Stories by Anne Underwood

  • It's A Dog's Life

    For a guy, Frankie isn't exactly macho. He's used to having his nails done to perfection, his teeth cleaned to a brilliant sparkle. But that's nothing compared with his hair. Ever since he was young, he's had his splendid locks rolled carefully in imported rice papers, like so many curlers--except that the purpose isn't to curl, but to protect his silky tresses from workaday damage. When the papers come off, his hair flows elegantly to the floor. His hairdresser sweeps part of it neatly into a stunning topknot, secured with a gold-beaded red bow. His bodyguard just loves it.I should add that Frankie is not some kinky movie star. He's the prize-winning Yorkshire terrier of novelist Amy Tan. And from the pampered precincts of Tan's Manhattan loft, he will soon emerge to compete at one of the greatest shows on earth--the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, held annually at New York's Madison Square Garden the second week of February. Don't laugh. Westminster is the Olympics...
  • Daughter Of The Revolution ?

    ;They say you can't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes. Andrew Batten has just walked not one but nine miles in the sort of shoes that American soldiers wore during the Revolutionary War--hard-soled, hobnailed, lacking arch supports or padding. Boots like that pinch the feet after blocks, let alone miles. And he's been trudging in them for hours, all the while toting the musket and bayonet of an 18th-century Continental Army soldier. As the bone-chilling cold seeps through his blue wool uniform, Batten asks in mock perplexity, "Do I do this for fun?" ...
  • The Survivor's Story

    Robert Tools Had A Foot In The Grave When He Volunteered To Receive The World's First Fully Implantable Artificial Heart. Now He's Talking About Fishing Again
  • Meeting Robert Tools

    I did not know the patient's name or anything about his life. We were, in fact, complete strangers. Yet from the moment I heard about the groundbreaking surgery in which he became the first recipient of the AbioCor artificial heart, I felt a connection to the anonymous man. ...
  • A Million Amazing Beats

    The patient, a man in his mid- to late 50s, was about as sick as it's possible to be--and that just may have saved his life. He was in end-stage heart failure, his lungs filling with fluid, barely able to eat or walk a few steps. Chronic kidney failure ruled him out for a human-heart transplant; the 2,000 or so that are available each year are reserved for patients with better prognoses. When the patient was admitted to Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky., on June 27, cardiac surgeon Laman Gray Jr. estimated the man's chances of dying in the next month at well above 80 percent. "He was one of the sickest patients I've seen," says Gray.Which made him eligible for one of the most audacious experiments in re- cent medical history--the AbioCor, the world's first fully implantable, plastic-and-titanium, battery-powered replacement heart. In a seven-hour operation last Monday, Gray and his colleague Dr. Robert Dowling cut out most of the man's diseased heart and stitched what remained to...
  • Nourishing Your Brain

    It's no secret that the fats in fish and walnuts are good for your heart.  New research suggests they may also ward off depression and mental maladies.
  • What About Hamburger?

    The chances of getting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are very small. So far, U.S. officials believe no one here has contracted the disease from eating beef. But given CJD's deadly nature and the fact that scientists are still unraveling its mysteries, consumers may be uneasy. Here are answers to some common questions: ...
  • Soda Pop That Packs A Punch

    So there's this dude named Mike, and he goes, "Lemonade is good and all, but I bet it tastes better with alcohol." He squeezes a bunch of lemons, adds some sugar and malt liquor. Then he carbonates the stuff and sticks it in a bottle. Mike's totally casual about it, but everybody loves his brew so much that success sort of sneaks up on him "like a windshield sneaks up on a bug." That's what it says on the six-pack. It used to say this stuff is reallygreat--"as in when you die and go to heaven and you go up to God and say, 'Hey there' and He says, 'Hey there' back, this is what you'll smell on His breath."Now, we ask you, who wouldn't suck on that bottle? Mike's Hard Lemonade Co. of San Francisco sold 7 million cases last year, its second on the U.S. market. Now the business is full of fictitious cool guys--Jed, Rick, Del, "Doc" Otis and even One-Eyed Jack--who sell fizzy-lemon malt beverages. Like wine coolers, these "malternatives" go down like soda but pack a beer's worth of...
  • A Hidden Health Hazard

