Judge gives doctor’s defamation lawsuit against CNN green light

CNN had the heartbreaking stories from parents who lost their children. It had damning statements by some of the state’s top cardiologists.

But in its zeal to shut down St. Mary’s Medical Center’s pediatric cardiac surgery program, did CNN purposefully fudge the death rate, reporting it was three times the national average?

Did the cable news giant intentionally defame the physician at the center of the program, Dr. Michael Black, whose photograph was splashed on television sets and websites with the headline: “Babies as sacrificial lambs”?

A Palm Beach County Circuit judge ruled Friday that a defamation lawsuit brought by Black against CNN could move forward, rejecting a motion by the network to dismiss it. Judge Richard Oftedal order 15-page order was built on a foundation of solid libel law that included a federal defamation action against CNN by St. Mary’s former CEO.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision. CNN intentionally misled its readers and intentionally manipulated statistical data to portray Dr. Black in a negative light,” said Libby Locke, the attorney for Black.  “We have every confidence that a jury will reach the same conclusion when CNN’s reporting is scrutinized.”

CNN’s attorney, Charles Tobin, could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Oftedal’s ruling echoes another by a federal judge in Atlanta in February when it allowed the defamation case brought by St Mary’s former CEO, Davide Carbone, against CNN to also move forward. U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans found that Carbone’s allegations were sufficient to establish that CNN was acting “recklessly with regard to accuracy.”

 

Dr. Michael Black

Oftedal, in his order, repeatedly referenced the Carbone decision in denying CNN’s motion to dismiss.

The pediatric cardiac surgery program at St. Mary’s shut down and Carbone resigned following CNN’s June 1, 2015, story titled, “Secret Deaths: CNN Finds High Surgical Death Rate for Children at a Florida Hospital.”

As reported by The Palm Beach Post in several stories, the data used in CNN’s report that St. Mary’s sported a death rate of infants in the unit three times the national average was widely disputed by the hospital and the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration. St. Mary’s said at the time that CNN failed to use risk-adjusted data in determining the death rate.

St. Mary’s, owned by Tenet Healthcare, said CNN missed numerous operations and procedures in its analysis.

Black has gone further, saying in court CNN purposefully manipulated the data in order to justify its narrative.

After the criticism, CNN published a story on its methodology as the statistics took center stage, overshadowing the parents featured in the story and a report finding problems with the program by the state’s Cardiac  Technical Advisory Panel. Black is the defendant in lawsuits brought against him by parents of his tiny patients who died or who ended up crippled.

Oftedal rejected CNN’s efforts to dismiss Black’s suit by arguing that the doctor was a public figure and that it was really criticizing St. Mary’s and not the physician. He didn’t buy CNN’s argument that the sensationalized headlines used in the story were just “rhetorical hyperbole” and protected free speech.

The judge noted CNN reported that Black made a “total mess of the babies,” juxtaposing the phrase with the doctor’s photograph.

 

 

Breakthrough: new vaccines take aim at mosquito-borne illness


A vaccine to combat the Zika virus is now undergoing clinical testing.

And in Africa, people will actually start receiving the world’s first vaccine against malaria next year which the World Health Organization claims will save tens of thousands of lives.

To work, the vaccine needs to be given once a month for three months with a fourth dose 18 months later. The three countries involved in the trial are Ghana, Kenya and Malawi and involve more than 750,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 months, according to the BBC.

“The world’s first malaria vaccine is a real achievement that has been 30 years in the making,” said Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance which is helping to fund the study.

“Malaria places a terrible burden on many of the world’s poorest countries, claiming thousands of lives and holding back economies.”

The Palm Beach Post on this blog reported earlier this month that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has announced that vaccination trials have begun using an experimental DNA serum.

The trial aims to enroll at least 2,490 healthy participants in areas of confirmed or potential active mosquito-transmitted Zika infection, including the continental United States and Puerto Rico, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico.

