Playing matchmaker with someone’s life

I recently completed my donor kit for Be the Match. It was so ridiculously fast and easy that I felt awful that the envelope had sat untouched on my desk for close to a month. I guess I thought it would be more involved and that I should set aside time to complete the program correctly. Nope. I should have done it a month ago, and I encourage you to join me (but to do so more quickly than I did).

Here’s the deal: Be the Match is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. NMDP estimates that at least 10,000 Americans with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell and other life-threatening diseases need bone marrow transplants. The closer the match, the better the chance of having a successful transplant (and saving a life). Unfortunately, finding the right match can be a challenge. This is where people like you and I come in. NMDP’s Join Now page walks you through some simple questions about your age, gender, race (the program desperately needs ethnically-diverse donors), and general health. There’s a consent form to sign, some contact info to fill out, and NMDP mails you a kit that includes really long Q-tips (yeah, I’m oversimplifying). You swab the inside of each of your cheeks with these Q-tips, slide them back into the kit and drop the postage-paid envelope into the mail. That’s it!

Now, you go on with your life grateful that you’re not on the other end of the program: waiting for someone to pop up as your lifesaving match. Unless you request to be removed from the program, you’ll be listed on the registry until age 61 (older cells are less likely to be helpful). What are the odds that you’ll be called on to help? About 1 in 540. Younger donors between ages 18 and 44 are 10 times more likely to be needed. And as noted, people of different races are also in high demand.

I can’t tell you what it’s like to donate marrow since I’ve never done it (the cheek-swabbing, though, was painless). NMDP’s site says a hollow needle is used to withdraw liquid marrow from your pelvic bones. Yes, that sounds uncomfortable, but you’re numbed. Or you might be asked to go through a procedure similar to donating blood.

Joining Be the Match is free. Of course, NMDP incurs costs to test every participant, so donations are always welcome. And if you don’t think you could actually go through with donating marrow, don’t waste NMDP’s time or resources. But do consider making a tax-deductible contribution. 

A Tough Pill (for kids) to Swallow

Recently, my 10-year-old son had to take a prescription medication for a week. Because he’s getting bigger, his doc said it would be a large amount to swallow if he wanted the liquid, so we decided to try pills. Now, my son brags that he’s swallowed grapes whole (yeah, I know that’s a dangerous choking hazard; trust me, he’s had the lecture), but hand him a pill the size of a Tic-Tac and he gags up a soggy glob of medicinal goo. It’s exasperating for us both. I checked with his doctor and pharmacist and confirmed that the pill could be crushed and mixed with applesauce (not all medicines can be mixed with food so definitely check before doing this); we had that back-up option. Still, I kept thinking that my tween ought to be able to choke down a relatively small and slippery pill (after all, there are kids who swallow pills on a daily basis – kids with cancer, ADHD, mental illness). The question was how to make this happen.  Most experts say kids can swallow pills starting around age 5, so I started searching to see what tricks I could try with my 10 year old. What I learned is that we were making many mistakes like these:

Wrong way: Place the pill as far back on the tongue as possible.

Swallow success: For some reason, pills go down easier when placed in the middle of the tongue.

Wrong way: Tilting head back.

Swallow success: The NYU Child Study Center suggests keeping the head level though it doesn’t say why. My guess was that a backward head tilt could restrict the flow of liquids through the esophagus, but then I read that the head tilt actually opens up your airway. Pills need to go into the stomach via the esophagus, not into the lungs via the windpipe. The same experts also suggest having your kid lean forward if he’s swallowing a capsule because they’re lighter and tend to float forward in the mouth. Leaning forward actually helps move the capsule toward the back of the mouth.

Wrong way: Doing a dry run.

Swallow success: Have your child wet his whistle before he tries swallowing a pill.

Wrong way: Taking sips.

Swallow success: Your kid should take big gulps of water (at least two or three in a row) to help the pill go down. Another idea: place the pill on the middle of the tongue and have your child fill his mouth with water until his cheeks are full. Or have him take big gulps through a straw.

Some other great tips I learned:

  • Practice with sweets. The NYU Child Study Center suggests using round candy decorations found in cake decorating aisles. Buy various sizes and start with the smallest. Once your child’s mastered swallowing it 5 times successfully, move on to a bigger size until the last thing you offer is a Tic-Tac. I think Jelly Belly jelly beans, mini M&Ms (as well as regular ones) and Skittles could all work well too.
  • Try the under-the-tongue method. Place the pill under the tongue (not on top of it) and then have your kid take several big gulps of water.
  • Blow up his nose. Say what? I know… sounds very weird. But according to the experts at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, blowing in your child’s face (specifically up his nose) may smooth the pill swallowing process.

What worked for us was a combination of techniques. Some days he could get the pill down by placing it on the middle of his tongue and filling his mouth with water. Once, the under-the-tongue method worked. The blow-up-the-nose method made us laugh and that didn’t help the pill swallowing process at all. Some days, I just took the spit-covered glob and mashed it up with some applesauce. The important thing was that he got the medicine he needed.

