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mmorris

Since joining the Daily Journal staff in 1996, I’ve covered crime, courts, education, elections, Tupelo city hall, fashion, features and health care. I’m married to Daily Journal staff writer M. Scott Morris, and we have two children, a dog and a cat. I’m often inspired by the passion of our medical professionals and the determination of individuals facing down serious health issues. I love my work because I learn something new every day that can help my family and Daily Journal readers lead fuller, healthier lives. In the past two years, I’ve taken charge of my own health and lost 85 pounds.

Stories Written by Michaela Morris

news_inthenews_greenBy Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Runners and walkers will be the light in the dark Friday for the Women First Resource Center.

For the third year in a row, the Tupelo Running Club will hold Nightcrawler 5K at Ballard Park to benefit the Tupelo-based resource center created to support breast cancer survivors and others in their time of need. The race begins at 8 p.m. Friday, and many runners and walkers dress for the occasion.

“The kids love the glow-in-the-dark things,” said Gail Branner, who volunteers with the Tupelo Running Club and the Women First Resource Center.

The funds raised through the race – about $7,000 the past two years – help supplement the efforts of the non-profit, all-volunteer resource center, said Branner, who is a breast cancer survivor.

“It’s a very frightening thing for people going through it,” Branner said.

Branner felt the love of her family and friends during her treatment, but she found understanding among the breast cancer survivors at Women First.

“All of a sudden, you’re not alone,” Branner said.

The center offers space for support groups, makes wigs, scarves and caps available to those going through chemotherapy, hosts a casserole ministry and provides snacks and support to cancer patients.

Online registration, which is $25, is available at racesonline.com.

Race night registration will begin at 7 p.m. Friday. T-shirts are only guaranteed to those who preregister.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com Parkway Elementary School kindergarten teacher Jennifer Mathis works with incoming kindergartners during a summer program designed to introduce them to the school. More Mississippi kindergartners are entering school with the experience of having attended pre-K, according to a new report.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Parkway Elementary School kindergarten teacher Jennifer Mathis works with incoming kindergartners during a summer program designed to introduce them to the school. More Mississippi kindergartners are entering school with the experience of having attended pre-K, according to a new report.

By Chris Kieffer and Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Despite making gains in health and education, Mississippi fell back into the bottom spot in the annual Kids Count Report.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation today released this year’s ranking of overall child well-being. It measures data related to economic well-being, education, health and family and community.

Ranked 49th last year, Mississippi showed improvement in each of the four data points related to education and to health. New Mexico made greater gains, however, to drop the Magnolia State to 50th.

Mississippi was particularly hurt by its child poverty numbers. About 35 percent of the state’s children live in poverty, compared to a national average of 23 percent.

Daily Journal | File Between 2005 and 2011, Mississippi saw a small improvement in the number of low birthweight babies born in the state.

Daily Journal | File
Between 2005 and 2011, Mississippi saw a small improvement in the number of low birthweight babies born in the state.

“It is really a matter of where Mississippi is starting from,” said Linda Southward, Mississippi Kids Count director. “For Mississippi to improve, the gains need to be made at a faster rate.”

Improvements in education included more kids attending pre-K and graduating from high school. Students also scored better on a national test in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math.

Health gains were reductions in low-birthweight babies, children without health insurance, child and teen deaths and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve improved a tiny bit,” said Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier. “It gives us hope to know change is possible.”

Currier is especially encouraged by the downward trend in the teen birth rate, which has continued despite the economic downturn.

“To be healthy as a child, adolescent and adult, you need a healthy start,” Currier said.

The percentage of the state’s students not attending pre-K dropped from 54 percent between 2005-2007 to 50 percent in 2010-2012, the most recent data used by Kids Count. That is meaningful because pre-K helps children enter kindergarten ready to succeed, said longtime education advocate Claiborne Barksdale. Without pre-K, he said, many low-income students are already behind their peers when they enter school because they have often heard fewer words and had less access to educational resources.

“If we really expect to have children in poverty succeed in school, then we understand we need to begin working with them in their earliest years to try to get them off to a good start and get them where they need to be,” he said.

Southward said she is particularly excited that the state has begun to spend public money on pre-K for the first time. In 2013, it became the last Southern state to do so, awarding $3 million each to two programs – the Early Learning collaborative grant program and Mississippi Building Blocks.

The collaborative is a competitive grant program that has funded 11 groups that will serve about 2,000 children. This year, the state re-appropriated $3 million, which will continue the program but not grow it.

