Life in an iron lung is a test of tolerance

Reading a recent tribute to the life of Paul Alexander brought back horrible memories for me. Paul Alexander was only six years of age when he developed polio. The result? He spent the rest of his life enclosed in an iron lung. I too had polio in my final year at the Harvard Medical School. If my fate had been life in an iron lung, I would have begged someone to kill me.

It’s not just memories of polio that trouble me. It’s also some people’s long-festering misinterpretation of my stand on vaccines, including some editors who got my message totally wrong.

The polio vaccine hadn’t been invented when Alexander and I contracted the disease in the 1940s. Given the consequences for Alexander, he could have given in to depression. Rather, what he accomplished by sheer will power is astounding. He studied economics at the University of Texas and then took a law degree from the same university, all while enclosed in an iron lung.

A lifelong friend, Daniel Spinks, attributed Alexander’s successes to his positive attitude about life, sense of humour, and strong feeling about God. Spinks proved his dedication by driving Alexander to court appearances, which must have required bravery too, on both their parts.

Alexander was able to escape from his iron lung for up to six hours at a time by gulping air. But according to Spinks, as he got older, even short escapes were too difficult. Even so, Alexander lived his life telling people they could do great things.

In 1949, during my last year in training at Harvard, I awakened one morning with a devastating headache. Later that day I was admitted to hospital and a spinal test diagnosed polio. The following morning, I could not move my legs and paralysis of my abdominal muscles meant I could not sit up. I well remember distinguished professors telling me there was no way to stop the paralysis. I believed my plans to be a surgeon were finished.

But I got lucky. After several weeks of therapy, I regained the use of my muscles. And I did become a surgeon. It was a close call. Then vaccines in the early1950s became available to prevent polio.

I started reading about vaccines as a teenager and how Pasteur and other researchers had developed vaccines to prevent a number of diseases. To be clear, I have never, never been against vaccines. But I have warned readers that on rare occasions vaccines cause complications. Governments have paid compensation to some patients. Even aspirin can trigger problems, not to mention the dangerous side effects of many prescription drugs. But my column was discontinued in a few newspapers as some people screamed lies about my position on vaccines.

Readers will recall the anti-vaccination group of abhorrent protestors who brought chaos to Ottawa for several weeks. I wondered why it was allowed to last so long.

I also wondered how these rowdies would have reacted if a polio epidemic had been raging in Ottawa. What if they had witnessed people being paralyzed by this terrible disease? Would they have condemned these people to living the rest of their lives in an iron lung? Or would they acknowledge that the polio vaccine is the reason why such scenarios are unheard of today?

Vaccines have saved countless lives. They have occasionally brought harm to some as well. There is no perfection with vaccines or many other aspects of medicine. People need to inform themselves and make personal decisions. Everyone should respect the choices people make.

Reader responses would be highly welcomed.

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Kidney disease has no good ending

Will humans ever learn to care for their kidneys? Or will they live to count mixed blessings – staying alive but reliant on a machine to clean the blood. This, or a kidney transplant, is the result of end-stage kidney failure.

Over 40 million North Americans are living with the precursor, chronic kidney disease. Astonishingly, nine in ten sufferers are unaware they have the problem. But the body knows, and as the disease progresses, other health problems including stroke and heart attack can result.

A dialysis machine can remove waste products and excess fluid from the blood when kidneys stop working. Dialysis patients require treatment 3 to 7 times a week, for three or more hours per session, in a hospital, clinic, or at home. Year after year, the number of people needing dialysis is increasing. Why? Because North Americans continue to abuse the kidney’s one million delicate nephrons.

We tend to think the bowel is the main disposal organ of the body. But it’s the kidneys. They’re like chemists that day after day check the balance of water by keeping it neither too acidic nor too alkaline. They also help in the production of red blood cells. Every 30 minutes, kidneys filter the body’s entire volume of blood.

What are some of the problems? A discussion years ago with the Director of the Transplant Nephrology Clinic at The John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore was shocking. He said that five percent of all hospital patients developed acute kidney injury! He added this figure jumps to 23 percent for those in intensive care and to 30 percent among patients scheduled for heart surgery.

