked into the double digits during our darkest days. Even though it wasn’t a physical pain–like the sharp ache of a bone being drilled in order to sew a severed tendon back in place–it was unbearable.

When I remember how fortunate I am to still have my husband with me, this current, annoying pain in my thumb almost disappears. This is no 6. Not even close. Those who have visited 10 know what I’m talking about it.

So maybe the three-inch scar on my right thumb will act as a reminder, like a piece of string tied around my index finger, to pay attention. The good stuff isn’t going to last forever. Powder gets tracked up, kids grow up, our hips and shoulders wear out, and not one of us is getting out of this thing alive.

Instead of dwell on the negatives, it is better to pay attention when life is good–when the cherry blossoms pop on the trees along the street, the way my husband smiles when he’s happy, the sparkle of sunlight on fresh snow. Don’t rush, Kim. Pay attention. This right here is the good stuff.

It’s American Diabetes Month and I Feel Fine

Standard

November is Diabetes Month. I suppose, like with any National Something Month, the goal is to raise awareness and money to fight the Something. October has Breast Cancer Awareness; February owns Heart Health; April is a double-whammy with Irritable Bowel Awareness and Distracted Driving Prevention. For every health concern, there’s a month, and Diabetics have November.

A Life With Diabetes

A moment alone checking levels

I rarely mention that I have Type 1 Diabetes; it doesn’t define me. But it is a regular part of my day. It comes up so often in my memoir that I probably should have given Diabetes her own book. But I’m not sure I wanted to give the disease her own stage. We have a rocky relationship, Diabetes and me. I would much rather write a book about my husband’s illness, giving Diabetes only a bit part in the narrative. And I had thought I succeeded until readers reacted with such horror at my near-death low blood sugar reactions. I guess I didn’t realize it was such a big deal.

So, okay. Fine. Diabetes is challenging. Insulin is a fickle mistress. And yes, far too often I go into diabetic shock, which is, for lack of a better word, a full-blown seizure.

Why is that so hard to admit?

Coming to Terms

Summit of Mt. Baker, WA

For many years after I was diagnosed, I pretended to be invincible and unflappable. I wasn’t going to let this two-bit, penny-ante, no-count, nothing of a so-called disease get the better of me. I would climb mountains, I would kayak big rivers, I would spend weeks in the backcountry. And I didn’t care what Diabetes said; she wasn’t going to stop me.

I remember waking up one night in a remote cabin in British Columbia. Ten of us were sleeping in our bags, batting the mice from our pillows and dreaming of the powder-filled glaciers we’d skied that day. But I wasn’t dreaming exactly. It was more like a drugged reverie. The age-dark beams of the roof bowed up and down. Bats flew around my head, lifting the light fabric of my down bag and threatening to carry me away. I almost tapped into the darkest truths that skiing and remote mountains and a blood sugar-addled brain could reach before I delved into a full-on seizure.

Predictably I started sweating and shaking. I screamed and cried. I closed my eyes and moved my head from side to side. My body reared up a few feet off the ground and slammed down.

My friends knew what to do: feed me glucose tablets and orange juice until I came around. And when I woke up, I laughed. Oops. Sorry guys. Didn’t mean to wake you. But their stares were full of fear. We were remote, at least a day’s ski to a phone. What if they couldn’t wake me? What if a helicopter couldn’t pick me up? The look of responsibility weighed heavily on all of us, and I realized I had to strike a peace accord with my sworn enemy.

Balancing Act

After carrying this disease around with me for over 20 years, I’ve had a few scares. Most often it’s not the disease that kills you, but all the complications. Diabetes is hard on your body. The American Diabetes Association has a sobering statistic:

Diabetes kills more people each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined.

Diabetes affects every organ, every blood vessel, every brain cell. If I eat too many carbohydrates without enough insulin, or have too much stress, or get sick, my blood turns to 30 weight car oil, bursting blood vessels and nerves. If I eat too little, or exercise too much, or give myself too much insulin, I can have a low-blood sugar seizure.

Diabetics can do anything

Diabetes is a balancing act between exercise, food, insulin, stress, illness and other factors. But it is also a window into my health. Since I check my blood sugar levels several times a day, I can watch with a transparency unavailable to non-diabetics how my lifestyle affects my body.

The Upside

I can be healthier seeing the fruits of my exercise and the effects of my transgressions. A Chinese proverb claims, “No disease short life; one disease long life.” Because when you have a disease like Diabetes, you have to pay attention. You have to manage your stress and exercise even when your husband is dying. You can’t drink too much, or eat too much or push yourself too hard. Nor can you take a day off and eat a bag of Fritos while watching television.

Hail National Diabetes Month! This is our month and I’m going to celebrate. And by “celebrate” I mean drinking a diet soda, sucking on a sugar-free candy and climbing a peak. What did you think I meant?

How To Live 15 Minutes at a Time

Standard

“Living in the moment” has become such an oft-touted mantra that it’s almost commonplace. The idea is pretty simple. The past is over, so no amount of worrying about

The easy moments

it now can change it. The future isn’t ever really going to get here. Always just around the corner, tantalizing us with both hope disguised as promise and fear dressed up as dread, tomorrow is merely an illusion.

The only moment is now.

I’ve heard this so often that it carries the strings of cliché, little webs of truth still clinging to empty strands. Perhaps, because it is so challenging, I tend to roll my eyes when I hear yet another strident student talk of “living in the now”.

