Saturday, October 21, 2017

CBC Marketplace and Busting Superfoods

Superfood: a term too good to be true? I thought so. I never bought into the hype. But I guess some folks do and CBC Marketplace set out to burst their bubble: Busting Superfoods.

For the most part, it seemed to be a good show but there were statements that I questioned and not because I am a believer in superfoods. For instance, the program presented a Canadian alternative to some superfood. And what was the alternative: the potato.

I was once a big booster of the potato. Hey, the Irish apparently got by quite nicely on potatoes until the potato famine struck. The lesson seemed to be: oodles of potatoes good, no potatoes, or anything else for that matter, bad.

Well, I was wrong. Oodles of potatoes are not good. One should have a balanced diet. No surprise here. But, and here comes the surprise, potatoes do not necessarily make up a large portion of a correctly balanced diet.

Read this article from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: The problem with potatoes.

The article, to which I linked, warns "a cup of potatoes has a similar effect on blood sugar as a can of cola or a handful of jelly beans." This is something that I've been told during my visits to various doctors related to my fight against heart disease. Go easy on the potatoes, I'm told.

I'm 70. My body does not need more stress and potatoes, especially a good helping of potatoes without the skins, could put my body under stress as it struggles to cope with the resulting surge in blood sugar level.

So, do I avoid potatoes? No. Potatoes, especially with the skins, are a good source of potassium, vitamin C, fibre and magnesium, plus potatoes are low in fat and inexpensive. Just go lightly on the full fat sour cream and pats of butter. Berkeley Wellness, University of California, has a good article looking at the positive side of the potato debate: Don't Drop the Potato.

CBC Marketplace, like potatoes, not bad, but not super either.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

New approach to fighting strokes: the Watchman LAA closure device

I have TIAs. TIA stands for Transient Ischemic Attack. And what, you may ask, is that? Let's just call a TIA a mini-stroke and leave it at that.

My attacks usually last less than five minutes and do not amount to much, at least not individually. But, if one has enough TIAs, the damage can be additive. I have suffered minor memory loss as a result of my numerous mini-strokes. 

Having a TIA can be frightening, and rightly so. One particular attack, called an amaurosis fugax, leaves one or both eyes blind or partially blind for a number of minutes. Although there is usually no permanent brain damage, the blindness is temporary, such an event can be a precursor to a full-blown, life-altering, stroke. I've had close to a dozen of these dramatic, visual events.

TIAs and strokes are often caused by small blood clots, formed in the heart, traveling to the brain and lodging there. These small clots can block the blood flow to the brain. With TIAs the clot is unstable and quickly disintegrates. Blood flow is soon restored. With a brain-damaging stroke, the clot does not break-up and medical attention is needed immediately to prevent permanent brain damage.

Attempting to prevent the formation of these small blood clots is the usual response to frequent TIAs. This can mean taking an anti-coagulant for life. This, of course, comes with its own host of associated risks. 

And ironically, one of the increased risks from taking anti-coagulants can be a type of stroke - a hemorrhagic stroke. A stroke resulting from bleeding in the brain: a hemorrhage.  

I take Pradaxa, one of the newer anti-coagulants. Many people rely on warfarin. That's right, the chemical used in rat poison.

I am not an ideal candidate for Pradaxa, or any anticoagulant, as I have micro-bleeding in the brain. I live with threats from both types of strokes mentioned previously. 

Now, there is a new approach to fighting the blood clots that have traveled from my heart to my brain and caused my TIAs. It's a surgical solution but minimally invasive. I learned about this new method of combating TIAs, in cases such as mine, from one of my doctors at the London Health Sciences Centre.

Because I have micro-bleeding in the brain, I am not a great candidate for anti-coagulants. That's why I don't take warfarin, also known as Coumadin. Pradaxa is not as prone to causing a hemorrhagic stroke as warfarin but, that said, there is still an increased risk of bleeding. Not good.

