Anne Underwood

Stories by Anne Underwood

  • HEALTH CARE: HOSPITAL HORRORS

    In 1999 the Institute of Medicine announced that as many as 98,000 Americans die every year from medical errors. Shocking as that revelation was, now it seems the estimate may have been low. A new study due out this week finds that the number of preventable patient deaths in hospitals is actually twice as high. According to HealthGrades, the health-care-rating organization that conducted the study, needless deaths averaged 195,000 a year in 2000, 2001 and 2002. "That's the equivalent of 390 jumbo jets full of people dying each year," says Dr. Samantha Collier, vice president of medical affairs.But there is reason for hope. Last week the Senate passed legislation that would create a voluntary and confidential reporting system for medical errors, to help health-care providers learn from prior mistakes. And patients now have new tools for researching hospital safety. This month the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations launched a new hospital scorecard at...
  • SECOND ACTS

    Hathaway Pendergrass, 20, knew from the age of 6 that he wanted to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But as a local resident competing against a crush of other hometown applicants, he lost out, despite his 3.9 average. Not one to accept defeat, Pendergrass enrolled at another university, worked hard to build up a strong freshman record and began applying to Chapel Hill again, this time as a transfer student. In fall 2003 he entered his dream school as a sophomore. "I have friends who settle for schools they hate," he says. "They don't even try to transfer."Maybe they should. According to senior research analyst Clifford Adelman at the U.S. Department of Education, roughly a third of recent college graduates transferred along the way, including 20 percent of students who enrolled initially at four-year schools and 36 percent of those who started at community colleges. And why not? Transferring can offer a second shot at a first-choice school or an entree into a...
  • WAS THE BARD A WOMAN?

    For more than 150 years, literary sleuths have questioned whether William Shakespeare--a man with a grammar-school education, at best--could possibly have penned some of the greatest works in the English language. "You can be born with intelligence, but you can't be born with book learning," says Mark Rylance, Shakespearean actor and artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London. But if Shakespeare didn't write the plays, who did? Dozens of candidates have been proposed, most of them men. But at a conference of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust in London next week, American writer Robin Williams will argue that the true bard was a woman--Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke.Sidney (as her biographers call her) is a logical suspect. Sister of the Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sidney, she was a poet herself and one of the best-educated woman in England, along with Elizabeth I. Perhaps not surprisingly, her name has surfaced before as a possible collaborator on Shakespeare's...
  • WAS SHAKESPEARE A SHE?

    For more than 150 years, literary sleuths have questioned whether William Shakespeare--a man with only a grammar-school education, at best--could possibly have penned the greatest works in the English language. But if he didn't, who did? Dozens of candidates have been proposed, most of them men. But next week at a conference of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust in London, American writer Robin Williams will argue that the true bard was actually a woman--Mary Sidney, the Countess of Pembroke.Sidney is a logical suspect. The most educated woman in England after Elizabeth I, she gathered leading writers about her in a sort of literary salon dedicated to elevating English literature. Sidney-as-bard would explain why Shakespeare wrote love sonnets to a younger man (her purported lover). It would clarify why the first collection of Shakespeare's plays was dedicated to the earls of Pembroke and Montgomery (her sons). And it would explain Ben Jonson's phrase "sweet swan of Avon." She had...
  • IN THE NEWS: KIDS AND DEPRESSION

    Just 20 years ago, medical schools taught that children don't get clinical depression. Now the National Institute of Mental Health says about 4 percent of teens have it at any given time, and many of them are taking antidepressants like Prozac. Should they? In March, the FDA urged drug manufacturers to insert explicit warnings on their labels about possible risks of suicidal behavior associated with the pills.Now there's at least some good news for parents. Last week The New York Times reported preliminary results of a major, government-funded study of more than 400 teenagers. According to the Times, the study concludes that Prozac--the only antidepressant approved for kids--is indeed helpful, particularly when combined with talk therapy. The finding that drugs and talk together make for superior treatment came as little surprise to doctors. "Drugs alone are rarely sufficient for complex psychiatric disorders in children," says Dr. David Fassler, trustee of the American Psychiatric...
  • AN ASPIRIN A DAY?

