May 31, 2012

Therapeutic, pain-free exercise helps many

Posted in Between Us column, Health at 1:41 am by dinaheng

Performers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles stage popular life-size puppet shows about T. rex and Triceratops dinosaurs five days a week. Carrying their heavy costumes can result in strained muscles or injuries, so the museum decided to try a therapeutic exercise new to many in the United States called neuromuscular activation (Neurac for short).

Developed in Norway, the method uses Redcord equipment — a collection of red-colored cords, loops and slings — that allows the therapist to put patients in various supported positions. Exercises are pain-free because the cord-and-sling setup supports the patient’s body weight while working.

Museum officials sent their performers to Core Conditioning in Studio City, Calif., one of the first physical therapy facilities in the country to offer Redcord and Neurac, for some preventative work.

“They have a lot of performers who get injured as they’re moving around in costumes that weight 100 lbs. or more,” says Gabrielle Shrier, MPT, one of the owners of Core Conditioning. “We brought them in and evaluated them with Redcord. With the Redcord unit, you are able to evaluate the body in its movement, and tease out the areas that need treatment.”

Shrier recommended exercises for the performers, based on the Redcord evaluations, and injuries decreased significantly over the following months.

“In treatment, you’re able to off-load some of the body weight so that you can train the muscle to function at the level it can, then slowly add body weight to get the muscle strength back, “ she adds. “It takes away the compensatory pattern you develop when you’ve had an injury.”

Physical therapists at The Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Gulf Breeze, Fla. have been using the Redcord and Neurac treatment system since 2010.

“The majority of our patients get on it at some point in their treatment,” says Stephen LaPlante, PT, at The Andrews Institute. “We’ll use it on everyone from professional athletes to the elderly. We use it as an adjunct to other treatments, like manual techniques. If I’m moving a patient’s neck, for example, and they have pain every time, I can put them on Redcord and move them for greater range of motion without pain.”

LaPlante says once a patient is in the Redcord setup, the physical therapist may increase the muscle stimuli by tapping the cords while the patient is in a stabilized position.

“You give more feedback to the brain that way, telling the muscles to work here,” LaPlante says. “Within a week’s time, with many people, you can increase functionality. Some of the exercises will hit multiple body parts. The results speak for themselves.”

It’s not easy for new treatments to gain acceptance in any medical community, and  Michael Leonardi, who runs the distributorship for Redcord in the United States, says while Record and the Neurac method have been widely used in more than 30 countries for decades, it’s just starting to gain a foothold in America.

According to Leonardi, the new treatment method is used in hospitals such as Beaumont Hospital in Detroit and the University of Michigan Hospital System in Ann Arbor, as well as at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center.

“Neurac has value in both the rehabilitation and fitness industries,” Leonardi says. “It’s a way for rehabilitation professionals to create wellness programs through functional exercise. It’s a continuum of care, and a great conduit between rehabilitation and fitness.”

At the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center, clinical manager Peter Toohey discovered Neurac and the use of Redcord equipment in 2007 through researching treatment options  online and reading various medical journals.

“Most of our coaching staff is from foreign nations, so I’ve got to stay on top of what’s being used everywhere to see if there’s a performance component,” Toohey says. “Our center concentrates on a majority of the winter sports. I was doing some research on setting up uncontrolled environment tasks in the off-season, and Redcord’s been able to do that for me.”

Toohey does most of the training for the Center’s athletes and says the Neurac method is used for more than rehabilitation. For example, Toohey explains, if a short track speed skater, skier, or ice curler loses form during competition, he or she will slip, needing to stand up and get back into the fray.

“We can put them in the Redcord and train the body to compensate for that slipout,” says Toohey, explaining that athletes can be placed in positions in the slings that force them to find stability in an unstable environment. “We also use Redcord for rehabilitation, but my philosophy is we don’t let athletes get injured. There are athletes who push themselves and crash on tour, and we work on them with Redcord.”

He notes that while many physical therapists use Redcord and the Neurac method primarily for rehabilitation, he predicts the treatment will evolve into a strength and conditioning system as well.