Thing is, staying right here, right now is pretty hard to do, especially when you’re not surrounded by mountains or at the edge of the ocean, basking in nature’s antidote to our rushed lives. It’s not easy to stay in the moment when you’re angry or scared or merely busy bustling through the TSA line at the airport, weaving your way around yet another gravel truck on your daily commute, feeding the kids mac and cheese, or jolted out of bed by the alarm from the obnoxious clock radio at your bedside. We’re wired for thinking about the future, checking off tasks. Get this done first and then that and then, maybe you can have a moment’s rest.

But what if that moment of rest never comes? Why delay our gratification, holding off the reward for some future date that (if you listen to the moment-livers) won’t ever come? Many of us postpone our passions, our ski days, our savings for retirement. But what if you never reach retirement? Maybe all those moment-livers are onto something.

This is all well and good when things are going smoothly. When our biggest struggles are really minor hassles—the car needs a tune-up, the bills are overdue, the coffee pot broke—that’s one thing. But when the doctor tells you that your husband needs a liver transplant in order to live, it’s difficult to just stay in that moment. And then, when he puts his hand on your husband’s wrist and says the problem, really, is that it’s cancer, and cancer patients usually can’t have transplants, it’s even harder.

When I was faced with the most difficult double black diamond moment of my life, I told myself I could get through just 15 minutes more. I could forestall the panic for a few more minutes, listen to the doctors words so I could scrutinize them later, be present to my husband’s shock. It took great effort not to create lists of questions and solutions, a diet plan to match the cancer treatment, a plan of any kind that could whisk me away from the “cancer talk” moment and put me somewhere, anywhere else.

As an EMT and ski patroller, I had experience with emergencies. I could stop major bleeding, affix defibrillator pads, search avalanche debris with my rescue dog. I had learned to hold off the panic and simply act. I had learned to be okay with uncertainty, with the tenuous nature of our hold on life. And it was these lessons that I brought with me into the hospital room where Dr. Williams sat on the corner of John’s bed and asked him if all of his family members were present. He wanted John to gather us around him like armor against the bad news. He probably wanted to only have to say it once, “it’s cancer”.

The room was silent for a moment, all of us breathing in so sharply that the air seemed to escape. I searched for a private tile on the floor to study. My mother held my hand and squeezed it gently. Dust settled onto the molding around the floor, into the metal Kleenex dispenser and onto the instruments ready at the head of the hospital bed. I told myself, you can do this. Just get through the next 15 minutes, don’t panic, do not cry, listen to Dr. Williams explanation. Listen to the plan to kill the cancer, to save my husband’s life. I knew that I had to stay in the room and just be there. I couldn’t run out and leave John to take in the diagnosis alone. I could not hyperventilate into the panic.

Sometimes in our darkest hour, life, the universe, God, whatever you call it, steps forward with a gift. In that moment, I received enough grace to be strong. It happened all in an instant, this skill in breaking down life into 15 minute increments. I suddenly learned how to calm down and just be there for whatever the world presented to me.

Mt. Rainier view from a "euro-chair"

But even now, I keep it with me. It’s a little trick I hold in my pocket, fingering it gently, like jean-pocket lint, rubbing it into a ball. But now, after John’s miraculous recovery, the trick is to use it during the brightest moments, to settle into happiness and joy, to let it wash over me and hold it there, not let it seep away into the cracks of my to-do list.

This weekend I skied Green Valley, the moguls as soft and breakaway as any I’ve skied. The wax on my bases kept me going across the flats and I sailed over the next lip, everything working in unison: ski edges, hips, pole plants, smile. I concentrated on my skiing, on the moment of turning, on the warmth of the sun on my shoulders and the backs of my knees. It felt so good to be there in that moment. I didn’t rush through it, or think about the line at the bottom of the chair or even a strategy for the second half of my run. Instead, I carved from one side of the run to the other, letting my body momentarily feel the joy of flying.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to learn to break life down into smaller moments without experiencing the kind of ordeal John and I went through. Sure, I’d paid lip service to the notion since college, but to really live that way took a difficult passage through sheer terror where those skills became a matter of life and death.

What about you? Have you learned to hold onto each moment or even to endure each moment? Is it possible to take the lessons someone else has learned and apply them to your own life?

Donor Dudes: Promoting organ donation awareness

Standard

Chris Klug and John Kircher, both post-transplant

Chris Klug, Olympic snowboard medalist, wants to increase organ donation awareness. Like John, Chris was diagnosed with Primary Schlerosing Cholangitis and told he would need a liver transplant someday. Not only did Chris receive the surgery, he also went on to win a a bronze medal in Salt Lake just eighteen months later. I’ve written about Chris before, but I wanted to let you all know a little more about him and an upcoming event for donor awareness.

John and I had the chance to meet Chris at the Vancouver Olympics, and he’s a truly amazing guy. I’m currently planning my upcoming book tour, and one stop will be in Aspen in December so that I can join Chris in his Summit for Life event. His mission is to raise awareness for organ donation through this uphill skiing race/fun run. I’m looking forward to joining Chris and his Donor Dudes in December. The event starts at the base of Aspen Mountain. Participants ski, snowshoe or can even take the gondola to the top of the Sundeck at the summit. Last year, 400 people participated.

Donor Dudes are like ambassadors, spreading the message of organ donation to young people. Through his charisma and positive attitude, Chris works to recruit the “dudes” to help spread the message. I love this part of Chris’s foundation. Not only is he getting the word out, he’s also offering a road map to young people showcasing how to make a difference.

Anyone up for a fun, athletic event that will contribute to saving lives and furthering Chris’s awesome message should join me in December. Check out Chris’s website for registration information.