Tag Archives: doctor

Polio Panic of 1952

July 11, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The community was in a panic. People stayed inside their homes. They avoided movies, camping, vacations and swimming. Anywhere that polio might lurk.

And when polio did strike the family…

…“I was torn apart by the anxieties and sadness on the faces of the parents,” says the retired Omaha pediatrician. “You could see anguish drop over their eyes. With the few tools available at that time to combat polio, I could provide very little solace for their relief.”

It was a tough summer for pediatricians like Oberst. “1952 was one nightmare after another. We were working 26 out of 24 hours a day. We got maybe a few hours of sleep.”

“There were so many sick children, it made your heart sick.”

Doctors hoped that the worst outcome would be a limp leg. But bulbar polio could kill or completely paralyze a child, leaving the child in an iron lung.

The memory of 1952 stayed with Oberst. Years later, he attended a dinner featuring Dr. Albert Sabin, the developer of the oral live virus polio vaccine. Oberst was shaken when he saw an iron lung on display. The sight sparked flashbacks to 1952.

“My heart started pounding. Chills were going up and down my spine. I could hear the clanking of the lung. I saw a child die  All I could remember were those horrible days,” he says.

Memories of the more than 360 children treated at Omaha’s Children’s Memorial Hospital in summer 1952 flooded back. At least 14 were in iron lungs.Thirteen died that summer.

It was the worst outbreak in Nebraska history. The disease’s original name was Infantile Paralysis, because it seemed to primarily target young children. But some victims were adults.

Unlike many of the other younger doctors at Children’s Memorial Hospital at the time, Oberst had experienced treating polio while serving in Japan in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. When he joined Omaha Children’s Clinic in 1951, he and some of the older pediatricians were the only doctors who had seen a case of polio in their lifetime.

In 1947, Oberst became the first and only resident at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, now UNMC. In March 1948, Children’s Memorial Hospital opened on what is now the UNMC campus at 42nd and Dewey streets

The sighs of relief heard from pediatricians after their patients survived with few problems stopped in the early 1980s when  post polio syndrome gradually emerged. Many of the polio survivors who had gone on to normal lives suddenly found their muscles were weak.

Darrel Sudduth of Plattsmouth is just starting to notice signs of post-polio syndrome more than 60 years after his recovery. He was 12 years old when diagnosed with polio during the 1952 epidemic.

“I don’t think my parents had ever heard of the disease,” says Sudduth, who is a member of the Nebraska Polio Survivors Association.

During two weeks of isolation in Children‘s Hospital, his parents were not allowed to see Sudduth. Until now, the only residual effects had been a bad back and one leg shorter than the other.

Oberst, 91, is known for several “firsts” in pediatric medicine during his long career:

ŸDoctors from around the nation referred patients with Attention Deficit Disorder With or Without Hyperactivity to Oberst, who was a pioneer in treating the condition then referred to as Minimal Cerebral Dysfunction. “But that name scared parents to death,” he remembers. He treated 3,000 children with ADHD.

ŸOberst developed The Omaha STAAR Project to help parents, doctors and teachers understand children with learning disabilities.

ŸWhile a resident, he pioneered the use of exchange transfusion for Rh-positive babies and their Rh-negative mothers. The transfusion was necessary to keep babies from being vulnerable to brain damage, deafness or yellow jaundice.

With all of his accomplishments, Oberst not surprisingly believes that pediatrics is the most satisfying of all specialties. However, the three sons and three grandsons of Oberst and his wife, Mary, who died in 2011, chose careers outside medicine. The family includes his famous grandson, singer-songwriter Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes.

Dr. Oberst has written seven books; some are medical books. The American Academy of Pediatrics presents an award in his name each year.

During his 40 years as a pediatrician, he treated thousands of children. But no memory is as heart-wrenching as the 1952 polio epidemic.

After the Salk vaccine was introduced in 1954, there were fewer cases. By 1979, there were no more cases in the United States. Polio appeared to be eradicated. But in some foreign countries where children are not vaccinated, it is resurging

“Some stupid people say their child shouldn’t be vaccinated,” he says. “They put that child at risk.”