If you’ve been there/done that with your child, tell us how you helped him/her get the medicine down.

Splish Splash, It’s Swimmer’s Ear

We’re fortunate to live in a community that has 4 rec centers each with an indoor/outdoor pool. During times like these (when temps hover near 100 every day) my boys and I visit those pools often. It’s great fun until one of them starts complaining that his ear hurts. I can’t recall a summer where I didn’t haul one or both kids to the doctor to get treated for an ear infection called swimmer’s ear (aka otitis externa or an infection of the outer ear canal).

You’ll be shocked (not!) to learn that water is the main culprit behind swimmer’s ear. When a kid swims, or even sometimes just from bathing, water can get trapped in the ear canal. Bacteria multiply quickly in this moist environment and infection sets in. Here’s an easy way to tell if you’re dealing with swimmer’s ear instead of the more common ear infection otitis media, which occurs in the middle ear and is often set off by a cold: Tug on your child’s earlobe. If he screams “Ow!” and looks at you like you’re the meanest mom ever, he probably has swimmer’s ear. (Your kid may also complain that his ear itches or feels blocked.) Knowing which type of ear infection you’re dealing with is important because kids with swimmer’s ear need antibiotic ear drops; kids with regular ear infections may get better on their own or they may need oral antibiotics. Either way, they should see a doctor.

One of my kids has had swimmer’s ear once already this summer, and the CDC estimates the infection leads to 2.4 million doctor visits every year. Since I’m trying to prevent another visit, I’m now trying these helpful tips from the AAP:

  • Towel dry ears after swimming and bathing
  • If you can get your kid to agree to it, have him wear earplugs when swimming (alas, mine says no way!)
  • Make a homemade ear drops solution and apply a few drops to each ear after swimming. The AAP suggests a mixture of one-half alcohol and one-half white vinegar (so you could mix 1/2 tablespoon of each and save the remaining mixture for future pool outings). Don’t use this concoction if you think your child’s already battling an infection. The drops wilsting like crazy, and you may indeed be recognized as the meanest mom of the year.

The United States of Obesity

     My home state of West Virginia is once again making headlines. According to a recently released survey from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, more than a third of all Mountaineers are obese; only Mississippi and Alabama have more obese residents. West Virginia’s been losing the battle of the bulge for some time now (20 years ago, it was the 4th fattest state), so this isn’t exactly news. It always bugs me when people refer to West Virginia as a southern state (I lived in the northern panhandle which is much more aligned with the decidedly nonsouthern states of Ohio and Pennsylvania; plus, folks from the south still refer to us as Yankees), but the survey lumps W.Va. in with other struggling southern states and I’ll admit that’s a fair assessment. Besides bursting at the seams with fat folks, the heaviest states  – Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana – have more than their share of poor folks. Not surprisingly, a lot of these people are depressed. Also not surprisingly, most don’t get any help for that depression. Instead of Prozac, they reach for full-fat ice cream or chips and dip. Besides antidepressants, you know what else boosts mood? Exercise. But when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, a gym membership isn’t exactly in the budget. My W.Va. relatives, unfortunately, are doing their part to ensure the state eventually is ranked first in fatties. I grew up there, I get it: As a kid, I rode my bike freely on the road in front of my parent’s rural house. Today, I won’t even walk on the berm for fear of being flattened by coal trucks and gas and oil company rigs. The area has changed. The nearest gym is a good twisty, turny 30- to 45-minute drive away. Finding a way to exercise is a challenge, to say the least.

     Today, my husband, sons and I live in Colorado, the state with the smallest percentage of obese residents of any in the nation. Unfortunately all this really means is that we’re the skinniest of the increasingly fat. Fifteen years ago, only 10 percent of Coloradoans were weighted down with excess pounds; that number’s now doubled to almost 20 percent. As one official said in this Denver Post article, “Being first in a race where everyone’s losing is nothing to be proud of.” Like the rest of the country, Colorado residents are packing more pounds than they should.

     Earlier this month, the USDA kicked its confusing food pyramid to the curb and replaced it with My Plate. The idea is that half of our plates should be filled with fruits and veggies (which are rich in vitamins, nutrients and

USDA’s My Plate

antioxidants) while the other half should be about evenly split between protein (meats) and grains (preferably whole ones). A small circle off to the plate’s side is for dairy (a glass of milk, a cup of yogurt). The nice thing about this redesign is that we can all relate to a plate (that pyramid thing? not so much). The government has given up trying to dictate how many servings we should strive for (we weren’t listening anyways), and instead is giving us a tool to help visualize what healthy portions and meals should look like. Of course, this will only help if people actually familiarize themselves with My Plate and use it. I’m curious, will you use My Plate when fixing your family’s meals?

     Want to see how fat your state is? Take a look at the full report.