Those odds should be a reminder that prevention is better than cure. But the doctor explained this was the price to pay for surgical operations and other treatments.

Many hospital procedures require invasive injections and catheters before and after surgery. Doctors and the nursing staff know the dangers of infection. Often it’s a roll of the dice that determines the outcome. Hospitals are dangerous environments.

What about lifestyle? Do you have “Pillitis”? It’s the terrible folly of so many people who cannot stand even a little headache or sniffle. They mindlessly pop a “minor painkiller”. Those pills eventually take their toll on nephrons that clear waste products from the blood.

The worst offenders are the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Don’t believe big pharma that there’s no need to put up with pain. But don’t swallow this nonsense. Your purchases are great for their profits. Some headaches can be cured by placing a cool cloth on the forehead and relaxing.

Other huge problems are getting worse year after year. About half of North Americans are obese. Obesity contributes to 95 percent of type 2 diabetes. Obesity and diabetes combine to trigger further health problems for an increasing number of people, including diseased kidneys that require kidney dialysis machines.

It’s depressing to see people destroying healthy kidneys with often needless medication. The other tragedy is that many people have no idea this is happening. But there does come a time when kidney failure becomes quite apparent. That’s when the need for a kidney machine becomes crystal clear. Transplants are more common now, but the operation is no less of a risk.

Nocturnal dialysis allows patients to receive treatment while they sleep. While this helps some to work during the day or care for children, it also requires trained nurses to stay up at night monitoring these individuals, either in person or remotely. More mixed blessings?

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Some advice never ages

After 10 books, over 2,500 columns, and nearly 50 years of writing it, some things bear repeating. This week revisits a column from three decades ago about how to prepare for surgery. Has anything changed?

From that old column, “What would God do if He were a surgeon? If it is true God helps those who help themselves, He would refuse to operate on many, telling us, ‘Respect your own God-given body and then I’ll do what I can.’”

Next came a case. “A 45-year-old woman underwent an operation for extensive vaginal repair. For this type of surgery, her surgeon warned her repeatedly about the hazards of smoking and her persistent smoker’s hack. Ten days later she was rushed to hospital because of sudden post-operative hemorrhage. Incredibly, she was still smoking and coughing convulsively as she lay in a pool of blood in the emergency room.  Speedy surgery stopped the bleeding.”

Then another case. “A 45- year-old diabetic weighing 275 pounds was admitted to the hospital due to an acute gallbladder attack. A skilled surgeon removed the organ, but a lifetime of bad habits began slowly to take its toll. The patient’s diabetes was hard to control and the incision in the pendulous abdomen became infected. Shortly after, the patient developed pneumonia, phlebitis, and blood clots in the lungs. Family members watched the complications multiply and the situation deteriorate. When the patient succumbed to overwhelming odds, the family demanded of the surgeon, ‘Why did this happen? Why couldn’t you have done something?’”

It needs no repeating what that column reported next. Suffice to say, the surgeon answered truthfully that the patient’s weight, smoking, and lack of exercise caused the death.

Let’s read on. “No doctor turns away a patient who has an acute surgical problem. But patients can’t expect doctors to work miracles with surgery when they haven’t given a tinker’s damn about their bodies for years. I think God would agree it’s time to issue an ultimatum to everyone. God and surgeons shouldn’t attempt the impossible. And patients should be expected to help themselves by shaping up.”

The article then gave advice on how pre-operative patients can prepare for an operation, physically and mentally. “Surgery, like tennis or football, demands psychological preparation. A good start is to get rid of needless worries. Tell the doctor if you are overcome by a fear of not surviving the surgery. Of if you’re concerned about post-operative pain. Or confused about which organs will be removed. And if you’re apprehensive about the length of the incision, remember Abe Lincoln’s remark. He was once asked, ‘How long should a man’s leg be?’ He replied, ‘Just long enough to reach the ground.’ Incisions, like legs, are just long enough to do the job safely.

