Kara Leigh Lofton

Appalachia Health News Coordinator

Kara Leigh Lofton is the Appalachia Health News Coordinator at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In 2016, Kara filed 140 reports aimed at healthcare consumers in West Virginia and adjacent regions, with topics ranging from health insurance policies to midwife-assisted home births. Kara’s stories were about evenly divided between her radio reports and short pieces she wrote for internet readers. Eight stories reached a national audience through NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition,” including several pertaining to the impact of record-breaking flooding in West Virginia and the threatened loss of health benefits for former miners. Kara’s radio stories are often illustrated by her own photographs, posted on WVPB’s website.

Previously Kara was a freelance reporter for WMRA, an affiliate of NPR serving the Shenandoah Valley and Charlottesville in Virginia. One of her nationally broadcast reports, “Trauma Workers Find Solace in a Pause That Honors Life After a Death,” garnered a first place award for a feature story from the Virginia Association of Broadcasters.

Kara’s work has been published by Kaiser Health News, Medscape.com, The Hill (the news outlet and blog serving Congress), Side Effects Public Media, Virginia Living, and Blue Ridge Outdoors among other outlets. She has also written and photographed for Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree.

Prior to and during her university years, Kara had stints living internationally, spending months in Morocco, Spain, Turkey, and England, with shorter visits to Zambia, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and a half-dozen countries in western and central Europe. In the fall of 2015, she toured Guatemala (using her conversational Spanish), where she reported on its woefully underfunded health system. In her spare time, Kara enjoys hiking with her nurse-husband and their three friendly dogs, practicing yoga, and reading.

Ways to Connect

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A new study from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has found that a significant number of e-cigarette devices generate aerosols with potentially unsafe levels of lead, chromium, manganese and/or nickel. Chronic inhalation of these metals has been linked to lung, liver, immune, cardiovascular and brain damage, as well as cancers.

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Taking as little as a 15-minute walk after each meal can help you lose weight, lower blood sugar, improve circulation and aid in digestion among other things, according to Mon Health family medicine doctor Gabrielle Sakellarides.

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A group of Marshall University students, faculty and staff have assisted in stopping child trafficking cases in Latin America. The work was done through a partnership with the nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad.

The work involved sex trafficking cases in Latin America, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Select students in Marshall’s Open Source Intelligence Exchange program worked to provide open source intelligence collection and analysis for law enforcement and other clients. Open source refers to data collection from publicly available sources.

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Outside of a 4th Avenue bus stop in Huntington, Ronni Stone is smoking a cigarette. She started when she was 15 years old and has been smoking for 35 years. She says she’s tried to quit about four times but was only able to last for about a week before the withdrawal symptoms made her light up again.

Marshall University
Wikipedia / en.wikipedia.org

A Marshall University physician has been awarded a five-year almost 11 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate obesity and obesity-related conditions in West Virginia.

Uma Sundaram, vice dean for research at the Marshall University School of Medicine and a gastroenterologist, will be the grant’s principal investigator.

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West Virginia will be the first state in the nation to allow Medicaid to fund treatment for newborns exposed to opioids in the womb.

When their exposure to opioids ends at birth, infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome experience withdrawal symptoms. They include tremors, vomiting, seizures, excessive crying and sensitivity to loud noises, lights and colors. Infants are weaned from opioid dependence by using small doses of morphine or methadone.

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Eight years ago, Chelsea Carter was facing up to 20 years in federal prison for burglary and conspiracy charges. Instead, her judge sent her to drug court where she was able to get treatment.

 

She has since completed a master’s degree in counseling and earlier this month, petitioned the Boone County court to expunge her record, a request that was granted. Here’s Carter telling her own story of addiction and how drug court, “saved her life,” as she puts it.

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About 700 women across the United States die each year from pregnancy or pregnancy-related complications. A new report has found that most of those deaths are preventable. 

The report published by the CDC Foundation used data from nine maternal mortality review committees. The committees estimate more than 60 percent of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable. Nearly 50 percent were caused by hemorrhage, cardiovascular conditions, or infection, but the conditions causing death varied widely by race.

The OberPorts via https://www.drrainbow.org/

The social justice advocacy organization Covenant House has launched a health care website linking LGBTQ West Virginians with statewide resources and providers. 

The site, called DrRainbow, includes tabs on finding a “LGBTQ friendly” provider and community health resources. In an email, Covenant House said the website is an attempt to address the rising health disparities in the LGBTQ community. About 30 percent of transgender patients report delaying or not seeking care due to discrimination, according to a report published in the June edition of the journal Medical Care.

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Congress passed a bipartisan budget deal early this morning that, among other things, authorizes funding for several health care programs. Here’s what West Virginians need to know about the bill.

In September, the funding for community health centers was allowed to run out – there are 30 of these centers in West Virginia. The budget bill not only reauthorized funding for the centers but increased their allocation to 3.8 billion dollars for the current fiscal year and 4 billion in 2019, up from 3.6 last year.

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West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin released a report today detailing the impact the opioid crisis has had on his state. 

In the intro, Manchin said the goal of the report is to bring more attention to the negative and pervasive effects of opioids on the state.

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A new study of more than 6,000 first graders across the U.S. has found that the number of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders is larger than previously thought. 

Over a six-year period, researchers collected data from more than 6,000 children in four communities in the Midwest, Rocky Mountain, Southeast and Pacific Southwest that were thought to represent an accurate sampling of the United States. There is no state-by-state specific data available.

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New research by the Chartis Center for Rural Health has found that current and pending federal health policies are putting a bigger financial strain on already struggling rural hospitals. 

