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Monthly Archives: April 2018

Yes, You Can Die From A Broken Heart

The term “broken heart” is well known to everyone. From Romeo and Juliet, to shattered romances, to many a teenager’s angst, a broken heart seems to be part of life. Everyone’s been there. But can you die from a broken heart? You bet.

In a very unusual medical condition known as Takotsubo’s Cardiomyopathy, dying from a broken heart can actually occur. Takotsubo is a Japanese octopus trap and is shaped like a dilated and damaged left ventricle as happens in a cardiomyopathy.

Takotsubo Pot and LV

Cardiomyopathy is a big word but when broken down into its components is fairly easy to understand. Cardio means heart, myo means muscle, and opathy means disease. So a cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. It often results from coronary artery disease where multiple heart attacks (myocardial infarction or MI) have occurred, damaging the muscle severely. It also can occur after viral infections, certain meds and drugs that are toxic to the myocardium, odd diseases like amyloidosis, some members of the disease group we call autoimmune disorders, and other maladies.

We analyze the pumping function of the heart in many ways. Echocardiograms, CT and MRI angiograms, and with a ventriculogram done as part of a cardiac catheterization procedure. Here a catheter is passed through an artery and into the left ventricle—the heart’s main pumping chamber—and contrast material is injected while a digital video is made. A normal ventriculogram shows the heart squeezing in tightly as the heart muscle contracts.

Normal LVgram

An abnormal one, such as is seen in a cardiomyopathy, will show diminished “squeezing” during the contraction phase (systole) of the cardiac cycle.

CMP LVgram

An odd form of cardiomyopathy is Takotsubo’s Cardiomyopathy. In this circumstance, extreme emotional upset changes the physiology of the heart muscle in some fashion and leads to it being “stunned” or damaged. The actual mechanism for how this happens is not known but the result is a significant weakness of the heart muscle, which, in turn, can lead to heart failure and death. It is not common, but it is real.

This is likely what happened to Joanie Simpson and perhaps the famous actress Debbie Reynolds.

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Guest Blogger: KJ Howe: THE FREEDOM BROKER, SKYJACK—FULL IMMERSION IN THE DARK WORLD OF KIDNAP AND RANSOM

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Do you ever wonder how well you would cope if you were kidnapped?  This question burned in my mind, so I started digging, and my fascination with this dark world led me down a rabbit hole that has truly changed my life.  

For the last five years, in preparation for writing The Freedom Broker series, I have interviewed kidnap negotiators, former hostages, reintegration experts, psychiatrists who specialize in the captive’s mindset, K&R insurance executives, and the special forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues. This monumental journey has been both inspiring and heartbreaking.  Captivity is a form of purgatory.  Hostages are alive, but they aren’t really living, dependent on their kidnappers for everything, all freedoms snatched away the moment they are taken. 

Worldwide, more than 40,000 people are kidnapped every year, and this staggering number only reflects the incidents that have been reported. The actual number is much higher, as kidnapping has become an international crisis, especially in certain politically unstable parts of the globe. Why?  In some cases, displaced military and police turn their security skills to kidnap-and-ransom to put food on the table; criminal organizations of all kinds and sizes abduct locals and tourists for quick cash; and terrorist organizations carry out kidnappings not just as a fundraising mechanism, but also as propaganda stunts. With little to no threat of punishment in some regions, these individuals and organizations can often kidnap at will.

Only around twenty-five to thirty people work as full-time crisis response consultants, the industry term for elite kidnap negotiators—and that number is also growing. Response consultants work for private companies, counseling their clients on travel safety.  And when the worst happens, they offer support and guidance to hostages and their families while negotiating for the release of the captives. Responders travel all over the world and risk their lives to help others. I created Thea Paris, an elite kidnap negotiator who has very personal motivations for following this challenging career.

These kidnap specialists are patient, tactical, and brilliant at making decisions under enormous duress. They are usually fluent in at least one other language (and sometimes many more), as linguistic nuance can be critical in life-and-death negotiations. The backgrounds of these elite negotiators vary, but most have experience in the security arena, with résumés that include jobs at such organizations as MI6 or the FBI.

