July 26, 2017

Random Acts… Words of sorrow, words of joy

Posted in Books, Entertainment, Health, Women at 1:04 am by dinaheng

My mom died in April. My dad died two months later. The part of me that died with them is just starting to heal.

Each day, Life sends us messages, if we pay attention, the messages offer guidance for how to deal with pain, how to appreciate joyful moments, how to remember that we are not alone.

Sometimes the message comes from a friend who sends flowers, out of the blue. Two arrangements came this week. Or an assignment for work hits you with such synchronicity that you know it’s not a coincidence. My mom died of stomach cancer. I was asked to interview Emmy-nominated actor Ron Cephas Jones, whose character William on NBC’s hit show “This Is Us” died of stomach cancer.

(Here’s a link to that story, if you’re interested… http://www.emmys.org/news/online-originals/celebrating-life .)

The other night, I went to a screening of “Wind River,” a murder mystery starring Jeremy Renner as a wildlife official in Wyoming who’s learned to deal with the death of his teenage daughter, three years earlier. He gives advice to a friend dealing with the death of his daughter, the murder victim, telling him not to block out the pain, because pain is what keeps the memory of loved ones alive.

Today, it is the memories that bring on sadness. I open the weekly advertising circular that comes in the mail, looking at the sales at grocery stores. It reminds me of Mom, who always looked at the circulars, scanning for food items that the family would enjoy, even though she couldn’t swallow solid food anymore.

Whenever we talked on the phone, she would ask, “Have you eaten yet?” To my mom, who once starved in China as a child, the words were the same as saying, “Are you doing okay? I love you.”

Going out to eat lunch was something my dad and I used to do every time I went home for a visit before he became too weak to walk anymore. He’d either want to go to a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, or a fast food place for burgers or roast beef sandwiches. Whenever I drive by a Burger King or Subway, I think of him.

The words he always asked me were, “When are you going to move back home?” In father speak, that meant, “I miss seeing you.”

Last night, I finished reading “The Reluctant Queen” by Sarah Beth Durst (Harper Voyager, $19.99), the latest in a great fantasy series about a world where dangerous spirits and humans coexist only through the magic wielded by its queens.

These are the words of that leapt out of its pages at me…

“I could tell you that time will heal you, but I think that’s a cruel thing to say, because right now, you don’t want time to heal you. You don’t want to forget. Because forgetting means that they’re really gone…

“…I do want you to forget this… the pain that feels as if it’s eating your skin and consuming your soul. I want you instead to remember the moments they made you smile, or cry, the moments they made you feel alive. I want you to honor the ways they shaped who you are and who you will become. For they are a part of you, now and forever.

“… (Your pain) is uniquely yours, and it is all right to feel it fully and deeply for today and for as many days as you need to feel it, until you can feel joy again…”

It’s good to know that Life is always reaching out to us.

 

May 10, 2017

Random Acts… When your mother is gone

Posted in Health, Women at 6:36 pm by dinaheng

My mother passed a few weeks ago.

She fought stomach cancer for more than two years, going through radiation treatments and chemotherapy to eek out one more day with her children and grandchildren.

My sisters and I did our best to take care of her, so that she would be able to die at home when the time came. For the last six months, I have been flying back and forth between Los Angeles and Houston to help out, spending more and more time with her until the end. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.

You never really know what it means to lose a parent until it happens to you. If we’re lucky enough to have parents who are still living, we usually take their presence for granted. Mothers and fathers, after all, are supposed to be the ones whose lives revolve around us.

But when we realize that time with the ones we love is truly limited, everything changes. Suddenly, losing income is not as important as losing precious moments with Mom. Losing the “normalcy” of everyday routines doesn’t matter when you’re needed to take her to the emergency room, again and again.

Losing sleep doesn’t matter when your body instinctively wakes up at 4 a.m. to check and see if Mom needs help to go to the bathroom. Losing your appetite means little when you watch your mother become unable to eat anything that’s not thinly pureed or liquid.

Together, we went through the ups and downs of remission and the return of cancer. I held her hand as she made moaning sounds, unable to talk about her fears, and watched her struggle to get into the wheelchair when she was too weak to walk anymore. Through it all, she never gave up hope of living… one more day.

