How a trip across the border inspired a doctor to fight for health care equality.

When Dr. Paula Aristizabal first started working in pediatric oncology, she was a little uneasy.

“I was scared because I didn’t know what to expect,” Aristizabal explains. Even though cancer specialists have to assume they’ll be treating people with a lower than average survival rate, knowing that all her patients would be children made it somewhat more daunting.

Fortunately, however, that was far from the experience Aristizabal ended up having.

Aristizabal. Photo via Northwestern Mutual.

“I learned pediatric cancer is highly curable, so it was very rewarding because I would be able to make a difference in [my patients’] lives,” Aristizabal says.

Little did she know treating cancer in children wouldn’t be the only way she’d make a positive impact on health care.

After completing her pediatric oncology training, which is the study of childhood cancer, in her home country of Colombia and her fellowship at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, Aristizabal joined the medical staff at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California. She, soon after began collaborating with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital on a project to improve pediatric cancer care in the U.S- Mexican border region.

On an initial visit to a city hospital in Mexico, she learned they didn’t have anything like a pediatric oncology ward.

“I thought, ‘Oh, goodness, it’s so different from the U.S.,'” Aristizabal shares. “I saw the disparity right there.”

Since 2008, she’s improved care in several Mexican hospitals, including two in Tijuana and La Paz.

Image via iStock.

But that was just the beginning.

It became Aristizabal’s mission to address the racial and ethnic disparity occurring in hospitals in the United States as well.

When she began to notice disparities in how the treatment worked for Hispanic patients where she practiced in San Diego, she decided to do some research to better understand barriers to response to treatment.

Aristizabal learned that while it’s likely there are biological differences that can contribute to disparities in the survival rate of Hispanic children with cancer, she also found a disparity in access to health care due to language and cultural barriers.

Thanks to funding assistance from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and Northwestern Mutual, whose Childhood Cancer Program has generated more than $15 million for research and family support nationwide, Aristizabal was able to conduct her own research on that disparity. This was an important research focus for Northwestern Mutual in their mission to ensure that all kids have a chance to grow up.

She took an in-depth look at her own specialty in particular. She learned a large percentage of parents of kids with cancer have a low level of health literacy, meaning they have trouble navigating America’s complex health care system due to their cultural background. For example, Hispanic families are less likely to participate in clinical trials, which, in pediatric cancer, often offer the best chance of survival.

Image via iStock.

Since her first language is Spanish, Aristizabal knew she could do her part to help close that cultural and linguistic gap.

At the Peckam Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s Hospital, where she practices pediatric oncology, 50% of the children who receive treatment  are Hispanic. At her clinic, 95% of her patients are Hispanic, and 65% of their parents speak Spanish as their first language. Aristizabal knew her cultural background was key to providing them the best care possible.

“Since I’m Hispanic, and I know the culture and speak Spanish, I try to provide cultural concordant care and language concordant care,” Aristizabal says.

Research shows that when individuals receive care from someone in their own language and culture, the treatment results are much better.

Image via iStock.

When a doctor can fully communicate with patients, they can be sure they’re getting all the necessary details about a medical condition. In turn, patients feel more at ease knowing their doctor fully understands their condition and can clearly communicate a treatment plan. All this adds up to better results.

But Aristizabal can only do so much as one doctor. That’s why she’s inviting others to contribute to lessen this country-wide disparity.

“We need to prepare because the Hispanic population in the U.S. will comprise more than 30% of all Americans by 2050. There’s something we can really do in our own institutions.”

Image via iStock.

One simple step is to access a free bilingual treatment journal from the ALSF website to help families track their care plan.  The journal is funded by Northwestern Mutual as another way to address disparities.  

If pediatric cancer centers don’t have bilingual doctors on staff, they can improve access to interpreter services. Another strategy is that their doctors pursue cultural awareness training. Institutions can also offer medical Spanish lessons to their staff or any other language that might help their patients.

It requires a bit of effort, but it will make a world of difference.  

Just imagine a scared child who doesn’t speak English in a hospital. A doctor who can speak their language could be the only thing that puts them at ease.

“It’s so rewarding when you learn about other cultures,” Aristizabal says. “It facilitates the care that you provide because when you learn about another culture, you’re able to better understand where [patients] are coming from.”

And any doctor knows that’s more than half the battle.

Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and its subsidiaries. Learn more at northwesternmutual.com

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/how-a-trip-across-the-border-inspired-a-doctor-to-fight-for-health-care-equality

At 14, he was told he’d die by 40. Now he helps nourish other people’s lives.

Michael Malcolm’s doctor said he wouldn’t live to 40.

He was 14 years old at the time.

“When you’re a kid and someone tells you you’re gonna die before you’re halfway through your life, it’s … I mean, there’s nothing more dramatic than that,” he recalled years later while still choking back the tears.

Malcolm’s blood sugar and cholesterol were dangerously through the roof. It would take more than just a one-off diet to fix the problems, and if he waited any longer to act, it could already be too late.

Malcolm had to find a way to change his life for good and along the way, he discovered his true passion, too. Watch his story below:

He was told he would only live until he was 40. So he took action.

