NEWS BLOG from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Archive for July, 2016

Recent Cancer Patient Urges HPV Vaccine for All Children

Dr. Steve Wilson, a pathologist in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, discusses how he discovered his human papillomavirus-linked throat cancer, and the treatment he received at the UPMC CancerCenter. Even though the Allegheny County Board of Health’s HPV vaccine requirement did not passed, Dr. Wilson and the UPMC CancerCenter urge parents to get their children vaccinated by middle school to prevent this devastating cancer.

UPMC cancer experts recently spoke out in favor of the HPV vaccine. To learn more, click here.

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UPMC Experts Explain Importance of Vaccinating Children for HPV Virus

To show support of the Allegheny County Board of Health’s vote on whether to mandate the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, UPMC oncologists this week held a press briefing to share facts about the lifesaving vaccine. UPMC’s experts explained the importance of vaccinating children to protect against HPV-related cancers, including cervical, oropharyngeal and cancers of other reproductive organs.

The vaccine is proven to be safe and effective in preventing cancer, yet 79 percent of boys and girls in the Pittsburgh area are not vaccinated.

About the vaccine:

  • The HPV vaccine can prevent HPV-related cancers.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the CDC and other trusted organizations recommend that boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at ages 11-12 because the vaccine produces the most infection-fighting cells at this age.
  • Each year in the United States, about 33,000 new cases of cancer are found in parts of the body where HPV is often found. HPV causes about 26,800 of these cancers.
  • Choosing not to vaccinate is not a risk-free choice — HPV vaccines prevent serious cancers in both males and females.
  • In recent years, UPMC physicians have recorded a 500 percent increase of patients who have cancer in the back of their throats combined with HPV infection.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has carefully studied the risks and benefits of HPV vaccination. HPV vaccination is recommended because the benefits, such as prevention of cancer and transmission of the virus, far outweigh the risks of possible side effects.

The best time to be vaccinated is before any exposure to the virus. The vaccine is most effective in school-aged children, but ages to get vaccinated range from 11 to 26 for women and 11 to 21 for men, according to Nancy Davidson, M.D., director of the UPMC Cancer Institute. Symptoms for HPV are minor to none.

“There is not much discomfort so it is hard to detect,” said Jonas Johnson, MD, chair of the Department of Otolaryngology. “Most patients will notice a lump on their neck.”

Patrick Maloney, a patient who was treated for cancer on his tonsils linked to the HPV virus, said the worst symptom he experienced was a cough. Mr. Maloney is cancer-free as of six months ago. After three chemotherapy treatments and 35 radiation treatments, he still experiences the side effects of treatment.

“I still suffer from dry mouth, loss of taste, and many things just aren’t the same anymore,” said Mr. Maloney. “I was unable to continue working as a mechanic, and I can’t do many activities I could do before my diagnosis because of loss of strength and mobility.”

To learn more about the HPV vaccine, click here. Dr. Steve Wilson, a pathologist in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, recently discussed how he discovered his human papillomavirus-linked throat cancer. To learn more of his story, click here.

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Nurses at Children’s Hospital Lift Spirits with Tutus on Tuesdays

At Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, on Tuesdays, they wear tutus.

Nurses and staff in the gastroenterology unit help lift patient spirits by wearing tutus to work every Tuesday.

The tutus help incorporate fun into the workplace and aim to distract the patient’s from their hospital stay. One Tuesday, professional dancers from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre wore their tutus to the unit to celebrate the fun with staff and visit patients.

“My daughter was very excited about it, because she loves anything having to do with princesses,” said Joyce McGeehan, a patient’s mother. “We really appreciated it as a family, because when you’re here, it can be very stressful. It’s always nice to brighten my daughter’s spirits and make the day extra fun.”

Sporting their tutus and putting smiles on the children’s faces makes the job for Kathy Gaughan, RN, worth it.

