Stories by Anne Underwood

  • Surgeon, Drop That Scalpel

    IT HAS BEEN A CENTURY OF MEDICAL WONDERS. Vaccines have all but vanquished such killers as polio and diphtheria. We've learned to control our moods, fertility and blood pressure with pills. And surgeons routinely fix or replace our failing joints and organs. Yet we continue to pay a high price for these marvels. Lifesaving surgery often maims and our miracle drugs cause all manner of devastating side effects. In any given year, roughly 63,000 Americans die from taking prescription drugs as intended, and many more are sickened or injured. (By comparison, AIDS claimed about 26,000 American lives last year; homicide, 21,000.) It's nice to live in a world where pimples are curable. It would be nicer if the cure didn't cause birth defects.Fortunately, a second revolution is underway. Just as the 20th century has brought us ever more powerful treatments, the 21st seems poised to deliver gentler ones. Surgeons are learning to work through keyholes rather than manholes, and drugrmakers are...
  • Sign Or Hit The Street

    WHEN KAY BAKER WAS A TOP executive with JCPenney in 1995, she agreed to appear in a company video praising the retail giant's new plan for dealing with termination complaints. To avoid lengthy and expensive trips to court, Penney would pay 95 percent of the bill for an outside arbitrator to evaluate the claims. The decision would bind both parties. Baker thought it sounded like a good deal for employees who couldn't afford a lawyer. Then, a year later, Penney fired the 46-year-old Baker, stripping her of $300,000 in stock options. Believing herself a victim of both age discrimination and sexual harassment, she tried to take the company to court. Penney, which insists that Baker's claims are ""totally without merit,'' said she no longer had that option, thanks to the very plan she'd gone on camera to commend. Baker argued that arbitration was voluntary - after all, the policy is called ""the JCPenney Alternative'' - and that she had never signed a consent form. The court sided with...
  • Why Ebonie Can't Breathe

    Thirteen-year-old Antonio O'Bryant knew the drill by heart. A lifelong asthma sufferer, he never left for school without an inhaler full of medicine to open his airways. But whhen Antonio went to his gym class last Dec. 18, he apparently left his g ear behind. When he felt an attack coming on, a substitute teacher sent someone to fetch the nurse. Unfortunatly, the nurse had stepped away from her desk. By the time she and an assistant principal reached the gym with medication, the boy wasn't breathi ng well enough to get it into his lungs. The nearest hospital was only a mile away, but Antonio was unconcious when he arrived by ambulance. He hung on in a coma for several days and once managed to squeeze his brother's hand. But when his brain started to swell, his prospects for recovery faded. "They finally had to turn off the ventilator," his mother recalls. "My baby died on Christmas Day." ...
  • Yearning To Breathe Free

    BACK IN THE DARK AGES of asthma care - like five or so years ago - ""managing'' one's asthma meant scrambling for a puff of bronchodilator as breathing suddenly became as arduous as sucking peanut butter through a straw. But lately doctors have bee n abandoning this ""treat as needed'' approach in favor of a preventive one. ""The paradigm has shifted from being reactive to being proactive,'' says Dr. Stan Szeffler of National Jewish Medical Center in Denver. And while today's ""preventive'' treatme nts still target the symptoms of asthma (inflammation and constriction of the bronchial tubes), scientists are in hot pursuit of drugs that target the causes: the hyperreactivity of those airways. Until the new drugs arrive, physicians are trying to educ ate patients to do the most with existing therapies. ...
  • Onward, Mormon Pilgrims

    AS SHE MADE HER WAY WEST 150 years ago, Mormon pioneer Patty Sessions endured sandstorms and scorching sun, mosquitoes and axle-deep mud. She bore the hardships of the trail because she had to. Now her great-great-granddaughter Shauna Dicken is set to do it all again--because it's there. This week, with 400 other trail enthusiasts, history buffs and Mormon faithful, Dicken will set out from Omaha, Neb., on a three-month, 1,000-mile overland trek, re-enacting the great Mormon migration to Utah. Her covered wagon and team of horses stand ready. She has sewn pioneer dresses for herself and her four daughters, made buffalo robes for the family and secured goose-feather ticks for bedding. She has dried 50 pounds of buffalo meat and bushels of apples and beans, made lye soap and prepared medicinal herbs--elder flower for flu, horehound for coughs and colds, calendula salve for infection. "If the horses die, we'll walk to Salt Lake," says Dicken. "I want my daughters to know what our...
  • Halting Airbag Deaths

