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UAB News

  • 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.

  • One nurse and 2,000 patients, a story of medical transport
    UAB nurse John Doriety reaches a major milestone: 2,000 patients transported by UAB’s Critical Care Transport service.

    The plane rolled to a stop on the tarmac in the middle of the night, the warm, salt smell of the Caribbean wafting from the nearby beach. John Doriety opened the hatch of the Cessna Citation Bravo to see that the plane was surrounded by men in camouflage, carrying automatic weapons. They were — fortunately — United States Marines, part of the garrison at Gitmo, the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Doriety and the rest of the team from the Critical Care Transport Service at the University of Alabama at Birmingham were at Gitmo following the devastating earthquake that hit the nearby island of Haiti in January 2010. A U.S. military officer had been badly injured in the quake. First responders had brought him to the Gitmo base hospital by helicopter, and CCT had been summoned to get him stateside, to more advanced medical care.

    It was another day at the office for Doriety, a registered nurse for CCT. He, along with medical director Kevin Barlotta, M.D., respiratory therapist Regena Bragwell, RT, and two pilots, had brought UAB’s Cessna air ambulance — its flying intensive care unit — to pick up the injured officer. It was one of the more than 2,000 medical transports Doriety has made during his 15 years with CCT. 643 transports by air, 1,357 by ground ambulance, the most of any CCT employee in the program’s history. The milestone 2,000th was a trip on January 28.

    Doriety, an army brat, graduated high school in Birmingham and studied at UAB to be an emergency medical technician. A part time job driving ambulances gave him a taste of medical transport. He earned his nursing degree from the UAB School of Nursing in 1998 and worked several years in emergency and trauma nursing. But the idea of medical transport was always in the back of his mind.

    “You never know where you are going to go, how long it will take or when you’ll be back,” Doriety said. “A lot of times, we’re the last glimmer of hope for patients, to safely get them to a hospital that can provide the kind of care they require, where ever they might be.”

    In the early 1980s, UAB realized that patients with significant medical issues requiring transfer between hospitals needed a better transport system than an ordinary ambulance. They needed air and ground vehicles with the same kind of equipment found in a hospital intensive care unit, staffed by the same kind of medical professionals who work in those units.

    That led to the creation of CCT, which has carried out more than 47,000 medical transports, covering 42 million miles, 46 states and 38 countries. Beside the aircraft, CCT has three specially equipped ground ambulances, capable of transporting the sickest patients requiring the most complex care.

    Several trips stand out in Doriety’s memory. Last February, he was on UAB’s first flight to collect a patient on ECMO, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. ECMO patients are very sick, and very fragile. UAB is one of the few transport operations in the nation that will even attempt to move an ECMO patient by air. It is a daunting undertaking, because at 36,000 feet, there is no help if something goes wrong.

    UAB CCT's historic first overflight of Cuba. Pilot Justin Koenig, Dr. Kevin Barlotta, a US Marine, Regena Bragwell, and John Doriety in front of their flying intensive care unit.

    “The ECMO transport team included a physician and UAB perfusionists, along with the usual crew,” Doriety recalled. “There was a lot of preparation and planning, and a lot of communication and coordination with the team on the ground at the other hospital. Ultimately, it was a pretty smooth flight.”

    CCT has now flown six ECMO patients to UAB, and Doriety has been on three of the flights. He estimates he has done about 50 flights with cardiac patients coming to UAB for open heart surgery or transplant who required a continuous balloon pump, another procedure that many medical transport companies will not touch. He took part in one high profile case when CCT transported a member of the family who had become ill in the U.S. Virgin Islands in March 2015 from suspected pesticide poisoning.

    “The medevac company operating in the Virgin Islands was overwhelmed and needed additional resources,” said Laura Lee Demmons, director of UAB CCT. “Their medical director had been a member of the U.S. Air Force special operations medical team embedded at UAB, and knew of CCT’s capabilities. We were able to send John and our crew to provide assistance, testimony to UAB’s continually growing national and international reputation.”

    Demmons, one of the few CCT employees who has been with the program longer than Doriety, says he is the right guy for this kind of job.

    “John is exactly the kind of nurse that UAB and CCT need to represent us around the country and around the world,” she said. “He is an outstanding clinician, great ambassador, inspiring educator and a master diplomat. We have a lot of great employees in Critical Care Transport, and John’s leadership and example are a large part of what makes our team so successful.”

    Back to that Gitmo trip. The airport is on the other side of the bay from the hospital, so they had to take a small boat across, which meant leaving their stretcher behind. The Navy loaded the base ambulance, with the patient and team inside, into a large landing craft, the kind they use for amphibious operations, for the return voyage to the airport. That is when the trip got really interesting.

    Gitmo is on the southeast coast of Cuba, about as far from the United States as any point on the island. Incoming flights have to stay outside of Cuban airspace, and make a long detour around the island. But with an injured man aboard for the return flight, a direct, shorter and quicker route home was essential.

    Approval to take the shorter route would mean UAB’s jet would become the first U.S. aircraft in five decades to make an official flight through Cuban airspace.

    “We got permission to overfly Cuba, the first U.S. aircraft to do so since a new, fledging agreement regarding medevac flights was negotiated between Cuba and our government,” Doriety said. “We were a little nervous to be the test case for the new rules, hoping that nothing went wrong. It was comforting to finally land on U.S. soil. Those kinds of flights are routine over Cuba now, but we were the first since the revolution.”

    Doriety has no plans to curtail his medical transports. He is planning on getting his master’s degree in nursing at some point, but he and his wife, also a critical care nurse, have four children to get through school first. The oldest is about to start medical school this year, no doubt inspired by dinner-table tales of saving lives on the ground and in the air.

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