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Don’t let motion sickness keep you from new activities

January 5, 2014 by

Motion sickness is very common. A simple swell of the sea, a bounce in the car, or the sway of a ride at the amusement park can make anyone’s stomach turn upside down.

Cause of Motion Sickness

Motion sickness occurs when the inner ear, eyes, and nerves in the extremities, which detect motion, send conflicting messages to the brain. One part of your body may sense that you are moving while another part does not see the motion. This leads to a disagreement between the senses and can result in motion sickness. Signs of motion sickness may include:

  • Pale appearance
  • Disorientation
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Complaints of feeling hot, although not warm to touch

Preventing and Treating Motion Sickness

Boys Town Pediatrics has several tips on how to prevent motion sickness:

  • Provide a very light snack before the activity.
  • Avoid strong smelling odors.
  • Wear layered clothing and adjust as needed.
  • Drink plenty of water and ensure the body is hydrated.
  • Make frequent stops.
  • Do not sit facing backward from the 
direction of travel.
  • Focus attention on listening to the radio and talking.
  • Open vent for a source of fresh air.
  • Avoid reading or games that cause constant focus.

If motion sickness occurs during your travels, the best way to treat it is try to stop the motion. If you cannot stop the motion, try laying your child down or having him sit in an area with the least amount of movement. Remind your child to take big, long breaths. You can also provide him or her with a damp towel applied to the forehead.

When to See a Doctor

If your child has motion sickness, and your family is planning an activity that may trigger the sickness, talk to your child’s pediatrician. Medication may be available to help prevent motion sickness. If your child is having motion sickness symptoms, but they are not involved with movement activities, schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor.

Lydia Kang is in Control.

December 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lydia Kang has delicate, tiny hands. A long ponytail. She wears simple jewelry: a couple bracelets and some earrings.

That’s nearly as much detail as you’ll get about the characters she writes. Kang’s debut novel, Control, will be released the day after Christmas. “I would say I write for the impatient reader,” she says with a laugh. “I won’t spend three pages discussing why a certain scene is meaningful. I’ll try to get to the core of what is important and emotional and move onto that.”

A young-adult novel with a sci-fi twist, Control follows a young woman named Zelia as she overcomes her father’s death, her sister’s kidnapping, and her own introduction to a society of misfit teens that the government wants the world to forget.

While Zelia is kind of a blank slate, Kang does allow a couple extra descriptors for some of Control’s more unique characters. “Hex is Asian,” she says, describing a young man with four arms, “and Vera is Latina, although you can’t really tell because she’s green.” Oh, and Wilbert has two heads. He switches his sentience between them so he never has to sleep.

This is the kind of medical-thriller world readers get when it’s provided by a sci-fi fan who also happens to be a doctor. Kang, a New York City transplant, has worked at University of Nebraska Medical Center for the past seven years as a general internal medicine physician. She minored in English and has been published in a few medical journals, but, she says, “I have to credit Omaha—this is where I really started writing.” 

Shortly after moving to Omaha with husband Yungpo Bernard Su and giving birth to her youngest of three children, Kang took a stab at writing some poetry. “And it was really horrible poetry, really bad stuff,” she says, “but I thought, you know, this is kind of fun.”

After a few writing seminars and a couple of what she calls “practice novels,” Kang was ready in 2010 to put her latest idea to the test—a story centered around a young woman living with Ondine’s curse, an ailment that can cause respiratory arrest during sleep. “I was studying for my boards recertification,” she recalls, “and I couldn’t remember hearing about it in medical school. And I thought it was really fascinating and horrific and sad. And wouldn’t it be interesting to have a character with that?” She wrote her first draft in three months, she signed on with an agent in 2011, and a couple weeks later Control was picked up by Penguin.