“The main thrust of preparation should be directed at good physical conditioning. Some of these tragedies could be prevented if patients tossed away cigarettes before an operation or made a genuine attempt to control and lose weight.

“My advice is to be prepared for possible surgery all of the time. This means having a lifelong respect for mind and body. It would give surgeons fewer gray hairs. Fewer families would be asking why post-operative complications occurred. And I’m sure God would be more willing to help those who help themselves.”

There you have it. While surgical techniques may have improved greatly over 30 years, have patients heeded the age-old call to prepare for surgery? Doing so would give surgeons a much-needed break in tough cases. And starting early enough may even prevent the need for going under the knife in the first place.

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What women suffer most from menopause?

There’s a universal fact for women. If they live long enough, their capacity to bring forth children will end, and they will become menopausal. Menopause can be when the thermostat becomes their most prized possession.

But not all women have hot flashes. Some go through this period wondering why they have no symptoms. The best advice for them is, “Enjoy the smooth sailing!”

Other women endure needless suffering. There are treatments, and these women should see their doctors.

The medical journal, The Lancet, has urged women to become educated about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Menopause should not be considered a disease. It is a natural process. Be cautious with commercial interests of pharmaceutical companies’ propaganda. Seek information from a medical specialist.

The authors of the Lancet report stress they are not opposed to HRT as it can be effective in treating hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and genital urinary symptoms. Many years ago, HRT was often used by women to control menopausal symptoms. The standard treatment involved the hormones estrogen and progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone.

But a large and widely publicised study called the Women’s Health Initiative identified problems with HRT. Doctors and patients concluded HRT was dangerous and this misconception lingers today. The study had significant shortcomings however, and subsequent studies have more nuanced conclusions.  For women under 60, or for those less than a decade out of menopause, the benefits of HRT in fighting debilitating symptoms outweighed the risk. There was one other caution. Those using HRT should not have a family history of stroke, breast cancer, or coronary heart disease.

Which women suffer the most from menopause? It’s those who are affected by severe symptoms. Imagine a stalwart high school principal. She has handled the tough job for years. But with the onset of menopause, the slighted provocation has her bursting into tears behind closed doors. For the first time, she feels incapable of the task. If she meets the criteria mentioned above, then she is a textbook case for HRT. Within a week, her problem would be history.

Menopause is not just one event or one symptom, such as hot flashes. A gradual decrease in the production of estrogen influences organs such as the vagina and urinary bladder. It’s these organs that women are loath to discuss with their family doctor, to say nothing of their partners.

It may come as a shock to younger people to know that seniors have sexual relations. But menopause can make vaginal tissues thinner and more easily irritated. Past columns have tried to explain this with a touch of eloquence, noting that it’s hard for females to sing with a sore throat. Put plainly, it’s hard for menopausal and post-menopausal women to enjoy sex with an inflamed vagina (atrophic vaginitis). Sometimes neither the woman nor her partner knows what’s causing the severe pain. Unfortunately, many women suffer silently.

Those who ask for help will find there are good remedies. Something as simple as an estrogen cream can resolve an irritated vagina within two weeks. Other consequences of menopause, like the accelerated loss of bone density, may also be treated with HRT.

Sometimes problems are missed because a vaginal examination is not done during a check up. Or patients don’t mention issues to the doctor.

The comedian, Joan Rivers, made a joke about news that having a dog makes you ten years younger. “My first thought was to rescue two more,” she said, before adding, “but I don’t want to go through menopause again.”

Today, women can and should get their symptoms treated.

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Protecting eyesight with the right food

It was 200 years ago that Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French lawyer and culinary writer, first wrote “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”  It’s a simple and enduring message. But people are not being watchful of what they eat, and it is having far-reaching consequences, not just around the middle.

Like other organs, the eyes are affected by diet. Many research teams have shown that a poor diet increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) of the eye.

Today AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss for those over the age of 65. By 75 one in three North Americans have early signs of AMD.