“There’ll be a day, within five years, that Redcord will be all over the country,” Toohey says. “People want more of a wholistic approach to health, and don’t want to just take pills for problems. With Neurac and Redcord, you’re using your body to fix your body.”


May 9, 2012

Expat American finds love in Costa Rica

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Travel, Women at 6:36 pm by dinaheng

An estimated four to six million Americans live abroad. This is one in a series of interviews with American expats, who offer a unique perspective on the world, and a look at life outside the United States that guide books could never capture.

Kristine Jiménez’s connection to Costa Rica started with a love story.

During the second semester of her junior year at Reed College in Portland, Ore., she did a semester abroad at the University of Costa Rica. The first weekend she arrived was also her birthday weekend, so she convinced some friends to go to the beach. The group took a bus to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast, and ended up staying at a hotel called the Cabinas Talamanca, which cost $5 a night.

A month later, the group went back and stayed at the same hotel. It was then that Jiménez met the hotel’s assistant manager.

“My Spanish was mediocre at best, and Eduardo didn’t speak any English, but our connection was electric,” she recalls. “From then on, I traveled between (the university at) San Jose and Puerto Viejo. It was an amazing experience.”

Jiménez returned to Portland to finish her degree, then returned to Costa Rica in 1998. Eduardo had built a bamboo hut on his property, and the two lived there for seven months without running water or electricity, bathing in river water, “until I got a staph infection on my skin and decided I’d had enough of playing Tarzan and Jane,” she laughs. “Besides, my student loans were coming due, and it was time to start thinking about next steps.”

Madly in love, the two wanted to stay together, so when Jiménez moved back to the States, she arranged for a fiance visa for Eduardo, who arrived in Seattle, where Jimenez was living in July 1999. Two months later, the 23-year-olds were married.

The couple stayed in Seattle for six years. Eduardo worked as a carpenter and she did public relations work in corporate America. Then, through a random sequence of events, she discovered the EARTH University Foundation.

EARTH University offers studies in sustainable agriculture and natural resource management, with an emphasis on ethical entrepreneurship, community development, and environmental conservation. Most of its 400 students come from disadvantaged, rural communities around the world. The school’s hope is that after graduation, students will return to their countries to promote social, economic and environmental well-being.

Based in Guacimo, Limon Province, Costa Rica, the campus is in the middle of the tropical rainforest. When Jiménez was offered a job as assistant to Jose Zaglul, the university’s president, she said yes and the couple moved back to Costa Rica in 2005.

“We’re almost finished building a weekend home in the same spot where we had the bamboo hut, and I LOVE what I do,” says Jiménez, who is now director of public relations for EARTH University. “I have a purpose, and in some small way, I am helping to change the world.”

Jiménez, who grew up in Colorado, has a Cuban immigrant mother and a Caucasian father. She says she didn’t grow up speaking Spanish, and thinks her gravitation to Latin America is probably related to her desire to connect with a part of her background she didn’t really experience while growing up in Colorado.

“People’s social networks are fulfilled by family here,” Jiménez says. “My husband has a huge family, and I have a very small family. I find it overwhelming sometimes, but it’s also very comforting to know that so many people are there for you.

“As for cultural differences, people are always late here, and there is a bigger emphasis on appearances. But people are also so incredibly generous with their time, and are always polite.”

Today, the couple has two children — Jacob, 4, and Maya, 2. They live on the EARTH University campus in a three-bedroom house that’s a 10 minute walk from her office and a five minute walk from the elementary school where Jacob attends pre-school. Eduardo does carpentry work, and a nanny watches the children and cleans the house.

“We’re very close to our neighbors here,” she says. “We’re kind of one big family. In the United States, we could go months without talking to our neighbors. Most of us are expats here, so we all rely on one another for our social needs.

“Our kids are growing up here with a lot of peace. They are connected with nature. They are in a safe environment on this campus. They’re being raised fully bi-lingual, and get exposed to a lot of different cultures. There isn’t the pressure for material things that there is in the States.”

