Traditional dishes in some families can be powerful reminders of being with loved ones. But what if those important foods no longer tasted the same?

What is neurogastronomy? 3 experts explain

The end-of-year holidays are upon us, and for many, it’s a time made all the more meaningful by food. Dishes that are traditions in some families can be powerful reminders of coming together with loved ones to celebrate and reflect.

But what if the foods that elicit such strong memory and emotion in us no longer tasted the same? Certain foods hold so much sentiment in our lives, so how would we react if we could no longer have that experience? Our three guests on this week’s Behind the Blue podcast have been exploring that very idea of taste, smell and how our nerve receptors interpret that information.

Dr. Dan Han is a UK neuropsychologist and the director of Neurobehavioral Studies at the UK Sports Medicine Research Institute. Tim McClintock is a UK physiology professor working in neural regeneration. And Ouita Michel is a nationally acclaimed chef and owner of the Holly Hill Inn.

Together, they are forging new paths in a field called neurogastronomy, which examines how the brain creates taste perceptions. Their work is taking them into areas of learning how to change and enhance the mechanics of the flavors of foods, how we experience them and how this may impact the world in areas of clinical and nutritional science, both on a personal and a global level.

You can listen to the whole podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.


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Research conducted by UK College of Design faculty Lindsey Fay and Allison Carll-White and their students is getting to the heart of health care design.

Getting to the heart of health care design

Innovative research conducted by UK College of Design faculty Lindsey Fay and Allison Carll-White and their students is helping to improve efficiency and care at UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital. The researchers, in partnership with UK HealthCare, recently completed a pre- and post-occupancy evaluation for the new eighth floor cardiovascular unit in Chandler Hospital-Pavilion A.

As new facilities in Pavilion A opened on a staggered schedule in recent years, UK HealthCare had approximately a year dedicated to the design of its cardiovascular floor. The process, which involved providers, staff and facilities personnel, aimed to create an uplifting, healing space.

Using design to improve care

“We had this brand new building, and when we were moving units over, we were hearing a lot of feedback from the nursing staff about the changes in their workflow and how that impacted their daily work and ability to deliver care to our patients,” said Kathy Isaacs, director of nursing professional development at UK HealthCare.

Susan Smyth, MD, director of the Gill Heart Institute and chief of Cardiovascular Medicine, and Isaacs decided they wanted to capitalize on this valuable information and reached out to the School of Interiors at the College of Design for their expertise. “It became very important for us to study what we were doing, to develop metrics and ways in which we could continue to improve the care delivery process,” Smyth explained.

Health care innovation every step of the way

The evaluation process allowed UK HealthCare to learn details about daily workflow. With pedometer data, the research team was able to capture every footstep the nursing staff took and see where they walked most, spent the most time and how the facility could help ensure they had the most time at the patient’s bedside, which is invaluable to care.

One of the biggest changes from the old unit to the new unit was moving from a centralized design to a decentralized design. “On the new floor, the nurses are actually located immediately outside the patients’ rooms,” Smyth said. “The decentralized model really puts the nursing care right at the bedside, where the patients and the family are, where they need nursing-level care.”

Students also observed the nurses at work in the unit. “It was really nice to have the data from the students, to see where these communication circles were, because we wanted to see, in a space that was much larger, where are those conversations taking place that are so critical,” Isaacs said.

A collaborative effort

“My favorite part of the project was really getting to understand how a health care environment works and seeing how the nurses, physicians and staff work in the cardiovascular unit,” said interiors graduate student Marissa Wilson, of Louisville, Ky., who, as part of the behavioral mapping observations team, entered the data, observational mapping and surveys into the computer for statistical analysis and then created graphics to streamline that data.

As part of the evaluation outcomes the School of Interiors team provided both short- and long-term suggestions for improvement. Short-term suggestions for the floor included ideas on new locations to install monitors where they appear to be needed most and better lighting around the patients’ rooms. Long-term suggestions included looking at the addition of more unlicensed staff to help address nurses’ needs so they could devote more time at the bedside.