Why do some hearts generate clots and not others? Often the answer is atrial fibrillation or AFib. Some hearts, the ones producing clots, often have a quivering, irregular heartbeat. The blood tends to pool and swirl inside the heart before being pumped out to the body. This pooling and swirling in the heart encourages the formation of blood clots.

It is now believe the clots coming from the heart are originating, for the most part, in a small sack on the left side of the heart known as the left atrial appendage (LAA). Blood gets into the small sack and remains trapped there long enough for small but dangerous clots to form. These clots eventually leave the LAA to be pumped out of the heart and to the brain where they may cause a TIA or stroke.

If this theory is right, and there appears to be good reason to believe it is, then preventing blood from collecting in the LAA appears to be a possible answer. 

Some cardiac surgeons are now plugging the LAA with a small closure device. There are a number of competing implants, among them is the Watchman from Boston Scientific Corporation.

This is what the FDA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has to say:

The Watchman LAA Closure Device is permanently implanted in the left atrial appendage (LAA) of the heart to prevent LAA blood clots from entering the bloodstream and potentially causing a stroke.

The cardiac-surgeon inserts the delivery catheter into the body through a vein in the leg. The catheter is threaded through the body until it reaches the right atrium of the heart. The physician makes a small hole through the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart (atrial septum) so the catheter can reach the LAA. The physician then pushes the device through the delivery catheter into the LAA where it opens up like an umbrella and is permanently implanted. Once in place, a thin layer of tissue grows over it in about 45 days.

The FDA notes that the device is used in patients who have atrial fibrillation, AFib, that is not related to heart valve disease.

Some time after the insertion of the device,  a patient may be taken off the riskiest anti-coagulants. This action should cut the patient's risk of having a hemorrhagic stroke. I believe this is the big benefit from having an LAA closure device implanted.

Although, taking baby Aspirin, ASA in Canada, will likely be necessary for the rest of the patient's life. ASA is a far less risky drug than warfarin, Pradaxa, Xarelto and the other common anti-coagulants. And it is far less costly. My Pradaxa therapy is not cheap. Taking sophisticated drugs for life can be awfully expensive.

Will I have a Watchman or similar device inserted in my LAA? I don't know. The idea has been raised and my doctors are in consultation. I would not be surprised to have this new solution to AFib caused TIAs and strokes applied in my case. As I have made clear, the use of anticoagulants is contraindicated in folk like me.

I was the first person in Canada to have a failed mitral valve repaired robotically using the da Vinci system, and I was one of the first patients to benefit from the use of the experimental T7 MRI unit at LHSC. I've had good luck with new procedures in the past.

As I learn more, I'll repost or add to this post. Cheers!

Let me end with this final video. If you have AFib but are not an ideal candidate for anticoagulants, for whatever reason, you might find the following video interesting. Talk with you cardiologist.

Remember, I am just a heart patient sharing his story. This is NOT medical advice. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bowring goblets may be flawed

This is an add-on. I heard from Bowring and so far my wife and I are the only folk to have encountered problems with these glasses. The local store may have been sent a bad batch. At least, that is the working premise at the moment.

Recently, my wife and I bought some glass goblets from the Bowring store in Northwest London, Ontario. Before we had even paid for the ones we had removed from the shelves and carried to the checkout, we discovered three of the glasses had serious and potentially dangerous flaws. The rims were unfinished, jagged, rough and slightly sharp.

Tonight one of the glasses we did buy broke while my wife was drinking from it. She noticed a line near the top of the bowl. When she inspected it, the top lifted free. The wine glass had broken. The break was so sharp, one might have thought it had been done with a glass cutter.

I've written Bowring warning them that one of the wine glass lines they are carrying may be seriously flawed. If I hear back from the Bowring customer service, I will add their response to this post.

