The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

Health

New Mexico in need of Hispanic organ donors

Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 through October 15, is the ideal time to celebrate life and to honor those who made the decision to save lives through organ donation. It is also the time to raise awareness among Hispanics about the critical need for more organ and tissue donors. New Mexico Hispanics are encouraged to learn about organ and tissue donation, and to register to save and improve lives when obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or ID card at the Motor Vehicle Department.

  • The Hispanic community is in desperate need of organ donations.
  • As of September 15, seventeen thousand Hispanics were waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in the U.S.
  • In New Mexico, Hispanics account for 39.4% of kidney transplant candidates, or 127 patients.
  • In 2007, nearly 3,700 Hispanics received a transplant in the U.S., including twenty-seven in New Mexico.
  • 1,250 Hispanics donated after death, and 832 made living donations in the U.S.
  • In New Mexico, sixteen Hispanics donated after death and eight made living kidney donations.

Strongly held myths or misconceptions are the major barriers that prevent Hispanics from becoming organ and tissue donors. Some of these barriers include the belief that doctors will not try as hard to save the life of a person who is a registered donor, fear that there is a black market of organs in the U.S., or that religion does not permit organ and tissue donation.

In reality, doctors will do everything possible to save one’s life; there are laws against the buying and selling of organs in the U.S.; and all major religions support donation as a final act of charity and love.

For information about donation, visit www.DonateLifeNM.org or call 1-800-355-7427.


 

The Healthy Geezer

—FRED CICETTI

The Healthy Geezer is a new column. It is devoted to the health questions of “geezers,” all of us lovable and quirky seniors who are wondering what is going on with these bodies of ours. It is written by me, Fred Cicetti, a first-class geezer over sixty who’s been writing about health issues for more years than I want to talk about. Okay, here’s the first question:

Q: I’ve been noticing this thing in my eye. At first I thought it was an eyelash. Then I realized the thing was actually in my eye. One of my friends told me it’s a “floater,” and not to worry. What exactly is a “floater,” and should I see a doctor?

A: To allay any fears you may have, I should tell you that floaters are usually nothing to worry about. I have them myself. More than seven in ten people experience floaters. Now for some biology.

The lens in the front of your eye focuses light on the retina in the back of your eye. The lens is like the one in a camera, and the retina is like film. The space between the lens and retina is filled with the “vitreous,” a clear gel that helps to maintain the shape of the eye.

Floaters occur when the vitreous slowly shrinks over time. As the vitreous changes, it becomes stringy, and the strands can cast shadows on the retina. These strands are the floaters. They can look like specks, filaments, rings, dots, cobwebs, or other shapes. Floaters are the most vivid when you are looking at the sky or a white surface such as a ceiling. They move as your eyes move and seem to dart away when you try to look at them directly.

In most cases, floaters are just annoying. When you discover them, they are very distracting. But, in time, they usually settle below the line of sight. Most people who have visible floaters gradually develop the ability to make them “disappear” by ignoring them.

When people reach middle age, the vitreous gel may pull away from the retina, causing “posterior vitreous detachment.” It is a common cause of floaters, and it is more likely in people who are diabetics, nearsighted, have had eye surgery, or have suffered inflammation inside the eye.

These vitreous detachments are often accompanied by light flashes. The flashes can be a warning sign of a detached retina. Flashes are also caused by head trauma that makes you “see stars.” Sometimes light flashes appear to be little lightning bolts or waves. This type of flash is usually caused by a blood-vessel spasm in the brain, which is called a migraine. These flashes can happen without a headache and they are called an “ophthalmic migraine.”

If your floaters are just bothersome, eye doctors will tell you to ignore them. In rare cases, a bunch of floaters can hamper sight. Then a “vitrectomy” may be necessary. A vitrectomy is a surgical procedure that removes the vitreous gel with its floaters. A salt solution replaces the vitreous. The vitreous is mostly water, so patients who undergo the procedure don’t notice a difference. However, this is a risky procedure, so most eye surgeons won’t recommend it unless the floaters are a major impediment.

Many new floaters can sometimes appear suddenly. When this happens, it usually is not sight-threatening and requires no treatment. However, a sudden increase in floaters could mean that a part of the retina has pulled away from its normal position at the back wall of the eye. A detached retina is a serious condition and demands emergency treatment to prevent permanent impairment or even blindness.

What should you do when you notice your first floater? It’s a good time to get that eye examination you’ve been putting off.

If you want to ask a question, visit http://www.healthygeezer.com


Cancer disparities in New Mexico among highest in U.S.

On September 5, the national television networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC held the first-ever cancer special to air simultaneously on all three major broadcast networks. The goal of the special “Stand Up to Cancer” was to increase awareness of how cancer has affected the population of the United States and raise money to help fight the disease through several charities.

More than 8,200 New Mexicans will experience a life-altering cancer diagnosis this year, according to statistics from The New Mexico Tumor Registry, housed at The University of New Mexico Cancer Center, the state’s official cancer center based here in Albuquerque. In fact, 3,512 Sandoval County residents have been diagnosed with new cancer cases between 1995 and 2004, and the UNM Cancer Center served 446 patients in the county last year.

Cancer is second only to heart disease in the cause of deaths for New Mexicans. Based on a recent study, one in five people die annually from cancer in the state. “Native Americans and Hispanics are experiencing significant increases in cancer incidence and mortality,” said Dr. Cheryl Willman, director and chief executive officer for the UNM Cancer Center.

Charles Wiggins, UNM Cancer Center Epidemiologist and head of the statewide New Mexico Tumor Registry says, “Among New Mexican’s non-Hispanic whites, incidence rates of the most common cancers are similar to the national average. However, the state has the highest percentage of Native Americans and Hispanics in the country. These are populations that are less prone to the more common cancers and are more likely to have less common cancers such as cancers of the stomach and gallbladder.”

Among women, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer of all ethnic groups in New Mexico and the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic, Native American, and African American women. “The median age of breast cancer onset is a decade younger here than the national average, and the stage of the disease more advanced among New Mexicans,” said Dr. Melanie Royce, director of the Multidisciplinary Breast Cancer Program at the UNM Cancer Center. “Our studies show that breast cancer mortality is increasing among Hispanic and Native American women, with little or no decrease among non-Hispanic white women in our state.

More than twenty-two percent of New Mexicans lack health insurance of any kind and do not have access to preventative care. “Hispanics and Native Americans are less likely to be screened, and are typically diagnosed at later stages when the cancer is less treatable, resulting in disproportionately poorer prognoses,” said Wiggins.

The UNM Cancer Center has developed a statewide cancer care network through collaborative partnerships with community-based healthcare systems and physicians in the cities of Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Farmington, and Albuquerque. “The UNM Cancer Center provides world-class treatment to all New Mexicans, regardless of their ability to pay for treatment. Last year, we provided more than $4 million in unreimbursed indigent care. In 2007, the UNM Cancer Center cared for more than 7,600 cancer patients—from every county, every health system, and every health plan in New Mexico—in more than eighty-four thousand ambulatory clinic visits. More than eighty board-certified oncology physicians at the UNM Cancer Center diagnosed and treated nearly fifty percent of the adults and virtually all of the children in New Mexico affected by cancer.” said Dr. Cheryl Willman. “Native Americans and Hispanics are experiencing significant increases in cancer incidence and mortality.”

The University of New Mexico Cancer Center is one of the nation’s sixty-three premier National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Cancer Canters, with the largest team of cancer specialists and researchers in the state, and it is the Official Cancer Center of the State of New Mexico.

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