A command given to American soldiers at the Battle of Bunker Hill was, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” But if these soldiers suffered from age-related macular degeneration, they would not have fired a single shot. AMD destroys the macular, a tiny spot at the back of the eye known as the retina that’s responsible for central vision. Without central vison it’s impossible to drive a car or see grandchildren clearly. It robs people of their independence, and often leads to depression.

In one study. researchers fed mice a low glycemic diet which is rich in slowly digested carbohydrates (whole natural grains). Another group of mice were given a diet high in rapidly digested carbohydrates (refined processed grains). They discovered the mice on the slowly digested carbohydrates developed fewer retinal changes. More surprising was that switching mice from a high to slowly digested carbohydrates diet appeared to stop retinal damage.

Why the difference? A high glycemic diet, speedily absorbed, causes frequent spikes in blood sugar. The unhealthy consequences can lead to Type 2 diabetes.

The human gut contains a variety of bacteria, some being helpful and others harmful. How they act depends on whether the glycemic index is low or high.

These microorganisms produce chemical substances known as metabolites. Low quality diets produce metabolites that cause harm to the retina and increase the risk of AMD.

There are two types of AMD. The dry type affects about 90 percent of sufferers in which small yellow deposits cause dryness of the macula. The wet type, the more serious, occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow under the macula, distorting and affecting central vision.

What can you do to decrease the risk AMD?  See an ophthalmologist at age 65 or sooner, then every two years to detect any visual changes.

The key message is to take a good look at the food on your plate, and remember “you are what you eat”. For many decades, we have been eating more refined flour, devoid of vitamins and minerals, many packaged foods and too much sugar. What we need is more whole wheat, fruits, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Our dietary failure has triggered an epidemic of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and now macular degeneration. Years ago, infection killed people in the prime of life. Now it’s degenerative diseases. But there’s a big difference.

Infectious disease killed quickly. Degenerative ones cause a slow painful way to the grave.

Learn more about the glycemic index and the hazards of high blood sugar. Diet is key, and if you want more guidance, stop into a natural health store where experts can point you to supplements that help with glycemic control.

Never forget the Gifford-Jones Law that states one bad problem leads to another and another. Poor diet leads to obesity, diabetes, heart attack, and now macular degeneration. Will we ever learn?

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What to know about the mammography debate

At what age should women’s breasts receive radiation to detect breast cancer? In Canada, some provinces are lowering the age of eligibility from 50 to 40, even before a task force releases an update on breast cancer screening guidelines. The current guidelines do not recommend routine screening for women in their 40s. In the U.S., a separate task force urges women ages 40 to 49 to get this procedure every two years. Why the conflicting advice?

Mammography as been swirling in confusion for decades. In the past, some experts were adamant there was no evidence regular mammograms decreased the risk of breast cancer. Others, equally qualified authorities, were concerned that repeated exposures of breast tissues to radiation could cause breast malignancies.

A significant fact tends to go unnoticed. Women are told over and over that routine breast cancer screening diagnoses early breast malignancies. This is a half truth. What the medical profession should say is that breast cancer screening diagnoses a malignancy as early as possible. Why is this distinction vital?

Mammography is a “lump diagnosis”, meaning cancer cannot be identified until a cancerous growth reaches a detectable size. Breast cancer may be present for several years before it can be seen by mammography. There is a possibility that it may have already spread to other parts of the body.

Compare this to a Pap smear of the cervix. In this test, a swab is used to obtain a small amount of tissue from this area. This specimen is then examined by technicians using a high-powered microscope looking for premalignant cancer cells. Unlike mammography, it’s a microscopic test, not a lump diagnosis.

How accurate is the Pap smear? There is always the chance abnormal cells will be missed. But it is unlikely with repeated tests. Besides, precancerous cells of the cervix are very slow growing, allowing time to discover them.

It is unfortunate that doctors do not have a test that can detect precancerous cells of the breast. Instead, it’s routine mammography, and a dose of radiation with each one, that is only able to see the problem after a lump becomes large enough to be visible by x-ray.

X-rays must be accepted to diagnose breast cancer. This causes concern among certain authorities. Why? With each x-ray, radiation accumulates in the body. Some argue the cumulative effect of x-rays is minimal in comparison to naturally accruing exposure. Others take a more cautious attitude. Pouring through medical research suggests the jury is out on how much radiation increases risk, and when.