    Deena Karabell had lived in her New York City apartment for 15 years, so when she fell ill in 1983, she never suspected that her apartment itself could be to blame. Over the next 15 years she grew progressively weaker. Finally, in the spring of 1998, she lost 30 pounds and went into anaphylactic shock three times. She literally lay dying in her bedroom when a hired nurse noticed a strong odor of mold in the closet. Suddenly things clicked. Karabell's family moved her out immediately. Today--at a safe distance from the mold--she is almost back to normal. "People are amazed at my recovery," she says.Molds have been an under recognized health problem, but that is changing. Health-care professionals now know that molds can cause allergies, trigger asthma attacks and increase susceptibility to colds and flu. Anyone with a genetic predisposition can become allergic if exposed repeatedly to high enough levels. Last year Dr. David Sherris at the Mayo Clinic performed a study of 210 patients...
  • A Revolution In Medicine

    Ann Miscoi had seen her father and her uncle die of organ failure in their mid-40s, so she figured she was lucky to be living when she turned 50 last year. The trouble was, she felt half dead. Her joints ached, her hair was falling out and she was plagued by unrelenting fatigue. Her doctor assured her that nothing was seriously wrong, even after a blood test revealed unusually high iron levels, but Miscoi wasn't so sure. Scanning the Internet, she learned about a hereditary condition called hemochromatosis, in which the body stores iron at dangerous concentrations in the blood, tissues and organs. Hemochromatosis is the nation's most common genetic illness, and probably the most underdiagnosed. As Miscoi read about it, everything started making sense--her symptoms, her blood readings, even her relatives' early deaths. So she found a doctor who would take her concerns more seriously.Until recently, diagnosing the condition required a liver biopsy--not a procedure you'd undertake...
  • When 'Knowledge' Does Damage

    Nobody understands the promise and pitfalls of genetic testing better than Nancy Seeger, 56, of Evanston, Ill. She was only 14 years old when her mother died of breast cancer. Within five years, her mother's sister was dead of the same disease. No wonder Seeger secretly hoped that scientists would one day devise a test that could peer into her DNA and tell her whether she would meet the same fate.Then, several years ago, researchers developed such a test--for a gene defect that predisposes a woman to both breast and ovarian cancer. Still, Seeger hesitated before taking the plunge. "You want to know, but you don't want to know," she says. When the results came back, the doctor solemnly handed her the letter from the lab. Through her tears, Seeger managed to pick out the salient words: "mutation," a lifetime risk of breast cancer "as high as 85 percent," "risk for ovarian cancer 50 percent over one's lifetime." The results, said the letter, had been "confirmed independently."Given...
  • A Certain Bittersweet Comfort

    As a boy, Steven Peterson of Seattle didn't worry too much about the affliction that landed his grandmother in a nursing home. Everyone's grandparents were frail. But when Peterson was only 17, his father, then 45, was diagnosed with the same disorder--a rare genetic disease called spinocerebellar ataxia. As Peterson learned all too well over the next two decades, the disease gradually destroys an area of the brain called the cerebellum, taking muscle control with it. It starts gently with double vision, as the eye muscles weaken. Later, arms and legs fail. By the end, even the muscles that coordinate swallowing go, so that patients have to be fed with a stomach tube. The mind, however, remains untouched.By the time Peterson reached his early 30s, he began to suspect that he, too, carried the bad gene. "I'd have a couple drinks and my vision would go wacky," he says. "I'd get up in the middle of the night and my equilibrium would be off." Friends assured him that these things...
  • How To Get To Your Golden Years

    Tithonus, the legendary Greek warrior, had almost everything going for him. His paramour, the beautiful goddess Eos, so loved him that she persuaded Zeus to grant him eternal life. Unfortunately, she forgot to mention eternal youth. So while Eos stayed as fresh as the dawn she presided over, Tithonus spent eternity growing ever more shriveled and infirm. None of us is at serious risk of living that long, but as futurist Ken Dychtwald observes in his recent book "Age Power," the Tithonus story is a fitting allegory for the state of America's health. Prosperity and modern medicine have delivered us from early death, only to prolong our decrepitude. We may have vanquished typhoid and diphtheria, but we spend a growing proportion of our lives hobbled by diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer.We could prevent most of these scourges, or at least postpone them, by exercising, eating well and staying away from cigarettes. The trouble is that few of us--even within the ostensibly...
  • Drugstore Dangers