Posted by Upworthy on Monday, May 22, 2017

Malcolm’s newfound love for nutrition saved his life. And now it’s helping him inspire others, too.

Sure, he may have felt OK before the doctor brought attention to his health numbers. But thanks to that preventive screening, Malcolm was able to take control of his life before he got worse.

He started getting more physical activity and learned how to improve his eating habits in ways that were easy and enjoyable. He ultimately felt even better than he did before, and he didn’t have to suffer through any awful health disaster to get there.

With a new lease on life, Malcolm began to share his passion. He taught his family how to prepare wholesome meals, which was as good for him as it was for them.

He also discovered an entrepreneurial streak within himself, investing time in health-conscious social projects ranging from sustainable agriculture for low-income families to aquaponic farming. He even helped to launch a healthy home-cooked meal service self-described as “Uber for personal chefs” through his university’s start-up incubator. And now that his body’s getting the right balance of nutrients, he’s coming up with new ideas every day.

That’s the best thing about healthy habits like the ones that Malcolm learned.

They don’t just help prevent disease; they brighten up your brain, and your life.

Studies have shown that malnutrition can lead to poor decision-making. Whether it’s the stress of poverty or the mental strain of having to plan for a temporary diet, it can take up so much brain power that it directly affects your ability to function in other ways, too. It makes it that much harder to actually get the nourishment you need to operate to the best of your abilities.

So how can you avoid that downward spiral? You do what Malcolm did: Identify the issue before it becomes a problem and find a way to turn those healthy habits into a seamless, automatic part of your life. It’s the only way to free up your mind to focus on the things that really matter.

Now the only contagion that Malcolm has to worry about is his own infectious energy.

Good blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels have all been to shown to have direct chemical impacts on our happiness as well as our physical well-being. Without preventive screening, Malcolm wouldn’t be where he is today and with it, well, who knows where else the future might take him?

Learn more about how to take control of your health at Cigna.com/TakeControl.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/at-14-he-was-told-hed-die-by-40-now-he-helps-nourish-other-peoples-lives

Her chronic illness helped her understand just how important preventive care is.

When Terran Lamp was just three weeks old, she was admitted to the University of Virginia newborn special care unit.

There, doctors discovered that, along with some other health issues, Lamp had been born with two holes in her heart which would have huge implications throughout her life and inform how she thought about her health and preventive care.

She stayed in the hospital for three months after the diagnosis. By age 4, she had already had two open heart surgeries, gone into complete heart block, and received an implanted pacemaker.

Just as she was learning to live her life managing one serious illness, she was diagnosed at age 10 with a benign dermoid brain tumor and then, more recently, with breast cancer.

But while Lamp has had way more than her fair share of hardships, today she does her best to stay as healthy as she can by taking control of her health.

As a child, Lamp says, the constant worrying about her health taught her a valuable lesson about living with a chronic condition (a lesson that can help us all).

It taught her that if she still wanted to do things, like run and travel, she would have to take control of her health and not let being sick completely define her. “I can’t not have it, but I can not be restricted by it,” she says. “Heart disease doesn’t have me. I have heart disease.”

So she joined the state champion track team, she went to a college some distance away from her mom, and later, she travelled to Germany and California. Claiming this little bit of independence helped her feel like she was in control of her health and her life.

But to do this meant learning a lot about preventive care.

“I’m at the doctor probably every three months,” she says, but these doctors are not just specialists to treat her heart and her cancer.

She also sees a general practitioner for an annual check-up, who helps her monitor her four health numbers: blood pressure (too low, in her case, could signify a problem with her pacemaker), cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), and blood sugar levels.

She also tries to stay active in order to stay healthy.

She works out at the gym four to five times a week and runs half-marathons. “I can’t always run [the entire way],” she says. “But I complete them. I’m a finisher, even if I end up walking for most of it. That way, I feel like I’ve done something.”

And now, Lamp is working to help other women stay healthy too.

She got involved with the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease and became a WomenHeart Champion. She wants to help educate other women about the importance of preventive care and motivate other women with heart disease to keep thriving despite their diagnosis by sharing her story and what she does to try to stay healthy.

“I know what it is like, first and foremost, to be a patient,” she says. “That’s why I do so much for WomenHeart. That’s why I tell my story … and that’s why I encourage women to go out and get checked for heart disease, so it does not go unnoticed.”

As a WomenHeart Champion, she can meet other women with heart disease, offer advice and help pass along important information so that no one overlooks a possible symptom.

For example, she says, she recently met a flight attendant through her work as a WomenHeart Champion who volunteered that she was a little worried about her health. “She said, I’m a little concerned because about 25,000 feet, the left side of my face goes numb,” Lamp remembers, “and she was all nonchalant about it.” But immediately, Lamp felt compelled to push her to see a doctor to figure out what was causing this numbness.

To Lamp, the peer-to-peer advocacy is a very powerful tool because it allows women to look out for each other.

“We have got to make sure that we are paying attention [to our health] and we have to make sure that we are passing along that attention and that awareness,” she adds.

That way, she says, maybe we can help more people take control of their health before they ever get sick in the first place.

Learn more about how to take control of your health at Cigna.com/TakeControl.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/her-chronic-illness-helped-her-understand-just-how-important-preventive-care-is