An x-ray can confirm a broken bone. Dental x-rays determine tooth decay. And head x-rays can find a brain tumour. But not every headache should lead to an x-ray. Yet studies show doctors order them too often. It’s not just x-rays to worry about. CT scans are another source of radiation.

To be fair to doctors, it is not always their fault. Part of the problem involves patients who worry every pain must be investigated or who insist on x-rays for every problem. To illustrate, for a pain in the stomach, the first step should be a sound diet and active lifestyle to cure the discomfort, not another x-ray.

What about the mammogram debate and conflicting guidelines? More radiation tends to be the conclusion. But this is a case of patients needing to be involved in decisions about their own healthcare. It’s a matter of being informed, weighing the pros and cons with your doctor, and then taking your own decision. But patients and doctors should share an understanding that there is no easy answer.

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A failing grade in basic mathematics

Have even one in a thousand North Americans ever heard of Kissick’ s Law?  More than 25 years ago, if you were reading the Ontario Medical Review, you would have seen an article, written by Dr. Samuel Vaisrub, explaining the message. Kissick stated that if the U.S. Declaration of Independence was written in contemporary times, it would declare the pursuit of health, rather than happiness, after life and liberty, as the third inalienable right of Americans.

About 50 years ago Kissick, a professor at the renowned U.S. Wharton School of Business, stunned Canadians and Americans with a showstopping speech about the economic laws of health care economics. Considering the ongoing healthcare mess in both countries today, it’s a shame his wise council never took hold.

What did Kissick recommend? It was about what every family in North America knows. If you spend more than you earn, soon enough the laws of economics will trigger bankruptcy. Kissick’s warning was simple arithmetic. Readers should get up, find a pen, and write this principle down over and over.

No society in the world has sufficient money to provide all the healthcare services its population is capable of using, Kissick warned. But he was not finished, so keep you pen handy and keep writing.

He added that even if the nation’s gross national product were expanding at record-setting rates, it would still not be enough. People have a voracious appetite for spending on their health. If left to the forces of demand, healthcare spending would consume the nation’s entire budget.

He said the problem was similar to giving his credit card to his daughter and saying, “Darling, go buy anything you want, and I will pay all the bills.” Kissick hesitated for a moment, and then added, “If what I have told you doesn’t alarm you,” he said to the audience, “I’ll loan you my daughter!”

Economists have been saying the same thing. For decades, healthcare spending in many places around the world has been outpacing economic growth. It’s simply not sustainable. We are no longer approaching the time when we will be forced to accept the consequences. We have reached it. The pursuit of healthcare has limitations. Our collective psyche must face the reckoning. We will have less, not more, healthcare spending. And if refusing to accept this, then we will have worse roads, backed-up sewers, poorer education, and you name it, a lot less to invest in everything else that we like to take for granted.

An old joke offers the definition of a healthy person.  It’s someone who hasn’t been seen by enough doctors or had enough tests done. And this is true. Inevitably, everyone will find one health problem or another.

But being obsessive about health, always wanting more and more care, is neither advisable nor feasible. As governments face the hard reality of cancelling their healthcare credit cards, you can be sure they’ll never tell you straight up about it. Voters don’t want to hear about it, especially that enormous cohort of the population that is aging into retirement years.

There is a better alternative. People should be less obsessive about healthcare and more determined to avoid the need for it. The human body is an amazing organism, but only if not abused by cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, both legal and illegal, by junk food, by lack of exercise, and by the long list of environmental and other global problems.

Can we make the shift? Or do we need to pray for divine intervention to avoid this disastrous train wreck.

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Work hard to be 100 and healthy


Few children have the good fortune of wishing “Happy 100th Birthday” to a vibrant, healthy parent reaching that esteemed age. But that’s what my brothers and I are doing this week. We’ve had the incredible journey of growing up with Dr. W. Gifford-Jones as our dad!