“Nobody wants to be in the hospital, so the more fun we can make it, the better the children’s response to any treatments we’re trying to do,” she said. “Laughter really is the best medicine, and it’s hard not to laugh when you have a tutu on.”

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Living Donor Kidney Transplant Helps Save West Virginia Woman’s Life

Jocelyn Mullenax has experienced kidney problems her whole life. The Harman, West Virginia, resident started experiencing kidney stones at 3 years old, but thought nothing of it at the time. Now 36, she has had three kidney transplants and a liver transplant at UPMC.

Thanks to a surgery at age 7 to remove her kidney stones, Ms. Mullenax remained healthy until 2002. Her stones eventually returned, and they were again removed, along with her gallbladder. After giving birth to her second daughter in 2005, Ms. Mullenax’s kidneys took a turn for the worse, and she was put on dialysis.

“It’s been hard and challenging living life everyday being sick and still trying to raise two children,” Ms. Mullenax said. “But, it has made me stronger.”

After receiving dialysis for three years, she underwent her first kidney transplant in February 2008. A little over a year later, she again began to experience kidney failure, leading to another round of dialysis and a second transplant in 2012.

It was around this time that she developed a new medical complication – doctors discovered she suffered from liver disease, and she underwent a successful liver transplant.

Her kidney started to fail for a third time this year, and dialysis and a transplant were again needed. This time, her doctors recommended living donation. She desperately wanted the transplant to be a success, but she needed a donor. A Facebook page was set up to help Ms. Mullenax find a living kidney donor match.

Gary Muhlestein, a carpenter from nearby Elton, West Virginia, was shown the page by a mutual friend shared by him and Ms. Mullenax, though the two had never met before. After realizing he shared a blood type, he decided to donate one of his kidneys.

“I talked with my parents, my family, some members of our church, thought and prayed on it, and this is the decision that came to me,” Mr. Muhlestein said. (more…)

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The Beckwith Institute Promotes Shared Decision Making with Grants to UPMC Programs

Decisions about health care can be daunting, and they should not be made alone. The Beckwith Institute will provide a total of $273,210 in grant funding to ensure that patients and their families work together with UPMC caregivers to make the best decisions possible for overall physical and emotional health.

Through the Clinical Transformation Program, The Beckwith Institute accepts grant applications from UPMC clinicians and staff members system-wide to fund projects that promote collaboration and communication with patients. This year, 11 innovative projects that support shared decision making will receive funding so they can be implemented at UPMC facilities.


“UPMC clinicians and staff are passionate about the care they provide, and the support from The Beckwith Institute allows them to put their ideas for improved care into action,” said Tami Minnier, chief quality officer, UPMC. “These projects will have a long-term impact on our patients by facilitating communication with those who are striving every day to keep them healthy.”

A wide variety of initiatives received funding from The Beckwith Institute this year, including the following:

  • Two game-based applications, one to promote self-advocacy among women with cancer, and the other to teach pediatric asthma patients and their families asthma prevention strategies.
  • Two group initiatives, one aimed at increasing collaboration between physicians and patients with cystic fibrosis, and another focused on education and support efforts for patients undergoing esophageal cancer surgery.
  • A program that will provide a toolbox filled with activities designed for patients identified as being at risk for developing delirium.
  • A program that will establish coordinated care for victims of domestic violence by training health care providers to assess emotional and physical trauma.
  • The establishment of the UPMC McKeesport Chronic Pain Institute, which will provide inpatient and outpatient services to help patients manage chronic pain without visiting the emergency department.

With the support of UPMC Chairman G. Nicholas Beckwith and his wife, Dorothy, and matching contributions from UPMC, The Beckwith Institute provides annual grants through two complementary initiatives. In addition to the Clinical Transformation Program, which focuses on shared decision making, the Frontline Innovation Program aims to improve the bedside experience of patients.

For a full list of grant awards, please visit The Beckwith Institute Website.

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