    An aspirin a day can help prevent heart attacks. It may also ward off breast cancer, according to a study last week in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers at Columbia University surveyed nearly 3,000 women and found that those who took seven or more aspirins a week had a 28 percent lower chance of developing the disease. The effect was seen mainly in hormone-sensitive tumors (the two thirds of breast cancers whose growth is fueled by estrogen or progesterone). That makes sense: lab studies show that aspirin helps suppress estrogen production in breast cells. Cancer reduction was also more pronounced in menopausal than premenopausal women. There was no similar benefit from taking acetaminophen (Tylenol).Should women start popping aspirin to prevent breast cancer? No, says Dr. Alfred Neugut, senior investigator on the study. More-rigorous trials are needed first--and regular aspirin use can cause gastric bleeding. If you're already taking the little wonder...
  • KISSED BY A FROG

    Think you know frogs? Think again. In its new crowd-pleaser of a show, "Frogs: A Chorus of Colors," the American Museum of Natural History in New York highlights a range of freaky amphibians, from the waxy monkey frog, which climbs trees, to the Vietnamese moss frog, which looks remarkably like a clump of moss. (Just try to find all 14 in the live display!) Can't make it to New York? You can watch the show's stars--75 live poison dart frogs, ranging in color from golden-orange to bright blue--via Webcam, at amnh.org. Or shop for cool frog books, videos and CDs at the online store. The show runs through Oct. 3.
  • Fresh Weapons For An Old Battle

    Anyone who has survived chemotherapy knows how brutal it can be. But thanks to an experimental procedure, Barbara Link, 55, of Cary, North Carolina, found that parts of the treatment were "actually pleasant." Her enthusiasm is all the more surprising because she was given two especially toxic drugs in high doses. The difference is that Link received her chemo in fat-coated droplets that release their contents when they're heated to 102 degrees--a higher temperature than the body normally reaches. By gently --warming her breast, her doctors unleashed the cell-killing compounds in the vicinity of the tumor without poisoning the rest of her body. All she had to do was lie face down on a padded table, her affected breast protruding through an opening into a tub of warm water. Then she blissed out to the music of Yanni while radio waves heated the breast. "Most patients really enjoy the table," says Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, the medical oncologist at Duke University who treated Link....
  • HEALTH: FACE THE REALITY

    TV's new makeover shows are modern fairy tales, turning ugly ducklings into radiant brides with such apparent ease that plastic surgeons, of all people, worry that audiences are being misled. "This is real surgery with real risks--and the more procedures you get at once, the greater the complications and recovery time," says Dr. Nikolas Chugay, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, Calif. A reality check:FACE-LIFT. Expect 10 to 20 days' recovery, plus bruising, swelling and sutures on your face. If you have rhinoplasty too, you'll wear a nose cast for a week. Not pretty.LIPOSUCTION. Sport a chest-to-knees girdle for a month to help tighten the skin. Beware of unnatural fat distribution if you gain weight.BREAST AUGMENTATION. Implants can leak or rupture. Sure, they come with a warranty, but you'll still need a second surgery to replace them.And no improvement is forever. "Wait and see what a lip implant looks like in 20 years, when the skin retracts," says dermatologist Amy Newburger...
  • DOUGHNUTS IN THE DARK

    Shelly's Snack Shop was the name that Brian Egemo of Badger, Iowa, applied to his wife's side of the bed. In 1994 Shelly, who had been a sleepwalker as a child, began sleepwalking again. But this time, her nightly rambles took her to the kitchen for cookies, candy and potato chips, which she would bring back to bed and devour while still asleep. "In the morning, there would be frosting in my hair and M&M's stuck to my husband's back," she says. Worse yet, she woke up feeling exhausted and sick from all the junk food. After years of this "sleep eating," her nerves were so jangled that she became unglued at the slightest upset. "Someone would knock over the salt shaker and I'd go into orbit," she says. It wasn't until 2001 that Egemo, now 37, found a doctor who could tell her what her problem was and how to treat it.Egemo's condition is called sleep-related eating disorder (SRED), and it's one of two night eating problems that doctors are just beginning to take seriously. The...
  • SCARY LESSONS OF 1918

