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  • TAVR procedure saves Selma’s first black police chief
    Selma’s first black police chief now has new opportunities ahead thanks to a new procedure from UAB cardiologists.

    Earnest Tate is no stranger to adversity or history. When he was named the first black police chief of Selma in the late 1990s, he had to lead and unify a police force that had been heavily scrutinized during the civil rights era.

    “My goal was to make it the best police department in the state of Alabama, and I did that,” Tate said.

    Nearly 20 years later, Tate is now retired and works on his family farm in the city where he made history. But a minor heart attack that led to heart failure threatened his ability to work the land he loves so dearly.

    “I tried to not show sickness; but since my wife was a nurse, she still saw it,” Tate said. “It made a big impact on my whole family. I never got scared because I never had time to get scared.”

    Tate recalled that it was hard to breathe while standing up. He says it would take him a long time to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen.

    After consulting with his primary care physician in Selma, Tate was sent to UAB for a consultation. It was there that he met James Davies, M.D., and Oluseun Alli, M.D., and learned he had a condition called aortic stenosis.

    Aortic stenosis occurs when the heart’s aortic valve narrows, preventing the valve from opening fully.

    Mark F. Sasse, M.D., an associate professor of interventional cardiology, says Tate’s heart pumping function was significantly reduced compared to normal.

    Tate’s heart pumping function was significantly reduced, but thanks to transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) Tate can now get back to what he loves doing most — working on his farm."“The pumping function of Mr. Tate’s heart was fairly reduced, so he was at a higher risk than our normal transcatheter patients,” Sasse said. “The percentage of blood being pumped out was nearly 30 percent less than in people with normal pumping function.”

    The structural heart team of Davies, Alli and Sasse determined that Tate was a prime candidate for transcatheter aortic valve replacement.

    Sasse says transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, provides easier recovery compared to open-heart surgery as patients typically do not stay in intensive care as long.

    In the TAVR procedure, a replacement valve is placed inside a catheter. The catheter is then threaded through blood vessels in the leg or through the chest of the patient. The valve is then positioned into the old valve while the heart is still beating. The heart is able to pump blood through the replacement valve normally.

    After the TAVR device was successfully placed, Tate said he felt physically better soon after the procedure was complete. Sasse is happy to see that his patient is doing well and ready to get back to a normal life.

    “We took a person who was very debilitated and gave him back his life,” Sasse said. “He couldn’t sleep at night. Now he can sleep. People who can’t do daily activities are able to do those things now. That’s the real benefit of this procedure.”

    After visiting with Sasse for a one-month checkup, Tate is now feeling better and is able to do the things he wants to do without feeling tired.

    “I can rest better at night,” Tate said. “I used to be too tired to eat. My appetite came back. I used to have to ride in a wheelchair, but I don’t have to ride in a wheelchair anymore.”

    UAB was the first hospital in the state of Alabama to perform the TAVR procedure, in 2012. More than 300 total cases have been completed since then.

    UAB was the first hospital in the state of Alabama to perform the TAVR procedure, in 2012. More than 300 total cases have been completed since then. Sasse says his staff averages four or five per week.

    “With people who had been considered for open-heart surgery in the past, we’ve noticed certain subgroups, typically the elderly, don’t do well,” Sasse said. “All these patients were offered high-risk surgeries or nothing at all. TAVR gave them another option.”

    The sky is the limit for people with heart failure, according to Sasse. UAB is already in its third iteration of the valve with the Sapien-3 valve.

    “The engineering keeps getting better each time,” he said. “The companies are still working on making them better. The future is bright for treating a bigger patient population.”

    That is good news for patients like Tate. Now 80 years old, Tate is back happily calling his cows and tending to his farm, and feels he has plenty ahead of him.

    “It was a relief to go home,” Tate said. “It took me several months to get sick, and I know it is going to take several months to get well. I believe now I can live to get 100 years old. It’s what I feel.”

  • Spain Rehab Women’s Committee hosts ‘Firefly’ fundraiser
    The Women’s Committee of the Spain Rehabilitation Center will host its signature benefit and Valentine’s Day celebration, “The Firefly,” on Saturday, Feb. 13, at The Florentine at 6 p.m.