Countless people have asked, what’s the secret to reaching 100? The truth is lots of people are figuring it out.

In Canada, there are about 10,000 centenarians, people aged 100 or older. In the U.S., the figure is nearing 100,000. And worldwide, it’s an astounding 722,000 people.

Some centenarians are living well.  Unfortunately, there is a darker side such longevity, as many are not living well at all.

There is wide variation in the research, but a conservative estimate is that 60% of centenarians suffer from dementia, a devasting consequence for them and their families. Living through old age can be an outright punishment if mobility is impaired, leaving people dependent on assistance with daily care.  Better management of chronic diseases is a mixed blessing. Is extending life worth it when quality of life is gone?

There’s no question. Following the formula for healthy aging is the right thing to do, and you know the components. If you need a reminder, read past Gifford-Jones columns. If you need motivation, volunteer your time in your local assisted living facility.

Living to be 100 isn’t the only goal.  You want to get there and be healthy! So, what might be key to the success of the “escapers”, the centenarians who keep their marbles and their muscles?  What sets my father apart, and people like him?

The answer might be that my father works hard at his health and everything else. If you break his life into decades, you’d have a story like this. A precocious childhood, with loving parents. An active youth, testing his mettle. In his 20s, scoring a seat at Havard Medical School. A career push into specialization in his 30s. By his 40s, Gifford-Jones emerged as an author, an advocate for a woman’s right to abortion, and a contrarian voice calling for common sense in the medical profession. In his 50s, he managed three fulltime jobs – a busy surgeon, a weekly columnist, and a fabulous family man to his wife and four children. The decade of his 60s marked a period of more fighting – for better pain management in healthcare, against obesity and diabetes, and for patients to use common sense in their lives.

By 70, most people slow down.  Not my father.  He continued to do surgery until 75, and he saw patients in his office until the age of 87. Also in his 80s, he was writing books on alternative medicine, interviewing doctors and scientists around the world, and continuing his weekly column.

The decade of his 90s was remarkable. That’s when he began yet another new career move, formalizing his role as an advocate for a powdered form of vitamin C and lysine supplementation that allowed for easier consumption of the high doses he advocated for protection against cardiovascular disease. This decade saw him traveling across the continent speaking in community after community about his medical lessons for a healthy life.

At 100, what’s his message? “I’m not finished yet,” he says. “Stay tuned, because I have more to say and new efforts to champion in getting more people to lead healthier lives.” When, we ask, are you going to retire? “Ten years after I’m dead,” he replies.

It’s his endless hard work that sets this man apart. We’re looking forward, and in the meantime, celebrating a 100th birthday!

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Never Ignore the Symptoms of Early Heart Failure


Common Sense Health – W. Gifford-Jones MD and Diana Gifford-Jones

Years ago, after interviewing Dr. Michael McDonald, I asked, “Will you be my cardiologist?” Now, as I reach my 100th year I’m grateful his sound advice has kept me alive. He’s associated with the world class Peter Munk Cardiac Center affiliated with the University of Toronto. During my visit he stressed that more patients would be living longer if they reported to their doctors the early signs of heart failure. Prevention is always better than cure.

Never forget this fact. We are all living longer and so is our heart. Today, if you’re over the age of 65, heart failure is the most common reason for being admitted to hospital. And when heart failure starts, this means a life expectancy of 2.1 to 5 years.

I never fail to be amazed when I listen to a patient’s heartbeat. It only stops beating when life ends. In the meantime, by the age 70 this remarkable machine has been beating 2.5 billion times without any holiday. What other organ of the body would agree to such punishment?

What can go wrong to trigger heart failure? The main cause is a previous heart attack that has caused death to part of the heart’s muscle. This injury reduces the heart’s ability to pump adequate amount of blood to the rest of the body.

But there are several other less obvious factors, such as birth defects, injured heart valves due to the infection by rheumatic fever, a blood infection that scars heart valves, hypertension, and aging.

What are the symptoms of early heart failure?  Patients may complain of early fatigue or notice a lingering slight cough. Later on, there may be shortness of breath and swelling of the ankles. Or an x-ray of the lungs done for other reasons shows an enlargement of the heart.