The report found the percentage of rural and critical access hospitals working at a negative operating margin has increased from 40 to 44 percent. 

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Bobak Ha'Eri / Wikimedia Commons

On the last day of the annual GOP retreat at the Greenbrier Resort last week, two West Virginia congressmen said combating the opioid epidemic is a top priority for federal legislators. The press conference came a day after about 500 people gathered at the gates of the resort to advocate for programs like Medicaid and community health center funding.

Evan Jenkins opened Friday’s press conference by describing the scope of the opioid crisis both in West Virginia and nationally and what Congress is doing to tackle it.

Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Dr. Michael Brumage, former executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, has been named director of the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy. 

Brumage replaces director Jim Johnson who retired from the position in January. In a press release, Governor Jim Justice said he’s confident that Brumage is the right person to tackle West Virginia’s opioid crisis.

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There are 30 of community health centers in West Virginia serving more than 400,000 people. Congress didn’t include funding in its latest continuing budget resolution, which means federal funding for those centers is about to run out. If that happens, people like Julie Pratt may not have access to the care they need.

Pratt is self-employed. She got health insurance through her husband’s  job when he was working. Then he retired and she was able to buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act Marketplaces.

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West Virginia University researchers are partnering to investigate whether "bioelectric signaling" can be used to treat breast cancer. 

Most cancer research focuses on the chemical workings of the body. But how cells communicate electrically may impact cancer too.

Basically, cancer cells are a part of the body, but are mutated, causing tumors. Generally, the body has mechanisms to deal with the mutations, but sometimes the mechanisms fail due to overwork or age or exposure to toxins among other things.

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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced a 20-slot expansion to their Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver.

The program allows qualified recipients over the age of three are able to remain in their homes as opposed to going to an institutional setting, such as a nursing home.

Around 66 people are already on the program. The extra money is possible in part due to an increased Federal match.

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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources released an analysis today of the factors that contribute to a person’s likelihood of fatally overdosing. 

The report presents a kind of “profile of an overdose victim in West Virginia.” Researchers found that men are twice as likely to die from a drug overdose as women. They also found that men working in blue collar industries that have a higher risk of injury may be at an increased risk for overdose death.

About 70 percent of those who fatally overdosed had Medicaid in the 12 months preceding their death.

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A new study published this month in The Journal of Pain found that as little as a 10 percent reduction in body weight helps obese pain patients reduce chronic pain.

Several previous studies have shown that people who are obese tend to have higher levels of pain.

But pain related to obesity is usually associated with joint and weight-bearing body parts such as knees, hips and lower back.

The new study found that reducing body weight in obese patients can help improve not only joint pain but also abdominal, arm, chest and jaw pain.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia passed the Medical Cannabis Act in April 2017, qualifying patients with a written doctor’s certification to use medical cannabis and to buy it from registered dispensaries. The bill was a big shock – no one thought it would actually pass. But supporters of the bill say it didn’t go nearly far enough, while opponents say it went too far.

On January 4th about 50 people gathered outside of the Capitol building to rally for more favorable legislation.

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The Appalachian Regional Commission has just awarded more than 1.3 million dollars to support economic development projects throughout West Virginia.

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West Virginia Medicaid recipients now have access to new services aimed at screening and treating substance use disorders. 

West Virginia Medicaid was awarded a waiver from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in October last year, authorizing the state to expand substance use disorder treatment coverage.

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Kristin Phillips is one of two physical therapists in West Virginia specializing in women’s health. In this episode of our occasional series, Windows into Health Care, health reporter Kara Lofton talks with Phillips about the main issues she sees in her practice. A warning to listeners, this episode includes detailed descriptions of women’s health issues and may not be appropriate for all listeners. The interview runs about eight minutes.

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West Virginia’s drug epidemic may be leading to increases in what’s called “familial sex trafficking.” Family members trading sex with a child in their family for drugs or money. But spotting the problem and prosecuting the offenders is very difficult.  

That’s because all forms of human trafficking, whether for labor or sex, are severely underreported in West Virginia, according to homeland security agent Brian Morris. Morris co-chairs a state task force that’s trying to figure out how common human trafficking is.

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A new study has found that moderate exercise can reverse heart damage caused by age and a sedentary lifestyle – if it’s begun early enough and performed with enough frequency. 

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern studied a group of about 50 participants over the course of two years.

The study found that in order for exercise to help reverse heart damage, the exercise regimen needs to start before the age of 65 when the heart retains some plasticity – meaning it is still able to remodel itself.

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A new study published this week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has found that high out-of-pocket costs may be causing insured Americans with cancer to forego treatment when a wide range of oral cancer drugs are prescribed.

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Doctors at WVU Heart and Vascular Institute have implanted a permanent artificial heart pump into a Maryland man with a failing heart in the first surgery of its kind in West Virginia.

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A new study from Indiana University has found that the Affordable Care Act led to an increase in early-stage cancer diagnosis in Medicaid expansion states like West Virginia. 

 

The research suggests that public health insurance may increase cancer detection. Early cancer detection is linked to better outcomes for patients and fewer deaths. West Virginia has one of the highest rates of cancer in the nation.

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A new study out of Rush University Medical Center found that eating just one serving a day of green, leafy vegetables may be linked to a slower rate of brain aging. 

The study found that people who ate at least one serving of green, leafy vegetables a day had a slower rate of decline on memory tests and thinking skills than people who rarely or never ate those vegetables. Green leafy vegetables include kale, broccoli, mustard greens, collards and spinach.

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