Eating for a Healthy Heart


By Kim Williams, MD

We are just two weeks away from the inaugural International Cardiovascular Nutrition Summit, a conference that Rush co-founded to provide a unique, unbiased educational platform for colleagues to learn more about the growing body of literature that supports nutrition as a foundational pillar of cardiovascular medicine. The leading experts will review the research that clearly demonstrates the power of nutrition to prevent, suspend and reverse atherosclerotic heart disease.  We have come a long way in prevention of cardiovascular disease, but we still have a long way to go. Improving our lifestyles with diet and exercise will help us get there.

I never realized the power of nutrition until a patient’s success in reversing an alarming condition motivated me to investigate the research. The patient underwent a nuclear scan that revealed very-high-risk findings — a severe three-vessel disease pattern of reversible ischemia. The patient came back to the nuclear lab six months later. She had been following Dean Ornish, MD’s program for “Reversing Heart Disease,” which includes a plant-based diet, exercise and meditation. She said that her chest pain had resolved in about six weeks, and her scan had become essentially normalized on this program.

Personally, I thought I had a healthy diet — chicken breast (no skin, not fried) and fish — but a simple Web search informed me otherwise. This diet was high in cholesterol, and I apparently was a dietary cholesterol hyperresponder. When I got that LDL result, I looked up the details of the plant-based diet in Ornish’s publications — one- and five-year angiographic outcomes and marked improvement on PET perfusion scanning — small numbers of patients, but outcomes that reached statistical significance. So I changed that day to a plant-based diet and within six weeks my LDL cholesterol level was down from 170 to 90.

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Join Rush in Celebrating Our Community Engagement

community-service-fbBy Marilyn Wideman

Rush University Medical Center is well-known in our community, but our community engagement remains one of Rush’s best-known secrets. To recognize and celebrate this work, Rush is hosting our inaugural Community Health Improvement Week.

All members of the public are welcome to join us between May 4 and 7 for a series of panel discussions, poster presentations and a keynote and awards session. You can register to attend the events here.

While Rush cares for patients from throughout the Chicago area, and even throughout the world, the main communities we serve are our neighbors on Chicago’s West Side, where Rush chose to remain even after other hospitals left during social unrest in the 1960s. This community includes the East and West Garfield Park, North and South Lawndale, and West Side and Lower West Side and West Town neighborhoods.

These are neighborhoods that struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, and the disparities in health that accompany them. Working amid these neighborhoods ensures that we at Rush see these problems, and our community engagement has developed in response to them.

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Doctor at Rush Treats Syrian Refugees

Samer Al-Khudari, MD, an ear, nose and throat/head and neck surgeon at Rush, traveled to Lebanon earlier this year to help Syrian refugees who fled their nation’s three-year civil war.

Over five days in February, Al-Khudari and a team of other physicians did just that, performing more than 35 procedures and screening more than 100 patients with medical needs ranging from tonsil problems to facial deformities and trauma.

Here’s a collection of photos from his visit. Read the full story.

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Sex Ed and Autism

rachel-loftin-aartsBy Rachel Loftin, PhD

Although it is a crucial topic in health care, people are often reluctant to talk about the sex education needs of people with autism spectrum disorder.

While typically developing people learn a lot about sexuality and romantic relationships from their peers, teens with ASD are much less likely to have friends who talk about these topics. Many people with ASD do not pick up on unwritten rules for how to behave in social situations, and sexually charged interactions are particularly challenging to understand.

The social differences in ASD can limit the amount and quality of the sexuality information acquired and can make it challenging to understand the complex dynamics of intimate relationships.

When people with ASD unwittingly break social rules, they can put themselves at risk for victimization or may be misconstrued as sexually deviant or even predatory. Unfortunately, these situations sometimes result in legal action. Even when problem behaviors are not illegal, inappropriate sexual behaviors can limit employment and inclusion opportunities with individuals with ASD.

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Celebrating Relief From Stiff Person Syndrome

Sindanny-PizzaniBy Sindanny Pizzini

Stiff person syndrome is a neurological disease that only affects one in a million people. I am one of them. Even rarer, after nearly dying from my illness, I’m someone whose SPS is in remission, thanks to my doctors at Rush.

Stiff person syndrome gets its name from its chief symptoms, which are rigidity and/or spasticity of the skeletal muscles. The spasms result in unrelenting pain and typically disability. They even can cause broken bones.

The disease also can cause tremors, anxiety and a hyperexcitability of the muscles, known as the startle reflex. Emotional stress, a sudden, unexpected noise, or even a gentle touch may cause prolonged, often severe spasms or rigidity.

I began experiencing these symptoms in my early 30s. Because SPS is so rare, I suffered from the spasms and pain for five years without my illness being diagnosed.

Uncontrollable spasms

On Mother’s Day of 2012, I woke up with severe, uncontrollable spasms, and my 18-year old son called an ambulance. My community hospital didn’t know what to do and was ready to send me to hospice when a friend of mine intervened and arranged for my transfer to Rush University Medical Center.

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Shear Success for St. Baldrick’s Day at Rush

There’s a lot less hair around Rush University Medical Center after it hosted the annual St. Baldrick’s fundraising event last week. Nearly 50 students, faculty and staff members shed their locks for this year’s campaign, which raised about $28,000 for pediatric cancer research.

Fear Not the Colonoscopy

ccsslBy Thurston Hatcher

So if you haven’t heard already, March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. And if you have, you’ve probably also heard a few reminders that it’s time to get that colonoscopy you’ve been dreading.

As an employee of a health care institution, I consider it my professional obligation to inform you that I’ve had one, and it ain’t that bad. Want to hear more? Perhaps not, but I’ll tell you anyway.

Colonoscopies generally are recommended for people age 50 and older, since they account for more than 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases. The procedure, which involves running a thin, tubelike instrument through the colon, helps doctors spot precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

As it happens, I wasn’t quite 50 when I had mine, but I had a few minor symptoms that might fall into the “cause for concern” category. My primary care doctor and gastroenterologist weren’t particularly alarmed, but they wanted to play it safe, and they figured I was close enough to my golden years to experience this rite of passage.

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