To make herself more attractive to the publishing world, Kang also began blogging in 2010. But what to blog about other than the challenges of writing? “There are a million blogs out there like that,” she recalls thinking. “Do I have anything else to offer? And I sat there wondering, what makes me different, what do I have to offer, do I have any skills that I can share with people? And then—oh. I’m a doctor.” She laughs now at how completely she had separated her life in medicine from her writing life.

Kang spread the word online that if a writer were struggling with a fictional medical scenario, she’d assist them with authoritative advice. For example, an author might need a character to wake up after, say, a half hour; Kang could suggest a drug that might work in such a situation. She’s advised on medical situations that have been published in other books, and one author even gave her a cameo appearance in a book as Dr. Kang.

For the foreseeable future, she’ll remain Dr. Kang in both literary and real life. Though she plans to release Control’s sequel, Catalyst, in early 2015 and is currently revising a fantasy novel for her agent’s consideration, Kang says it would take a lot to make her give up practicing medicine to write full-time. “I really love my patients. It’s a bit hectic at times,” she admits, laughing, “but I’m managing.”


 A book release party for Control will be held Jan. 18 from 2-4 p.m. at The Bookworm in Countryside Village, 8701 Pacific St.

Skin Repair After Sun Damage

July 22, 2013 by

The damage is done. You have been told for years to wear a hat and sunscreen (minimum SPF 30) and to stay out of direct sunlight between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. But, again, the sun wrapped you up in its relaxing warmth, and now you’re burnt to a crisp.

You can almost feel the crows feet forming around your eyes and the deep creases folding into your forehead. Is there anything you can do to lessen the damage? Justin G. Madson, M.D., Ph.D., dermatologist at Midwest Dermatology Clinic, P.C., gives practical advice on remedies for both serious and mild sunburns.

If you have a serious sunburn, you need to see your doctor immediately. “Signs of serious sunburn are blistering, a rash, excessive itching immediately following sun exposure, fever, or an infection that results from scratching or an open blister,” says Dr. Madson.

“Excessive pain is also a sign that it is time to see a doctor, especially if it cannot be controlled by over-the-counter pain relievers. Your dermatologist can prescribe treatments for these symptoms, including prescription cortisone creams, antihistamines, and pain relievers.”

For milder burns, try a couple home remedies. “Sooth the area with a cold, wet cloth for 10-15 minutes. This takes the heat out of the skin,” says Dr. Madson. A cool bath and moisturizing lotion can also be helpful. However, “avoid lotions that contain petrolatum [i.e. Vaseline], as these ointments form a barrier that traps the heat within the sunburned skin.

“Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help with moderate pain,” says Dr. Madson. After trying some of these immediate remedies, it is a good idea to let your skin heal on its own. “Leave blisters alone. They are nature’s Band-Aids and protect newly healing skin from dirt and bacteria on the surface of the skin. The outer layers of your skin are there to protect what is underneath. Allow nature to shed the skin when it is no longer needed.”

If you are on vacation and cannot avoid the sun, “apply sunscreen SPF 30+ liberally to all areas of the skin and wear long-sleeve, sun-protective clothing. The sun’s damaging rays can penetrate clothing, so it’s necessary to double your efforts,” says Dr. Madson. “Make sure the fabric is a little loose. Tight fabric stretches, letting in more light. And try to plan vacation activities outside during morning, late afternoon, and evening hours when the harmful rays are not as strong.

“There is a long list of skin conditions caused by long-term sun exposure, the most serious of which is skin cancer. It’s a serious, invasive cancer that spreads to vital organs in the body if not diagnosed and treated early. And sun exposure, especially sunburn, is the leading cause,” says Dr. Madson.

Next time you cozy into the lawn chair on a sunny summer afternoon, remember this statistic from Dr. Madson: “Studies show that your risk of developing melanoma doubles after five sunburns in your lifetime. That’s why sun protection is so important.”

Surprising Fact: “We get more sun damage through the car window than previously thought. A new study found that 53 percent of skin cancers occur on the left side of the body as opposed to the middle or right side. That is attributed to the many miles we put behind the wheel and the increased sun exposure. Whether the window is rolled down or up, you are at risk—windshield glass only protects us from UVB rays. We get a steady dose of UVA while driving (or as a passenger). Reflective factors, such as snow or water, also increase dangers of ultraviolet light,” says Dr. Madson.