“A safe and effective Zika vaccine is urgently needed to prevent the often-devastating birth defects that can result from Zika virus infection during pregnancy,” NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci said on March 31.

“Evidence also is accumulating that Zika can cause a variety of health problems in adults as well. This trial marks a significant milestone in our efforts to develop countermeasures for a pandemic in progress.”

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released a report that 15 of infants were born with birth defects in pregnancies with a confirmed Zika virus infection in the first trimester. “These findings highlight why pregnant women should avoid Zika virus exposure,” the report stated.

The CDC suggest that because the full effects of the virus are unknown, all pregnant women infected with Zika should receive postnatal imaging and a comprehensive newborn physical exam and hearing screen.

Free HIV testing available today in Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast

Planned Parenthood in South Florida is offering free HIV testing today at four locations.

“Many times people cannot afford the cost of an STD test and since Florida continues to lead the nation in new HIV infections, this is a great opportunity to get tested,” said Christina Noce, spokeswoman for the organization.

Testing is available at three locations until 5 p.m.:

  • Stuart Health Center at 1322 NW Federal Highway in Stuart.
  • West Palm Beach Health Center at 931 Village Boulevard, Suite 904 in West Palm Beach.
  • Wellington Health Center at 10111 Forest Hill Boulevard, Suite 340 in Wellington.
Shutterstock

The Boca Raton Health Center at 8177 Glades Road., Suite 25  will offer free testing until 7 p.m.

HIV rates have been on the uptick in South Florida in recent years. Miami has had the second highest new rate of infection in the nation.

One reason, health officials say, is that the disease is no longer a death sentence but manageable through medication.

In a story last year, the Palm Beach Post reported that the increase is a dating landscape dominated by social hookup apps are not helping matters.

“These sites are just meant to hook up and have anonymous sex, and that is very, very risky,” said Dr. Alina Alonso, director of Palm Beach County’s Health Department for the story. “You have no idea what you’re getting or who you are getting, and those are just another component of the risky behavior that is occurring.”

 

Study: diet drinks can lead to stroke, dementia

A new study shows people who drink diet sodas may be more at risk for stroke and dementia.

Have a Diet Coke and stroke.

Diet sodas — one of Americans favorite caffeine delivery systems — appears to be just as unhealthy as its sugary cousins

The Washington Post reports that a new study refutes that diet drinks are a better option than those made with sugar or corn syrup.

The new study in the journal Stroke says people who drink diet soda are three times as likely to have a stroke or develop dementia.

“This included a higher risk of ischemic stroke, where blood vessels in the brain become obstructed and Alzheimer’s disease dementia, the most common form of dementia,” Matthew Pase, a Boston University School of Medicine neurologist told The Washington Post.

Paseo is the lead author of the study.

He stressed the study showed just a correlation and not a causation but that diet pop simply “might not be a healthy alternative.”

The study of 2,888 individuals age 45 and overlooked for the development of a stroke and 1,484 participants age 60 and older for dementia over a 10 year period.

There was no association with stroke or dementia found in a parallel study of sugary drinks.

The diet sodas used by those in the study contained the artificial sweeteners saccharin, acesulfame-K, and aspartame.

“So, the bottom line is, ‘Have more water and have less diet soda,” Christopher Gardner, director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, said in an American  Heart Association news release. “And don’t switch to real soda.”

He added: “Nobody ever said diet sodas were a health food.”


The American Beverage Association said low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact.

“While we respect the mission of these organizations to help prevent conditions like stroke and dementia, the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not — and cannot — prove cause and effect,” the beverage association noted.

To read the whole Washington Post story click here.

More Americans suffering untreated mental illness, study finds

Feeling like there’s a little more mental illness out there in America these days? You are correct.

According to a new study published Monday in the journal Psychiatric Services,  Americans are more stressed, depressed and anxiety-ridden.

And even worse news is that many are unable to get the services they desperately need.

Judith Weissman is a research manager in the department of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City and lead researcher of an evaluation of federal health data.

“Mental illness is on the rise. Suicide is on the rise. And access to care for the mentally ill is getting worse,” she said.

