Claudia Kalb

Stories by Claudia Kalb

  • The Miracle Of Motion

    The body's joints are amazing contraptions. When they work well, we take them for granted. But for the 2.1 million Americans who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis--most of them women struck between the ages of 25 and 50--the joints are enemy terrain. They swell, they stiffen, they ache with excruciating intensity. In severe cases, as cartilage and bones erode, patients are crippled in the prime of their lives. Researchers are far from a cure, but they're excited about a bold new approach to treatment. Unpublished data, to be presented at the American College of Rheumatology's annual meeting next month, shows that biologically engineered drugs that inhibit a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) not only significantly ease symptoms, they slow the rate at which further joint damage occurs. Response has been so positive that some patients are throwing away their canes within weeks of treatment. "This is the most dramatic thing I've seen in 30 years in rheumatology," says Dr....
  • Necessary Shots?

    Since the birth of her twin daughters last May, Theresa Sakamoto of Santa Monica, Calif., hasn't been getting much sleep. It's not just the babies who are keeping her up--it's Sakamoto's own internal debate over whether to vaccinate them. "If I knew my kids wouldn't have any [adverse] reaction, I would just do it. But I don't know that," she says. "On the other hand, not vaccinating them scares me... I still don't know what to do."A generation ago, parents like Sakamoto didn't think much about the adverse effects of vaccines--they worried about the horrors of infectious disease. Today, potential killers like polio, diphtheria and now even measles are virtually unknown in the United States, while children are receiving more inoculations than ever--currently 19 for 10 different diseases. Now some parents are asking which is the greater threat: the viruses or the vaccines?It's a fair question. Fear of viruses isn't what it used to be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC...
  • A Deadly Strain Of Staph

    Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium known by its nickname "staph," has been the bane of medical experts for decades. Not just because it can trigger nasty blood, bone and skin infections, but because the stubborn microbe has a striking ability to mutate and thwart antibiotic drugs. Until recently, such resistant strains appeared to be confined to hospital settings and nursing homes--where infections can spread rapidly--and were of little concern to the public. But last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that over the past two years, drug-resistant staph had killed four otherwise healthy children in Minnesota and North Dakota. And the bug had made at least 200 other people in the region sick. Whether the strain escaped from a hospital and spread or originated at the community level is still unclear. But, either way, "this signifies another step backward in our battle against resistant bacteria," says lead investigator Dr. Tim Naimi.The children who died, aged...
  • Schools On The Alert

    It has been only a few months, but life has changed radically at Permian High in Odessa, Texas. Last May, when the dismissal bell rang out the old academic year, students were Jane and John Anonymous, and the closest thing to surveillance was a couple of security guards passing through the hallways. Last week, when students returned for the new year, they stepped into the new age of high-tech school safety. Every student is now required to wear a computer-coded ID badge. Seventeen surveillance cameras monitor the parking lot and school entrance. And "black boxes," some (no one knows which) containing cameras with audiotape, had been installed in some classrooms by engineers from Sandia National Laboratories, which designs security systems for the U.S. Mint and FBI. Permian, which has 2,100 students, isn't an especially dangerous campus. Still, "we're never satisfied," says principal Brian Rosson. "We're taking proactive steps to make this as safe a place as it can be." But can any...
  • Doctors Go Dot.Com

    Dina Wildey of Owings Mills, Md., is one wired woman. She uses e-mail every day to keep in touch with family members, and she spends hours browsing the Web--especially the health sites. She's not just reading brochures. Wildey recently discovered that she could chat, free of charge, with a cyberspace doctor. Curious to know about the possible side effects of a diet drug, she logged onto AmericasDoctor.com and posed her question to an anonymous physician. Within a few minutes she received information about the product--enough to convince her to forget about taking it. "I think it's wonderful," she says. "It's quick. You can do it just about any time and you don't have to catch a doctor between appointments."Health sites are among the Web's biggest draws. Last year alone almost 25 million patients reported going online, and that number is expected to reach more than 33 million by the end of 2000. Until recently the offerings have consisted mainly of support groups, reference materials...
  • Our Quest To Be Perfect

    Ten years ago, when she was only 25, Holly Lagalante shelled out $2,500 for an eyelid lift. The tab nearly maxed out her credit card, but the results--more bright-eyed, less droopy--left her absolutely giddy. Two years later, Lagalante, a petite blonde from suburban Chicago, was back for liposuction on her thighs ("I'd love to have Heather Locklear's body," she says). Then varicose-vein removal. And, later, a forehead peel. Last year she had $7,000 left to pay off when she lost her $9-an-hour job managing a health-food store, moved in with her mother and filed for bankruptcy. Still, she claims she's happier and more self-confident since her body overhaul and has no regrets. She now has a new job as a salesclerk at a local mall and says that when she finishes paying off her debt she'd like to reward herself--with a forehead lift or maybe liposuction to fix her saggy knees. "It's been tough on me financially, but it's worth every penny," she says. "It's life-changing."Not so long ago...
  • Our Quest To Be Perfect

