When Amy Klobuchar gave birth a quarter century ago, her baby, who couldn’t swallow, was rushed to intensive care. Though her daughter was being tested and fitted with a feeding tube, Klobuchar, now a U.S. senator from Michigan, was sent home. Klobuchar’s insurance required new mothers to be discharged within 24 hours of birth. Despite her daughter’s precarious health, Klobuchar’s time was up. The future Democratic presidential candidate checked into a nearby motel and wore a rut—still in her hospital gown—between her room and the hospital so she could pump breast milk for her newborn.
“Potentially preventable” cancer deaths plunged in Connecticut over the last decade, according to a federal study, with two rural counties, Litchfield and Windham, experiencing a nearly 49 percent decrease, the best in the nation. Though cancer deaths fell overall in the United States, the trend in rural areas was not universal. In neighboring Massachusetts, for example, preventable cancer deaths rose in non-metropolitan areas. “The disparities were quite stark,” said Dr. Macarena Garcia, a senior health scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and lead author of the study. In general, cancer patients in rural areas, where residents tend to be older, sicker and poorer, die sooner than urban dwellers, Garcia noted.
A total of 1,665 Connecticut children under age 6 had lead poisoning in 2017, a drop of almost 17% from the year before and the largest one-year decrease in five years, according to a just-released report from the state Department of Public Health (DPH). But more children showed higher levels of the toxin in their blood than in 2016, the report says. In 2016, there were 105 children whose blood lead level was 20 micrograms per deciliter of blood or higher, at least four times the measure at which they’re considered poisoned. In 2017, the number had risen to 120 children. DPH epidemiologist Tsui-Min Hung said the improved overall numbers were at least partially due to the department’s more aggressive prevention activities, which 42 local health departments took advantage of, as well a social media campaign.
Gail Williams was 15 when her mother died of a heart attack. “The world seemed like it got dimmer, a shade darker than it was,” said Williams, now 60, of New Haven. The death of Shirley Mae Burgess, Williams’ mother, at age 41 was a shock and a tragedy for her family. But it also is a story of how economic and social determinants of health shape lives. Even though deaths from heart disease have been falling, it is still the No. 1 killer for both men and women, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
On a sunny, cool day as fall gave way to winter, a team of biologists and technicians dragged white cloths through the underbrush at Lord Creek Farm in Lyme. They were looking for blacklegged ticks, which carry Lyme disease and four other deadly illnesses. As ticks attached to the cloth, the team counted them and put them in jars for further study at their lab at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. Japanese barberry bushes grew thickly beneath the trees at this private horse farm that for years has cooperated with Lyme disease researchers. As the group dragged cloths, they noticed ticks on each other’s pant legs and coats, and began to pick them off.
For Oliver Racco, it’s a part of his daily routine: eating a few peanut M&Ms.
It may seem like a treat to some kids, but for Oliver – and a relatively small but growing number of children – it’s an important way he and his family manage his peanut allergy. Racco, 7, who lives in West Hartford, eats the M&Ms as a daily “maintenance dose,” having recently completed an allergy desensitization process at the New England Food Allergy Treatment Center in West Hartford. The process is intended to protect people with severe allergies in the case of accidental ingestion. “Since we’ve gone through the treatment, it has taken away a lot of that worry,” said Racco’s mother, Jessica. She takes some comfort in knowing her son will be all right if he accidentally eats or is exposed to peanuts, she said.
It was a 70-degree day in January 2014, and Cristin Buckley was at her daughter’s basketball game with her husband and twin sons. The boys were planning to head to Target to buy baseball cards after the game, but before they could leave, 7-year-old Ben said he was having difficulty breathing and needed a nebulizer treatment. Ben’s dad took him home. “My husband called me and said, ‘Have you ever done a nebulizer treatment and have it not work?’ and I said, ‘No,’ and at that point he realized something was wrong,” Buckley said. Forty minutes after they left the basketball game, Ben was unconscious in their driveway.
The death rate from heart disease plummeted nationally over several decades for all racial and ethnic groups, but the rate of decline has slowed slightly and African Americans and low-income individuals are still at a higher risk of developing the disease and dying from it, according to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics. The report isn’t surprising to Dr. Edward Schuster, medical director, Stamford Health Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. “In the United States, there’s a lot of talk about income disparity, which is a political hotcake,” Schuster said. “But what we are seeing is a life expectancy disparity. According to a recent Journal of American Medical Association, if you’re a man in the top 1 percent of income, you can expect to live 13 years longer than someone in the 1 percent at the bottom.”
Heart disease is largely preventable by maintaining a balanced diet, a healthy weight and moderate exercise, with only 20 percent of cases involving genetics, said Dr. David L. Katz, who heads the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, which works with communities to develop programs to control chronic diseases. But significant groups in lower income and urban areas don’t—or can’t—act on the message, Katz said.
In 2018, Dean and Paula Palozej found their son, Spencer, on the floor of his home in Manchester. Spencer was one day shy of his 30th birthday and he was found dead of a fentanyl overdose. Spencer, who worked as a landscaper, started taking oxycodone for pain after two surgeries in his early 20s. A friend told his father that he took a fentanyl pill thinking it was oxycodone. Palozej unloaded on the pharmaceutical industry, which is blamed by many for the explosion in prescription opioid use and abuse nationwide over the past two decades. “I’m disgusted with what they did—the greed they had,” he said.
Slowly—but perhaps surely—the country is beginning to address maternal mortality, both through legislation and through initiatives on the part of health care providers. This is critical. We have lost countless women to pregnancy and childbirth, and the majority of those deaths didn’t have to happen. This holds true especially for mothers of color. Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women are about three times as likely to die from pregnancy as white women, according to a study released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.