Isaacs said that both nurses and patients like what they are seeing. “That daylight infusing in on patients was good for patients to be able to see what was going on in the outside world. There was good ability to move the patients around that environment. If the patient was in a wheelchair or had crutches, the threshold to the bathroom was large enough to be able to sort of navigate that. This was a cardiology unit, so they had the ability to pull up certain EKG monitoring on their computers that they were sitting at, just in real time. And to be right there with their patients, right outside of the room also made them feel very good.”

Smyth only sees positives to this research-based design approach as UK HealthCare continues to grow.

“To be able to collect data in terms of how effective this care delivery model is, how active the nurses are on the floor, how this has impacted care, really will of be of critical value as we roll out new floors, and as we try to tweak what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis,” said Smyth.

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5 ways to prevent preterm birth

5 ways to prevent preterm birth

Written by Diana Frankenburger, the childbirth education coordinator for UK HealthCare.

Prematurity and its complications are the leading cause of death in children younger than 5 in the world today. Infants born before 37 weeks gestation have more complications than full-term babies, including problems with feeding and digestion, vision and hearing, and breathing.

Premature report card

Each November, the March of Dimes publishes a Premature Birth Report Card, which grades the U.S. and each state on prematurity rates for the previous year. The goal is to be at 8.1 percent, an objective set by the Healthy People 2020 initiative, a science-based, 10-year program to improve the health of all Americans.

This year, the U.S. has a rate of 9.6 percent, earning a C letter grade. Kentucky’s rate is 10.8 percent, which unfortunately gives our state a D.

Tips to prevent preterm birth

While some risks for premature birth cannot be avoided, there are things you can do to help prevent a preterm birth. Here are a few tips:

  1. Stop smoking, or cut down to less than a half-pack per day. Smoking contributes to preterm birth, and a baby who lives in a house with smokers is also 3.5 times more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome than a baby who doesn’t.
  2. Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  3. Get prenatal care. Learn more about prenatal care at UK Women’s Health OB-GYN.
  4. Practice oral hygiene and see your dentist. Oral infections can lead to infections that can cause preterm labor.
  5. Practice stress reduction. Be aware of how you are handling stress and get sufficient exercise and rest to help get you ready for your new family member.

Delivering at full term will help your baby be healthier, stronger and avoid the complications that come with preterm birth.


Next steps:

  • Learn more about the UK Birthing Center, the leading facility in Central Kentucky specializing in high-risk pregnancies and deliveries.
  • The Birthing Center also offers a Childbirth Preparation Program, which will help prepare you for the changes that happen during pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum. Find out more about our class offerings.
UK Nursing student Brandy Smith received a breast cancer diagnosis while still in school. But rather than lose hope, she was determined to graduate on time.

UK nursing student refuses to let cancer diagnosis delay her dreams

Striding across the finish line in pink knee-high socks imprinted with the phrase “tough ta-tas,” Brandy Smith completed her first 5K as a breast cancer survivor on Oct. 23.

She wore a victory sash and clasped a pink carnation as she and husband Jason waited for friends at the ballpark. The race was a moment of exhalation for the UK student who refused to let her illness hinder her progress toward becoming a nurse.

Smith diagnosed with breast cancer while in school

One year earlier, Smith walked across the same finish line at the Whitaker Bank Lexington Legends Stadium knowing her struggle with breast cancer was just beginning. At the time of her diagnosis, the 28-year-old from Middlesboro, Ky. was working clinical rotations at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, the UK Birthing Center and UK Polk-Dalton Clinic, as well as taking courses in the UK College of Nursing.

Breast cancer threatened to interrupt her progress toward graduation. After detecting an abnormal lump on the top of her right breast last October, Smith immediately suspected she was the next victim of breast cancer in her family. Oncologists at the UK Markey Cancer Center located a stage-2 tumor the size of a softball on the outer top of her right breast, which required aggressive and immediate chemotherapy followed by radiation and a bilateral mastectomy. When she got the call with the biopsy results, her suspicions were confirmed.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I know,’” Smith said of hearing the news. “I did cry, but it was not a shocker.”

Smith believes ‘movement is medicine’

After her diagnosis, Smith tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene, learning her genetic predisposition put her at an 85 percent chance of developing the disease. Her treatment plan included rounds of aggressive chemotherapy treatment and double mastectomy surgery in the spring. She consulted with professors and the dean of the UK College of Nursing, who supported her decision to push through school and an intensive treatment plan at the same time.