    It was "only influenza," public-health officials said. But when a team of military doctors arrived at the U.S. Army's Camp Devens outside Boston in early September 1918, they saw immediately that this was no ordinary flu. The camp hospital, built to accommodate 1,200 soldiers, was overflowing with 6,000--their cots crammed into spare rooms, corridors and even porches. With 70 of 200 nurses ill themselves, no one was changing the linens, which reeked of human excrement. Sheets and gowns were blood-stained, as ailing soldiers coughed up blood and bled from their ears and nostrils. But the sign of imminent death was the deep blue cast of victims' skin--a hue so dark that doctors claimed it was sometimes hard to tell white patients from black. So many soldiers died that night, said one physician, that corpses were "stacked about the morgue like cord wood."In his terrifying new book, "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History" (546 pages. Viking), John M....
  • NOW, REDUCE YOUR RISK OF ALZHEIMER'S

    Just days into 2004, are you already struggling with those New Year's resolutions to eat right, exercise and shed excess pounds? Here's added incentive to stick with the program. It turns out that the healthy measures most of us vow to take every New Year's could not only make us look better in bathing suits but also lower our risk of Alzheimer's disease.For generations, Alzheimer's has seemed as unpredictable as a game of chance--either you win or lose at dementia roulette. But that picture is starting to change. Scientists have long known that proper diet, exercise and weight control can help lower the risk of heart disease, strokes and vascular dementia. Now they're recognizing that the same healthy-lifestyle factors may also lower the risk of Alzheimer's. In short, what's good for the heart is good for the brain. "Over the last three years, the single most significant trend in research is the evidence that risk factors for heart disease track with those for Alzheimer's," says...
  • STARVE YOUR WAY TO HEALTH

    If the world is divided into people who live to eat and those who eat to live, perhaps there ought to be a third category for Brian Delaney. At nearly 1.8 meters and 63 kilograms, Delaney, 40, is really, really thin. Thin, and hungry. He limits his calories to 1,800 a day, in part by eating just two meals, except when he has a dinner date, in which case that's the only meal he eats. After 10 years on this regimen--actually, he started out at 1,400 calories a day, less than half of what the average American male consumes--he still experiences "the same pit in my stomach" every afternoon, but now finds it "easier to deal with." Especially when he thinks of all the diseases he's avoiding. If Delaney is right, he may well have the last laugh on the rest of humanity... sometime in the 22d century.Delaney, a philosophy professor who lives most of the year in Sweden, is a pioneer in the tiny, controversial calorie-restriction movement, which aims to prolong human life by cutting back on...
  • NOW, REDUCE YOUR RISK OF ALZHEIMER'S

    Just days into 2004, are you already struggling with those New Year's resolutions to eat right, exercise and shed excess pounds? Here's added incentive to stick with the program. It turns out that the healthy measures most of us vow to take every New Year's could not only make us look better in bathing suits but also lower our risk of Alzheimer's disease.For generations, Alzheimer's has seemed as unpredictable as a game of chance--either you win or lose at dementia roulette. But that picture is starting to change. Scientists have long known that proper diet, exercise and weight control can help lower the risk of heart disease, strokes and vascular dementia. Now they're recognizing that the same healthy-lifestyle factors may also lower the risk of Alzheimer's. In short, what's good for the heart is good for the brain. Next month the Alzheimer's Association, a nonprofit group in Chicago that supports research and services for families, will begin rolling out a campaign to raise...
  • STARVE YOUR WAY TO HEALTH

    If the world is divided into people who live to eat and those who eat to live, perhaps there ought to be a third category for Brian Delaney. At 5 feet 11 inches and 139 pounds, Delaney, 40, is really, really thin. Thin, and hungry. He limits his calories to 1,800 a day, in part by eating just two meals, except when he has a dinner date, in which case that's the only meal he eats. After 10 years on this regimen--actually, he started out at 1,400 calories a day, less than half of what the average American male consumes--he still experiences "the same pit in my stomach" every afternoon, but now finds it "easier to deal with." Especially when he thinks of all the diseases he's avoiding. If Brian Delaney is right, he may well have the last laugh on the rest of humanity... sometime in the 22d century.Delaney, a philosophy professor who lives most of the year in Sweden, is a pioneer in the tiny, controversial calorie-restriction movement, which aims to prolong human life by cutting back on...
  • When The Body Attacks Itself