The week she died, I left Houston on Wednesday, telling her I would be back in two days. She passed the next day. I guess she couldn’t wait for me to return.

The days have been a blur since then. I cry whenever anything reminds me of her. I am grateful that just as she brought my sisters and me into this world, we were able to help her pass into the next.

This Mother’s Day, a friend — who also recently lost her mom — and I will be having lunch together to celebrate our mothers. I’m sure we’ll both have plenty of memories to laugh and cry about.

That’s what happens when you live life to the fullest.

 

January 23, 2017

Random Acts… Everyone should attend Festival of Human Abilities

Posted in Art, Diversity, Entertainment, Health, Travel at 5:37 pm by dinaheng

Why does an aquarium have an annual festival featuring performances that showcase the creativity of people with disabilities?

“It’s all part of our outreach to many communities,” explains Peter Martineau, marketing events manager for the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif. “Our mission is about taking care of the animals, the ocean and the ecosystem by getting people engaged to accomplish that mission.”Dinah Eng

So in addition to cultural festivals that celebrate people from diverse racial backgrounds, the Aquarium decided to create an event highlighting the talents of those with disabilities. The great thing about these events is that people from all walks of life attend and learn from each other.

This year, the Aquarium’s 14th Annual Festival of Human Abilities (Jan. 28-29) will feature hip hop wheelchair dancers (Auti Angel, The Rollettes, and Infinite Flow); a sign language choir; Kodi Lee, a singer who is blind and has autism; Dat Nguyen, a guitarist who is blind, and other inspiring performers.

Along with music and dance, the event will include art demonstrations, like the making of mouth-stick art by local artists with disabilities. Diveheart, an organization that takes people with disabilities scuba diving, will do a talk and take divers into an Aquarium exhibit.

Free creative workshop classes, lasting 30 to 45 minutes, will teach participants how to sing in sign language, create wheelchair art, paint a hat, or try hip hop wheelchair dancing. The Aquarium will also give audio tours for guests who are blind.

Auti Angel gives a wheelchair dancing performance at the 13th Annual Aquarium of the Pacific's Festival of Human Abilities. Photo courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Auti Angel gives a wheelchair dancing performance at the 13th Annual Aquarium of the Pacific’s Festival of Human Abilities. Photo courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific.

“We all have challenges in our lives, and whether you have a disability or not, you’ll find yourself inspired by these performances,” Martineau says. “We usually get about 7,000 attendees each day, and one of the most powerful things is the opportunity for people who don’t have disabilities to feel comfortable around those who do.

“The more you can talk to someone and hang out with them, the more you realize that that person’s a human being you can talk to. Everyone at the festival is getting the ocean conservation message, and it’s going to take a diverse world of people to make it happen.”

Admission to the festival costs $29.95 for adults (12 years and older), $26.95 for seniors (62 and older); $17.95 for children 3 to 11; and is free for children ages 3 and younger. Members of the Aquarium are admitted free of charge.

For more information, check out http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/events/info/festival_of_human_abilities/.

 

 

 

November 29, 2015

Random Acts… Angels live among us

Posted in Health, Spirituality at 10:46 pm by dinaheng

When my nephew Mark was born, most friends would look delighted at the news. Then, when they learned that he had Down Syndrome, the first words they’d utter would be, “I’m sorry.”

After it happened two or three times, I started getting angry. I knew that people were trying to express sympathy for a child who would face many challenges in life, but they had no idea of the joy that lives in his heart.

As a toddler, Mark would stand and hold onto the side of the sofa, swaying to the beat of whatever music he heard. Before he could utter a word, he was dancing.Dinah Eng

Every holiday season, this is the child who reminds me that angels live among us. Down Syndrome can cause speech difficulties, and we can see Mark’s frustration when he’s trying to communicate and can’t get his point across to us. Many people just give up trying to understand others when there’s a communication gap.

But Mark rarely gives up. He keeps talking and talking, and usually finds a way to let us know what he’s thinking. When we just don’t get it, he just sighs and moves on to something else, forgiving those of us with “normal” speech for being too dumb to understand.