Note the shape of the glass, it is made in China and sold at Bowring. Don't buy any. You have been warned.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A murder, followed by an indignity to the body, featured in the Centennial film Helicopter Canada

Misrepresentation at core of opinion piece.
It’s five a.m. and I can’t sleep. Again. It's been a full week and I’m still upset, haunted by the horrifying story brought into my home and into my consciousness by my local paper, The London Free Press

An Indian was murdered, the body desecrated and the local journalist slipped over the nation-shaming incident with a simple mention of crude talk.

Why do I call the incident nation-shaming? Because the incident is a featured vignette in Helicopter Canada, a film made to celebrate Canada's Centennial.

I watched Helicopter Canada and haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. If you’d like to stop here, please do. The following is difficult to write and it will be difficult to read. I am finding it difficult to find a comfortable narrative within which to fit this film into my naive, Canadian psyche. 

At the 40 minute 50 second mark, while a honky-tonk piano plays in the background, the narrator of the film tells us:

The Canadian West is still pretty well strung out but it's held together by legends. (Here a new voice is heard, that of an aged, Western man, possibly a cowboy or an oil man, relating one of the so-called region-binding tales.)

And they started to shoot up ‘round the fort, that is, they were shooting all around the fort and raisin cane there. And at that time they killed an Indian an’ scalped him. They took seven scalps off the one Indian. Now many people think when you talk about a scalp, it’s the whole thing but it’s not. It’s only about the size of a 25-cent piece with a strand of hair. That’s just about the size of it.”

I’m numb. Absolutely numb. And my local newspaper headlines a story on this film with “Lights, camera - misrepresentation!” Misrepresentation? We all wish. And the newspaper story talks about the roundabout, crude terms used in the film. Roundabout? A man was killed. Murdered. The body mutilated, desecrated, scalped. And the entire squalid episode was driven by racial bigotry, racial hatred.

I'd like to say the journalist simply didn't view the film But he clearly did. He tells his readers “an old-timer explains that a ‘scalp’ taken from a skull was only about the size of a quarter.” It is the local paper that is unable to address the horror in anything but the most roundabout way.

The writer found the film, Helicopter Canada, now badly dated. When the Globe and Mail revisited the 50-year-old National Film Board production, that newspaper called the film “cringe worthy.” That's it?

Eugene Boyko, the film's editor/cinematographer, delivered a film that on the surface is pretty light fare: a tongue-in-cheek narrative accompanies consistently spectacular film footage shot entirely from a helicopter. But this film is clearly not just high-end visual fluff, it is not, and never was, just a light-hearted look at Canada. 

At its core, this film is subversive. One of the hidden messages slipped past the sponsoring Centennial Commission in 1967 is things are not always what they seem. Here, I could list example after example supporting this contention but please allow me to move on to another clear message: “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”

I am absolutely stunned that so many saw this film on its release and so many more have viewed it over the years but no one, as far as I can tell, has ever gotten passed the honky tonk piano to see, to question, to discuss the horrific way Canada and Canadians treated people of the First Nations.

I'm going to continue digging. Eugene Boyko is simply too good a filmmaker to have included this incident to entertain us. There must be something out there that reveals why this incident is in a film made for Canada's Centennial.

I believe Eugene Boyko is holding a mirror up to Canadians and what that mirror reflects is not always what Canadians want to see. Boyko's film is not ignoble as the opinion writer believes. It is us, us Canadians, who are shown to have an ignoble side.


This post could end here but, if it did, it would not be a complete look at the little, aging, documentary film: Helicopter Canada.

Shooting a film entirely from a helicopter is an awesome undertaking, which director-cinematographer Eugene Boyko pulls it off with great skill and style. 

It must be remembered that Boyko worked before most of the technical advances that make shooting something like now easy. 

He pulled it off using big, heavy, Panavision equipment. Many of his images are simply inspiring.


Next, the choice of the little vignettes could be seen as simply veering toward the quirky but I see more. Sadly, what writer Larry Cornies calls “whimsical” is the tone that causes most folk to miss the underlying problems being addressed.