The biggest concern for Mississippi was worsening childhood poverty data. The percentage of children who live in poverty rose from 31 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2012. The state also had more children whose parents lack secure employment (40 percent) and who live in households with a high housing cost burden (35 percent) and more teens not in school and not working (12 percent).

“We have to acknowledge these issues around families and children are very complex issues,” said Corey Wiggins, director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center. “There is not a one-shot approach.”

Addressing them includes supporting and investing in public education and increasing access to health care, health insurance and financial institutions, he said.

With education numbers improving and poverty numbers growing, a question may be which impacts the other in future reports. Will the rising education level reduce poverty or will growing poverty create challenges that make education gains more difficult?

“One of the things we want to be clear about and to make sure of is when students graduate, they have opportunities for employment,” Wiggins said. “We want to make sure we are investing into these new graduates so they have the necessary skills and education they need to be successful in higher education and/ or the job market.”

The annual Kids Count report is extremely valuable for those working to aid children and families.

“Knowing where we are and where we’ve been allows us to change to improve the future,” Currier said.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com, michaela.morris@journalinc.com

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Click to enlarge

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Nurse Manager Heather Reid shows guests a new trauma room in the newly expanded Baptist Memorial-Union County emergency department. The $12 million project gives the New Albany hospital 22 rooms instead of nine.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Nurse Manager Heather Reid shows guests a new trauma room in the newly expanded Baptist Memorial-Union County emergency department. The $12 million project gives the New Albany hospital 22 rooms instead of nine.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com The community can get a peek at new emergency department today at a 10 a.m. grand opening.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
The community can get a peek at new emergency department today at a 10 a.m. grand opening.

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY – Starting Monday, the emergency department at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County will get some sorely needed elbow room.

At 6 a.m. Monday, the ER will shift from its current nine-room space into a newly constructed 22-room expansion on the backside of the hospital located on Highway 30. Traffic will be routed along Oxford Street to reach the new ER.

“We’re ready,” said Randy White, chief nursing officer for Baptist Memorial-Union County.

Over the past four years, Baptist Memorial-Union County’s emergency department saw its traffic climb from 16,000 to 24,000 visits annually.

“We’ve had patients in the hallway in chairs so they could see the doctor,” said Heather Reid, emergency department nurse manager.

Baptist Memorial broke ground on the $12 million expansion last August.

“We came in on time and a little ahead of budget,” said Walter Grace, Baptist Memorial-Union County administrator.

Today, the community will be able to check out the emergency department without breaking an arm during the grand opening at 10 a.m.

The lobby is open and sun-filled, but they don’t anticipate patients will spend much time there. A nurse will be on duty in the lobby with the goal of quickly triaging patients.

In addition to more space, the new ER has a decontamination area in the ambulance entrance, two isolation rooms, quick access to imaging and improved delivery systems with the lab and pharmacy.

All 22 rooms are ready to receive patients, but the hospital anticipates it will primarily use 16 of them in daily operations, White said.

No decision has been made about what will go into the old emergency department space.

“We have several options we’re looking at,” Grace said. “Hopefully, it will be new services.”

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

HAND

HAND

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Sanctuary Hospice House has tapped a longtime Tupelo health care leader as its next executive director.

George Hand, who currently serves as cardiovascular services administrator at North Mississippi Health Services, will succeed the retiring Linda Gholston.

“I see this job as a ministry first and foremost,” said Hand, who was particularly moved by the experience of visiting a family friend at Sanctuary this spring. “I can see God’s work in what they are doing.”

Gholston, who helped open Sanctuary in 2005, announced her retirement in February and a search committee was formed to identify Sanctuary’s next leader.

“We are confident that George will continue the great legacy of servanthood that Linda Gholston established as the standard of hospice care excellence,” said Sanctuary Board President Lisa Hawkins.

The nonprofit hospice organization currently includes a 24-bed inpatient facility and a home hospice service. Sanctuary is also in the process of deciding how to best use the donation of the former Gardner-Simmons’ Providence House.

Hand, who started his health care career as an X-ray tech in 1983, has served with NMMC since 1991 in a number of roles including administrative director of the Family Medicine Residency Center and Regional Management of North Mississippi Medical Clinics and interim administrator at NMMC-Iuka.

“It’s been a good opportunity to be part of a bigger mission,” Hand said.