    The immune system is a thing of beauty--subtle enough to distinguish dangerous invaders like viruses from benign interlopers such as food; clever enough to recognize when the body's supposedly friendly cells turn cancerous and should be eliminated. But the immune system can also go awry. When it begins mauling healthy tissues, the result can be any one of 80 autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. "It's the price we pay for having such a dynamic, finely balanced system," says immunobiologist Jeffrey Bluestone of the University of California, San Francisco.Must we limit ourselves to treating the symptoms of these disorders, or could we modulate the immune system itself? Immunologist Marc Feldmann and rheumatologist Ravinder Maini of Imperial College in London posed that very question in the mid-1980s. Doctors scoffed. But three drugs for rheumatoid arthritis emerged from their research. And this year Maini and Feldmann won the Lasker Award for clinical medical...
  • In The News: A Kinder Scope

    Been putting off that colonoscopy? Plenty of folks do, which helps explain why colon cancer claims 57,000 lives a year. Now there may be an alternative. Last week The New England Journal of Medicine published a major study on a new 3-D "virtual colonoscopy." Researchers at three Navy and Army hospitals gave 1,233 patients both traditional and virtual exams. Unlike the earlier 2-D colon scans, the 3-D version proved just as reliable at detecting polyps as the standard endoscope up the you-know-what.Is the procedure right for you? There are some big advantages: with the virtual colonoscopy, there is no risk of perforating the colon, no need for intravenous sedation and you won't have to take a day off work or recruit someone to drive you home. But there are downsides, too. You still need the colon cleansing the night before, which many people consider the worst part. The cost, which averages about $1,000, is not covered by insurance. And the technique isn't recommended for those at...
  • Into The Darkness Of The Mind

    When Wayne Huizenga of Blockbuster fame bought the Miami Dolphins football team in 1994, he asked a trusted colleague to write the $127 million check: Gillian Bristol of Florida. Bristol handled financial matters for Huizenga for 26 years, until in early 2000 the math started giving her trouble--not arcane accounting problems, mind you, but simple addition and subtraction. Within months, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and spiraled rapidly downward. Then in August 2001, her husband, Richard, enrolled her in a clinical trial testing a combination of a U.S.-approved drug called Aricept and a European one known as memantine. Gillian finally began stabilizing and has not declined further in the past year. Is that the result of the drug combo or the unpredictable course of the disease? Doctors don't know. But with the trial long over, Richard continues to buy her both drugs.In a year of steady progress against Alzheimer's, one of the most concrete developments was the release...
  • When The Body Attacks Itself

    The immune system is a thing of beauty--subtle enough to distinguish dangerous invaders like viruses from benign interlopers such as food; clever enough to recognize when the body's supposedly friendly cells turn cancerous and should be eliminated. But the immune system can also go seriously awry. When it begins mauling healthy tissues, the result can be any one of 80 autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. "It's the price we pay for having such a dynamic, finely balanced system," says immunobiologist Jeffrey Bluestone, director of the Immune Tolerance Network at the University of California, San Francisco.Must we limit ourselves to treating the symptoms of these disorders, or could we modulate the immune system itself? Immunologist Marc Feldmann and rheumatologist Ravinder Maini of Imperial College London posed that very question in the mid-1980s. Doctors scoffed. But three drugs for rheumatoid arthritis emerged from their research, and the same drugs are also...
  • Into The Darkness Of The Mind