And there are some fine cinematic moments in Helicopter Canada. Moments that slip by journalist-reviewers unnoticed. The little segment featuring the Bluenose is wonderful. The filming and editing is first rate and the music accompanying the episode is provided by The Mountain City Four featuring Kate and Anna McGarrigle. To have included the McGarrigle sisters in a 1967 film was a stroke of genius.

I talked to film buffs about the movie and the criticism of its being dated. Of course, it’s dated, I was told. It’s a visual time capsule. It is meant to grow old. It was a look at Canada “warts and all.” It carried the message “we have problems but we can solve them.”

God, I hope so.

Lastly, I could not believe what I was hearing when the honky tonk piano started and the talk of the casual murder and mutilation of a First Nations man began. I contacted the National Film Board and they sent me their transcript of the soundtrack. I believe the transcript has errors but nevertheless it does contain the murder-mutilation story.

I don't hear the name Grayson. I hear "and raisin' cane there."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When will London act on the ReThink promise?

London, Ontario, went through quite a time consuming process called ReThink London. It was an urban planning exercise that invited community participation. ReThink was going to put the large southwest Ontario city on the path to denser future development.

It was, in my opinion, a lot of smoke with very little fire. Despite the claims of massive community involvement, I find the participation numbers questionable. All that aside, what I find most interesting is that the future as envisioned by ReThink is not the future in many places but is simply reality today.

This is a great improvement on the big-box shopping mall.
The posted images are screen grabs from Google Streetviews. The two images from Georgia are not artist's conceptions. These are images of a mixed use development in existence today.

The development, a traditional retail and residential blend, even has a movie theatre as part of the mix.
In compact developments, stores front onto streets rather than parking lots.
Mixed use developments, such as this one in Georgia, are springing up throughout the world. London talks the talk but that's where it all stops.

ReThink London promised an end to urban sprawl but unfortunately the ReThink ideas are little more than a gleam in our city planners' eyes.

Lots of parking with a wall separating much of the residential from the commercial.

More than a decade ago, journalist Christine Dirks told readers of The London Free Press about a new urbanist dream development planned for the southwest of London. It would be a first for the city. Talbot Village was the name of the new suburban community. Today the development is nearing completion and the only part of the dream that survived is the name: Talbot Village.

ReThink London. Humbug.

Addendum: And yes, I know the new city plan was not in place when much of Talbot Village was being built. But, mixed use communities are being built not because developers are being forced to build them but because mix use creates sensible developments and profitable ones as well.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Should you eat eggs? Do you feel lucky?

How do I stand on eggs? Are they safe to eat or not? The answer is "yes and no." It really is. And that is the difficulty. There is no one size fits all answer to the egg question.

The right answer depends on you, and your actions depend on how you answer the famous question asked by Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry: "Do I feel lucky?"

You see, eggs are safe to eat if you do not suffer from cardiovascular disease, from a build up of plaque in the arteries delivering blood to your heart or brain and elsewhere. But how does one know if their arteries are clear? Well, until tests show they are plugging up, most of us like to believe our arteries are clear. Often we are wrong.

Even though cardiovascular disease afflicts or kills as many as one in two adults in developed countries, we feel lucky. Until, that is, one suffers a heart attack or a stroke. Dying from this is not a long shot. This is not a lottery with long odds. It is not even a dice throw. It is more a coin flip.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports:

A healthy lifestyle pattern may prevent more than 50% of deaths due to ischemic strokes, 80% of sudden cardiac deaths, and 75% of all deaths due to cardiovascular disease. And what exactly is a "healthy lifestyle pattern?"
  • Not smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Staying active
  • Choosing a healthy diet

And where do eggs fit in a healthy diet? That depends. Again, from the T.H. Chan school:

People who have difficulty controlling their total and LDL cholesterol may want to be cautious about eating egg yolks and instead choose foods made with egg whites. The same is true for people with diabetes. 