    The Women’s Committee of the Spain Rehabilitation Center will host its signature benefit and Valentine’s Day celebration, “The Firefly,” on Saturday, Feb. 13, at The Florentine at 6 p.m.

    This year, the committee will honor former patients Kelly Garner and Ryan Robinett.

    Garner is an author, inspirational speaker and community leader. Following a near-death experience and extraordinary recovery, he wrote the book “The Night That Changed Our Lives.” Garner’s book was inspired primarily by his experience during the massive January 2014 snowstorm in Birmingham.

    Garner became familiar to many in the Birmingham area as the Good Samaritan during the storm when he offered assistance to stranded motorists and was injured after falling 40 feet off a cliff into a ravine. He spent over 12 hours in single-digit temperatures before a neighborhood rescue party located him early the next morning. He survived the fall but suffered shattered vertebrae and fell into a severe diabetic hypoglycemic state. Some doubted  he would ever walk again; but after numerous surgeries and rigorous rehabilitation at the Spain Rehabilitation Center, he has beaten the odds. Just a year after this incident, he completed the Mercedes half marathon. His surgical team was so inspired by his story that they ran the race with him.

    A native of Birmingham, Robinett serves as the managing director of Computer Technology Solutions’ Birmingham Operations. Ryan received his MBA from the UAB.

    Robinett was introduced to Spain’s Research and Rehabilitation programs in 2014 after experiencing a sudden onset of neurologic issues. Over the course of 16 months, his ability to walk deteriorated significantly. He has since made a full recovery following intense physical rehabilitation at Spain, is medicine-free and has been granted full medical release.

    Throughout his medical trials, Robinett has been an advocate and partner of UAB research, especially focusing on demyelinating diseases. He is an advocate of innovative ways to improve current rehabilitation methods, particularly involving neuro-physical rehabilitation. 

    To make a donation, please contact Catherine Newhouse.

  • New study finds relationship between lifetime marijuana use and loss of verbal memory in middle-aged adults
    A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looks at the relationship between lifetime marijuana use and cognitive function in middle-aged adults.
    Stefan Kertesz, MD, and his team have found that there is an association between long-term marijuana use and impaired verbal memory in middle aged adults.

    Marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug in the United States, according to a recent survey from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and new data suggest that marijuana use now could pose a serious cognitive function risk later in life.

    Stefan Kertesz, M.D., an associate professor with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, is part of a recently published nationwide study reporting potential long-term consequences with implications for public health.

    Impaired cognitive functioning is an acute effect of marijuana use, and there is increasing evidence that such effects may persist later in life after marijuana use has ceased. Heavy, long-term use of marijuana has been associated with cognitive impairment, particularly in learning and remembering new information.

    Kertesz and other researchers foundpast exposure to marijuana use to be significantly associated with worse verbal memory in middle age.

    Their paper used data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study which started in 1985, where more than 5,000 healthy adults were regularly asked about marijuana use. In contrast to studies that focus on people known to have an addiction, this study focused on community-based adults, where casual use tends to be more common than addiction.

    In the final year of the study, CARDIA participants underwent simple cognitive tests, including a word memory test. Individuals were presented with 15 words and then asked to try to remember them. After 25 minutes, they were later asked to recall the words. The tests showed that there was a significant decline in verbal memory among persons whose cumulative marijuana use exceeded the equivalent of one joint a day for five years.

    “For every five years of marijuana exposure, one out of two participants would remember one word less,” Kertesz said.

    Kertesz also said that it is important to realize that marijuana is more potent today than it was in the 1980s, raising the possibility that users of today’s marijuana may face cognitive consequences of greater magnitude than those reported.

    “It’s crucial to recognize that young brains are truly different and not fully developed until age 22 and are at more risk from marijuana,” he said. “Parents and teachers need to be vigilant that this poses a larger risk to adolescents.”

    Data from 2012 indicates that, among students in the 12th grade (ages 17-18 years), 37 percent had used marijuana within the last year, 23 percent within the last 30 days and 6.5 percent daily.

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