    FIVE YEARS AGO ENGINEER TONY Corrado was busy designing smart bombs for the military. Then he heard the first reports of how the explosive power of car airbags was causing injuries and death. As he read up on the problem, he felt certain that technology could solve it. Today Corrado is leading a team of engineers developing ""smart airbags'' that will save lives without hurting people in a crash. ""This is one of the most difficult technical problems ever posed in the auto industry,'' he says. ...
  • A Gentler Approach To Heart Surgery

    HORACE STONE IS A MINOR CELEBRITY around Roswell, Ga. No one was surprised last fall when the retired AT&T manager had to go in for a bypass operation; he had already been through a heart attack and two angioplasties when his chest started aching again. What impressed people was his recovery. Instead of spending a week in the hospital and three months gaining the strength to dress himself, Stone walked out of the hospital in three days. Two weeks later he was playing golf. Stone's internist was flabbergasted when he showed up for an appointment sporting a three-inch cut in place of the traditional foot-long chest wound. And when the story spread through Stone's church, folks started calling from as far away as Florida to learn his secret. Not that he minded. ""I would recommend this treatment to anyone,'' he says. ...
  • Hey--Look Out, World, Here I Come

    ELIANA, 14 MONTHS OLD, REFUSES TO WALK. SHE has never attempted to stand alone, much less take a step. The other four children in her play group, however, have all earned the right to be called toddler: they started staggering on two feet right around their first birthdays. Even Eliana's friend Rachel, not yet 10 months old, has taken a few precarious steps. But Eliana is seemingly oblivious to her playmates' advanced locomotion. A demon crawler, she is still perfectly content to navigate her Washington, D.C., house on hands and knees. Her parents, of course, are certain that they have the first healthy kid in human history who will never learn to walk. ...
  • Shyness, Sadness, Curiosity, Joy. Is It Nature Or Nurture?

    IF ANY CHILD SEEMED DESTINED TO GROW UP afraid of her shadow and just about anything else that moved, it was 2-year-old Marjorie. She was so painfully shy that she wouldn't talk to or look at a stranger. She was even afraid of friendly cats and dogs. When Jerome Kagan, a Harvard professor who discovered that shyness has a strong genetic component, sent a clown to play with Marjorie, she ran to her mother. "It was as if a cobra entered that room;' Kagan says. His diagnosis: Marjorie showed every sign of inherited shyness, a condition in which the brain somehow sends out messages to avoid new experiences. But as Kagan continued to examine her over the years, Marjorie's temperament changed. When she started school, she gained confidence from ballet classes and her good grades, and she began to make friends. Her parents even coaxed her into taking horseback-riding lessons. Marjorie may have been born shy, but she has grown into a bubbly second grader. ...
  • Scanning The Skeleton

    Yes, you've had a mammogram and a pap smear. You've checked your eight, cholesterol and blood pressure. But if you're a woman over 50, don't head for the door just yet. You have still another test to consider. It's called bone densitrometry, and it could revolutionize women's health care. The quick, painless procedure can reveal signs of osteoporosis-the gradual loss of bone mineral that leaves the skeleton as fragile as fine china--long before symptoms appear. And newly developed treatments can control the process indefinitely. Bone scanners aren't yet a fixture in doctors' offices, and insurers don't always cover the $100 to $250 cost. But as one specialist says, "There's a tidal wave of interest and enthusiasm." ...
  • The Iceberg Cometh

    The RMS Titaic sank 84 years ago, but there's a new wave of interest in the great ship. See the mini-series, hum the musical, buy the cookbook! ...
  • Like Hitting A Wall

    EVERY ENGINEER IS FAMILIAR WITH the Law of Unintended Consequences, the principle that almost any technological improvement will create unforeseen problems of its own. The automobile has been a fruitful source of unintended consequences, from the days when it was predicted to rid the country of drunken horsemen. More ominously, it now seems that air bags, intended to save lives, may in fact be dangerous, especially to children. A study this fall by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that air bags increase the fatality risk to children in the front passenger seat by 30 percent. Carmakers last week were planning to send warning letters to the owners of some 15 million cars about the danger air bags pose to children. ...
  • Do You, Tom, Take Harry. . .