I had the privilege of getting to know Peter Moore, the longest-held hostage in Iraq—almost 1,000 days—and his story touched me deeply. Peter was taken with four British military soldiers, and he is the only one who made it home alive. He spent many months blindfolded and chained. To keep himself occupied, he caught mosquitos between his cuffed hands, trying to beat his daily record to keep his mind engaged. When the blindfold was removed, Peter spent endless hours staring at the cracks on the wall, designing an entire train system in his mind, which he was able to reproduce on paper after returning home. He also tried to befriend his captors so he could negotiate for small luxuries, like toothpaste and toilet paper.

I hope that the intensive research I’ve done and the novels I’ve brought into the world, The Freedom Broker and Skyjack, help to raise awareness for people fortunate enough that kidnapping remains an experience that happens only to characters in the books they read.  For an in-depth map of the kidnap hot zones of the world, please visit my website at http://www.kjhowe.com

Join Kim Thursday 4-29 at 7 pm at Book Soup in LA and Saturday 4-21 at 3 pm at Book Carnival in Orange.

http://www.booksoup.com

https://www.annesbookcarnival.com

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Posted by on April 19, 2018 in Guest Blogger, Writing

 

My Cough Medicine Did It

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Whenever someone does something stupid, like crash a car, get in a bar fight, or, say, stab someone 123 times, they are always looking for an excuse. Somewhere to lay the blame. After all, they couldn’t have done anything like that, so it must’ve been some outside person, or situation, or invisible force, or even a miasma. Perhaps alcohol or drugs. Maybe even cough medicine. Really? I don’t buy it.

That’s apparently the defense of one Matthew James Phelps, a young pastor in North Carolina, who apparently inflicted 123 knife wounds on his wife. He stated that a dose of Coricidin Cough and Cold medicine made him do it. Or as he said: “I know it can make you feel good and sometimes I can’t sleep at night.” Too bad he didn’t simply go to sleep.

No doubt various drugs can cause anger, aggression, and even psychosis in some people. Cocaine has done it, and Phencyclidine (PCP or Angel Dust) was notorious for it. Meth, too. There are others, but I don’t think Coricidin would be a likely member of that group. 

Possible? Maybe. Likely? No.

 

Did “Tourista” Kill the Aztecs?

Many people who travel to other countries end up suffering from Tourista, or Traveler’s Diarrhea, a gastrointestinal upset that is manifested by diarrhea and sometimes nausea and vomiting. It’s due in many cases to E. coli, which is found everywhere. Various regions will have different strains of E. coli. Residents of the area are able to live quite compatibly with it. The problem arises when you travel to a new area and are exposed to a different strain. Until the body readjusts to this foreign strain, gastrointestinal symptoms can occur. Usually, this is mild and inconvenient and after a few days everything settles down and life goes on.

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Not so with the Aztecs. In 1545, an epidemic swept through the Aztec nation killing millions, perhaps as much as 80% of the population. Twenty years earlier an epidemic of smallpox had come through and damaged the population and 20 years later another epidemic swept through killing another huge portion of the population. There have been many infectious processes indicted for the 1545 plague, which the Aztecs called cocoliztli. Smallpox, measles, mumps, and various other infectious entities have been blamed for this. But what if it was actually a gastrointestinal bacterium that did the damage?

The symptoms the victims suffered seem to have been gastrointestinal. Apparently, there was bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea, and splotches on the skin. These symptoms and signs suggest a form of enteritis and that’s exactly what the bacterium salmonella does.

New evidence suggests that it might be a strain of salmonella that caused this problem, in particular, salmonella Paratyphi C. Genetic research using DNA obtained from the teeth of those who succumbed to the epidemic indicate that this might be the case. Where it came from is another question. Did it come with the influx of Europeans? Or perhaps extend south from northern Mexico? This is still being debated and researched but it does appear that salmonella may have been the culprit in the epidemic that destroyed the Aztec Empire.

Salmonella has been responsible for other public health crises, one of the most famous being Mary Mallon, aka  Typhoid Mary. In this situation, the type of salmonella was salmonella typhi, which causes typhoid fever.

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