Health

Breaking the Silence

At age 35, after a long labor and birth of her second child, Lisa (not her real name) developed urinary incontinence. She kept it a secret even from her then-husband, a military man. “He never knew. It’s humiliating… Even bringing it up to the Army doctors was embarrassing. They said, ‘Oh well, that’s what happens …

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Room Service in Wonderland

The view from up here is majestic. The smudged, working class neighborhood of my youth has grown up to be a gentrified village whose renovated rooftops peer out of a sanitary blanket of January snow. I can almost hear the bustle of the hipsters and their Uber apps, heading out to work in the city. …

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Is Being Overweight the New Smoking?

Since hitting puberty four decades ago, Claudia Pianko has struggled with her weight. “When I was in 6th grade, I was 144 pounds,” she says. By last January, the 5’ 8’’ Greensburg woman weighed in at 385 pounds. Not surprisingly, Pianko, now 54, has a slew of weight-related health problems: high blood pressure, diabetes, knee …

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Transhumanism

It was my first interview with an artificial intelligence—a talking head without a body. The conversation was awkward, but considering that Bina48 is an android, it went better than I expec-ted. Bina48 is a synthetic replica of a real woman named Bina Rothblatt. We met at a Juniata College conference called Our Transhuman Future. The …

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Stroke Alert

It was around 10 p.m. on a summer evening a year ago. Kelly Pieczynski of North Braddock was chatting with her 21-year-old daughter about her day at Kennywood. When Pieczynski went to kiss her goodbye, she thought she was saying, “I love you. Drive safe.” But all that came out was mumbling. Her daughter, in …

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Living with Amnesia

When I pulled up to Diana Staab’s house in May, it would mark my third interview with her and the second time that month that I would spend a few hours at her home in Level Green near Murrysville. When she opened the door and said hello, she was wearing a white T-shirt, black sweatpants …

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Heroin Hits Home

By the time he was 35, James (a pseudonym) was living in a Shadyside home worth $500,000, driving an Audi A4 and earning six figures. He was seven years into his job as a recruiter for a technology company. His wife was from a wealthy family, and they traveled often. “Every six weeks, we were …

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3-D Mammograms Premier in Pittsburgh

When Diana Napper gets a compliment on her crystal bracelet, she can’t help but make a life-saving sales pitch. “This bracelet is funding some of the best technology in the world,” says Napper, 58, of McCandless. The technology is digital breast tomosynthesis—more commonly known as 3-D mammography. This breakthrough in breast cancer screening can detect …

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Plastic Surgery on Your Wish List?

In Los Angeles, it’s not uncommon to hear someone boasting about her plastic surgeon. In Miami, people don’t brag so much but definitely don’t hide cosmetic work. In these parts, plastic surgery is rarely a topic of conversation but is thriving. “One of the charming things about Pittsburgh is that plastic surgery is done here …

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Building STEM Solutions

Our region is facing a potentially crippling workforce shortage, with too few young, skilled workers to replace an older generation poised for retirement. According to research by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the gap could be yawning—as many as 144,000, with the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields especially hard hit. No one expects …

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Healing Children for 125 Years

Each day, Dr. Patrick Dantzer, a fourth-year resident at Children’s Hospital of UPMC, walks past an indoor mural commemorating Jonas Salk and his polio vaccine discovery. Pretty big shoes to fill, but also a good way to kick start a shift. The milestones at Children’s are copious—so many medical breakthroughs, including the polio vaccine, so …

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A Stitch in Time

Through the long, painful decline of Big Steel and the subsequent efforts of Pittsburgh to remake itself and regain economic viability, observers echoed a consistent theme: Pittsburgh will rise again because of the industriousness and talent of its workforce. Indeed, that committed workforce helped the region shape a multifaceted economy that grew supple and strong. …

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Rethinking Depression

Growing up in New Castle, Brenda Weingartner, 53, was a teenager when she had her first of many bouts with depression. “Back then, my parents didn’t have a good understanding of mental illness and what to do for it,” she said. “My mother’s suggestion was to go talk to the minister. That was her generation’s …

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The Awe of Night

For nearly three centuries, a scientific debate lingered about the brilliant rings rotating around Saturn: Were they solid discs or made of some other matter? The debate finally came to rest in Pittsburgh, of all places. Astronomer James Edward Keeler, using a spectrograph attached to a refracting telescope with a 13-inch lens, observed that the …

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Who’s Afraid of Obamacare?

In 1998, Bob McCafferty set out to start a business that would pay the bills and give him more free time to go camping. He bought a run-down funeral parlor dating to the 1850s. For the next several years, he spent nights restoring the building while holding down jobs as an archaeologist and bartender. He …

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Three Percent of You Isn’t You

Susan Lambie was desperate. It was the summer of 2009 and her mother’s health was deteriorating rapidly. What began as a cold turned into pneumonia. Then her mom developed Clostridium difficile—a nasty bacterium that causes severe diarrhea. Each year, C. diff strikes more than a half million people, especially the elderly after taking antibiotics, as …

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Too Fat Too Young

Michelle Penn-Nored of Penn Hills has been dealing with type 2 diabetes since her late 40s. She’s determined to keep her daughter from having the same fate. Last August at 10-year-old Meccah’s wellness exam, Penn-Nored talked with the physician assistant about getting a prescription so Meccah could join Weight Watchers. She carried a lot of …

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Life Under Pressure

We’ve all experienced it: Our heart suddenly starts pounding, adrenaline courses through our legs and, unintentionally, we shout a profanity. Our body’s automatic response systems are helping us deal with a sudden stressful situation so we have the energy to act quickly, like when another driver cuts us off. “These systems are beautifully adapted for …

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Bridging the STEM Gap

If America is unable to meet our growing need for young people with STEM skills, it isn’t because we aren’t aware of the looming crisis. According to the online clearinghouse STEMconnector, more than 3,700 organizations across the country are working to bridge the STEM Gap. The problem is so Hydra-headed that it’s hard to know …

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Halting the Revolving Hospital Door

For years, hospitals focused on getting patients home as quickly as possible—and applauded themselves for short length of stays. But five years ago, a landmark New England Journal of Medicine study showed that as many as one in five Medicare patients bounced back to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, revealing that a good …

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The STEM Dilemma

When Elizabeth Roeske was growing up in the small New Jersey town of Salem, she seemed a natural for a career in science. Several members of her family are scientists, and she was planning to study chemistry and environmental science in college. But she found little peer support—”No one from my high school was planning …

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Mind Over Matter

“Let me eat chocolate.” That was quadriplegic Jan Scheuermann’s simple request when she committed to a trailblazing UPMC and Pitt School of Medicine study that would let her control a robotic arm with her mind. “The doctors asked me: ‘What is your goal?’ ” Scheuermann recalled with a laugh. “I could tell they wanted to …

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