Category Archives: Health Reporting

Athens man among first in U.S. to get new prosthetic eye

The Post published this story as a centerpiece.

(Photo by Lauren Bacho)

http://bit.ly/1DHfDRD

After 15 years of living in complete blindness, David Parker thought he would never see his five grandchildren’s faces.

But after receiving a surgical implant in December that he called “a miracle,” the 47-year-old Athens resident’s wish has become more possible than he ever imagined.

“I was able to see my children enough to recognize, but my grandkids I’ve never seen,” Parker, who now wears a pair of specialized, black-tinted glasses, said. “I waited for this all my life.”

Parker is one of 126 patients with retinitis pigmentosa who has received the newly U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, pioneered by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc.

The FDA first gave the thumbs up to his so-called “bionic eye” in February 2013, and Health Canada approved the vision apparatus in December 2014 — making it available in 16 major markets between the two countries, according to Second Sight’s website.

The nearest implant centers are in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Cleveland.

Doctors diagnosed Parker with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of four. Growing up in Toledo, he learned to read braille at 6 years old, but after years of progressively weakening retinas, lost total sight at about age 30.

After that, Parker moved to Athens in December 2012 to start a vending company called “Grumpy’s Vending,” where he oversees vending machines in 20 Ohio University buildings.

“I couldn’t distinguish … one thing from another. Everything was just one big blur,” Parker said. “I didn’t follow the research (because) it let me down. Until they came up with (the Argus II), I figured that I wouldn’t be able to see anything.”

Parker first learned about the Argus II and its accompanying four-hour surgery through his brother, who saw it on television. Parker researched the procedure and discovered the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center in Ann Arbor offered the surgery under certain prerequisites: being older than 25, having been able to see before, having cataract lenses and being willing to commit to the process.

Parker met all of those requirements.

“As Buckeye fan, it (was) kind of hard for me to go (to the University of Michigan),” Parker joked.

He later received an eye test from a local doctor and submitted the results to the institution. In September 2014, the institution informed Parker that he was qualified.

Parker’s surgery was paid for with insurance, but the procedure typically costs $150,000, according to VisionAware, a website that provides resources to those with vision loss.

Betsy Nisbet, a spokeswoman for the center, said surgeons at Kellogg Eye Center have performed six surgeries since the FDA’s approval.

“When the signal gets to the chip that’s on your retina, it’s transmitted to your brain through your optic nerves,” Parker said. “Some of my nerves thinned out so they weren’t sure if it would work.”

Yet, on Dec. 4, a “great team” of surgeons installed the Argus II chip into Parker’s right eye. Coming out of surgery, he was surprised at how little pain he felt, although he could tell something was in his eye, he said. The surgery, however, did not instantaneously gift him with full vision.

“Everybody thinks you’ll be able to see, but that’s really not true,” Parker said. “My wife describes it as kind of a silhouette. You have to scan something and then go by what’s in your memory bank. That’s why you have to had sight in the past.”

After six to eight weeks of healing, Parker returned to the facility “about every three weeks,” where he practiced using the apparatus through various tests, such as following a 2-by-2 inch square on a computer screen.

“The first test they did was they put a square on the screen,” he said. “That really shook me up because I could see the square.”

It was the first thing he had seen in 15 years.

Since the FDA approved the surgery, there have been 24 commercial surgeries in the U.S., 70 commercial surgeries in Europe, and an additional 32 clinical trial surgeries worldwide, Gary Peyser, a spokesman for Second Sight, said.

“David has a very positive attitude, is willing to learn, is very cooperative and helpful and even gives us suggestions on our testing schemes,” said Naheed Khan, an electrophysiologist at Kellogg Eye Center, in an email. “We have learned a great deal from him and we are always impressed by his motivation and commitment.”

The Argus II Prosthesis System works by using a camera on specialized glasses to take in an image and send it to the computer processor worn around the user’s neck. The processor sends instructions through an antenna to the retinal chip, which sends electrical pulses through optic nerves for the brain to decipher.

That process bypasses the damaged photoreceptors in the retina that otherwise would produce sight in a healthy eye.

Parker said images stay five or six seconds before he has to move his head and “refresh” the image, which he considers good, compared to some patients’ one or two second staying power.

“I’m starting to (be) able to recognize shapes … a square versus a circle,” Parker said. “I really have to concentrate, and it’s based on light and dark and contrast. The more contrast, the more you’re able to visualize and it picks it up.”

Although Parker can only see the shape of his grandchildren at this point, he said that with more practice and new developments with the Argus II — including clearer images and color-vision — he will be able to improve his sight even further.

“The main reason that I did the surgery is to see my grandkids enough to know that they are there,” Parker said. “I can’t make out faces right now, but I know if something is there. Once you can distinguish it’s a person other than a wall, and then you distinguish that it’s a short person, and that must be my grandkid.”

@LukeFurmanOU

lf491413@ohio.edu

City officials are concerned about sanitation at Number Fest

(File photo by Calvin Matheis)

http://bit.ly/1DmlOKL

When students take to the muddy grounds of Number Fest this year, they might want to consider what exactly they’re stepping, stomping or rolling in.

Based on previous years, the absence of permanent bathroom facilities on the festival property — coupled with an insufficient number of Port-a-Johns — suggested that the sanitation measures of the event could spawn bacterial diseases like E. coli, according to Athens City Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward.

“My take and others on council is that it is very difficult to have 15,000 to 20,000 people at an event and only provide Port-a-Johns,” Fahl said in an email. “There has been concern by both county and city officials about the event having enough bathroom facilities. In the past the answer was definitely no. Hopefully this year will be better.”

