Geoffrey Cowley

Stories by Geoffrey Cowley

  • Sharper Focus On The Breast

    She was already worried, but as Betsy Lambert watched her surgeon consult the other women in the recovery room, she knew it was going to get worse. Two months earlier, the 48-year-old lawyer had noticed a hardness in one breast. A standard breast X-ray, or mammogram, showed no sign of trouble, but when the hardness persisted, she demanded a surgical biopsy. The surgeon was now telling Lambert's fellow patients their suspicious masses were benign. But when she got to Lambert, the last of six, she looked her in the eye and lowered her voice. "Can I see you in my office for a minute?" she asked. The biopsy, it turned out, had revealed something the X-ray had missed: a tumor nearly an inch in diameter. ...
  • Introducing 'Robodoc'

    Dr. William Bargar is an old hand at hip replacement. Like any orthopedic surgeon, he routinely hacks the damaged ball off the end of a patient's thighbone and installs a metal substitute. It's a tricky operation, but as Bargar is now busy demonstrating, M.D.s are not uniquely qualified to perform it. In the midst of a recent hip replacement, Bargar stepped back at a critical point and let an assistant take over. The assistant was a 250-pound robot. The machine, known as Robodoc, did nothing heroic; its role was limited to carving a recess in the end of the thighbone to make way for the implant. But the operation was the first ever performed, even in part, by an automaton-and the frontier it opened could extend far beyond hip surgery. ...
  • THE QUEST FOR A CANCER VACCINE

    When Edwina Schreiber showed up at the National Cancer Institute three years ago, her illness was already far beyond the reach of conventional therapy. Malignant melanoma, a cancer justly famous for its virulence, had spread to more than 30 sites in her body, from the inside of her arm to the roof of her mouth. Tumors were devouring her lungs and tonsils, and one had burst through her palate, hindering her ability to swallow. Instead of making futile gestures with radiation and chemotherapy, Dr. Steven Rosenberg, the NCI's chief of surgery, enrolled the young Atlanta woman in an audacious experiment. With her consent, he cultivated vast numbers of her own white blood cells in laboratory dishes and gave them back to her as medicine, hoping they would mount an all-out attack on her tumors. They did. ...
  • A Needle Instead Of A Knife

    Margaret Walker was relieved this winter when a surgical biopsy showed that the suspicious spot on her mammogram wasn't breast cancer. Unfortunately, the test left her feeling like an accident victim. First a radiologist ran a guide wire into her breast to pinpoint the lesion. Three hours later she was wheeled into the operating room, where a surgeon dug into her breast to retrieve a tissue sample and then closed the wound with sutures. "I was home for several days, " she says. "I suffered a lot of pain, and I'll always have a scar. " The bill exceeded $5,000. ...
  • A New Face For An Old Nemesis

    Tuberculosis. The word conjures up faded images of 19th-century sanatoriums. Once America's leading cause of death, TB was subdued by potent new drugs during the 1950s and all but forgotten by 1980. Now, thanks to AIDS, poverty and a collapsing health-care system, the old scourge is returning in new attire. The caseload has exploded in some East Coast cities, and recent outbreaks have involved deadly new strains. Last summer health officials reported that drug-resistant TB had swept through four hospitals in New York and Miami, killing many of the 147 patients it struck. And New York prison officials disclosed last week that a new TB strain has caused 14 deaths at two state facilities. Patients and prisoners aren't the only ones in danger. As prison commissioner Thomas Coughlin observes, "Their health problems reflect those faced by the community at large." ...
  • Money Madness

    Sid Harrell, a retired Army medical technician in Live Oak, Texas, was chewing a pork chop in front of the television one evening last April when he looked out the front window and saw a pair of beefy private-security agents confronting his wife and his 14-year-old grandson, Jeremy. The men announced that the child would have to come with them. Mrs. Harrell asked why, but they weren't sure themselves. "You'll have to call Colonial Hills," one of them explained. ...
  • Hard Times For Halcion

    Halcion may induce drowsiness in insomniacs, but it's causing an epidemic of heartburn among government officials. Reports of severe side effects--from anxiety and memory loss to hallucinations and violent behavior-have dogged the world's leading sleep medication ever since The Upjohn Co. introduced it in the late '70s. Upjohn officials have long maintained that their own large studies vindicate Halcion. But last week, after reviewing previously undisclosed data from those studies, British health officials imposed an immediate ban on the drug. Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are now reviewing the British action, and though no one is predicting a U.S. ban, Halcion's days as a best seller may well be numbered. ...
  • A Clue To Chronic Fatigue

    Researchers have long been intrigued, and a bit unnerved, by a family of microbes known as spuma or "foamy" viruses. These agents, which infect such diverse creatures as cats, cows, monkeys, hamsters and humans, are toxic to cells in a test tube. Yet infected animals often appear perfectly healthy-and the virus is so rare in humans that its effects are largely unknown. That could now be changing. Dr. W. John Martin, chief of immunopathology at the University of Southern California, has tentatively linked the mysterious microbe to an equally enigmatic illness: chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). ...
  • Sweet Dreams Or Nightmare?

    When officer Reg Browne walked into the room, 83-year-old Mildred Coats was stretched out on her bed, clutching a cheery birthday card in her left hand. Several towels had been placed gently around her head to absorb the blood from spilling from eight gun shot wounds. Anticipating a heated domestic dispute, Browne had donned a bulletproof vest before leaving the sheriff's office in Hurricane, Utah. But he didn't get a chance to use it. The old woman's daughter, 57-year-old Ilo Grundburg, was waiting calmly to hand him a written confession. "I didn't kill her because I didn't love her," Grundburg explained. "I loved her very much." ...
  • Special Issue: How Kids Grow Children In Peril

    Children have never had it easy. A fair proportion have always been beaten, starved, raped or abandoned, and until quite recently even the loved ones faced daunting obstacles. At the beginning of this century, one American child in 10 didn't live to see a first birthday. Today, thanks to major strides in nutrition, sanitation and medical care, 99 out of 100 survive infancy. Yet astonishing numbers continue to die or suffer needlessly. Nearly one child in four is born into poverty, a formidable predictor of lifelong ill health, and a growing number lack such basic advantages as a home, two parents and regular access to a doctor. Every year thousands die violently, from abuse or preventable accidents. Millions go unvaccinated against common childhood diseases. Millions more are poisoned by cigarette smoke or household lead. ...