    Ten years ago, when she was only 25, Holly Lagalante shelled out $2,500 for an eyelid lift. The tab nearly maxed out her credit card, but the results--more bright-eyed, less droopy--left her absolutely giddy. Two years later, Lagalante, a petite blonde from suburban Chicago, was back for liposuction on her thighs ("I'd love to have Heather Locklear's body," she says). Then varicose-vein removal. And, later, a forehead peel. Last year she had $7,000 left to pay off when she lost her $9-an-hour job managing a health-food store, moved in with her mother and filed for bankruptcy. Still, she claims she's happier and more self-confident since her body overhaul and has no regrets. She now has a new job as a salesclerk at a local mall and says that when she finishes paying off her debt she'd like to reward herself--with a forehead lift or maybe liposuction to fix her saggy knees. "It's been tough on me financially, but it's worth every penny," she says. "It's life-changing."Not so long ago...
  • Beware The Unruly Sun

    The summer sun. It warms the sand and the soul. But as Kathleen Black will remind you, those brilliant rays can also ravage the body. Just weeks before her 35th birthday last fall, Black was told that the funny-looking spot on her left shin--no bigger than a pencil eraser--was a deadly form of skin cancer called malignant melanoma. "Boy, those two words will echo in your brain," she says. "I saw my life flashing in front of me."In the United States, the incidence of melanoma is rising faster than almost any other cancer, striking Americans at twice the rate today as it did two decades ago. This year alone more than 44,000 people are expected to be diagnosed, and 7,300 could die. "The increase is absolutely astounding," says Dr. Martin Weinstock, chair of the American Cancer Society's (ACS) skin-cancer advisory group. "This is a major public-health problem."But there's good news, too. Melanoma offers its victims an unusual grace period: diagnosed early--before it's had time to burrow...
  • Fighting Cellulite

    When Cellasene made its debut in drugstores across America this March, women eagerly shelled out $40 for a 10-day supply of the heavily advertised pill, which its manufacturer promises will help "eliminate cellulite" in a "natural, safe, effective" way. Doctors, on the other hand, were quick to condemn it. Their problem: no good data to prove either efficacy or safety. Last week Medestea Internazionale, the Italian manufacturer of Cellasene, fought back against the critics. The company and its American distributor, Rexall Sundown, announced the unpublished findings of three studies, which they say prove that Cellasene--a soft-gel capsule made of herbal ingredients--reduced cellulite in about 90 percent of patients who were on the pill eight weeks. One participant, 39-year-old New Yorker Tracy Aron, says the texture of her legs "improved dramatically." The company also claimed that the compound reduced skin thickness and the circumference of hips and thighs. Says Debbie DeSantis,...
  • The Jock V. The Clock

    Julie Anderson was one of those dazzling childhood athletes. A ballerina, and tap and jazz dancer. A top-ranked gymnast and a competitive freestyle skier. Aside from an ankle injury, her body was just about invincible. But last August, Anderson turned the big 4-0--and two months later, she was in surgery for a ripped knee ligament. Anderson has accepted that her body is aging. "I don't ski as fast, and I'm much more careful," she says. But she still bikes, Rollerblades, kayaks and plays tennis. "I'm not trying to be who I was at 25," she says, "but I refuse to not do anything." And her friends, she says, are right there with her. "We won't be sitting in rocking chairs. We won't be giving up sports unless we absolutely have to."Anderson and her friends are the reason knee surgery has almost become a rite of passage for aging boomer jocks. "You cannot treat your body at 50 the way you did at 20," says Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons ...
  • Pen, Paper, Power!