By the looks of it, this year’s fest — which occurs outside of the city’s jurisdiction and on private property — should be much more sanitary.

“The organizer of the event has gotten better at ‘covering himself in terms of security, safety and transportation,’” Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl said.

Dominic Petrozzi, event organizer for Number Fest, said 13Fest will boast nearly twice as many bathroom facilities as last year’s festival.

“We have worked with the city of Athens to find a more feasible number of restrooms and sanitation/wash stations on site,” Petrozzi said in an email. “We will have over 125 facilities on site this year versus the 65 we had last year. There are also going to be several sanitation and hand washing stations throughout the venue.”

Petrozzi also said the organizers are looking to create “a more sustainable festival environment” and will lay chips, gravel and shaved asphalt around the 20 food trucks where concertgoers order and eat food. These areas will be dubbed “dry zones.”

In terms of crowd-control, Petrozzi said there will be more than 150 security and staff personnel at this year’s festival.

Organizers also plan to double the Athens County Sheriff’s Department’s presence from what it was last year, specifically to patrol the neighborhoods surrounding the venue, Petrozzi said.

Athens City-County Health Commissioner James Gaskell and Ron Lucas, Athens deputy service safety director, agreed that an increase in bathroom facilities should help eliminate the threat of diseases like E. coli.

“It would seem to me that an increase in numbers of Port-a-Johns would decrease the chance of having water supply contamination,” Gaskell said.

Gaskell also explained that E. coli is a predominant gastrointestinal pathogen that is common in most human stool. However, if stool with enough E. coli present contaminates a water supply, it might lead to diseases such as gastroenteritis for those who consume the contaminated water.

Despite there not being any recorded incidences of E. coli in Athens County in 2014, according to Tonya McGuire, the epidemiologist for the Athens City-County Health Department, Fahl said there was a concern regarding E. coli contamination at last year’s Numbers Fest.

“E. coli is a serious potential health concern and if there is contamination of the nearby (Margaret Creek) that can impact people downstream,” Fahl said. “This just invites problems both at the event and to the general environment and people off site.”

Lucas suggested several ways to “mitigate the problem”, including an increase in bathroom facilities and event security along with having the sheriffs patrol the outskirts of the festival to police any misconduct.

“(Disease) is always the concern with public sanitation at events like these,” Lucas said. “How many Port-a-Johns are enough and how do we get people to use them? There’s always going to be people who don’t use toilets.”

@LukeFurmanOU

lf491413@ohio.edu

New Holzer CEO looks to bring more specialized physicians to area and expand education programs

I interviewed the CEO of Holzer and it was pretty cool.

(Photo via Holzer Health Systems)

http://bit.ly/1xX7kAF

The man who once helped develop Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine was named CEO and chairman of the Board of Governors to Holzer Health System Jan. 1.

In his new position, Christopher T. Meyer hopes to increase specialized care across the company’s seven-county scope and expand programs for students.

Meyer worked for Holzer as a gastroenterologist for 13 years and accumulated 37 years of experience throughout his career after graduating from Des Moines University College of Medicine. He also completed a gastroenterology fellowship at the Yale University School of Medicine.

He replaced Holzer’s former CEO, T. Wayne Munro, who retired Dec. 31, 2014.

Recently, The Post sat down with Meyer to talk about his new position, Holzer’s goals and the state of healthcare.

The Post: You’ve been Holzer Health System’s CEO and chairman of the Board of Governors for three months now. How has the transition been going?

Meyer: Three months and the buildings are still standing (laughs). (The administration) had been kind of grooming me to take over my predecessor’s position. It’s different, but the transition has been going smoothly. Some of my colleagues might disagree.

The Post: Do you enjoy the job?

Meyer: My whole career I’ve been involved in administrative work. I held a faculty spot at Michigan State and served as the faculty dean of (the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Ohio University) from 1994 to 1998. I played a key role in developing (the Athens) branch. The mix makes it interesting.

The Post: What are some things you are looking to change or improve as CEO?

Meyer: We’re the largest provider of primary care services in Appalachian Ohio. Our pediatric family practices number more than 60 physicians. Primary care is our strength. (We look) to bring more primary care physicians in different types of specialties to the area.

We are moving into graduate and undergraduate education programs. (The programs) will be teaching third and fourth year medical students and graduates of medical schools who want to specialize in family practice. We are taking six students from HCOM and four students from the West Virginia University School of Medicine.

The Post: Do you see a lot of OU students come through Holzer?

Meyer: Predominantly, it is non-student. Having said that, we see, I would say, hundreds or a thousand students in the course of a year in terms of unique visits. In some instances (students) prefer the Holzer brand or in some instances their parents may or they are local and have used Holzer in the past. In my practice, I would see students on a weekly basis.

The Post: How would you compare Holzer to other healthcare services in Athens?

Meyer: We’re a lot different because O’Bleness and Hudson because they are limited to Athens’ town and county. Holzer has a bigger footprint in that we are the largest healthcare provider in Southeast Ohio. We operate in seven counties and have a bigger footprint. (Athens, Meigs, Vinton, Jackson, Gallia, Lawrence, and Mason, West Virginia)

It doesn’t matter if you are O’Bleness or Hudson Health or Holzer, the healthcare world is becoming increasingly complicated. The numbers of primary care providers continues to diminish, the population continues to age, with the baby-boomers moving into the last few decades of our lives. And all of that creates an added burden for healthcare.

Healthcare now costs 18 cents to every dollar. When we reach the 25-cent mark, we won’t be able to afford the strategic imperatives of the nation like the military or the welfare program.

The 25-cent marker is a deal breaker, and we’re only 7 cents away.

@LukeFurmanOU

lf491413@ohio.edu