Author: Andrea Mooney

For chronic illness, sometimes happiness is the best medicine

Minwa

When her daughter Minwa Alhamad was just a baby, Dalal Alrefaei noticed something: One of Minwa’s legs wouldn’t bend. The little girl didn’t cry or seem to be in pain, but her knee was hot and swollen. After taking her to a hospital near their home in Kuwait City, doctors told Dalal that Minwa may have had the flu and prescribed ibuprofen.

Symptoms improved slightly over the next few days but when Minwa began to walk, Dalal noticed that her heel didn’t touch the floor. This time, her doctors said it might be something muscular, but didn’t have an answer. Dalal took Minwa to Germany for another diagnosis, but to no avail. After six years of testing, imaging and intense physical therapy, Minwa’s knee was still troublesome, and the doctors in Germany said they had never seen anything like it.

In 2007, Dalal took Minwa to the doctors for stomach problems and vomiting, and her physician immediately noticed the difference between both her knees, ultimately resulting in a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. After three months of fruitless treatment, her doctor sampled the liquid from the swollen knee and referred them to Boston Children’s Hospital.

Finally in Boston, Lyle Micheli, MD, and Samantha Spencer, MD, diagnosed Minwa with an extremely rare vascular malformation that prohibited her knee from working properly. It also caused her extreme pain, all day and night, prohibiting her from playing with friends, walking or going to school.

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Turning a cancer diagnosis into a chance to help others

Virginia (photo credit Catherine Morris)

Virginia-Finigan Carter has a knack for turning things around.

At 13 years old, she fought through leg pain while preparing for a state gymnastics competition. “I felt a pain in my knee, but I didn’t tell my mother until afterwards because I wanted to compete,” says Virginia.

What she didn’t realize at the time was that her strength and perseverance through the pain would serve her well over the next few years, for a completely different reason.

After explaining the pain during a doctor’s visit, her primary care provider referred her to a local hospital to make sure nothing was torn. While her MRI scan didn’t show a tear, it indicated that Virginia had a cancerous bone tumor called osteosarcoma.

She was quickly referred to Megan Anderson, MD, attending orthopedic surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Bone Program, who understood that Virginia wanted to focus on what she could do, rather than what she couldn’t do.

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Data analysis shows bike helmet laws save young lives

Photo by Michael Bentley

Spring is finally making its way to Boston, and with it comes the wonderful outdoor activities that children wait for all winter. Riding a bike usually tops the list, and new research underscores the importance of wearing helmets—no matter how young the child, how short the ride or how safe the street.

A study in the Journal of Pediatrics, conducted by William P. Meehan III, MD, Lois K. Lee, MD, MPH, Rebekah C. Mannix, MD, MPH, of Boston Children’s Hospital, and Christopher M. Fischer, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, shows that simply having helmet laws in place results in a 20 percent decrease in death rates and injuries for children younger than 16 who had been in bicycle-motor vehicle collisions. Research has already shown that people who wear helmets while riding a bike have an 88 percent lower risk of brain injury; but the first step is getting people to wear those helmets—and having laws can help.

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The race against the female athlete triad

Laura on the track

It’s a common belief among female runners: The lighter you are, the faster you are. It’s also believed that menstrual irregularities, or loss of periods, are a healthy part of competitive training. Neither is true.

That’s precisely what Laura Duff, a senior at Colby College and an avid runner, wishes she knew when she was in high school.

It was during the summer before Laura’s senior year of high school that she became more aware of how she looked. “I don’t know what switched,” she says, “I just became very aware, and started to restrict my eating and be more controlling.”

“I wish I could tell my high school self that worrying about your body isn’t worth it”

While part of her diet was intentional, another part was simply due to the structure of high school. Long days of classes and cross-country practice with little scheduled time for snacks and lunch made it hard to focus on getting enough calories. Soon, her weight started to drop.

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