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

Inaugural ‘Ride and Rally’ at the Zoo a Roaring Success


With the help of the Fire and Iron Station 6 Motorcycle Club, who generously donated funds, the UPMC Mercy Burn Center recently hosted a picnic for pediatric burn patients and their families at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium for the inaugural “Ride and Rally at the Zoo.”

The event had 52 attendees, which included 10 pediatric patients and their families, as well as six staff members. The group spent the day exploring the zoo and also got an up-close and personal experience learning about and petting some of the animals, like the great horned owl. In the afternoon, the families took a break from their adventures to have lunch and accept a donation from the motorcycle club members.

This year they were able to donate $12,722.50. The money benefits pediatric patients by providing state-of-the-art equipment to the burn center to assist in the care of pediatric patients, as well as aid them with the costs of necessary wound care supplies after discharge from the hospital that may not be covered by insurance carriers.

“Our job is to educate children about what is going on while they are patients at our burn center, as well as provide coping mechanisms for them to utilize during their stay,”  We always aim to provide the children with normal experiences like they would have outside of the hospital”, said Melissa Shiring, child life specialist, UPMC Mercy Trauma Burn Center.

The Pittsburgh “Station 6” of the Fire and Iron Motorcycle Club began in 2002. The organization is composed of firefighters and their friends and families. They routinely participate in charity work, bonding over their shared interest of bettering the community by helping those who need it most. The Fire and Iron Motorcycle Club raises monies by hosting a Valentine’s Day dance in February, and a motorcycle run in the summer. The funds are then donated to two burn centers in Pittsburgh, one being the UPMC Mercy Burn Center. Over the past eight years, they have raised $133,415 dollars that was split between the two burn centers.

“The club is composed of firefighters and their friends and family who ride together and participate in a lot of charity work” said Ernie Daum, president; Fire and Iron Motorcycle Station 6 Club. The UPMC Mercy Burn Center hopes to make the Ride and Rally at the Zoo an annual event in which club members, and the pediatric patients their donations benefit, can reunite as a celebration of the patient’s survival and the member’s generosity.

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Q&A: Botox Injections and Urinary Incontinence


The University of Pittsburgh and Magee-Womens Research Institute were one of nine participating sites of an National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored Pelvic Floor Disorders Network study that compared an implantation of a neuromodulation unit to bladder injections of Botox to help women suffering from bladder incontinence.

Dr. Halina Zyczynski, medical director of Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC’s Center for Continence and Pelvic Floor Disorders, answers questions about the study and its important findings.

What is bladder incontinence and what are some traditional therapies women opt for?

A: Urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. There are different reasons for loss of bladder control. One of the most bothersome reasons is unexpected bladder muscle spasms, which usually cause a sense of bladder pressure and urgency to urinate. We refer to this as urgency urinary incontinence. First- and second- line therapies offered to improve the symptoms of urgency urinary incontinence include reducing the amount of liquid drunk each day to reducing dietary bladder irritants such as caffeine and artificial sweeteners. People can also benefit from pelvic floor muscle training (a very specific form of physical therapy) and medication.

You were recently the principal investigator for Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC for a multi-site trial that compared third-line therapies of Botox and sacral neuromodulation. How do these treatments help with bladder incontinence?

A: One of the major causes for urgency urinary incontinence is a malfunctioning of the nerve signals between the central nervous system, the brain and the bladder muscle. The brain through the spinal cord is constantly delivering a message for the bladder muscles to relax, stretch and accommodate or hold the urine made by the kidneys. When there is a “hiccup” or “static” in the message to keep the bladder muscle relaxed, it can contract or cramp. Unfortunately, the commonly prescribed oral medications for urgency incontinence are insufficient or poorly tolerated by some patients. It’s they who are offered “third” line therapies of Botox injection or implantation of a neuromodulation unit. An injection of Botox into the bladder muscle works by relaxing the twitchy or overactive bladder muscles. A sacral neuromodulation works like a pacemaker for the bladder muscle. The electrical stimulator suppresses the spasms by sending electrical pulses to nerves in the spine that control the bladder muscle. Up to this point, doctors and patients did not know if one of the third-line treatments was better than the other, and for whom.   


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Forum Explores How to Make Communities Healthier, More Walkable

For Carol Reichbaum, getting people to walk the walk sometimes means finding the right platform to talk the talk.

Reichbaum spoke at the recent Healthy Cities, Healthy Towns forum hosted by The Atlantic in Washington, D.C. The forum drew public health experts and municipal leaders from across the country to address what works when building healthy communities. Reichbaum is the project director at WalkWorks, a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Public Health Practice and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, as well as community-based partners throughout the state.