About 3.4 percent of the U.S. population — an estimated 8.3 million American adults —  suffer from serious psychological distress Previous estimates put the number of Americans suffering from serious psychological distress at 3 percent or less, the researchers said.

Much of the distress, Weissman said, is an after-effect of the Great Recession that began in late 2007 and caused long-term emotional damage to many Americans.

Because of the Great Recession, more Americans needing psychological or psychiatric services have gone without.

“The recession seemed to have pushed the mentally ill to a point where they never recovered,” she said. “This is a very disturbing finding because of the implications of what mental illness can do to a person in terms of their ability to function and their life span.”

The study included national health data from a survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 35,000 households nationwide participate each year.

“We need to increase access to care for the mentally ill,” Weissman told CBS. “We also need to put trained psychiatrists and mental health providers within the primary care setting.”

CDC: Type 2 diabetes increasing with tweens, teens

Our fast-food nation is taking a toll on our children.

Type 2 diabetes was once considered a disease mostly confined to the adult population, but the CDC says it is now firmly established in the teen and tween populations in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says in New England Journal of Medicine the increase in type 2 diabetes corresponds with the increase in childhood obesity, which has tripled since the 1970s.

Photo: Health Aiken, Creative Commons.

The study, funded by the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, found that type 2 diagnosed cases increased by 4.8 percent between from 2002 to 2012.

Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of the disease in youngsters where the pancreas produces no or too little insulin, a hormone that allows sugar to enter cells to produce energy.

Type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult-onset diabetes. It is characterized by high blood sugar and insulin resistance and is thought to be brought on a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors. Extra body fat makes it hard for cells to use insulin.

Those who have diabetes often have to take insulin shots to regulate their blood sugar. The disease also costs an average of $13,700 per year.

In 2012, The American Diabetes Association estimated the total costs of diagnosed diabetes was $245 — a 41 percent increase over a five-year period.

This figure represented a 41 percent increase over a five-year period.

To read more about the latest report, click here to read a Los Angeles Times report that delved into all the study’s findings.

Injecting insulin. Photo: Tess Watson, Creative Commons.

 

 

DEA takes action against synthetic pot tied to deaths

As marijuana moves towards legalization throughout the country, the Drug Enforcement Administration took action this week against the dangerous designer products pretending to be a pot substitute — called cannabinoids —  sold at some gas stations, convenience stores and head shops.

Drugs that mimic the natural plant of marijuana have been popping up in the last decade under the brand names Spice, K2 and a dozen others.  Now the DEA has temporarily added six more analogs of the THC – the drug found naturally in pot — to Schedule I list, which includes heroin.

While nobody has ever died from using marijuana, not so with the synthetic impostors.

One of the new banned substances, MDMB-CHMICA, is believed to have attributed to 42 overdoses and 29 deaths in Europe. Another, ADB–FUBINACA, is found in K2.

Synthetic marijuana is akin to the bath salts that have caused so much havoc, a chemical goop cooked up in labs. The Palm Beach Post took a look at bath salts last year. Read the story by clicking here.

Synthetic pot is sold at gas stations, convenience stores and head shops. (Photo: New York Department of Health)

The major concern is these substances are being targeted to adolescents. The DEA said it is not aware of any currently accepted medical uses for these substances in the United States.

Synthetic cannabis was developed to assist in the research of AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy, resulting in 450 synthetic cannabinoid compounds, according to The Daily Beast.

The pro-pot website, Herb, praised the DEA for its move, saying the hundreds of synthetics that act on the same receptors in the brain as natural marijuana are not equal because they affect the brain in different ways.

“This makes their potency range from tens to ten-thousands magnitude higher than THC, and with different effects,” according to Herb. “Synthetics are to real THC as rubbing alcohol is to vodka.

What is it like to vape? This reporter gave it a try.

I first started smoking cigarettes when I was 12, stealing from my grandmother’s purse. Marlboros. It’s been a battle against Mother Nicotine ever since.