You see, Mark is one of the smartest people I know. At 11 years old, he understands sign language, English, Chinese, and a little Spanish. He loves music, and while he’s totally tone deaf, he sings everything with gusto. A couple of years ago, while sitting in a restaurant, he heard Idina Menzel singing “Let It Go,” one of his favorite tunes from the movie “Frozen.”

Without missing a beat, he stood up on the bench seat and starting belting out, “Let it go! Let it go! … Here I stand, in the light of day. Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway!”

Everyone in the restaurant turned to watch, with a smile on every face. Living life with unbridled joy is something Mark teaches every day.

There is so much to admire in my nephew. He’s the kid who wears compassion on his sleeve, wanting to help Grandma put on her socks to stay warm. His sense of humor is constant, telling anyone who asks his age that “I’m 15.” When I asked why he wanted to be 15, he said, “So I can sit in the front seat in the car.”

That’s not to say that challenges don’t exist. When his cousins were younger, they didn’t know what to make of Mark, so would ignore him until an adult urged them to include him in their play. I could see the hurt on Mark’s face, and I hurt inside, too.

Over time, his cousins learned to accept Mark for who he is. Now they play and watch TV together without hesitation.

As he grows older, I know there will be others who don’t take the time to get to know Mark, and it will be their loss.

Angels have a lot to teach us, but only if we recognize them.

December 19, 2014

Random Acts… How we ignore the cancer epidemic

Posted in Health at 4:04 am by dinaheng

A close relative and I have a running joke that we always eat the same things, so we have no idea what to make for dinner. But over the last few months, my relative has been eating less and less.

She found it hard to keep food down, and it became increasingly hard to swallow. After trying acid reducers to no avail, she decided to see a doctor. The diagnosis was stomach cancer. We’re now waiting for her test results to be evaluated, and a treatment regime to begin.

No one wants to think about scary diseases like cancer – until it happens to you, or someone you love. In the last three years, one of my aunts had liver cancer, another aunt had breast cancer; a male friend was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a girlfriend with ovarian cancer. The day I told my friend Jonelle about this latest relative’s cancer, Jonelle told me that she has colon cancer.Dinah Eng

Is it just coincidence, or is cancer the epidemic we’re quietly ignoring?

Based on rates from 2009 to 2011, nearly 41 percent of Americans born today will be diagnosed with cancer at some time during their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. Forty-one percent.

We screamed in panic when victims of the Ebola virus came to the United States for treatment for the disease that has no known cure. Three months later, when the country was declared free of known Ebola cases, two victims had died, and the public uproar quickly subsided.

Are we so used to hearing about various cancers that we’ve become blasé about their existence? Do we now ignore the rigor and side effects of cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery because we’re not the ones having to endure them?

Forty-one percent of the U.S. population will not be able to ignore the ramifications of cancer in the coming years. If cancer has not touched your life, it will probably affect someone you know or love. Researchers say there are many potential causes for the disease – a polluted environment, poor diet, genetics, and the ever-present “unknown” factors.

I’m a huge believer in the mind-body-spirit connection. In order to stay healthy, we have to take care of ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. If any one of those areas is out of whack, we’re more likely to get sick. Yet trying to stay healthy as an individual isn’t enough when many businesses are focused on making profits, often by ignoring the ways their practices and products affect our air, water, and food supply.

I have no idea how close we are to finding the cure for various cancers, but I have no doubt that drug companies don’t want to lose the profits made from drugs currently on the market, and take every opportunity to charge what the market will bear for new treatments.

For example, in a recent 60 Minutes interview with Dr. Leonard Saltz, chief of gastrointestinal oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Saltz noted that in 2012, the leading cancer center rejected the use of Zaltrap, a drug for treating advanced colon cancer, because the new drug’s cost was twice that of Avastin, another drug already on the market.

Research showed that when given with chemotherapy, Zaltrap’s results were the same as Avastin, with no fewer side effects or particular benefits to explain its cost of $11,000 per month, more than twice the cost of using Avastin at $5,000.