When it comes to making communities healthier, one of the most crucial steps is making them more walkable.

“WalkWorks is in 14 counties in Pennsylvania,” she explained at the forum, “and we ask our partners in each area to create 1- or 2-mile walking routes with input from their communities. It’s important that they are built in the environment, that they’re accessible and that there are points of interest along each of these routes.”

After identifying and building the routes, “the next step is engaging walking groups, and that’s where we’re really seeing people come together,” Reichbaum said. “We have more people walking than were walking before, and we also are increasing the intensity and the length of walking – so people who may have walked fewer times a week, or not quite as far, are walking more frequently and greater distances.”


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UPMC’s Infectious Disease Unit Debuts Following Ebola Drill


Though Ebola has been out of the headlines, UPMC remains vigilant against it and other infectious disease threats. The health system’s efforts received an added boost last week following a full-scale drill to test the capabilities of its new Infectious Disease Unit (IDU).

About a dozen county, state and federal health officials observed as UPMC practiced a scenario involving a child and adult suspected of having Ebola.

“The key to emergency preparedness is practice, practice, practice,” said Bill Smith, director of emergency preparedness at UPMC. “Following last week’s drill, I’m confident that our staff and facilities are capable of safely caring for someone with a disease as contagious as Ebola, without putting any patients, visitors or clinicians at risk.”

The recent drill was designed to allow clinicians to physically work through how to put on and take off protective equipment, contain potentially contagious bodily fluids, and communicate with their coworkers – all while caring for a very sick patient.

The scenario, organized by Knox Walk, director of business continuity and preparedness operations at UPMC, played out in a cordoned off section of UPMC Presbyterian Hospital’s Emergency Department, where a trained actor arrived playing an adult with suspected Ebola. The drill then transitioned to the recently completed IDU at UPMC Montefiore Hospital, where a 12-year-old played by a medical simulation mannequin was already receiving care.

Normally the IDU is used as a regular intensive care unit, caring for UPMC’s sickest patients. But, when it becomes necessary to care for a patient with a highly contagious disease, the unit can be cleared and quickly transformed into a specialized unit with two isolation hospital rooms, a laboratory capable of performing diagnostic tests, and separate rooms where clinicians can don and doff protective uniforms and equipment.


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How Pitt Public Health Swayed Immunization Policy in California


Dr. Richard Pan knew he faced an uphill battle last year when his California Senate bill that aimed to ensure more children received immunizations by removing the personal exemption allowance was sent to face three senate committees.

In recounting the story of how the bill was finally passed, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine alumnus who is now a California state senator explained during a visit to his alma mater Sunday that typically, bills face only one committee, maybe two. Certainly not three. But, this one was controversial.

“For lay people, the concept of community immunity – herd immunity – is a hard one,” said Dr. Pan, who serves the Senate district encompassing Sacramento. Dr. Pan spoke at Pitt while in town for the recent Medical Alumni Weekend.

In order to get the bill passed, he had to find a way to help his fellow senators understand why immunizing individual children was good for everyone – and vital to their constituencies. That’s when he discovered FRED Measles.

The simulation – optimized for mobile devices – was recently created by scientists at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health. Measles vaccination was on the public’s mind following the Disneyland measles outbreak of early 2015, and with a few clicks, users can see what happens in their cities as measles vaccination rates dip too low.

“I was blown away,” said Dr. Pan. “This was exactly what I was looking for. You’d watch as whole cities just exploded in red [as more and more people contracted measles in the simulation demonstrating suboptimal vaccination rates].”

Dr. Pan showed the simulation to any of his fellow legislators who would watch, asking them if they wanted to be responsible for an explosion of measles in their districts. FRED Measles began swaying votes – one senator even confirmed that it was FRED that persuaded him to vote in favor of the bill.

The tide turned and Senate Bill 277 passed the California Senate and was approved by Gov. Jerry Brown at the end of June last year. California now has one of the most comprehensive and protective school-aged child vaccination policies in the country.

“This story perfectly illustrates how public health research can make a real world impact and save lives,” Pitt Public Health dean Dr. Donald S. Burke told Dr. Pan after he told his story. “It is very encouraging to learn that FRED Measles successfully took the difficult idea of herd immunity and turned it into something anyone could understand.”

Caption: Pictured (R-to-L): John Grefenstette, Donald Burke, Sen. Richard Pan (in a Project Tycho tie), Mark Roberts, Wilbert Van Panhuis, Tenley Brownwright (epidemiology PhD student), Cindy Bryce.   

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