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‘It helps to help’: Organ donor’s mom urges more families to say yes to donation

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After doctors broke the news to Kelly Patterson that there was nothing left they could do to save her son, Steven, after he suffered massive head injuries in a car accident, they asked if she would donate his organs.

It was four in the morning on a September day, two years ago, and the Nova Scotia woman was numb, exhausted and overwhelmed.

But in that horrible moment, Patterson said yes — she’d already had several days to think about organ donation as Steven lay lifeless in a hospital bed.

It could’ve gone differently.

“If I had 10 minutes to think about it, or the approach was wrong, absolutely I would’ve backed off in a minute,” Patterson said from the Berwick, N.S., home that’s adorned with family photos and memorials to Steven.

“We’re talking about my son, my baby.”

Her decision meant his 26-year-old heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas were donated to five people waiting for an organ transplant. Pneumonia had set in while Steven was in hospital, so his lungs could not be used.

Just 16 organ donors in N.S. last year

But even though she’s a strong supporter of organ donation, Patterson’s decision to consent was still a struggle — and helps to explain why there’s a national organ shortage.

Most Canadians say they support organ donation but only about 20 per cent register. And only a fraction of them actually become organ donors when they die.

The national rate of organ donation is 20.9 people per million. In 2016, 4,500 people were on an organ transplant list, but only 2,835 organs were transplanted. That year, 260 people died — five Canadians a week.

Nova Scotia used to have a strong track record in organ donation but has fallen behind, according to Dr. Stephen Beed, the medical director for the Nova Scotia organ and tissue donation program.

Dr. Stephen Beed is an intensive care physician and head of Nova Scotia’s organ and tissue donation program. As Nova Scotia’s only donation doctor, he supports ER doctors and cardiologists in identifying whether a patient is a candidate for organ donation. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

There were only 16 organ donors last year, down from 26 in 2011. This year, however, is showing improvement with 20 donors as of Tuesday.

The news is urgent for 125 Nova Scotians who are on a list waiting for an organ transplant. So far this year, eight people have died waiting for the call that never came. 

So why is there such a critical organ shortage? 

Only a tiny portion of patients who die in hospital are candidates for organ donation.

Patients become organ donors in one of two ways: when their brain has died (neurological death) or when their heart has stopped (cardiocirculatory death).

They may include people who have suffered severe traumatic brain injuries, a brain aneurysm, a massive stroke or a heart attack, or someone who has drowned. In all cases, they are injuries the patient will not survive.

Missing a ‘rare’ opportunity

Beed said the biggest problem stems from the fact organ donors are overlooked in critical moments. Emergency room physicians and cardiologists often don’t recognize the life they’ve tried to save could also be an organ donor, he said.

Without that on their radar, there’s no referral to the organ donation team.

“These are rare opportunities, and missing a single one is a big deal,” said Beed. 

Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia lead the country in organ donation rates and have programs that feature mandatory referral and hospital donation specialists to ensure donation opportunities are identified.

Beed also works at a hospital in Saskatchewan, which is trying to boost its organ donation rate. Based on the success of other provinces, he’s advocating for a rebooted program in Nova Scotia that creates a network of intensive care physicians — acting as donation doctors — to support health professionals in regional hospitals provincewide.

He hopes Nova Scotia can return to its place as “the best or pretty near the best” donor province within five to 10 years.

If the province matched the highest organ donation rates in the world, it would have 40 to 50 donors annually, he said.

Families can overturn consent

Many organ donors suffer an unexpected death that leaves families making a life-saving decision after receiving devastating news. The conversation between families and the organ donation team can last hours, but once consent is given, work begins immediately to get the viable organ to a matching donor.

Patterson understands why some families say no.

“You’re brought in the hospital, and told that your child or your mother or your father’s not going to make it — that’s all you can bear to hear,” Patterson said.

Kelly Patterson’s son Steven (left) died in 2016. She donated his organs and since his death, she and her eldest son, Ryan (right), have decided to become organ donors. (Submitted by Kelly Patterson)

“Who’s thinking about what you can do for others? Who’s thinking about organ donation?” 

Families have the final say whether to consent to donation, even in cases when a patient is registered as a donor. 

About 12 families decline donation each year in Nova Scotia.

Beed said the organ donation team’s job is to “enable our families to make their best decision on their worst day.” Consent helps them craft a legacy for their loved one that they’ll carry forward, he said. 