    When Wayne Huizenga of Blockbuster fame bought the Miami Dolphins in 1994, he asked a trusted colleague to write the $127 million check: Gillian Bristol of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Bristol handled important financial matters for Huizenga for 26 years, until in early 2000 the math started giving her trouble--not arcane accounting problems, mind you, but simple addition and subtraction. Within months, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and spiraled rapidly downward. Then in August 2001, her husband, Richard, enrolled her in a clinical trial testing a combination of an FDA-approved drug called Aricept and a European one known as memantine. Gillian finally began stabilizing and has not declined further in the past year. Is that the result of the drug combo or the unpredictable course of the disease? Doctors have no way of knowing. But with the trial long over, Richard continues to buy her both drugs, ordering the memantine from Europe.Soon he won't have to go to such lengths. In a...
  • That's Why We Call It Junk Food

    Few foods are more alluring than fine chocolate, with its seductive blend of complex sweetness and velvety texture--and few become the object of such ardent obsessions. "Chocolate is a drug of abuse in its own category," jokes Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the comprehensive weight-control program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. "It's almost as if people have chocolate receptors in their brains."That may not be too far off the mark. In a recent book called "Breaking the Food Seduction," Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine contends that certain foods--including chocolate, cheese, red meat and practically anything combining sugar and fat--are just plain addictive. "These foods will not make you hallucinate or hold up a convenience store," he says. But they do cause the brain to release its own natural opioids. "It's not that you lack willpower," he says. "These foods stimulate the release of chemicals in the brain's pleasure center that keep you...
  • Real Rhapsody In Blue

    As a child, Julian Asher had a theory about the symphony concerts he attended with his parents. "I thought they turned down the lights so you could see the colors better," he says, describing the "Fantasia"-like scenes that danced before his eyes. Asher wasn't hallucinating. He's a synesthete--a rare person for whom one type of sensory input (such as hearing music) evokes an additional one (such as seeing colors). In Asher's ever-shifting vision, violins appear as a rich burgundy, pianos a deep royal purple and cellos "the mellow gold of liquid honey."It wasn't until Asher began studying neuroscience at Harvard six years ago that he learned there was a name for this phenomenon--synesthesia, from the Greek roots syn (together) and aesthesis (perception). Almost any two senses can be combined. Sights can have sounds, sounds can have tastes and, more commonly, black-and-white numbers and letters can appear colored. For Patricia Lynne Duffy, author of "Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens,"...
  • The Magic Of Mushrooms

    Holy shiitake! That--in short, unscientific terms--is the reaction of researchers hunting for potential new medicines in mushrooms. Tests in lab dishes indicate that fabulous fungi with names like lion's mane and turkey tail harbor novel antiviral and antibacterial compounds. Even the NIH is interested, funding the screening of mushrooms for agents to fight SARS and West Nile virus. "It's completely irrational that we haven't looked here before," says Dr. Andrew Weil, the nation's leading proponent of integrative medicine. "The greatest success of the pharmaceutical industry in the 20th century--antibiotics--came from molds, which are closely related." No new drugs have emerged yet from the research. But use of supplements is, excuse us, mushrooming, with sales of general immune-boosters like maitake, shiitake, reishi and cordyceps up as much as 300 percent since last year. Better yet, says Weil, try a blend like Host Defense from New Chapter. With flu season at hand, it couldn't hurt.
  • Health: Popeye's New Peril?

    If you like juicy, ripe peaches--and who doesn't?--the nonprofit Environmental Working Group in Washington has some bad news for you. This succulent fruit tops the list of foods most contaminated with pesticide residues. Last week the EWG released a report ranking pesticide levels in the 46 most common fruits and vegetables. The tally is based on more than 100,000 USDA and FDA studies conducted between 1992 and 2001, covering 192 different pesticides. Among the "dirty dozen" at the top of the list are delicate fruits like strawberries and cherries, but also less obvious suspects like potatoes and spinach, which is routinely touted as one of the most healthful foods. So what are we supposed to eat?Pesticide makers say there's no cause for alarm; their chemicals go through more than 120 government-mandated safety tests before being approved. And nutritionists insist that the benefits of eating produce far outweigh the risks. If you're still concerned, then buy organic versions of the...
  • Will He Measure Up?