    For decades, Lori Galloway had recurring dreams about shooting or bombing her father and stepfather. Years of sexual abuse as a child left her feeling like "the most worthless person on the face of the earth." Just talking about the trauma prompted a physical response: "I would shake violently and my voice would quiver," she says. She also suffered frequent migraine headaches. At 40, Galloway had been in and out of counseling, on and off antidepressants; nothing did much good.Several months ago, she tried something new. In three 30-minute sessions, Galloway sat at her computer and wrote intensively about how the abuse made her feel. The first entry was incoherent, she says. But by the third, she had gained a sense of freedom from her past. She soon felt better physically, too. The shaking has stopped, and the headaches have now disappeared. "The writing," she says, "has completely changed my life."Confessional writing has been around at least since the Renaissance, but new research...
  • Hormones And The Mind

    You hop into your car, but, wait, where are the keys? You meet someone new, but her name is gone before the handshake's over. Those are failures of your short-term, or "working," memory--the place you file information for immediate, everyday retrieval. It isn't perfect. But researchers are increasingly convinced that the hormone estrogen could play a key role in maintaining and perhaps even improving memory. Last week a team of Yale scientists provided dramatic new evidence that bolsters the theory. Using MRIs--detailed snapshots of the brain--researchers found that women taking estrogen show significantly more activity in brain areas associated with memory than women on a placebo. "This is very exciting," says Yale's Dr. Sally Shaywitz. "It means that the brain circuitry for memory had altered."After menopause, when estrogen levels plummet, some women become forgetful. Past research has demonstrated that those who take estrogen do better on memory tests than their nonmedicated...
  • Baby Boom: The $50,000 Egg

    With high-tech babies come high-tech quandaries. The latest: should people with bigger bucks be able to buy better genes? The question stems from an ad recently placed in Ivy League newspapers by an infertile couple seeking an "intelligent, athletic" egg donor who is at least 5 feet 10 and has an SAT score of 1400 or better. The payoff: $50,000 for one cycle's worth of viable eggs. "They want to be generous," says Thomas Pinkerton, an attorney for the "well-educated, tall" and anonymous couple.The going rate for donors--whose eggs are fertilized with the intended father's sperm and then implanted in his partner's womb--is $1,500 to $5,000. That fee is intended not as reward money, says Dr. Benjamin Younger, head of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, but as compensation for potent hormone injections and minor surgery to retrieve the eggs. Some worry that upping the ante will turn the "gift of life" into a commodity. "We should not call this woman an egg donor," says Ruth...
  • A One-Two Vs. Cancer

    In cancer research, the next best thing to finding a cure is upping the odds of survival. Last week the National Cancer Institute announced a new treatment for cervical cancer that can do just that. Five clinical trials of 1,700 women showed that adding chemotherapy to standard radiation treatment reduced patients' risk of dying by 30 to 50 percent. "To see such a big difference was amazing," says Dr. Mitchell Morris, who led one trial at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.Invasive cervical cancer is expected to strike 12,800 women this year, killing one third. For decades, doctors have treated the disease by surgically removing tumors or by targeting the pelvic area with radiation. Chemotherapy, a bodywide assault, seemed unnecessary. But the new studies suggest that chemo works synergistically with radiation, inhibiting cancer cells' ability to repair themselves after treatment. And it has only moderate side effects, such as nausea.The best weapon against cervical cancer is...
  • Autoimmune Disorders

    Joann Anastasi never imagined that her body would betray her. At 51, she was a full-time hair stylist with plenty of extra energy for dancing and handicrafts. "I was always busy," she says. "I was a whirlwind." But all that changed when Anastasi began to feel sluggish and achy. At first, she assumed she was simply "running out of steam" as she aged. But over the course of several months, her symptoms intensified into a full-body assault--overwhelming fatigue, painful joints and muscles, hypersensitivity to cold, and hands so swollen she had to quit her job and her hobbies. On top of all that was the mystery of it all: nobody could tell her what was wrong. "I think they thought it was all in my head or I was just stressed or menopausal," she says. Finally--after more than a year of visits to four different specialists (an endocrinologist, an orthopedist and two rheumatologists, one of whom suggested antidepressants)--Anastasi, now 53, got a diagnosis. She had scleroderma, a "crazy...
  • A Little Help In The Bedroom

    Ah, that little blue pill. You know the one. It knocked the shame out of impotence. It boosted virility. It rattled the stock market. But, you may wonder, what has Viagra done for me?Possibly a lot--even if you've never set eyes on the drug. It turns out that one of Viagra's most powerful side effects is being felt not in the bodies of men, but in homes and labs across the nation: it is sounding a wake-up call about sexual problems in women. Women's gynecological health is routinely monitored through Pap smears and pelvic exams, and yet the closest most doctors come to asking about sex is "What kind of birth control are you using?" Despite a plethora of ORGASM! headlines and sex-advice columns, scientists still have little more than a superficial understanding of how female arousal works, let alone how to fix it when something goes wrong. But sexual dysfunction--everything from lack of libido, arousal or orgasm to painful intercourse--affects millions of American women. Now women...
  • The Octuplet Question