She notes there are disadvantages of rearing children in the middle of the rainforest, including the lack of art and sports programs, and an educational system that is adequate, but will probably require some supplemental home schooling.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the United States, and Jiménez is thinking of putting together a video message from her children and herself for her mother, who now lives in Birmingham.

“Maybe we’ll do something ridiculous, like dance to one of her favorite songs,” Jiménez says. “She hasn’t seen the kids since Christmas, so I think it will be a nice gift for her. She taught me to always try my hardest and teach my kids to do the same, and to encourage my kids to be independent. She taught me that I can be successful professionally, and still be a good mom. It’s not always easy, but it can be done.”

And how will she be spending Mother’s Day in Costa Rica?

“Mother’s Day is a national holiday in Costa Rica, only it’s August 15, not in May,” Jiménez explains. “Since my husband is Costa Rican and we’re living in Costa Rica, we will wait to celebrate in August.”

For those who want to visit Costa Rica, Jiménez recommends visiting Puerto Viejo, the beach community where she met her husband and fell in love.

Her favorite restaurants there include Maxi’s in Manzanillo, “a funky family-owned restaurant right on the beach that serves traditional Caribbean food from Costa Rica — kind of a mix between Jamaican and Costa Rican food with lots of coconut;” Cafe Viejo, “a hot spot at night that serves delicious and simple Italian food,” and Pecora Nera, “a high end Italian restaurant that is perhaps the best food I’ve had in Costa Rica. It’s expensive, but well worth it. There are a lot of Italians who have settled in Puerto Viejo.  Thank goodness for that!”

And if you’d like to experience life in the rainforest, EARTH University offers educational tourism packages, and has a hotel on campus, where visitors can stay.  Check out for more information.

May 2, 2012

‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ joins Disney XD

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Television at 10:32 pm by dinaheng

Super heroes are every child’s favorite role model. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.)

One of the most endearing — and enduring — super heroes is now flying high on Disney XD’s new animated series “Ultimate Spider-Man” from Marvel Animation.

In this series, 16-year-old Peter Parker (voiced by Drake Bell) is juggling the life of a teenager at Midtown High School with best friends, Mary-Jane Watson and Harry Osborn, who are clueless to his alter-ego identity of Spider-Man.

When Nick Fury (Chi McBride), head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) recruits him to join an elite group of four other teenage super heroes, Parker discovers how much he has to learn about discipline and honing his skills as an action hero.

“Usually, when we see Spider-Man, he’s a bit older,” says Joe Quesada, chief creative officer for Marvel. “This show chronicles his life as a teenager. He may have to deal with a chemistry test, as well as any test Nick Fury may give him. This is the first time we also see him in situations where he’s part of a team.”

The team, in this case, includes Nova (Sam Alexander), White Tiger (Ava Ayala), Power Man (Luke Cage) and Iron Fist (Danny Rand). Together, they battle to defeat evil villains in the Marvel Universe.

“It’s the kind of show that can be aimed at the family,” Quesada says. “Kids 6 to 8, in particular, will have a blast with it.”

Super heroes in the Marvel Universe were created in the early 1940s when the popularity of comic books was at its height. In the 1960s, Stan Lee modernized the idea of super heroes in collaboration with several artists, creating Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and many other characters. (Stan Lee, by the way, plays Stan the Janitor on the show.)

“There’s always been an ebb and flow with the popularity of super heroes,” Quesada says. “Right now, comics are popular in all mediums. Hollywood’s looking at our source material as great fodder for movies. The Marvel movies are part of the Disney family. They appeal to a mainly male audience, and Disney was looking for a foothold in this boys-male arena. We have a long list of female super heroes, too.

He says that super heroes embody an ideal of the best in humanity, but the appeal of these characters lie in the fact that when they fail, they dust themselves off and try again.

“Spider-Man is not all powerful,” Quesada says. “He’s very human. Stan Lee looked at their alter-egos The person inside the costume is what’s most important. There are many lessons you can learn from Peter Parker and Spider-Man — never give up, even when things are dark; there are ways to solve problems, and with great power comes great responsibility.”

New episodes of “Ultimate Spider-Man” air Sundays at 11 a.m., ET/PT on Marvel Universe on Disney XD.