After the Sloan Kettering decision was reported in The New York Times, the manufacturer of Zaltrap cut the drug’s price in half.

Yes, companies need to – and should – make a reasonable profit, no matter what they sell. But controlling the cost of medicine and hiding behind phrases like “the high cost of innovation,” is simply preying on sick people who have no choice but to pay the price, or die.

Why is cancer so prevalent now? The reasons are many, including the fact that we’re living longer, and our bodies tend to break down over time. Dealing with this is not easy – for the patients, their caregivers, or the medical community. If there is a blessing in all this, it is the opportunity that cancer creates to look deeply at ourselves, as individuals and as a society.

“My personal journey has taken me through the dark night of the soul to a deep gratitude for all of life’s blessings,” says my friend Robin, who is currently undergoing treatment for uterine cancer. “This unwelcome life class has taught me many things – particularly about what courage means, and the importance of being positive and helping yourself through the practical aspects of illness.”

The more cancer pervades our society, the more we will be forced to confront what our priorities really are. What can we do to address this illness and not just cure it, but prevent its occurrence? More than 41 percent of us should be asking that question. We all should be talking about the changes we have to make — as individuals and as businesses — to stem this quiet epidemic, before it’s too late.

November 26, 2013

Kids Vision for Life gives eyeglasses to needy students

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Health at 11:41 pm by dinaheng

If a student can’t see the blackboard, it’s likely to affect his or her ability to learn.

Through Kids Vision for Life, a project initiated by the Essilor Vision Foundation, students in a growing number of states are getting access to free vision screenings and free eyeglasses, which educators say is making a difference in the classroom.Dinah Eng

The project, which launched in 2008, is backed by Essilor of America, a division of the world’s largest eyeglass lens manufacturer, the Alcon Foundation, Safilo, Lions Clubs International, and other partners.

“It’s incredible to see the need,” says Patrick Esquerré, a board member of Kids Vision for Life and founder of La Madeleine, a chain of French bakery-restaurants in the United States. “People make the connection between literacy, good education, a safe society, and a productive economy, but few people make the connection between having good vision and literacy. You have to be able to see to read.”

According to a 2002 report by the American Optometric Association, 20 percent of all school age children in the United States needed glasses, and 90 percent of those who needed glasses, didn’t have them.

Esquerré says he was tapped by Hubert Sagnieres, chairman and CEO of Essilor, to help launch the student outreach project because of La Madeleine’s involvement in various community volunteer efforts, ranging from support for PBS to local food banks. Today, Esquerré, chairman of the development and expansion committee, travels the country, putting together local coalitions with community and vision-related organizations under the Kids Vision for Life umbrella.

Kids Vision for Life mobile clinic. Photo courtesy of Kids Vision for Life.

Kids Vision for Life mobile clinic. Photo courtesy of Kids Vision for Life.

The project began operating in Texas, with local partnerships organized in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and nearby areas, then expanded to include Southern California and the Atlanta and St. Louis areas. A push to establish a cluster of communities in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore corridor is also underway.

“We go to schools with mobile clinics, which have two optometrists who take care of the children at the schools,” Esquerré explains. “After their exams, the kids can pick out cool frames for their glasses. We make 60 percent of the glasses in the mobile clinics, and 40 percent go to a lab, which makes higher prescription glasses.”

In some areas, community centers may host an event, where 10 to 15 area optometrists will be on-site to examine the children’s vision. More than 56,000 pairs of eyeglasses have been distributed to needy students to date.

Esquerré says the effort has been praised by educators, who notice that getting eyeglasses benefits more than just the student who sees better.

“The principal at an elementary school in Dallas noticed that fourth grade test scores went up two years ago after students received their eyeglasses,” Esquerré says. “In most schools, nurses screen the kids for vision problems, but parents can’t always afford the eyeglasses. We’re excited about bringing this project to everyone who needs help.”

For more info on Kids Vision for Life, check out http://www.kidsvisionforlife.org/.

June 24, 2013

It’s all a matter of ‘Perception’

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Health, Television at 5:34 pm by dinaheng

How we see the world depends on our point of view. On TNT’s hit drama “Perception,” Dr. Daniel Pierce is a professor of neuroscience and a paranoid schizophrenic, who sees the world in ways that help the FBI solve crimes.

