Recent Newspaper & Online Columns by Kate Scannell MD

How Elizabeth Taylor Saved My Patient

March 27, 2011

Tags: AIDS, Elizabeth Taylor, early HIV epidemic, in memorium, Kate Scannell

By Dr. Kate Scannell
First Published: March 24, 2011

My 20-year old patient had been suffering a slow, painful death expected to occur within the next few days. Alone in his drab room on a county hospital’s AIDS ward in California in the mid-1980s, he had been praying to see his father and mother one final time. He fantasized about them rushing into the hospital, assembling around his deathbed, holding his hands and easing his transition from this world.

He had last seen his parents several years before at the family homestead in the rural south. Standing on the front porch where he had been exiled moments after admitting his homosexuality, he saw his father’s angry face behind the slamming screen door, his mother’s piercing stare through the front window.

But, in the end, he carried those final imagesof his parents to his grave. Neither of them had responded to his pleas for a bedside visit, accepted offers of airfare to California gifted by an AIDS advocacy group, or taken opportunities to speak with their son by phone.

And yet, days before he died, he had the experience of “being saved” by Elizabeth Taylor. He had seen her on television, witnessed her embrace of a gay man with AIDS, and heard her unflinching support for AIDS research to seek cures for people who suffered with HIV infections.

Without first-hand experience of the early AIDS epidemic, it may be difficult now to appreciate Elizabeth Taylor’s heroism back then. (more…)

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The top 10 medical stories of 2010

December 26, 2010

Tags: Top ten medical stories of 2010, top health stories of 2010, swine flu, whooping cough, synthetic life, concussions, FDA, food safety, frozen embros, Avandia, bed bugs, AIDS, health care reform, Kate Scannell

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First Published in Print: 12/26/2010

WHILE THE past year regaled us with a wealth of medical stories, the government's health care reform legislation took center stage. Meanwhile, the swine flu virus whimpered, but a killer bacterium left us with a whooping cough. Scientists created the world's first synthetic organism inside a Petri dish, while old-world bed bugs crawled into our mattresses. A baby was born from a fertilized human egg that had been frozen for two decades, and, following yet another Salmonella epidemic traced to tainted poultry, the FDA finally cracked down on the egg industry.

The swine flu whimpered
The swine flu hogged media attention, panicked millions of people and consumed considerable public health resources. Its causative virus -- H1N1 -- spread throughout the world like a hog on ice, ultimately proving to be much less formidable than experts had predicted. In the bitter end, critics claimed that the World Health Organization (WHO) had exaggerated the danger, fanning public fears about the scarcity of antiviral medications and life-saving medical interventions. An editorial in the British Medical Journal claimed that some experts advising the WHO about the pandemic had financial ties to drug companies that manufactured antivirals and vaccines. Still, the threat of a global pandemic forced governments and health care systems to plan collaboratively for a more coordinated and efficient emergency response to the next public health crisis.

The cough that whooped California
For six decades, whooping cough -- formally known as "pertussis" -- had been rather quiet on the Western front. But in July the CDC reported that six California infants had died from the infection. (more…)

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Back to the AIDS front

December 18, 2010

Tags: AIDS, HIV, epidemic, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, breakthrough, hope, Kate Scannell

By Dr Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First Published in Print: 12/12/2010

LAST WEEK, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Hudson, and Justin Timberlake threatened to "kill " themselves -- that is, on social media like Facebook and Twitter. They vowed to remain "digitally dead" and unavailable for contact until fans resurrected them through a collective million-dollar donation to Alicia Keys' campaign for AIDS relief in Africa and India.

Coming of age as a doctor during the early AIDS epidemic, I was happy to learn about this high-profile effort and its eventual success. But I was particularly gratified because the mainstream news media barely bothered to notice it.

Less than 30 years ago, during the dark pre-digital 1980s, there were no major stars to shine a public light on AIDS and its causative virus, HIV. Celebrities, fearing actual career deaths by association with AIDS, stayed behind the curtain even as the epidemic exacted a devastating human toll on the artistic community.

Most of the known early AIDS patients were young gay men who suffered the social stigma of homosexuality while facing death within months of their diagnoses. Many were contemptuously regarded as plague-bearers, as toxic creatures intent on spreading a frightening and lethal infection throughout decent society. It took 500 HIV deaths before "AIDS" landed on the front page of the New York Times, and 12,000 fatalities before President Ronald Reagan first mentioned "AIDS" in public.

When the epidemic began, we were light years away from compassionate public embrace of people suffering HIV/AIDS.
But now the stars align differently, and famous singers passionately voice support for people afflicted with a once-unspeakable disease. AIDS can command center stage before an attentive and caring public.

This thundering cultural transformation was once completely unimaginable for many socially outcast AIDS patients who were burdened with the hopelessness of the '80s throughout their dying. In my memoir about doctoring during that era, I conclude the book's introduction with the dying wish of a hopeful 22-year-old patient in 1986 -- to live another 10 years, mainly to witness the world arriving at a compassionate understanding of AIDS.

How thunderstruck he would be today to see Lady Gaga "killing herself" on behalf of people with AIDS. (more…)

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