    FOR WEEKS, NKEM CHUKWU AND THE babies in her belly had defied gravity. In her Houston hospital bed, the 27-year-old lay tilted head down, feet in the air, as doctors tried desperately to withhold from the world--and medical history--a major delivery. The later the date, the better the babies' odds. Though one, a girl, had already pushed her way out of Chukwu's womb, seven were still inside. Fourteen arms, 14 legs, 7 umbilical cords, all jammed one against the other. But five days before Christmas, Chukwu went into labor--13 weeks early--delivering five more girls and two boys, the world's first live octuplets.The littlest died one week later from heart and lung failure. The rest, their tiny heads the size of oranges, their hands not much bigger than thumbnails, were fighting to stay alive last week at Texas Children's Hospital. Blankets with blue and pink hearts helped keep them warm. Tubes snaked out of their noses, heads and feet. Monitors buzzed with vital signs. And a dozen...
  • In Boston, Banishing Blame And Shame

    Impotence. What an assignment. Millions of men suffer it, but most won't discuss it with a brother, let alone, I feared, a female reporter. For women, health talk starts at puberty and never stops. My generation grew up with "Our Bodies, Ourselves," the '70s self-help book that demystified the female body. We bonded over annual gynecological exams, stirrups and all. But men have long kept their health woes closeted--especially when that most prized organ is involved. ...
  • The Pill That Transformed America

    FROM THE DAY SHE opened her first clinic in 1916, Margaret Sanger longed for a simple, reliable, nonintrusive birth-control technique: a pill. Traditional "barrier" methods failed too often. They were overmatched by human error, mechanical failure and the ever-present factor of lust. Finally, in 1951 Sanger found a wealthy kindred spirit to fund her dream. She teamed up with Katharine McCormick, an MIT graduate whose father-in-law, Cyrus McCormick, had invented the mechanical reaper. Together they set out to help people prevent reaping what they were about to sow.First, they needed a biologist. They found him in Gregory Pincus, head of the Worcester (Mass.) Foundation for Experimental Biology. Pincus was renowned for his breakthrough work fertilizing rabbit eggs in a test tube and he was a man who reveled in meeting a challenge.McCormick gave Pincus a $40,000 check. (She would be the pill's chief benefactor, contributing almost $2 million to the research.) Two strokes of good...
  • A Struggle By Degrees

    FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY, CERTAIN GRADUATION requirements at Boston University's College of Arts and Sciences have remained unchanged: no math and foreign-language credits, no diploma. So two years ago, when Jon Westling, BU provost at the time and now president, discovered that about a dozen learning-disabled students each year were substituting classes like ""Anthropology of Money'' for algebra and ""Arts of Japan'' for Spanish, he says he was ""astonished.'' While course substitutions are granted to learning-disabled students at many colleges, they're not required by law. And Westling was adamant that BU abolish them. ""We have a responsibility to ensure that our degrees mean what they say,'' he says.Twenty years ago, learning-disabled students were largely unheard of at the college level. But with greater support in earlier school years, many now consider higher education a reasonable goal. Since 1988, the number of college freshmen reporting a learning disability has more than...
  • Caring From Afar

    SEVERAL MORNINGS A WEEK, Marti Kotin Mirken calls her mother, Yadeh Kotin, in Hollywood, Fla. The 79-year-old Kotin suffers from emphysema and was hospitalized earlier this year with a collapsed lung. On a recent morning, all Mirken got was a ceaseless, nerve-racking ring. By late afternoon, after repeated unanswered calls, Mirken, in Boston, and her sister in New York were on the verge of panic. They didn't find their mother until evening. She'd been hospitalized in the middle of the night after calling 911 and complaining of shortness of breath. Kotin was never in serious danger, but the anxiety attack that triggered her breathing difficulties had engulfed the whole family. ""We're very close to my mom. We want to care for her,'' says Mirken, a divorced mother of four. ""Still, it's hard. I work, I worry about my children and I worry about my mother, who's 1,500 miles away.'' ...
  • Living The Island Dream

    LIKE HUNDREDS OF OTHER FAMILIES, John Osbon, 45, his wife, Andrea Lee, 44, and their 9-year-old son, Max, are spending their summer on the glistening beaches of Nantucket Island, 25 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. But in a few weeks, when the suntanned hordes are back on the mainland, the Osbons will still be on Nantucket. ""I haven't found any other place I would like to live,'' says Osbon, an investment adviser who traded the suburbs of New York City for a new house--complete with traditional widow's walk--on the island. ""It's pretty much a fairy-tale existence.'' ...
  • Our Embattled Ears