I’ve gone years without smoking cigarettes, satiating my tobacco need through cigars even chewing tobacco. Eventually, though I would be back smoking coffin nails.

Being inherently clumsy, my habit was everywhere to be found. Filled ash trays. Lighters in every nook and cranny of the house. My car seats were always had burns.

I’m lucky I haven’t perished in flames on the highway. Somehow, once I threw a cigarette out the window and it blew back into the car and smoldered on the back seat.

I tried a disposable e-cigarette on one car trip and felt it was so inorganic that it was a non-starter.

But after doing a story on the vaping industry last month I thought I thought I’d give vaping a try as an experiment.

Recently, I had moved on from my Newport cigarettes to cigarillos but was now up to three a day. And the grief – as any traditional smoker can attest – from family members about the smell was growing to a deafening din. My wife said it was her No. 1 “turn-off.” Ouch.

Now two weeks into vaping, I can tell you that I haven’t picked up a traditional tobacco product. I haven’t even wanted to smoke a cigarillo. My cigars in my humidor have gone untouched.

Still, this passion-in-the-making hasn’t been without its pitfalls. And it’s been quite a learning curve for a 50-year-old someone as clumsy as me.

First of all are the safety concerns from health officials, including our own Dr. Alina Alonso at the Health Department in Palm Beach County. She fears vaping is appealing to kids because the e-juice used to vape comes in as many flavors as there are in a candy store.

As addressed in my vaping culture story, the warnings are said to be suspicious by the vaping industry considering health officials in England has endorsed electronic cigarettes as a much better alternative to smoking traditional tobacco products.

The ingredients in “e-juice” of propylene glycol, glycerin, water and nicotine seem pretty straight-forward. Last I checked, there are 599 different additives to cigarettes. Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association says these additives have an anti-depressant effect on the smoker and that this is the real reason why they are harder to kick than heroin.

The vaping industry is not corporate – or at least not nearly as corporate – as traditional tobacco.

CLOUD CHASER. Ryna Schalk demonstrates her vape at E Vapor Squad in Wellington. (Photo: John Pacenti)

Vapinig proponents say everyone is losing money to the upstart industry: the government through taxes, tobacco companies through the sale of cigarettes, and pharmaceutical companies from the sale of cessation products such as patches or gum.

The Food and Drug Administration is set to clamp down further on the industry, possibly even driving it out of business. Which would be an interesting, because it is – like I reported previously – an amazing mom-and-pop American entrepreneurial story. So either the U.S. government is about encouraging small businesses or it is all just button-pushing rhetoric.

Then, there is that learning curve.

First off. It’s not cheap. At least, not to get started.

There is the vape, there is the e-juice, there is figuring out what kind of e-juice you like and purchase of rechargeable batteries. Then there are the replacement parts that make the vape work.  I’ve easily spent close to $300 in the last month getting this thing up and running — after some missteps — and I’m still far from perfecting it.

But if you are the obsessive-compulsive type, vaping will fit right into your lifestyle. Besides flavor choices, there are as many types of vapes and e-cigarettes as there are stars in the sky. Figuring out what apparatus to buy is daunting.

I bought an e-cigarette type device that was not to my liking. I thought it would be closest to cigarettes but didn’t fit the bill. I then settled on a vape sold by Smok, an AL85, with a tank called the “Baby Beast” for its efficiency.

Immediately, I couldn’t figure out how to make it work and had to head back to the store to find out how to set it up. My first embarrassment, but not my last.

I bought some tobacco-flavored juice and something called Mr. Brunch, which aims to taste like stuffed French toast in blueberry syrup.  I had to get familiar with e-juice terms such as the PG/VG ratio which dictates flavor, vapor production and harshness – what vapers call throat hits.

I also had to settle on my nicotine level. I found that 12 mg was too harsh. Some juice I bought was nicotine-free and was a waste of money. It was supposed to taste my black-and-mild cigarillos. Not exactly.