He has lead the hospital’s cardiovascular service line since 2004 and during that time the cardiologists, heart surgeons and staff have worked together to expand the vascular services, research programs and specialty programs available in Tupelo. Hand said he expects to transition to the position at Sanctuary by Oct. 1.

“I’m very happy for George, but I’m sad for us,” said cardiologist Dr. Barry Bertolet. “I think it’s going to be tough to replace him.”

A retirement dinner honoring Gholston is set for Aug. 28.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

news_education_greenBy Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Centralized registration is back again for Tupelo Public School District families.

Through July 22, parents can drop by Milam Elementary School cafeteria between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to handle the registration chores for new and returning students. Last year, parents gave the centralized registration high marks for convenience, eliminating the need to repeat the registration process at multiple schools.

“We’ve had several hundred come through already,” said Mary Ann Plascencia, district community liaison. “We had about 2,000 last year.”

For the second year, the district is using Web-based InfoSnap for registration forms. Returning parents will need to review and update last year’s information. The information can be transferred to siblings’ registration forms, eliminating the need to repeatedly enter contact information. Computers will be available at Milam to complete the registration forms as well as free and reduced lunch applications.

The district has reverted to paper for health forms to avoid the lag time in getting forms sorted and delivered. Parents will need to fill the forms out at registration.

“In order for nurses to be able to immediately serve kids, we went back to paper forms,” Plasencia said.

Parents of returning students will need to bring two proofs of residency including a mortgage, property or lease document and a current utility bill. Assistance is available from school staff for those who need assistance in gathering the proofs of residency.

Parents of new students and rising seventh-graders also will need to bring 121 immunization forms. Seventh-graders are required to receive a Tdap booster.

The process has been moving smoothly for most, said Milam Counselor Tamekia White.

“It takes about 10 to 15 minutes depending on how many children you have to fill out the health form for,” White said.

Parents of Tupelo High School students will still need to attend orientation sessions so their students can receive laptop computers and schedules.

The orientation sessions will be offered by grade from noon to 6 p.m.:

• 12th grade on July 21

• 11th grade on July 22

• 10th grade on July 28

• Ninth grade on July 29

The elementary and middle school will have Meet Your Teacher nights in the week before school begins.

For more information, visit tupeloschools.com.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

For kids and adults, bike helmets are essential safety equipment

Daily Journal photoillustration/Adam Robison

Daily Journal photoillustration/Adam Robison

Whether it’s down the street to a friend’s house or up the mountain in the Tour de France, bike helmets should be along for the ride with cyclists at all levels.
“Everybody needs a helmet,” said Tupelo pediatrician Ed Ivancic.
Broken bones can be set and mended. Healing the brain is a much trickier proposition.
“Prevention is the only way we can fix it,” said Tupelo neurosurgeon Louis Rosa.
Helmets can’t prevent every bike-related head injury, but they tilt the odds in a rider’s favor. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that helmets decrease the risk of head injury by 85 percent.
Between 2003 and 2012, more than 80 percent of people killed in bike crashes were not wearing helmets, according to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics. In 21 states, children are required to wear helmets, although Mississippi isn’t one of them. There are no state laws requiring adult cyclists to use helmets.
“We’re convinced bike helmets save lives,” said Rosa and his fellow neurosurgeons, Dr. Elbert White and Dr. Carl Bevering.
Popular culture has come a long way in encouraging helmet uses. On TV shows, particularly those aimed at kids, bike riders are likely to have helmets.
“Ten years ago, helmets weren’t cool, now they are cooler,” Rosa said.
The cycling community around Northeast Mississippi has been strong advocates for bike helmets.
“When you see the Tupelo Cycling Club and other groups, they’re all wearing helmets,” Ivancic said.
So how do you get kids to wear a helmet? Parents wearing them when they go out for a casual ride goes a long way.
“If we want our kids to do things, we have to do them,” Ivancic said.
Even low-speed crashes can crack your cranium.
Dr. Mark Shepherd, an avid cyclist who regularly commutes by bike, learned that a decade ago. It doesn’t matter if it’s a race or a ride home, he doesn’t put a foot to pedal without his helmet.
“The first thing I do is put the helmet on,” Shepherd said.
In 2003, Shepherd was riding home from the hospital one night. Taking a turn from Clayton Road onto the Natchez Trace access, his bike skidded on a patch of gravel and went down.
“I’d probably hit that turn 100 times, even at that time of night,” Shepherd said.
Even with a properly fitted helmet, Shepherd suffered a concussion and blacked out for a short time. He was able to recover enough get up and get home before heading to the ER to be checked out. It took several days for his memory to return to normal.
Without the helmet, Shepherd suspects he would have had an incapacitating injury at best.
“I make my living with my brain,” Shepherd said. “It could have been the end of my career for sure.”
michaela.morris@journalinc.com

Organ donation advocates recognized an Aberdeen couple for their work today.