Pierce, played by Eric McCormack, has a brilliant mind, able to see patterns that most of us don’t. At the same time, he experiences hallucinations that cause him to behave in odd, irrational ways.Dinah Eng

“Initially, the challenge for me was to get it right, to portray the mental disorder with its symptoms correctly, and to get the neuroscience right,” says McCormack, perhaps best known for his roleas Will in NBC’s “Will and Grace.” “I also wanted to make the character someone you want to spend time with. Reading Elyn Sach’s book, ‘The Center Cannot Hold,’ really helped me achieve that.”

The show, which starts its second season at 10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, June 25 has been acclaimed for bringing the issue of schizophrenia to light, and putting a human face on a condition that is not easily understood.

Through the character of Pierce, viewers have met an intelligent, unpredictable crime solver who has an underlying vulnerability and warmth that all can relate to. Despite the professor’s fears and need to cling to his Sony walkman, inside, he wants the love and approval we all want.

Eric McCormack plays Dr. Daniel Pierce on TNT's "Perception." Photo courtesy of ABC Studios/Trae Patton.

Eric McCormack plays Dr. Daniel Pierce on TNT’s “Perception.” Photo courtesy of ABC Studios/Trae Patton.

“Mental illness is the great unknown,” McCormack says. “It’s one of the last taboos —  after race, the sexual revolution and sexual orientation — the one thing we’re afraid of. To the guy on the street, muttering to himself; in his mind, someone exists. He could be your father or your brother.

“When someone picks up a gun and kills several people, we say he’s crazy, like the act  couldn’t have been avoided. But it could have been, with more attention. We need more compassion for those who are mentally ill.”

The audience drawn to this show is an intelligent one, he notes, wanting mysteries that have an extra twist and turn. The hero, in this case, is not just a damaged man, but a complex, passionate person whose battles often mirror our own.

McCormack gives some clues to what’s in store for Pierce this season beyond solving more crimes with FBI Special Agent Kate Moretti (Rachel Leigh Cook), who’s also his  former student. At the end of last season, Pierce struggled with whether to take medication for his disorder, and discovered that his imaginary best friend Natalie Vincent (Kelly Rowan) was based on Dr. Caroline Newsome (also played by Rowan), a  woman he’d developed an infatuation with while in college who is now Pierce’s psychiatrist.

“Beyond solving a crime, Pierce is now navigating a love life with his disorder,” McCormack says. “A lot of people have responded to the Pierce/Moretti relationship, but it’s a risk with the teacher-student relationship. Now that he has Caroline, he’s facing that question of ‘What if you could have your fantasy girl? Which would you choose?’ “

Tune in to “Perception” on TNT to find out.

April 25, 2013

Giving aid to homeless becomes a passion

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Spirituality, Women at 12:41 am by dinaheng

About 20 years ago. Pearl Huber would take her sons — then ages 3, 5 and 7 — to a Los Angeles neighborhood park to play. While the kids ran on the playground, Huber noticed that homeless families were living there at night.

That December, the Hubers decided to bring Christmas to two families in the park, so Pearl, her husband Terry, and their sons wrapped up food, toiletries and some gifts to take to the families who had none.Dinah Eng

“It made quite an impact on the boys,” says Huber, who was a stay-at-home mom at the time. “After that, we starting doing things at Thanksgiving, Easter, and other holidays, and it made us aware of how many homeless are out there. We started keeping sack lunches in our car to give out. We’d make a peanut butter sandwich, and put it with an apple, a toothbrush, and a bar of soap.”

In 2008, Huber decided to establish a 501(c)(3) non-profit to expand the family’s outreach to more homeless people, and HopeMill, Inc. was born.

“HopeMill’s named after my mom,” explains Huber, executive director of the organization. “My maiden name is Hope, and her name was Mildred. Her brother always called her Mill. She was born in China, where her parents were Lutheran missionaries, and lived there until she was 12. She returned to China as a missionary in her 20s.”