Unfortunately, one year you may test well for cholesterol but move into the danger in the future. For many of us, as our age increases so does our cholesterol. I had good readings until I didn't. And I found out I didn't a little late in the game. I thought I was lucky. I wasn't. I no longer eat eggs, or at least not egg yolks. This is at the urging of my heart and stroke specialist.

If you are young and healthy and at little risk of  cardiovascular disease, you can take solace in the fact that  research has shown eating one egg a day is not associated with increased heart disease risk in healthy individuals. But note those last words: "healthy individuals." Read the fine print.

I believe my heart and stroke doctor would tell you not to flip a coin when it comes to your health. You can never be totally confident that you are "healthy." Don't smoke, maintain a healthy weight, exercise and eat a healthy diet by keeping saturated fat consumption low. And, to further increase your odds of avoiding what is commonly called heart disease, minimize your consumption of eggs.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Breitbart/Fox contributor found on Opinion page of The London Free Press

Before getting into this post, I'd like to say that I am a retired newspaper staff photographer. I've had connections to newspapers since I was boy. I love newspapers. And many of the seniors with whom I associate are also newspaper junkies. But, and this is the sad part, The London Free Press as operated by Sun Media, and now by Post Media, has broken some of these people's life-long attachments to a daily paper.

They say the paper is too thin. It doesn't have enough local news. These at-one-time-readers are not interested in what happens in Windsor or in other cities with a Post Media paper. And they feel The London Free Press has veered too far to the right. These seniors miss what isn't there and are often offended by what is.

The opinion piece at the core of this post is an example of what is chasing the folk I know away from the paper. And the sad thing is the folk running the paper don't appear to care. The opinion piece contained phrases that to folks who follow this stuff, and my friends do, say beware of  the hidden right wing agenda.

It is one thing for the local paper to carry a cost-saving right-wing insert. But when the paper itself has its opinion page contaminated with cheap, head-office bumpf, then readers stop reading The London Free Press. All too sad.

Now, on to my post.

It's tough being a journalist at a small, daily newspaper today. The staff is thin and threatens to get even thinner. The worries concerning job security and even worries about the future of the paper itself are palpable. No one wants to join the ranks of the unemployed. Everyone does their job, no one criticizes and all keep quiet. If I still worked at The London Free Press, even mouthy me might find myself self-muzzling.

With that confession out of the way, I'd like to believe I'd be in Joe Ruscitti's office right now telling him that Peter Morici does not belong on the paper's Opinion page. Ruscitti is the editor in chief at the local paper. Peter Morici is the type of columnist who repels my senior friends.

Recently, the newspaper called for a boycott of L. L. Bean. Why? Because, according to the local journalist behind the call, Morris Dalla Costa, it doesn't support anyone who supports the policies of Donald Trump. I thought a boycott was an action demanding a fair amount of thought and deliberation and not just a quick tweet. He assured me that it was "not a difficult concept." (I say the newspaper called for the boycott because the Twitter username attached to the tweet ended with ...atLFPress. If the paper is going to allow their name to be part of a username, the paper must take some responsibility for the tweet.)

Peter Morici is a vocal supporter of many of Donald Trump's positions. He was identified in the paper as "an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland." All true. But he is also a contributor to Breitbart News and Fox News. This important background  information was not forthcoming.

Should Morici's opinion be in my local paper? Certainly, but not on the local Opinion page. It should be in the Post Media section. And Morici should be clearly identified as also appearing in Breitbart News. Steve Bannon, said to be the strategist behind Trump's travel ban, was the former head of Breitbart News. It should also be mentioned that Morici is a frequent on-air contributor to Fox News. Need I say more?

Now, will Morris Dalla Costa be so bold as to tweet out a call to boycott The London Free Press? I doubt it. And yet, by Dalla Costa's logic, he should be calling out the paper, his employer. As he said, it's "not a difficult concept."