Leaving a legacy behind

Nine years ago, Pat Popwell of Reserve Mines saw a need to start a support group for people in Cape Breton who need or have received a lung transplant. 

Pat Popwell is a retired nurse and started a lung transplant support group in Cape Breton. (Pat Popwell)

The retired nurse and a registered cardiopulmonary technologist thinks a donor’s wishes should be honoured and not overturned by families whose emotions are running high.

“It’s the worst time ever to make a decision because you want to hold on to them but you want to let them go.”

Even family members of people who need a transplant can be stricken with fear, she said.

Popwell praises Patterson’s decision to change lives through donation. She’s watched group members struggle with the most basic thing in life: taking a deep breath. 

Consenting to donation is an act of grace, courage and selflessness, she said.

“I would love to have that legacy.” 

A grateful recipient reflects

Patterson had never talked to Steven about organ donation. She didn’t think there was a need — he was in his 20s, healthy, and strong. So she had to make the decision for him.

She now urges all her family and friends to have a conversation about organ donation so if tragedy strikes, more families will say yes without having to endure agonizing decision-making at a traumatic time.

Her decision still helps her cope with grief.

She’s overcome with tears at a letter from one of Steven’s organ recipients. The man received one of Steven’s kidneys on his 53rd birthday — the day after Steven died.

“I am here today because they took the time to make a selfless decision to share their loss to help another grateful person,” wrote the married father and grandfather.

Kelly Patterson treasures this letter from one of Steven’s organ recipients who received a kidney. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Patterson finds some solace in that gratitude.

“Knowing that Steven saved the lives of five people, not only five people — five families, five wives or husbands, daughters, sons, grandchildren — that helps,” she said. “It helps to help.” 

Beed has worked many Christmases in Nova Scotia and he’s noticed a trend. A potential organ donor typically emerges over the holiday season.

“It’ll probably happen this year,” he said ruefully. 

“We need to at least make sure if it happens, we give that family the chance to help someone through donation.”

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Health Ranger posts new microscopy photos of covid swabs, covid masks and mysterious red and blue fibers

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(Natural News) What follows is a series of microscopy photos of covid swabs (a synthetic swab, then a cotton swab), a covid mask and some zoomed-in photos of mysterious red and blue fibers found in the masks.

The magnification range for these photos is 50X to 200X. Most were taken with white light, but several (as indicated) were taken with UV light.

The images shown here are 600 pixels wide. We have higher resolution images available to researchers and indy media journalists; contact us for those hi-res images.

More microscopy investigations are under way, and new images will be posted as they are finalized.

First, this series shows the carbon fiber layer of a covid mask, illuminated with UV light:

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5,800 test positive, 74 die of coronavirus at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated

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(Natural News) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, April 15, confirmed some 5,800 breakthrough coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S.

A breakthrough COVID-19 case is defined as someone who has detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated against the disease.

Nearly 400 breakthrough cases required treatment at hospitals and 74 died. A little over 40 percent of the infections were in people 60 years and above and 65 percent were female. About 29 percent of the vaccine breakthrough infections were reportedly asymptomatic. The figures were for cases through April 13.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the causes of the breakthrough cases are being probed. “Some of these breakthroughs are, of course, failure of an immune response in the host. And then some of them we worry might be related to a variant that is circulating. So we’re looking at both,” she said.

The CDC is monitoring reported cases “for clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type or lot number, and SARS-CoV-2 lineage.” It has created a national COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough database, where state health departments can enter, store and manage data for cases in their region.

Where available, respiratory specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 will be collected for genomic sequencing “to identify the virus lineage that caused the infection.”

Positive test less than two weeks after getting fully vaccinated is not a breakthrough case

The number of cases the CDC has identified does not include people who contracted COVID-19 less than two weeks after their final dose. The two-week marker is important, said infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A human body should have enough time to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after that timeframe. Before then, a person won’t necessarily have the built-up immunity needed to fight off an infection. According to Dr. Adalja, cases that occur before the two-week mark are not considered breakthrough cases.

Dr. Adalja also noted that more research is needed to determine if highly infectious variants of the virus are behind the breakthrough cases. “It is crucial to study breakthrough cases to understand their severity, their contagiousness and what role variants may be playing,” Dr. Adalja said.

More than 78 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 15.

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control.”

But the CDC conceded that “thousands of vaccine breakthrough cases will occur even though the vaccine is working as expected.”