“She was like, ‘Let’s do this,’” Smith said of Dean Janie Heath.

But beating cancer and finishing school wasn’t enough for Smith, who thrives on activity. She wanted to finish next year’s breast cancer awareness race as a runner and a survivor. Despite the physical hardship and exhaustion in the coming year, she decided to take up walking, and when she had the energy, running. She signed up for races and mentored young runners. She even joined an online runner’s group, connecting with fellow runners and cancer patients across the globe.

“Some people said I should take some time off nursing school,” Smith said. “For me, movement is medicine.”

Running and physical activity boosted Smith’s immune system and helped her body recuperate after depressive treatments. Smith believes keeping company with positive people and staying active kept her emotionally and physically stable through the rigors of nursing training and cancer treatment.

Family taught Smith to stay positive

No stranger to breast cancer, Smith learned toughness battling the disease from women in her family. Her maternal grandmother and seven aunts received a breast cancer diagnosis and her cousin tested positive for BRCA-1. Smith’s mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer at 26, and after beating the disease experienced a recurrence at 30. Growing up around breast cancer survivors sensitized Smith to the importance of regular screenings and mammograms. She said she learned how to fight cancer from her mother’s positive outlook.

“This is the exact same way she tackled it,” Smith said, referring to how her mother approached cancer. “That is one thing I have to say, I learned it from my mom. I took her positivity. When she had it, she never let anything get her down.”

Smith’s diagnosis came at a critical point in her nursing education. Rather than postponing her career goals, she continued clinical and classroom training through 12 weeks of dual chemotherapy, 12 more weeks of another chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation therapy during the summer. Also, with goals to have a family, Smith went through oncofertility treatment, which induced menopause during chemotherapy to preserve her reproductive functioning. Refusing to use her disease as an excuse to stay home, Smith missed one clinical during the fall semester and was absent for two weeks for her mastectomy procedure. Her husband sometimes doubted whether she was well enough to go, but Smith always insisted.

“I could be in worse places,” she said. “I am surrounded by nurses, so if something goes bad, they know what to do.”

UK Nursing helps one of its own

Smith’s professors and classmates rallied behind Smith in her effort to graduate in December 2016. Many of her professors organized meals and accommodated her treatment schedule to ensure she had the opportunity to succeed. Smith completed clinical rotations wearing a beanie to cover her head and hiding the port in her chest. Chemotherapy affected her energy level and sometimes interfered with her ability to focus for exams. Students and faculty donated items and brought her Mr. Goodbars after her mastectomy surgery.

Smith also mentored elementary age girls during her cancer treatment. As part of her required public health rotation, she volunteered for Girls on the Run at Lansdowne Elementary, boosting their confidence and self-esteem and encouraging them to stay physically active. Her students sent her a load of get-well cards after her mastectomy surgery.

“I still have glitter all over my house,” she said.

Moving forward as a cancer survivor

As a cancer survivor, Smith plans to enter pediatric oncology nursing when she graduates this December. After her year battling cancer, she feels she can relate to young oncology patients and bring positivity to situations that seem hopeless. She has also learned emotional toughness, which will help her stay strong when seeing others suffering or enduring harsh therapies. She will also encourage children to move and play through pain and sickness to boost their immune systems and morale.

“You have to laugh through it because it’s what helps you,” she said. “I want to encourage them to be active, even if it’s just getting up and walking around a playroom.”

In a gathering of her entire College of Nursing class, Smith announced her cancer-free status on Oct. 5. The news was met with a round of applause. Many students sent her messages saying they were inspired by her resilience and positivity, which persists after cancer.

“As much fun as I’ve had, it’s been horrible at times,” Smith said. “But it could have been worse — I got to have milkshakes every day.”

Media inquiries: Elizabeth Adams, University of Kentucky Public Relations and Marketing, elizabethtadams@uky.edu.


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Healthy Thanksgiving tips

4 tips for a healthy Thanksgiving

Make Thanksgiving happy and healthy this year with our top tips for a guilt-free holiday.