What can be done to increase the length of life when the body begins to falter? Timing is essential, as injured muscle cannot be restored. Drugs are available that decrease the heart rate, thereby decreasing the workload of the heart. Water pills will also decrease the disabling symptoms of heart failure.

But the larger question is why have heart failure and other forms of cardiovascular disease become the number one cause of death?

The blunt answer is the ongoing pandemic of both obesity and type 2 diabetes. It’s well known that 95 percent of type 2 diabetes is due to obesity. Just look around you to see what’s happening and it is shocking.

Type 2 diabetes is also notorious for causing hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). These hard arteries cause extra strain on the heart’s muscle. It’s the prime example of the Gifford-Jones Law that one heath problem leads to another and another.

Dr. Michael McDonald and the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre cannot fight these diseases alone. Rather, it will take Draconian measures to achieve increased physical activity and watching calories to reverse the obesity bandwagon that’s the ultimate cause of it all.

President Abraham Lincoln sounded the alarm years ago. He reminded people that they have two legs and to use them. We would add, buy a bathroom scale and step on it daily to prevent surprises.

What about me? At 100 years I’ll need to be alert and watch for shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, swelling of ankles or a slight cough that fails to end. Make sure you also report these early signs of heart failure to your doctor.

Shakespeare was right when be reminded Brutus, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves.”

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Do unto others lesson needs retelling


What do you hope for each morning as your tired eyes read the news? You try to be a positive person, but day by day, things are getting worse. The world is in an awful mess.

If there is a God, how cruel a deity to let suffering continue. Is it sacrilegious to ask, what exactly will it take to have the Second Coming of Christ? How much bloody war, climate chaos, and civil disintegration is required before we learn to follow a simple and sane edict? “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

The problem is times have changed. The only Christ we can anticipate in 2024 is a “deep fake”. The dumbing-down of social media preys upon any remnants of a moral compass among our political and business elite. How can we teach our children the golden rule when public leaders never abide it?

What are we to do? This Gifford-Jones father-daughter team is running out of creative suggestions. It’s a return to common decency that’s needed. We say, let’s load up on basic human kindness. Let’s utilize this feature of our abilities to a far greater degree than whatever unfortunate leanings we may have toward indecency and unkindness. And until we welcome back the Messiah, could enough of us doing the right thing make enough of an impact to keep the planet from an early end?

This week includes Valentine’s Day. It’s a telling fact that this day to celebrate love, although recognized in many ways around the world, is nowhere a public holiday. It’s a day rich in history, but poor in meaning to us. Like most other things, the concept of love has been commercialized, and therefore cheapened.

But love is synonymous with hope. It is enduring, forever resistant to evil by those who will not relinquish it.

Shakespeare’s eloquence on love is plentiful. But he got straight to the point with this sound advice, “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” It’s not hard to do, but why do so few people live by it?

Here are a few suggestions to help get things started.

One, you will do yourself and others a world of good if you “shower the people you love with love” as James Taylor sang. Use this Valentine’s Day (and every day that follows) to let your love rain! For those who can do it, a switch to a more generous mindset can be life-altering when fighting the downward spiral of depression, for example.

Two, if you adore sharing a chocolate treat, make it high-quality dark chocolate. Cocoa contains fiber, iron, and other important minerals. The antioxidants in chocolate help protect blood vessel walls and inhibit inflammation. But moderation is the key, as chocolate is also a high-fat, high-sugar food and packs a big caloric wallop.

Three, there’s nothing wrong with random acts of kindness, and doing them has been shown to be extraordinarily good for your health. One study showed that the more people spend money on other people, the lower their blood pressure. Another study provided hypertensive people with $40 to spend. Half were asked to spend it on themselves; the other half were instructed to spend the money on someone else. If you guessed the later group had lower blood pressure at the end of the study, you are right. It was equivalent to the effects of being put on an exercise program!

Perhaps we have gotten angry with frustration about the world. It’s understandable. But what we all really need is for someone to tell us, “I love you.”

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