Health Highlights: Feb. 20, 2003

Transplant Patient Remains in Intensive Care Many Unlicensed and Drunk Drivers Still On the Roads, Study Says Surgeon Ladles Out Spoonful of Outrage Congressman Pledges Action on Ephedra Orioles Pitcher Suffers Diabetic Episode

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of The HealthDay Service:

Transplant Patient Remains in Intensive Care

Jesica Santillan, the 17-year-old Mexican girl who received a transplant of incompatible heart and lungs, remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Duke University Hospital following a second heart-lung operation Thursday morning.

She underwent almost four hours of surgery to remove the incompatible heart and lungs and replace them with ones that match her blood type.

Her new heart was beating on its own as the operation came to an end at about 10 a.m., the Raleigh News and Observer reports.

But later in the day, according to the Associated Press, doctors at the hospital warned that it was too early to say whether she would pull through.

"She's as critical as a person could be," Dr. Duane Davis said.

It's not clear who donated the new organs for Jesica. Lloyd Jordan of Carolina Donor Services said the donor family had requested anonymity, according to the AP. He said the donation was not "directed" -- that is, the family did not specifically request that the organs be given to Jesica.

On Feb. 7, surgeons mistakenly gave Jesica a heart and lungs that did not match her blood type. Her body started to reject the organs and left her in a coma. There's still no explanation for how the mistake occurred.

Jesica was born with a heart deformity that prevented her lungs from delivering the proper amount of oxygen to her blood. She would have died within six months without a transplant.


Unlicensed and Habitual Drunken Drivers Still On the Roads

Unlicensed drivers are five times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than are licensed drivers, says the Washington-based AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

In one of two studies released Thursday, the foundation said many unlicensed and habitual drunken drivers in the United States are eluding measures meant to keep them off the roads, the Associated Press reports.

The second study reports that habitual drunken drivers account for more than 40 per cent of all drunken-driving trips. More than half of all arrested drunken drivers are repeat offenders. And, the study found that two-thirds of fatally injured drivers have alcohol levels that are twice the legal limit.

There were 17,448 people killed in alcohol-related crashes in 2001, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That number represents 41 per cent of all U.S. traffic deaths.

AAA Foundation President Susan Pikrallidas told the AP that states must reevaluate and improve their enforcement of measures to prevent habitual offenders from getting behind the wheel. She adds that states are doing a poor job of identifying chronic drinkers.


Surgeon Ladles Out Spoonful of Outrage

A British surgeon flew off the handle after hospital officials reportedly told him to use a dessert spoon instead of a surgical instrument during a hip replacement operation.

Officials at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth allege Dr. Godfrey Charnley threw the spoon at a nurse, hitting her on the arm. Charnley denies that and says he hurled the spoon to the floor because he was angry at not being provided with the proper equipment, BBC News reports.

Claiming unfair dismissal, Charnley is challenging the public agency that runs Derriford Hospital.

The doctor says he should have been offered a surgical instrument called a curette, which is used to scrape off damaged tissue around the hip. He says his outburst when he was handed the dessert spoon was fueled by his desire to protect patients.

After the incident, Charnley spent $238 out of his own pocket to buy a curette. He now works at a hospital near his home in Coggeshall, Essex.


U.S. Congressman Pledges Action on Ephedra

Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) says he'll introduce strict new regulations on the herbal diet supplement ephedra, in the wake of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler's death this week. The coroner who performed the autopsy on the 23-year-old prospect says ephedra probably played a role in Bechler's death from heatstroke.

Under the Dietary Supplement Act of 1994, it's up to the Food and Drug Administration to prove that herbal supplements are unsafe, according to a statement released by the congressman. He says the burden of proof should instead fall on the manufacturers, as is the case with prescription drugs.

Sweeney says sales of ephedra should be suspended until Congress has a chance to evaluate "the immediate safety risk involved with its use." He also is calling on Major League Baseball to pass a ban the substance, as has been done by the National Football League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Bechler, who collapsed Sunday at the team's spring training camp in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and died Monday, was reportedly taking Xenadrine, an over-the-counter drug that includes ephedra. Ephedra has been tied to heatstroke and heart problems, according to the medical examiner, Dr. Joshua Perper.


Orioles Pitcher Suffers Diabetic Episode

For the second time in less than a week, the Baltimore Orioles had a scare at spring training camp in Florida on Wednesday, as starting pitcher Jason Johnson was rushed off the field after suffering what doctors called "a diabetic episode."

Johnson was taken off the field in an "unresponsive state" and doctors worked on him for about 15 minutes, reports the Miami Herald. But Johnson was able to drive home unassisted an hour later.

The incident came just two days after the death of Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler.

Johnson, 29, is a Type 1 diabetic, diagnosed when he was 11. He wears a small programmable pump on his waist that delivers insulin to help maintain normal blood glucose levels, the Herald reports. Doctors told the newspaper that he has had similar reactions before.

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