1. Take a deep breath.

Between cleaning your house, preparing the holiday meal and dealing with family, Thanksgiving can quickly go from celebratory to stressful. Here a few ways to keep stress at a minimum:

  • Enlist a family member or guest to help with food prep, or divide your list among your guests and ask everyone to bring a dish.
  • Practice deep breathing. Taking deep breaths when you get stressed out will help lower your heart rate and will trigger your body’s natural relaxation response.
  • Take regular breaks from preparing dinner to chat with friends and family or simply rest your feet.

2. Make time for a turkey trot.

Get some exercise earlier in the day, before you sit down at the dinner table. A brisk 30-minute walk can burn between 100-200 calories and help get you on the right side of the day’s calorie count.

3. Avoid overconsumption.

Before you begin, scan the table and decide what looks best, then fill your plate with reasonable-sized portions of those foods. Try to avoid second helpings.

Eating a small, healthy breakfast – like whole-grain cereal or whole-wheat toast – can also help curb your appetite before dinner and help you feel fuller faster.

4. Enjoy yourself

Think about your health this holiday, but remember, it’s just one day.  If you do go for that second slice of pumpkin pie or extra helping of stuffing, it’s not the end of the world. Enjoy yourself and the company of friends and family on Thanksgiving, while resolving to make healthy choices part of your year-round lifestyle.


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Geri McDowell's battle with cancer nearly took her life. But thanks to a Markey clinical trial, she has been able to reclaim it.

Patient with rare neuroendocrine cancer finds help through clinical trial

Serotonin is commonly known as the “feel-good” chemical, a neurotransmitter in the brain that plays a large role in elevating a person’s mood. But for 68-year-old Kentucky native Geri McDowell, it’s the hormone that nearly took her life.

In 2003, McDowell pursued medical help out of state after experiencing a prolonged gastrointestinal illness that her local doctors couldn’t explain. Her ultimate diagnosis: neuroendocrine cancer in her GI tract.

Neuroendocrine tumors are relatively rare, affecting roughly 8,000 Americans a year. The neuroendocrine system comprises cells from both the nervous system and endocrine system, and this system regulates the physiological processes of the human body. Neuroendocrine tumors begin in the hormone-producing cells of this system, and they are frequently found in the lungs or GI tract.

McDowell underwent surgery to remove the mass. Afterward, she came home and life returned to normal – until five years later, when she her noticed unusual GI symptoms returning and sought medical advice again.

The cancer had recurred, this time with metastasis to her liver. She was sent back to Kentucky with instructions to find an oncologist who could help her manage her disease.

“They just told me, ‘Well, there’s no treatment and no cure,’ ” she said. “The tumors I have in the liver, they’re inoperable.”

McDowell and Markey challenge cancer together

Back in Lexington, McDowell chose the UK Markey Cancer Center for her care. At the time, Markey did not have an oncologist who specialized in neuroendocrine cancers. But when Dr. Lowell Anthony arrived in 2012, McDowell transferred into his care soon thereafter. With regular Sandostatin® injections, her tumors remained fairly stable and she maintained a normal life for a while.

However, neuroendocrine tumors are tricky: Because of their origins, they often wreak havoc on a patient’s hormones, leading to serious damage in other areas of the body. In McDowell’s case, her tumors were producing too much serotonin.

“Serotonin in your brain is a good thing,” Anthony said. “But too much serotonin in your body is not.”

Excess serotonin in the body can cause a build-up of scar tissue in major organs, a fibrosis that Anthony describes as almost “wood-like.”

In August 2014, she underwent surgery to repair the valves. Then, over the next few months, a pacemaker and stent were installed in an effort to regulate her heart.

With her tumors continuing to overproduce the hormone, McDowell struggled to recover. The mitral valve in her heart also began to fail, requiring her to be on oxygen 24/7.

‘Miraculous news’

“I was in cardiac rehab to regain my strength, but I wasn’t doing well at all,” she said. “I’d lost so much weight, and I was so weak that I couldn’t even stand.”

In the meantime, Anthony doggedly searched for a clinical trial that suited McDowell, knowing that it was likely her best chance for survival. She finally qualified for one of his trials in early 2015, just as her health was reaching an all-time low.

