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Health Highlights: Dec. 24, 2004

Heart Boy Goes Home for XmasSpecial Visitor at Heart Center: Bill Clinton Medicare Will Pay for Smokers' Counseling Bayer Pulls Plug on Clinical Trial for Stroke Drug Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Use 'Sonar' to Destroy Other Cells FDA Rebukes Crestor Ad

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

Heart Boy Goes Home for Xmas

A 14-year-old Arkansas boy, the first child to receive a new heart after relying on a newly developed miniature heart pump, is home for Christmas.

Born with a congenital heart defect, Travis Marcus of Cabot had several operations since birth. His parents took him to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock Sept. 5 for a routine procedure, but learned he had developed severe problems. The boy was placed on a heart-lung bypass machine and also placed on a transplant list. But doctors said the bypass machine damages a patient's organs and increases the risk of stroke and bleeding, according to the Associated Press.

Doctors then decided to implant the miniature pump -- the DeBakey Child Ventricular Assist Device, a 1-by-3-inch, 4-ounce device that fits inside the patient's chest and is powered by an external battery pack. It was developed by 96-year-old Houston heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, considered the father of modern cardiovascular surgery. It had been used in only one other child -- a 6-year-old Texas girl who died in April before she could receive a transplant.

DeBakey flew to Little Rock to visit Travis and his family as Dr. Jonathan Drummond-Webb implanted the device Sept. 16. Two months later, Travis got a new heart. On Thursday, he left the hospital and was planning to help his sister bake Christmas cookies at home.

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Special Visitor at Heart Center: Bill Clinton

The last time former President Bill Clinton was in the Westchester County, N.Y. Medical Center was last September for a test that literally changed his life.

Clinton, who had been complaining of shortness of breath and chest pain, was tested by Dr. Anthony Pucillo, who determined that he had severe artery blockage. Clinton, whose Chappaqua home is not far from the medical center, was rushed to Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia in New York City, where he had quadruple bypass surgery a few days later.

Clinton returned to the Westchester Medical Center Dec. 23 to dedicate a new cardiac catheterization unit run by Pucillo.

"I was really delighted to walk in here instead of coming in a wheelchair and I'm even more delighted to be able to walk out," the Associated Press quotes him as saying.

The wire service reports Pucillo as telling Clinton that the publicity about his illness "contributed to more awareness of the importance and value of diagnosis and treatment among the general public." And the former president responded, "This may have done more to affect as many people as almost anything I did when I was president."

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Medicare Will Pay for Smokers' Counseling

The U.S. government, apparently seeing more benefit in prevention than treatment, has announced that the Medicare program will pay for counseling to help people quit smoking.

Most of those who will be eligible for the counseling include older Medicare beneficiaries who smoke and have smoking-related diseases or take certain medications, the Associated Press reported.

The coverage for the counseling will begin no later than the end of March 2005. Medicare will cover the cost of up to four counseling sessions for smokers. If that isn't effective, Medicare may pay for a second round of counseling.

Many patient advocates and health care providers applauded the decision, although some wanted more extensive coverage that would cover the cost of nicotine-replacement programs and some prescription drugs.

"Quitting is hard, but counseling is a proven means of helping smokers succeed. It's cost effective and can double the chances of success," John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, told the AP.

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Bayer Pulls Plug on Clinical Trial for Stroke Drug

Pharmaceutical firm Bayer has pulled out of a clinical trial for the drug Repinotan, designed to treat stroke patients.

The company said the decision was made because the results of a recently completed Phase IIb clinical trial of the drug fell short of expectations, Agence France-Presse reported.

However, Bayer isn't going to give up on Repinotan, which belongs to the neuroprotectant class of drugs.

"While ending the development of Repinotan in strokes, we are still considering other options for the future of the compound," said a company statement.

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Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Use 'Sonar' to Locate Other Cells

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have a sonar-like system that enables them to zero in on and destroy other bacteria or normal cells, says a study in the Dec. 24 issue of the journal Science.

This discovery may help explain how some bacteria know when to produce a toxin that causes infections to become more severe. The study findings may also help scientists develop new ways to inhibit such toxins.

"Blocking or interfering with a bacterium's 'detection' mechanism should prevent toxin production and limit the severity of infection," study lead author Michael Gilmore, director of research at the Schepens Eye Research Institute and professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.

Gimore and his colleagues studied a bacterium called Enterococcus faecalis, which is responsible for many hospital-acquired infections. They found that this bacterium produced toxins whenever it was close to another cell, such as a human blood cell.

"These bacteria are actively probing their environment for enemies or food. Based on whether or not they 'see' other cells, they make the toxin appropriately," Gilmore said.

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FDA Rebukes Crestor Ad

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has told drug maker AstraZeneca to withdraw a print ad that touts the safety of the cholesterol drug Crestor. The FDA says the claims in the ad are misleading.

In a letter dated Dec. 21, the FDA wrote: "The 'patient safety' print ad makes false or misleading safety claims that minimize the risks associated with Crestor, thereby suggesting that Crestor is safer than has been demonstrated by substantial evidence or substantial clinical experience."

An AstraZeneca spokesperson said the ad was meant to run for a only a short time and is no longer being used, the Associated Press reported.

After the ad appeared in the Washington Post on Nov. 23, Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the consumer group Public Citizen filed a complaint with the FDA. Wolfe has been trying to have Crestor withdrawn from the market because he's concerned about the rate of liver problems associated with the drug.

Crestor belongs to a family of drugs called statins. The prescribing information for Crestor includes warnings about possible liver damage or failure, the AP reported.

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