    Height matters. No child wants to enter adolescence as the brunt of jokes, the last pick on sports teams, the teenager who shops in the kids' department for clothes. Parents worry that their short children won't get dates and will be left out as adults in the social race for the top. Studies show tall men get paid more. Since 1900, the taller candidate has won nearly every presidential election--and one of the exceptions, George W. Bush, lost the popular vote.Modern medicine has heard their pleas. This summer the Food and Drug Administration approved Eli Lilly's Humatrope--a recombinant version of the body's own naturally occurring growth hormone--for use in children with "idiopathic short stature," meaning shortness for no known medical reason. Until then, it had been sanctioned only for short kids with deficient hormone levels and other medical problems. Although the new approval limits use to the smallest 1 percent of children, the decision drew fire. Ethicists charged that drug...
  • DON'T CALL US CHEAP

    While they can't boast prestige, local community colleges are an alternative to four-year schools. And they offer cost and teaching benefits.
  • In The News: Health Nuts

    For years, fat-phobic eaters have carefully avoided nuts. They may have done themselves a disservice. Last week the FDA ruled that packagers of walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, pecans and hazelnuts may state on their labels that "scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day... may reduce the risk of heart disease" if part of a healthy overall diet. It was the first "qualified" health claim approved by the FDA under a new program that will give consumers more labeling information about the potential health impact of their food.To many, it was welcome news. After all, who doesn't like nuts (except maybe the ones living next door)? Each nut has its own virtues. Walnuts are an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 oils, which are woefully scarce in the average American diet. Almonds are high in vitamin E. But given the calories, don't go nuts. The recommended portion is equal to a third of a cup, or a large handful.
  • In The News: Hormone Quandary

    Just one year ago, doctors thought that hormone-replacement therapy could help aging women stop hot flashes while warding off heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer's and osteoporosis. Then the bad news began rolling in: women who took Prempro (combined estrogen and progestin) for five years actually increased their chances of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer. And last week the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study revealed that among 4,532 women older than 65, four years of Prempro doubled the risk of dementia. Sure, hormone therapy treats debilitating menopausal symptoms, but is it worth the risks? This much seems clear:Women beyond menopause who are taking estrogen and progestin solely to ward off Alzheimer's or heart disease should stop. To keep hot flashes from recurring, try tapering off the drugs.Women with mild menopausal symptoms should consider other coping strategies: wear layered clothing, avoid caffeine and spicy foods, eat more soy or try herbal remedies like black...
  • Struggle In Vein?

    Do your legs look like a road map, crisscrossed with varicose and spider veins? For those of you who shun surgery, there's a new product on the market that could help. Nu Visage Complete Leg and Vein Therapy actually contains two treatments--a topical cream and a dietary supplement--that work together to strengthen blood vessels. The key ingredient in both: potent antioxidants called OPCs. The compounds have been extensively studied in France, where OPC pills are a popular treatment for varicose veins. But don't expect any miracles. The pricey package ($60 for a month's supply) will only reduce the ugly-vein problem, not cure it. You can find Nu Visage in some upscale boutiques or order online at nuvisage.com. Just in time for summer.
  • Fibromyalgia: Not All In Your Head

    For years, Lynne Matallana couldn't wear jewelry. The pressure of a necklace or watch against her skin burned "like a blowtorch." Lying in bed under cotton sheets was agonizing. Friendly handshakes sent pain shooting up her arm. Matallana, 48, of Orange, Calif., went to 37 doctors over the course of one year before she received a diagnosis of fibromyalgia--a condition involving pain throughout the body, heightened sensitivity to touch, and fatigue. And she thinks of herself as one of the lucky ones. "Patients used to go for decades without diagnosis or treatment," says Matallana, who went on to found the National Fibromyalgia Association in 1997.Until recently, doctors didn't believe fibromyalgia pain was real. They thought it was "all in the heads" of sufferers, who happened to be mainly women. When Dr. Muhammad Yunus of the University of Illinois began studying it in 1977, colleagues warned him, "You'll ruin your career. These women are just crazy." But the fact that doctors...
  • Want To Improve Your Luck?

    It's lucky Tracy Hart has a sense of humor, because nothing else seems to have gone her way. "People say that bad luck comes in threes," says Hart, 34, a former supermarket clerk in rural England. "For me, it's always come in 18s or 21s." ...