    KATHY PECK, A MUSICIAN, NEVERthought much about her ears. Sure, she relied on them every day as a bass player and singer/songwriter in an all-girl punk band. But it took five years of thunderous rehearsals and concerts be-fore Peck realized that her ears had been damaged--permanently--by noise. Frank Goral, a Marine Corps naval flight officer, didn't think much about his ears, either--despite exposing them to the screaming roar of jet engines five days a week for a decade and a half. But the day Colonel Goral left the skies for quieter office work, he discovered that his ears weren't up to the job. ""I found I was bumping guys on the left and the right and asking them, "What did that gentleman just say?' '' he says. ...
  • New Homes On The Range

    IT WAS A SUBLIME MOMENT. SUSAN Hurst, 33, crafted a tiny cup out of white chocolate, filled it with coffee mousse, attached an edible handle, balanced it on a chocolate saucer, garnished it with a miniature raspberry cake - and then breathed a deep, tasty sigh of satisfaction. Hurst uttered very different sighs when she was an attorney, digesting legal codes and cooking corporate enemies as a litigator for a leading Chicago law firm. But last December Hurst ditched her job, her suit and her six-figure salary - and signed up for culinary school. ""I thought, Why not do something I love?'' she says. ...
  • How Old Is Too Old?

    WHEN A HEALTHY WOMAN walked into Dr. Richard Paulson's Los Angeles infertility clinic four years ago, he saw no reason to reject her as a patient. Her medical records indicated that she was 50 years old--five years younger than Paulson's upper limit for in-vitro candidates--and she passed rigorous physical tests, including a treadmill jog. By the time Paulson found out she was actually a decade older than she claimed (she had been lying to her previous doctors), the woman was already pregnant with an embryo created from her husband's sperm and an anonymous donor's egg. Late last year, at 63, she delivered a normal baby girl--and went into the record books as the world's oldest first-time mom. ...
  • The Top 10 Health Worries

    YOU'VE JUST BEEN HANDED your seven-pound bundle of joy and your first reaction is: Help! How do I keep from breaking it? Take heart. Babies may not bounce, but neither do they get a fatal infection if they suck a dirty thumb. Here are the top 10 conditions that parents of 0-to-3s should look out for: ...
  • When A Child's Silence Isn't Golden

    MALINDA Boyd is increasingly worried about her 18-month-old son, Ryan. At 15 months, Ryan said absolutely nothing. Now he has a handful of words--"mama," "dada," "duck," "ball"-but far fewer than the norm for his age. Ryan's pediatrician has suggested that he be tested for a speech delay, but Boyd has resisted, concerned that her son will be labeled developmentally impaired simply because he's not talking as much as his playmates. "I think he'll talk when he's ready," she says. "You've got to give kids a little room to grow and be themselves." ...
  • A Room Of Their Own

    WHO CAN FORGET THE PUBESCENT pain of junior high? Boys sprout pimples, girls sprout attitude and both genders goad each other into a state of sexual confusion. Teachers in Manassas, Va., figured that all these colliding hormones were distracting students from their academic tasks. So officials at Marsteller Middle School decided to try something old: dividing girls and boys into separate academic classes. Eighth-grade girls say they prefer doing physics experiments without boys around to hog the equipment. Boys say they'd rather recite Shakespeare without girls around to make them feel "like geeks." An eerie return to the turn of the century, when boys and girls marched into public schools through separate doors? Yes, say education researchers. But will it work--and is it legal? ...
  • They Log On, But They Can't Log Off

    What would you say about someone who spent 18 hours a day online? Not a research scientist, mind you, but a stay-at-home more from Texas. What if she lied to her husband about the monthly phone bills, as high as $400, she was racking up in her marathon chat sessions-then enlisted a computer hacker to wangle her free access when money ran low? What if you heard that her marriage dissolved and she became estranged from her children as she obsessively tapped away, chewing the fiber-optic fat with her online pals? You might have a few choice words, but Glenda, 43, calls herself an addict. She worries about what's going to happen as more Americans encounter the Internet. "I believe it could be really bad and really dangerous for this country." ...
  • Harvard Held Up

    Women have never had an easy time getting the men who run Harvard to take them seriously. The gender war once centered on such antiquities as male-only dining halls and library stacks. Today the battleground is Harvard's pathetic number of tenured women--one of the nation's worst records. For eight years, the Committee for the Equality of Women at Harvard--an independent group of Radcliffe alumnae--blanketed the school with polite reports and even more polite complaints. Now the members have decided. to take off their white gloves and fight with hard cash. ...