Steve and Laura Gaskin received the donor advocate award from the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency at a ceremony in Jackson this afternoonlifestyle_healthnews. They were among 15 individuals and institutions honored at the MORA’s inaugural Spero Awards in Jackson. “Spero” is Latin for hope.

The Gaskins’ son Matthew became an organ donor after he was killed in a car wreck in 2008. His gift of life helped 39 people. Since then, the Gaskins have hosted an annual golf tournament to fund a scholarship fund in their son’s honor and have spoken out about the importance of organ donation.

lifestyle_healthnewsBy Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – HealthWorks! has the remedy for the summer doldrums.

The children’s health education center has a slate of full and half day camps in July to wake kids up body and mind. The HealthWorks! crew has cooked up playful camps full of science, space, pranks and wet stuff.

“We put their whole body and brain to work while they’re having fun,” said Kathy Tucker, seamstress of strategy for the center.

All of the HealthWorks! camps include loads of out-of-the-box fun, lots of physical activity, the opportunity to make a craft or a snack.

Full day camps for kids 8 to 12, will feature wacky science, glow-in-the-dark obstacle course and the chance to get lost in space. The camps, which run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., will be offered Mondays starting July 7 for children 8 to 12 years old. The cost is $55 with discounts for members.

The half-day camps, for kids 5 to 8, will include the ever popular Water, Water Everywhere, along with the opportunity to be a prankster, a cowboy and an archeologist. The camps, which run from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., will be offered Tuesdays starting July 8. They are open to children 5 to 8. The cost is $30 with discounts for members. Stay and play option is available for $15 for those who need to stay until 3:30 p.m.

On Thursdays starting July 10, preschoolers will get their own camps featuring bubbles, music and puppets. Their grownups can stay and play from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The cost is $20 with discounts for members.

For a list of HealthWorks! camps and registration information, call (662) 377-5437 or visit healthworkskidsms.org.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com It's not a cookie or a mint, but for people with sleep apnea, a CPAP mask can help deliver a good night's sleep. The sleep medicine labs where sleep apnea is diagnosed look more like nice hotels than hospital rooms.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
It’s not a cookie or a mint, but for people with sleep apnea, a CPAP mask can help deliver a good night’s sleep. The sleep medicine labs where sleep apnea is diagnosed look more like nice hotels than hospital rooms.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com The most commonly used CPAP mask configurations include a full face mask that covers the nose and mouth, a nasal mask that covers the nose, and a nasal pillow that seals against the nostrils.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
The most commonly used CPAP mask configurations include a full face mask that covers the nose and mouth, a nasal mask that covers the nose, and a nasal pillow that seals against the nostrils.

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

A good night’s sleep isn’t a luxury.

It can be a lifesaver for people with sleep apnea, the most common sleep disorder in North Mississippi.

“You need a good night’s sleep,” said sleep medicine technologist Adam Smith, Sleep Care at Fairpark manager. “People don’t realize how dangerous it is.”

Uncontrolled sleep apnea – where the airway collapses, cutting off the flow of air for 10 to 30 seconds – can have a tremendous impact on a person’s health. In the most severe cases, that can happen 80 times an hour.

“About 80 percent of our stroke patients have sleep apnea,” said Tupelo neurologist Dr. Sam Newell, who is one of seven North Mississippi Medical Center physicians certified in sleep medicine. “About 50 percent of heart failure patients have it.”

Sleep apnea, no matter the root cause, sets off cascades of problems, said Tupelo pulmonologist Jaime Ungo, who is also certified in sleep medicine. It impacts the cardiovascular system, dropping oxygen saturation and making the heart more vulnerable to arrhythmias, which increase the risk of stroke. The sleep deprivation piece can impair the immune system, increase stress hormones that impact the efficacy of insulin and make it difficult to focus.

“They crisscross,” Ungo said, making separate problems worse.

When sleep apnea is effectively treated, not only do people feel better, but the medications to control high blood pressure and diabetes can function more effectively.

“The exciting part is treating the patient,” Ungo said.

Two intervention studies in the New England Journal of Medicine published in June confirmed the value of CPAP – continuous positive airway pressure – for treating sleep apnea.