Clearly, the desire to help others was passed down to Huber, who shows what one woman can do to make a difference in the lives of many whom society ignores. From two families in a park, HopeMill has grown to help an estimated 2,000 homeless people a year.

Volunteers with Adat Ari El in Valley Village, Calif. assemble Hope Mill CarePacks for a Mitzvah Day project.

Volunteers with Adat Ari El in Valley Village, Calif. assemble Hope Mill CarePacks for a Mitzvah Day project.

Based in Encino, Calif., the non-profit puts together backpacks filled with essentials that are distributed to homeless individuals, missions, and shelters in California. Essentials include items like non-perishable food, water, hygiene packets with toilet paper, laundry detergent, soap, bandages, toothbrush, blanket, and more.

“It’s the kind of things you’d need if you were suddenly without a home,” Huber notes. “People assume there are resources, and if people wanted to get off the street, they could. But that’s not the case. Here, there are probably fewer than 900 shelter beds available in the San Fernando Valley, and more than 7,000 homeless people in need.”

She says while there’s a stereotype of the homeless being drug addicts or alcoholics, most do not fall in that category, and would love to find a way out of their predicament. Homelessness affects families with young children, teens, veterans… in other words, everyone. The reasons run the gamut from job loss, foreclosures, domestic violence to you name it.

“It doesn’t take much to make someone homeless,” Huber says. “A house could burn down, or a medical catastrophe could bankrupt you. We carry a couple of backpacks in our car, and one day, I met a woman in a gas station who was clearly trying to wash up there, so I gave her one. She started to cry, saying no one had ever given her anything before.”

Hope Mill CarePack includes donated essentials.

Hope Mill CarePack includes donated essentials.

Giving to the homeless, wherever you are, could be such an easy thing. All it takes is noticing a need, and stopping to help. Not everyone will care enough to start an organization like HopeMill, but every act of kindness makes a tangible difference.

“I know we’re not going to change the world by doing this,” Huber says. “But if we can help someone a little, it matters. It’s a small thing that can touch many people.”

To make a cash or in-kind donation to HopeMill, check out http://www.hopemill.com/.

December 29, 2012

Less-expensive vascular screenings fill niche

Posted in Between Us column, Health at 5:27 pm by dinaheng

With an aging population looking to stay healthy without depleting their wallets, the business of offering preventative screenings at affordable prices is growing. But how helpful such screenings are depends on many factors.

According to an IBISWorld Industry Report, released in September, revenue for the diagnostic and medical laboratory industry has grown at an average of 2 percent annually to $48 billion during the five years leading to 2012, and is forecast to increase at an average rate of 4.5 percent per year to $59.8 billion by 2017.Dinah Eng

More than 700,000 strokes a year occur in the United States, many without warning, says Dr. Andrew Manganaro, chief medical officer for Life Line Screening of Independence, Ohio, which offers mobile vascular screenings in the United States and the United Kingdom. For those who have health issues that can lead to a stroke, taking the proper drugs and behavioral changes may help prevent one, if the issue is discovered early enough, he said.

“But a person can also walk around with problems and show no symptoms,” said Manganaro, a retired cardio-vascular and thoracic surgeon from the Dayton, Ohio, area. “These problems can be identified immediately with a non-invasive ultrasound, but in general, these screenings are not covered by insurance companies because most won’t cover testing unless a person has symptoms.

“So physicians are in a quandary. If you have a patient with risk factors, you can’t order that ultrasound and have it paid for by insurance. Patients may have problems with the carotid artery and not know about it.”

Manganaro said Life Line Screening offers a battery of tests starting at $139, which would cost thousands if done in a hospital. Instead of going to a medical facility, Life Line mobile units go to a community location, such as church halls or recreation centers, and set up testing there. The company screens a million patients a year, and test results are reviewed and interpreted by board-certified physicians.

“Part of the reason we can do it so affordably is because of volume,” he said. “Also, the efficacy of performing these tests outside insurance companies means the costs are less. These are screenings, and not diagnostic exams, so the savings can be passed on to the patient.”

Whether vascular screenings are useful or not depends on the patient and the risk, says Dr. Daniel Stone, medical director of Cedars-Sinai Health Associates in Beverly Hills, Calif., and a practicing internist.