    Teresa Vasquez was not worried when she couldn't read her husband's prescription for heart medication. Who can read a doctor's scrawl? Anyway, that was the pharmacist's job. But fate was against the Monahans, Texas, woman that day in June 1995. As it turned out, a pharmacist looked at the handwritten word "Isordil," a drug for angina, and saw instead "Plendil," a medication for high blood pressure. An unsuspecting Vasquez took the prescription home and gave it to her spouse, 42-year-old Ramon Vasquez. Within two weeks he was dead. Although lawyers for the doctor argued at trial that the cause was congestive heart failure, the jurors unanimously concluded last October that the real reason was the misread prescription. They held the pharmacist and cardiologist jointly liable for $450,000 in damages. "It's the first time a doctor has been held negligent for poor handwriting," says attorney Kent Buckingham, who represented Mrs. Vasquez.It may not be the last. There are no good...
  • Dyslexia And The New Science Of Reading

    The first thing Kathryn Nicholas will tell you about her 11-year-old son Jason is that he's a bright, curious kid who can build elaborate machines out of Legos and remember the code names and payloads of bombers. "He has a phenomenal desire to see how things work," she says proudly. But reading, for Jason, was a train wreck. In first grade he was assigned to special-education classes with three mildly retarded children. Two years later, despite extra help, he still couldn't decipher a sentence, and his mother was worried that he would soon become so discouraged that he would give up trying. Then she heard about Virginia Wise Berninger, an educational psychologist at the University of Washington who studies dyslexia, a disorder that makes learning to read extremely difficult. As part of her ongoing research, Berninger tested Jason and then invited him to a summer program for dyslexic boys. The kids didn't just play letter games. They did science experiments, studied biodiversity, met...
  • Stress In The Skies

    Over the coming four-day weekend, more than 6 million Americans will board commercial flights, a record for this typically heavy holiday. While the EgyptAir crash may continue to blanket the news, fatal crashes are the exception. Last year the death rate on U.S. carriers was zero; by contrast, over last Thanksgiving weekend alone, 598 people died on U.S. highways. And yet, even as the industry rightly touts its safety record, the Unfriendly Skies have increasingly become a source of lesser horror stories.Consider, for example, the fairly routine August experience of Christine Cunningham, who wanted only to fly from Denver to Albuquerque, N.M., with her two young kids. The short United flight was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. When she got to the gate, the flight status was listed as "delayed"; no one would tell her why, or for how long. Then it was canceled. With two kids in tow, she joined 150 or so other passengers in a mad scramble to the customer-service desk to make new plans. After...
  • Dyslexia And The New Science Of Reading

    The first thing Kathryn Nicholas will tell you about her 11-year-old son Jason is that he's a bright, curious kid who can build elaborate machines out of Legos and remember the code names and payloads of bombers. "He has a phenomenal desire to see how things work," she says proudly. But reading, for Jason, was a train wreck. In first grade he was assigned to special-education classes with three mildly retarded children. Two years later, despite extra help, he still couldn't decipher a sentence, and his mother was worried that he would soon become so discouraged that he would give up trying. Then she heard about Virginia Wise Berninger, an educational psychologist at the University of Washington who studies dyslexia, a disorder that makes learning to read extremely difficult. As part of her ongoing research, Berninger tested Jason and then invited him to a summer program for dyslexic boys. The kids didn't just play letter games. They did science experiments, studied biodiversity, met...
  • The Perils Of Pasta

    Mary Mack thought she was dying. For 11 years, the secretary from Baton Rouge, La., suffered digestive problems. Her weight dropped from 140 pounds to 110. Her hair fell out in clumps. Good teeth were coming out. Her bones ached. Doctors diagnosed ulcers, colitis, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome--everything except what was actually ailing her. Finally her aunt handed her an article on celiac disease. Mack had already noticed that she felt particularly ill when she ate certain foods, including bread and pasta, and the article offered a potential explanation. People with celiac disease, it said, have a lifelong intolerance for gluten--the protein in wheat, rye and barley. The resulting inflammation of the intestines makes it difficult to absorb nutrients. Mack immediately went on a gluten-free diet. "Four years later, my life has turned around," she says. Her body feels strong again, and her spirits are soaring. At 55, she's getting married in November.Celiac disease--also known...
  • Finding The Right Rx