Not Home Alone

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As the largest generation in American history, often referred to as the post-war “Baby Boomers,” begins to reach and pass their 60th birthdays, the sheer size of the population is predicted to overwhelm the current facilities intended to meet the needs for assistive care and skilled care. That fact, along with many seniors’ desire to remain in their familiar, comfortable family home, have prompted many Americans to turn to companies and resources that can help them stay in their homes safely, happily, and productively and at a reduced expense.

The “Aging in Place’ trend has gained steam in recent years, and is expected to continue to grow in popularity in the next decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has defined “Aging in Place” as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably regardless of age, income, or ability level.”

Finding quality providers of at-home products and services is one of the most important aspects in preparing a successful plan for aging in place. Omaha has a wide selection of service providers, caregivers, and equipment providers who can work with the individual or the family to make aging at home a viable option.

Matt Nyberg, owner of Home Care Assistance of Omaha, says that while the majority of “Baby Boomers” haven’t yet reached the point of requiring home-care products and services, his company is preparing for the deluge of demand ahead. His firm provides seniors with non-medical, hands-on assistance with activities of daily living, bathing, and transferring, with what he says is an innovation in the business. Each client has an RN (registered nurse) who assesses needs, manages services, and attends doctors’ appointments, if requested. The RN then communicates with the family (with the client’s permission) in order to keep the family up-to-date on the client’s condition.

Laurie Dondelinger, marketing director at Kohll’s Home Care in Omaha, recently took this writer on a tour of their 10,000-square-foot showroom, which contains hundreds, perhaps thousands, of assistive devices from canes to stairway lifts to walk-in tubs to ceiling lift tracks which literally lift a disabled person out of bed and motor them anywhere in the home where the ceiling track has been installed. Kohll’s has in-house contractors who can install assistive devices as well as remodel a home to accommodate such devices.

Dondelinger tells of a satisfied client who installed a stairway lift in his three-story house. He is so thrilled with the ease in moving from floor to floor that he feels as if he now lives in a ranch-style home, and he’s no longer faced with having to sell his beautiful home on the river where he has lived for many years.

Bob Sackett, owner of Complete Access in La Vista, got into the home-accessibility business because of a personal crisis facing a family member 25 years ago. He is now a licensed elevator sales and installation provider specializing in modular ramps, stairway lifts and elevators, for the home serving customers in western Iowa and central and eastern Nebraska. His company sells both new and previously owned products, allowing him to meet the needs of even tight budgets. Like so many in the stay-at-home business, Sackett has a true fervor about his business, which he says is not only cost-effective in keeping people in their own homes, but also improves clients’ quality of life.

However, Sackett says that, in his initial assessment, he looks and listens to learn whether or not the person can survive happily at home. If his accessibility services could result in a person living 24 hours alone with no human interaction, then he isn’t interested in the business opportunity because then he would not be providing a high quality-of-life service.

Spirit Homecare is a newcomer to the Omaha home-assistance market, providing skilled hands-on care such as administering medications and treatments per doctor’s orders, as well as non-medical services via homemakers and companions, including meal preparation, transportation services, and light housekeeping. They also provide supervised hands-on assistance with personal care needs, help with prescribed exercises and medical equipment, and much more. Up to 24-hour care and live-in companion services are available as well.

Spirit Homecare is part of St. Jude Healthcare, a company that provides services in Wisconsin, Nebraska, California, Arizona and Kansas. Although non-medical assistance is not reimbursable by Medicare, sometimes Medicaid and private long-term care insurance does provide reimbursement. Tom Moreland, CEO of St. Jude Healthcare, says that his company is the only one in the Midwest that provides services in a manner consistent with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services.

The above providers are but a tip of the iceberg of services, providers, and products available to assist with aging in place. It cannot be emphasized too much that if one wants a future at home, one should begin the planning as soon as possible.