“There are people who can benefit from these screenings, but it’s like the law of unintended consequences,” Stone said. “With healthy people, you want to be sure you do no harm. Back in the 1980s, when CT scans became popular, you saw a lot of body scans offered, but you don’t see that anymore.

“The scans ended up leading to more tests and procedures that weren’t helpful and sometimes even proved harmful. Once people get on a medical test treadmill it can be hard to get off. You have to look at the implications downstream, which are not always apparent.”

Stone says carotid artery screening is one of the most controversial topics in medicine. In the United States, he notes, there are many unnecessary carotid surgeries done because patients are afraid of getting a stroke.

More than half of the 140,000 carotid surgeries and stent procedures performed in the United States each year are done for patients without symptoms, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in a 2010 report.

Many blockages, Stone says, can be addressed with diet, exercise and the proper drugs. For those who have no symptoms, risk factors should be assessed before getting a screening.

“If you’re a man who’s a smoker, age 65 or older, and have hypertension, screening for an abdominal aortic aneurysm makes sense,” Stone said. “In women, the risk is very low. For a woman who has normal blood pressure and doesn’t smoke, that screening makes no sense.”

He says those who are interested in assessing their 10-year risk of having a heart attack can take a free online survey offered by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute at http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/atpiii/calculator.asp.

“Most people who have no symptoms would be better off addressing the risk factors, rather than getting a screening,” Stone says. “Stop smoking, address cholesterol issues, exercise more. Patients should always talk to their doctor first to see if a screening is worth doing.”

(By Dinah Eng. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, shns.com.)

November 20, 2012

Blissful relaxation comes with getaway

Posted in Between Us column, Dining, Health, Travel, Women at 4:08 pm by dinaheng

Nothing defines a weekend getaway for me more than having no plans, no deadlines, and no pressure to be anything but lazy.

On the second day of a girlfriends’ weekend at the Arizona Biltmore, my friend Jonelle rose with the sun while I stayed in bed till 8 a.m. When I finally join her in the Ocatilla lounge for breakfast, she’s going out on the patio to feed a stray cat some milk. After I get some juice and danish, I join her at a table outside.

It’s a beautiful fall morning, and work is the farthest thing from our minds. Instead, our conversation centers around the meaning of our lives. Both of us have had near-death experiences, though we didn’t really share them until this weekend.

At 18, I was driving in the rain when a school bus stopped suddenly. The car behind it stopped short of hitting the bus, but I skidded into the back of the car. I felt myself rise out of my body, and looked down at my body, covered with blood. I heard a voice that said, “It’s not time for you to go yet. There are still things you have to do.”

I was then jerked back into my body. I’ll never forget the feeling of being encased in skin again. The experience set me on a path to explore the meaning of life, why we are here, and how to heal our wounds.

For Jonelle, the experience happened at age 20 on her first mountain climb.

“I got hypothermia climbing Mt. Rainier, fell in the snow, and didn’t want to get up,” she shares. “We were in a snowstorm and set up a tent. It was a group climb, and we were at 11,000 feet. I experienced being above the storm, and could see my body and the others in the group. I felt it was perfectly fine to move on without being involved in the scenario below, but also knew that I could complete something within this body, if I could hang on.

“I had to calm my heart down to regulate it, and force myself to breathe. There was no separation between me and the universe. Meditation’s the only thing I’ve done that’s expanded that. If I lose my life tomorrow, I can say I’ve found my true nature, even if it is just a baby glimpse.”

Not many people can say that, particularly since our daily lives usually keep our focus on what’s right in front of us. For the last six months, Jonelle’s focus has been on recovering from her hip surgery.

“I had to put things in perspective,” Jonelle says. “By focusing less on myself, I naturally opened myself to the rest of the world. When I was focused on my pain, I had to remember that pain is not a permanent state, just like happiness isn’t permanent. When you’re happy or suffering, both have ebbs and flows.”

Fire pit outside Ocatilla lounge

After a long, thoughtful conversation, we decide to focus on our surroundings and take a walk around the hotel. The property, which boasts two 18-hole golf courses, tennis courts, life-size lawn chess and other recreational activities, feels like a playground you would never tire of enjoying.