    Ninia Baehr has concocted elaborate plans for the wedding of her dreams. Why not? She's 35 and "crazy in love." She will rent a fabulous estate outside Honolulu and string lights in the trees. The reception will be a traditional Hawaiian luau. Breaking tradition, Baehr will wear a slinky black evening gown dotted with sequins. ...
  • Caveat Investor On These Annuities

    YOU'VE HEARD THE SAYing, "All that glitters is not gold"? Well, variable annuities glitter. U.S. investors have already salted away more than $200 billion in these special mutual funds for one reason: earnings accrue tax-deferred. But the catch has always been that hefty fees can eat away at alluring returns. ...
  • Raising The Dimple Count

    When Wilson Sporting Goods decided to build a better golf ball, it turned to engineers from the aerospace industry -- to guys who'd lofted the Apache helicopter and stealth bomber. But for Wilson's Bob Thurman, inspiration came not from his work on the space shuttle, but from a detour to Disney's Epcot Center. At the Professional Golfers' Association's 1994 trade show in Orlando, Fla., Thurman caught a glimpse of Epcot's towering geodesic dome. In a flash, he saw not a dome, but a giant golf-ball dimple pattern. "It was one of those blue-sky things," he says of his epiphany. "You don't quite know where it came from." ...
  • From Moroni To Jibril, They're All Angels

    YOU DON'T HAVE TO be Christian to believe in angels. From the spirit guides of Native American religions to the wingless angels of Mormonism, many of the world's faiths have angels, or at least spirits who perform angellike functions. For the Mormons, it was the angel Moroni himself who traveled to upstate New York to guide Joseph Smith down the path to revelation. And what are the Zoroastrian Fravashis if not angels: guardian spirits that accompany a newborn soul to earth and remain to guide it through the shoals of life. ...
  • The King Of Cream Returns

    REUBEN MATTUS, THE 80-YEAR-OLD founder of Haagen-Dazs, sat before two unmarked and equally inviting bowls of vanilla ice cream-one Haagen-Dazs. the other a new low-fat variety from his family's test kitchen. His challenge: to identify the bowl of his ultrarich original. When he pointed to the low-fat vanilla instead, he knew he'd found his latest frozen asset. Now, a year later, the man who sold Haagen-Dazs to Pillsbury for $70 million is shaking up the industry again. This time he may actually have conjured up an ice cream that impresses diehard butterfat addicts but won't send them into coronary arrest. ...
  • A Marriage Made In Montvale

    Only months ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton portrayed drug makers as the villains of rising health-care costs. But even before the First Lady sharpened her scalpel, pharmaceutical companies were slashing prices to cut deals with companies like Medco Containment, the mail-order pharmacy whose clients include a slew of HMOs, insurance companies and state health plans. Last week Merck & Co. took the process a step further and agreed to purchase Montvale, N.J.-based Medco for $6 billion. If the merger is approved by federal regulators and Medco stockholders, it will link the country's leading drug maker with the top discount-drug merchant, known as "the Wal-Mart of pills." The deal could also trigger copycat mergers. That prospect sent investors scurrying for stocks of companies similar to Medco. "The key is to be part of a fullservice network," says Larry Feinberg of Oracle Investors. "Merck and Medco are jumping off the starting blocks while the rest have just begun warming up." ...
  • 'Daddy, Can I Have One?'

    When gift-industry mogul Russ Berrie celebrated his nuptials last month, he topped the cake with a pair of $15 baubles: bride-and-groom troll dolls. Dotting the reception tables at New York's posh Essex House were 160 more nine-inch gnomes with shocking pink and blue hair, one per guest. The extravagaza might have been a 6-year-olds fantasy, but Berrie's interest in trolls is no child's play. This year his company expects to sell $150 million worth of the humble creatures. "We've got a full-blown fad on our hands," says Sid Aronson, a spokesman for Russ Berrie and Co. "We've been airlifting trolls into the country since March to meet the demand." ...
  • The Mideast: 'Secret Files'

    It was a covenant: ever since 1948, one U.S. president after another has pledged devotion to Israel. But Washington has long hedged its bets behind the scenes. When George Bush spoke of defending "old friends" in the Persian Gulf War, he was actually fulfilling repeated promises to Saudi Arabia. These agreements-and the military plans to back them up-were mostly undertaken in secret, without public knowledge or congressional consent. A Washington Post-NEWSWEEK examination of documents in presidential archives, many of them originally classified as top secret-reveals a history of covert Mideast diplomacy. Forming the basis of a PBS program entitled "The Secret Files: Washington, Israel and the Gulf," scheduled to air Monday, Feb. 17, the documents show that: ...