Now my mind was racing. What was the best juice for me? I got a pumpkin pie flavor one and another called Bacon Maple Sin, which was delicious.

I had to learn how to put the vape together properly so it didn’t leak. I lost a lot of liquid at first.

But that was only part of my education.

The liquid is heated by an atomizer, which – guess what? – comes in many different sizes and configurations for my device. The atomizer is inside a tank, which holds the liquid.

The heating element is the coil. Some coils are better for taste. Some are better for producing vapor – or clouds.

The cotton or wick surrounding the coil burns out and when that happens the sweet spot you get with your vape evaporates like – well you know what – and it tastes awful.

The coil dilemma has been the most frustrating part. I learned the hard way – actually still learning –that you had to prime your wick so as not to burn the cotton that surrounds right away.

Also, it is not unusual to get a bad coil and I got a few of them just by bad luck. Two in one pack right off the bat – not discounting operator error.

Those who really like flavor use “drippers,” atomizers where the e-juice is dripped in a little at a time. They take some work but aficionados swear by them.

So right now I’m waiting to see if the third coil from the pack does the job and delivers the flavor I was experiencing just yesterday. It is steeping.

But there is no doubt I’m obsessed. And now some millennial vapers are thinking “what a tool” but the fact is I haven’t smoked a cigarette or cigarillo in two weeks.

There is indeed a tight vaping community at the many little stores that have popped up over the nation. The local ones have been more than willing to help me and to discuss all issues vape.

And, finally, the family reaction has been positive for the most part. The wife is not happy about the money outlay to get this thing started. But there is no longer the endless criticism about “my cigar smell.”

And it is a stress reliever, an oral fixation once fulfilled by the cigarette – something I was skeptical it could replace. I’ve even entertained my youngest lately by struggling to blow vape rings.

Now, if I can just get the dang new coil to work.

New report says 1 in 5 Americans have cancer-causing HPV

The human papillomavirus  – or HPV – is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.  There are 150 distinct types, two of them are responsible – according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – for 70 percent of cervical cancer

The CDC announced last week that nearly half of U.S. adults have caught HPV. That is nearly 80 million Americans and about 20 percent of them — or 1 in 5 — have the kind the causes cancer. Other types of HPV cause genital warts.

 

 

About 45 percent of Americans ages 18 to 59 had some form of genital human papillomavirus. The report released last Thursday is the most complete look at how common HPV is among adults.

More concerning, about 25 percent of men and 20 percent of women had certain strains that carry a higher risk of cancer.

Vaccinations against HPV first became available in 2006, aimed at protecting kids before they become sexually active.

Geraldine McQuillan, a senior infectious disease epidemiologist with the CDC and the lead author of the report, said researchers were surprised to see the number of adults who had high-risk genital HPV.

Previous data estimated that 15 percent of adult females had high-risk HPV.

“The next step is to increase awareness of the high prevalence of high-risk genital and oral HPV in our general US population so individuals will realize that this is a serious problem and they will get their children vaccinated in early adolescence before they become sexually active,” McQuillan told CNN.

Chewing gum that detects cancer in development

Who needs fancy scanners, blood tests and X-rays to tell us if we have cancer. Soon, if an Alabama company has its way, all we will need is to chew a stick of gum.

Volatile Analysis is developing the product that can determine if a person has cancer. The gum works by having the wad absorb what are called “volatiles” in the saliva as it is chewed, according to a story on Fox News Health.

The gum then will be analyzed to see if it contains certain chemicals that are produced when a person has the deadly disease.

And last year there were 1.5 million new cases of cancer.

“Over the last 15 years there have been a lot of attempts with different products and processes for early detection of cancer,” Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said.

Breath samples, urine samples and even dogs that might be able to smell cancer have been tried recently. “None of these efforts are proven to detect cancer early,” Lichetenfeld said.

The gum is in the testing stage but Volatile Analysis plans to have the gum available to doctors and patients sometime in 2018.

Read the whole Fox News Health story by clicking here.

No word if the cancer detecting gum will be available with baseball cards.