    David Slawson was sitting at his desk one morning last February when a colleague called to tell him that one of his patients was in the emergency room, suffering from pneumonia. The patient, an otherwise healthy 43-year-old woman, was in no immediate danger, but the ER doctor wanted to hospitalize her just to be safe. Few physicians would have stopped to question whether hospital care actually benefits such a patient. But Slawson, a family practitioner at the University of Virginia, had an easy way to find out. He grabbed the mouse on his computer and, with a few clicks, pulled up a "prognosis calculator." By punching in basic facts about the woman, he determined that her odds of dying would be 2.2 times higher if she checked into the hospital (where germs are rampant and medical errors possible) than if she recuperated at home. Shown that number, the ER doctor quickly wrote a prescription and sent her on her way--saving her insurer thousands of dollars and, in all likelihood,...
  • The Winged Menace

    Dr. Deborah Asnis was perplexed. Chief of infectious diseases at Flushing Hospital in New York, she had three elderly patients in intensive care with high fevers, but they were not responding to either antibiotic or antiviral drugs. Asnis called the city health department on Aug. 23 to see if there was anything unusual going around. If there was, the city didn't know about it. But officials began interviewing patients' families in search of clues. The patients had only three things in common. They came from the same neighborhood, they were at least 60 years old and they had suntans. "They liked to spend time in their backyards," says Asnis. That's apparently how they contracted a mosquito-borne virus called St. Louis encephalitis.SLE strikes about two dozen people a year nationwide, causing a potentially fatal inflammation of the brain. It had never been recorded before in New York City--but with no effective drugs to fight it, local officials were taking no chances. As soon as lab...
  • To Build A Cancer Cell

    Human cells don't become malignant all at once. It typically takes a prolonged assault to turn them cancerous, and several genes have to go awry. But which ones? For the last two decades, biologists have been identifying many of the rogue genes in tumors. But despite repeated, frustrating attempts, they've never been able to prove that a specific combination of bad genes actually caused a malignancy. Nor have they been able to accomplish this sinister feat of creation in a laboratory. Until now.In a study published last week in the journal Nature, Robert Weinberg and William Hahn of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., reported they had succeeded in turning normal human cells into cancerous ones. The transformation wound up requiring the alteration of four genes, including one that had never conclusively been implicated in cancer growth before. The findings--which Nature termed "landmark"--could one day help scientists develop new cancer therapies...
  • What Is Same

    She was making lunch for herself and a friend one Saturday this spring when an unfamiliar feeling swept over her. The 50-year-old social worker had fallen deep into depression two years earlier, and had given up on prescription antidepressants when the first one she tried left her sluggish, sexually dormant and numb to her own emotions. Then, in mid-March, she heard about a naturally occurring substance called SAMe (pronounced "Sammy"). She had been taking it for just a few days when she began setting the table that Saturday morning. A ginger-miso sauce was chilling in the fridge, and she was garnishing her finest plates with fresh anemones. Suddenly, there it was: a sense of undiluted pleasure.This woman (who asked not to be named) has taken SAMe ever since, and her mood isn't the only thing that has changed. Until this spring she took prescription-strength anti-inflammatories for her arthritis, and still had trouble bending her knees. She's now off those drugs--and feeling more...
  • New Clues To The Puzzle Of Dyslexia

    There's new evidence that dyslexia, a common reading disability, is caused by a problem with processing sounds in the brain. Dyslexics get confused when trying to link rapid-fire consonants like "b" and "d" to specific letters, say scientists at the University of California, San Francisco. In a study published last week, the researchers recorded brain-wave responses of adults to a series of two beeps. The dyslexics showed distinct responses to both tones--but only when there was a half-second pause between them. As the gap shortened, delayed response to the first sound obscured the second. The good readers could consistently tell the two apart. ...
  • Chemo In Question

    For a woman, perhaps the only news worse than "you've got breast cancer" is the diagnosis "and it's spread." Hearing those words, thousands of women in the last decade have chosen aggressive, debilitating treatment--ultrahigh doses of chemotherapy, followed by a bone-marrow transplant . Common sense dictates that chemotherapy at five to 30 times the normal dose should kill more cancer cells and increase survival, but there's a worrisome lack of supporting research. Results released last week from five trials did little to quell those concerns. Four of the five studies showed no significant increase in survival rates after high-dose therapy--discouraging news to desperate patients.These results, however, are far from the final verdict. Only one of the trials released by the American Society for Clinical Oncology compared a high-dose treatment with a standard-dose regimen, and that study found that five-year survival rates for the high-dose patients were twice as good . For ethical...
  • The Heart Of Women's Health