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agreed with the CDC. “These vaccines that we’re using are fabulous but they’re not perfect,” he said. “At best, they’re 95 percent effective in preventing serious illness, but minor illnesses can occur.”

According to U.S. drug regulators, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing infection. Moderna’s was shown in a clinical trial to be 94.1 percent effective while Johnson & Johnson’s was 66.9 percent effective. Only Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 27, was tested when variants were circulating.

The percentages are based on results from vaccine recipients two weeks after the final vaccination.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated in a briefing last week that the breakthrough cases are not a cause for concern.

“I think the important thing is to look at what the denominator of vaccinated people is. Because it is very likely that the number of breakthrough cases is not at all incompatible with the 90-plus percent vaccine efficacy,” he said. “So I don’t think that there needs to be concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.”

More info needed before drawing conclusions from breakthrough cases

The percentage of vaccine breakthroughs in a population depends on multiple factors, including vaccine efficacy, the amount of virus circulating and the length of time since vaccination, according to Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“I love to see small numbers as much as anyone, but know that numbers like this cannot be directly interpreted as a measure of vaccine efficacy (although I have a feeling they will be). We can only interpret them against a background rate in unvaccinated people,” Dean wrote on Twitter.

“Similarly, ‘most breakthroughs have been in elderly adults’ should not be read as the vaccine is less effective in elderly adults. The majority of vaccinations (and the longest amount of follow-up time) have been in elderly adults. Again, we need more info to interpret.”

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More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus in San Francisco last year

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(Natural News) More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Francisco last year, a microcosm of a larger nationwide problem coinciding with the pandemic.

Data from San Francisco’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows that 708 people were killed by fentanyl in 2020, an astonishing 118 times more since the introduction of the drug in the city just five years earlier.

That figure nearly tripled the 254 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the city for the whole of last year. More than 8 in 10 deaths were male, and just under half were white. People aged 55 to 64 made up nearly a quarter of the fatalities. Nearly 40 percent of the deaths occurred in open-air drug markets such as the Tenderloin and South of Market.

The number of overdose deaths in the city could have been far worse as more than 3,000 addicts suffering from an overdose were administered with naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses.

San Francisco’s death rate from fentanyl overdose continues to rise this year as 135 died by overdose in January and February, putting the city on pace for more than 800 deaths by the end of the year.

The city has become a significant part of a larger trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on Wednesday, April 14, showing that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdose over the 12-month period that ended in September last year – the highest since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.

Lockdowns lead to more cases of drug overdose

The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis that may be correlated to the government’s monotonous battle plan against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 19 last year, California became the first state in the U.S. to implement a stay-at-home order. It subsequently endured the longest lockdown of any state in the country.

The pandemic and accompanying lockdowns are believed to be partly responsible for the soaring number of drug deaths for obvious reasons. Lockdowns have badly disrupted the social services in the city, including drug addiction treatment. Drug experts say the isolation of the past 12 months is causing vulnerable residents to turn to opioids.

“We see the death and devastation getting worse right in front of us,” said Matt Haney, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member. “It’s an unprecedented spiraling, directly connected to the introduction of fentanyl in our city.”

Fentanyl first appeared on the streets of San Francisco in 2015. There were just six deaths from the synthetic opioid that year, 12 deaths in 2016 and 37 deaths in 2017. The figure skyrocketed when the drugs became widely available in the city in 2018.

Kristen Marshall, manager of the national drug harm reduction DOPE Project, noted the grim irony that while social isolation could save lives from COVID-19, it had undoubtedly contributed to the number of overdose deaths.

“Isolation is also the thing that puts people at the absolute highest risk of overdose death,” she said.

Pandemic exacerbates rise in deaths from drug overdose

The number of deaths from drug overdose started rising in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, making it hard to gauge how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend. The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect.

Many treatment programs closed during that time while drop-in centers, which provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, cut back services.

The data released by the CDC shows a 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020 compared with the previous 12-month period. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were the primary drivers, although many fatal overdoses have also involved stimulant drugs like methamphetamine.

Unlike in the early years of the opioid epidemic, when deaths were largely among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, the current crisis is affecting Black Americans disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at a national addiction conference last week.

“And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.”

Dr. Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid like fentanyl.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) supported Dr. Volkow’s claim, saying that transnational criminal organizations cause a spike in overdoses by mixing fentanyl into illicit narcotics.

According to the DEA, Mexican cartels often purchase the drug components in China and use human mules to smuggle the narcotics to lucrative drug markets north of the border.

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