In the HeartBEAT study, CPAP significantly lowered blood pressure compared to oxygen alone for sleep apnea patients. In another study of obese patients with sleep apnea, the use of CPAP reduced the inflammatory protein markers that measure heart attack risk as much as weight management. In that study, the best results came when sleep apnea patients used both the CPAP and weight management.

The studies confirmed what sleep medicine specialists have seen in practice, Ungo said.

“We got the cardiologists on board 10 to 12 years ago,” Ungo said.

Loud, underdiagnosed

Loud, disruptive snoring is the hallmark symptom of sleep apnea. The snoring occurs as the body fights to rouse itself from the oxygen-deprivation. Obesity increases the risk of sleep apnea, but it can occur in people with healthy body weight.

People who are having difficulty controlling high blood pressure or diabetes should be screened for sleep apnea, Newell said. Research suggests people who are having trouble controlling epilepsy and migraines also should be evaluated.

The National Sleep Foundation estimates some 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. Sleep medicine professionals say they believe they are seeing only the tip of the iceberg.

“You’re probably only diagnosing about 10 percent of the people with sleep apnea,” Smith said. “Nobody thinks they have it. They think they’re just getting older.”

Innovations

Treatment of sleep apnea has come a long way since CPAP was first invented in 1981.

“When I started in the 1990s, there were five masks on the market,” Ungo said.

Now there are more than 40 styles of masks.

“New masks come out every day,” Smith said.

Much of the research has focused on making sleep apnea patients more comfortable so they keep using the masks.

The least restrictive masks – nasal pillows – only contact the face at the nostrils. Nasal masks fit over the entire nose. For people who breathe out of their nose and mouth during the night, a full face mask covers the nose and mouth.

The masks come in different sizes, materials and headgear configurations to accommodate different face shapes and preferences, said NMMC Sleep Disorders Center manager Dennis Kramer, a registered sleep medicine technologist.

“CPAP therapy is improving,” Kramer said.

The air machines have gotten smarter, too. They can ramp up the pressure so it’s lighter as people are falling asleep. They can alternate pressure, so it’s easier to exhale. Some models can detect leaks and collect data for analysis.

Nearly all the models have battery back up, humidifiers and heaters.

“They make it more just like you’re breathing through your nose,” Smith said.

Once sleep apnea is diagnosed and a treatment plan is laid out, it’s tremendously important for patients to use the devices as prescribed.

If a person has daytime fatigue or snoring returns, he or she may need follow-up care.

“It’s usually something very simple,” Newell said.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

Michaela Gibson Morris | Buy at photos.djournal.com Eight-two kids at the Tupelo Aquatic Center contributed to Friday’s effort to break the Guiness World Record for the world’s largest swimming lesson.  The aquatic center was one of three facilities in Mississippi to join centers across 26 countries. The international organization estimates that more than 40,000 people participated in the effort.

Michaela Gibson Morris | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Eight-two kids at the Tupelo Aquatic Center contributed to Friday’s effort to break the Guiness World Record for the world’s largest swimming lesson. The aquatic center was one of three facilities in Mississippi to join centers across 26 countries. The international organization estimates that more than 40,000 people participated in the effort.

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Nearly seven dozen kids and the Tupelo Aquatic Center are in the running to make the Guinness Book of World Records.

The center hosted 82 children for a free swimming lesson as part of the 2014 World’s Largest Swimming Lesson event Friday.

“We’re pretty pumped,” said Amy Kennedy, the Tupelo Aquatic Center director, who assembled a group of nine water safety instructors and a host of lifeguards to run the event. “We thought it would be really exciting for Tupelo.”

Trina Sykes’ nieces, Ashante, 10, and Airyana, 6, couldn’t wait to be a part of the world record attempt.

“They were so excited they forgot to put their caps on,” Sykes said as she watched them show off what they had learned in their regular swimming class. “They didn’t want to miss it.”

More than 40,000 participants were signed up for Friday’s swimming lesson across 48 states and 26 countries in the fifth time Team WLSL has set out to beat its own record.

In 2013, 32,450 swimmers for Team WLSL, which included people in 13 countries, set the current record.

The event was fun, but the focus is serious. Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death for children ages 1 to 14. It also opens the door to a lifetime of health exercise.

“When you can swim, you can swim for the rest of your life,” said Sihya Smith, one of the Tupelo water safety instructors leading Friday’s lesson.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com