    Back in the 1980s, says housekeeper Josephine Tucker of Martha's Vineyard, she was "a heart attack waiting to happen." She reveled in fried foods, carried more than a few extra pounds and had blood pressure and cholesterol levels high in the danger zone. She even had a family history of heart disease. Yet four doctors on 12 separate occasions dismissed her complaints of chest pain as job-related stress. They'd learned in medical school that heart disease was a man's problem. In 1990, at 50, Tucker proved them all wrong--by suffering a heart attack and having to be air-lifted to Boston for triple-bypass surgery. She has since taken up exercise, slashed the fat in her diet, renounced her Lucky Strikes and started a heart-disease support group. Her advice to other women? "Take charge of your life. If I'd known I was at risk, this wouldn't have happened."Wake up, America. Heart attacks are killing a quarter-million women every year--nearly six times the number who die of breast cancer. ...
  • The Ovarian Cancer Conundrum

    What did comedienne Gilda Radner, singer Laura Nyro and actress Jessica Tandy have in common? All three were great performers--and all three died of ovarian cancer. Fortunately, the disease is far rarer than breast cancer. A woman's lifetime risk of developing it is only 1 in 57, versus 1 in 8 for breast cancer. But when it strikes, ovarian cancer is much deadlier. Though only 25,000 women are diagnosed each year, nearly 15,000 die. That's because just 25 percent of cases are detected early, when the cure rate is excellent. By Stage III, when half of ovarian cancers are found, a woman has only a 20 percent chance of surviving five years. "At Stage IV, they tell you to go home and get your affairs in order," writes survivor Liz Tilberis, editor in chief of Harper's Bazaar, in her book "No Time to Die." Why is ovarian cancer so hard to spot? The symptoms--abdominal bloating, constipation, indigestion, frequent urination, feeling full after eating very little--are not specific to the...
  • Do Scopes Spread Sickness?

    ONE OF THE FEW good things you can say about tuberculosis is that it doesn't spread easily. To get infected, you normally have to live or work in close quarters with someone who's acutely ill. So how did an elderly woman in Baltimore contract TB from a much younger woman she didn't even know? The two lived in different parts of the city and moved in different social circles. But within two days in 1995 both women had their lungs examined in the same hospital. In fact, as researchers later discovered, both were examined with the same bronchoscope. No one now doubts that the instrument spread a potentially fatal disease from one patient to another. The question is this: was the incident a fluke--or evidence of a large and unrecognized hazard? ...
  • How The Plague Began

    E ARE MORE satisfying than solving a mystery--especially if it involves 14 million deaths and has stumped the world for nearly 20 years. So imagine the satisfaction of Dr. Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. On Sunday she announced to a conference of virologists in Chicago that she'd learned the origins of HIV-1, the virus responsible for 99 percent of the world's 33 million AIDS cases. Her findings, which also appear this week in the journal Nature, confirm what scientists have long suspected--that the virus came originally from an African primate. Hahn and her colleagues were able to trace it specifically to a subspecies of chimpanzee called Pan troglodytes troglodytes. ...
  • A Little Help From Serotonin

    FOR RHESUS MONKEYS, LIFE IN THE WILD IS A little like high school. Some animals--call them losers--slouch around looking aggrieved. They're volatile and bellicose, slow to form alliances and loath to reconcile after a spat. One in five dies during the passage to adulthood. But while the losers scrap over bits of chow, other animals--call them winners--stay busy grooming each other. They maintain wide networks of allies. They deflect challenges without resorting to violence, and 49 out of 50 survive to produce offspring. Why do they fare so well? The answer is no doubt complicated, but the monkeys' spinal fluid provides an intriguing clue. In study after study, researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism have found that the winners' nervous systems are loaded with serotonin.As the 20th century winds down, we humans seem increasingly convinced that serotonin is the key to a good life--and it's easy to see why. This once obscure neurotransmitter is the secret...