We poke our heads into a row of boutiques off the main building, which offer everything from sunglasses and apparel to jewelry and gifts. The stores are filled with fun finds, but none that cause us to open our wallets.

After lunch, we enjoy the highlight of the day — massages at the Biltmore Spa. Built in 1998, the spa, fitness center and beauty salon offer an array of services designed to pamper and relax.

After changing in the women’s locker room, we wait in a relaxation lounge for our massage therapists to come get us. Both of us choose to get the Hands of Healing Massage, a 50-minute treatment combining Swedish movements with other techniques for relaxation and well-being ($135).

Spa at Arizona Biltmore

Yunven, the massage therapist who works on me, is amazing. Not only does she work out all the knots in my body, she shares insights and health tips that make me grateful to have met her.

“In the last couple of years, I’ve seen more men come for treatments than women,” she notes. “Women have taught them to take care of themselves, yet we don’t always take care of ourselves enough.

After our massages, Jonelle and I lounge a bit in the steam room area before dressing. While the treatments were wonderful, the spa itself is in need of renovation and expansion, so we didn’t linger.

For dinner that evening (and lunch the next day before leaving), we eat at Frank & Albert’s, a lovely restaurant that serves comfort food with organic produce from local suppliers. We’re seated in the outdoor patio area by a warm fire, and take a deep breath, the weekend nearly over.

Jonelle orders Garlicky Hummus ($11.65) and Angel Hair Pasta ($17.85), while I get the Crispy Salmon Filet ($32.55) and a side order of Mac & Cheese ($6.75) and the Waldorf Gala Apple Salad ($11.55), a different version from the original recipe, to taste.

The salmon was delicious, as was the Waldorf Gala Apple Salad. Unfortunately, both Jonelle and I found the angel hair pasta and Mac & Cheese too salty for our taste. Since we both have sweet tooths, the best part of the meal came last, as Jonelle swooned over the Butterscotch Pudding ($7) and I finished all four of the miniatures on the Sundae Tasting Menu, with the Caramel Banana and Butter Pecan Brittle my favorites ($7).

Frank & Albert’s

Service here is exemplary. For lunch the next day, Jonelle craved a Portobello Burger and Sweet Potato Fries ($14). While it wasn’t on the menu at Frank & Albert’s, the wait staff got it for her from the kitchen that handles guest room dining, where it was on the room service menu.

It’s that kind of care that has no doubt given the Arizona Biltmore its “Jewel of the Desert” reputation. Before leaving, I take a history tour of the hotel, which is offered every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 10 a.m., complimentary for hotel guests.

Becky Blaine, the resort historian and public relations and marketing manager, gives a fascinating glimpse of the landmark hotel that opened in 1929. We visit the Biltmore History Room, once the hotel library, that holds items ranging from a wake-up call clock for hotel operators to an original desk designed by Warren MacArthur, one of the hotel’s original owners.

“Irving Berlin wrote ‘White Christmas’ when he stayed here in 1939, and Marilyn Monroe called the Catalina Pool her favorite,” Blaine shares. “Every U.S. President since Herbert Hoover has stayed here, and we’re working on getting President Obama to come.”

When it’s time to pack up and leave, Jonelle and I are both sad — to leave the Biltmore, and each other. Even though it was a quick weekend trip, we are nourished by the time spent together. We know we’ll stay close, even when far apart, because our hearts are connected.

It may be time to get back to work, but living a meaningful life means spending time with  the friends and family you love, speaking from the heart, and feeling what connects us as human beings.

As Jonelle puts it, “What’s in your heart will always be heard. Maybe not by the people you want to hear it, or expect to hear it, but it will be heard. It just has to come from the heart. If something remains intellectual and never becomes part of your heart, how can anyone hear you?”

So stop procrastinating, and plan your weekend getaway.

Rates at the Arizona Biltmore change seasonally, and range from $99 to $229 for classic guest rooms. Ocatilla rates range from $149 to $299. For more information, check out http://www.arizonabiltmore.com/.

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