“At one point during her ordeal, she was on her deathbed,” Anthony said. “Her husband called in her pastor, friends and family. We were doing everything we could to keep her with us, to get her on that trial.”

McDowell hung on and began taking the trial medication. She slowly grew stronger over the following months, building up her stamina and gaining weight. Her shortness of breath began to dissipate, and she weaned herself off of the supplemental oxygen.

The trial medication worked, blocking the serotonin production in her tumors. But at a follow-up appointment with her cardiologist, Dr. David Booth, she received some better – even miraculous – news.

“My heart healed itself,” she said. “Dr. Booth was telling me how well I was doing, and I said, ‘Does the mitral valve usually repair itself?’ and he said, ‘No… except in your case.'”

Learning to live again

More than a year after beginning the clinical trial, McDowell is feeling the strongest and healthiest she has in many years, something she attributes to both the trial and her strong support system of family, friends and church.

“Cancer isn’t necessarily a death sentence, you know,” she said. “I just try to consider it a chronic condition, not a fatal condition. And I still have to pace myself. But my quality of life is amazing compared to what it was a year ago.”

An avid golfer and a grandmother, McDowell’s renewed energy is allowing her to once again plan do many things she had taken for granted, like hitting the links on a beautiful summer day or taking a well-deserved cruise vacation.

“With the oxygen tank, I’d never felt so dependent in my life. I felt like a dog on a leash,” she said. “But now I can do whatever I want to do. I want to play golf. I’m anxious to do that, and travel.”

Anthony affectionately calls her his “zebra,” noting that much like every zebra has its own distinctive striping, McDowell’s extraordinary reaction to her treatment is also unique and special. Her case makes her a role model of sorts for other patients, particularly for those dealing with a brand-new diagnosis. She previously served as a support group coordinator at Markey, and Anthony recently asked her to help ease the fears of a patient who had been diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer and traveled from another state to seek his expertise. While the term “clinical trial” can sound scary to someone who has never participated, McDowell is happy to dispel any myths surrounding trial participation and educate others on her experience.

“It’s always scary to think about somebody asking you if you want to be on a clinical trial,” she said. “But I trusted Dr. Anthony with anything, and when he thought it was the best thing, I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And even if it didn’t help me, it might help someone else.”

You can make a difference through participating in research and discovery. To find more information, including a list of current studies at UK and access to studies nationwide, visit UKclinicalresearch.com, call 859-257-7856 or join ResearchMatch.org. Media inquiries: Allison Perry, University of Kentucky Public Relations and Marketing, allison.perry@uky.edu.


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Gluten intolerance requires a significant change in your diet, but doing research and asking questions can help you stay gluten-free while dining out.

Here’s how you can stay gluten-free while dining out

Brooke Benninger, RD

Brooke Benninger, RD

Written by Brooke Benninger, a Registered Dietitian at University Health Service at UK.

A new diagnosis of gluten intolerance will lead to big changes in your life. Not only does it change the way you cook for yourself or a loved one, it changes the way you dine out.

What happens when you are gluten intolerant

Consuming gluten when you’re gluten intolerant can have a host of negative immediate and long term affects. Eating gluten when you are gluten intolerant causes the lining of the small intestine to become inflamed, which can cause damage that makes it harder for the body to absorb nutrients. This can lead to malnutrition.

When you prepare your own food it’s easier to manage the ingredients that are used. However, when you eat out, restaurants can use a combination of items that are homemade or prepackaged, which can lead to confusion about what menu items are truly gluten-free. Not all restaurant servers are completely aware of each ingredient in every product on the menu. It’s up to the dining management team to educate employees on safe gluten practices.

Become familiar with the restaurant

Cross-contamination in kitchens is one of the biggest issues restaurants face when trying to ensure their establishment is “gluten-free friendly.” The best way to reduce the risk of cross-contamination is to politely ask your server a few questions like:

  • Does my dish come in contact with any bread?
  • Is there a separate work space for preparing gluten-free foods?
  • Does the kitchen use separate utensils for preparing gluten-free food?
  • Do you change the oil in the fryer, or use a separate fryer, to prepare gluten-free food?

Teach yourself about being gluten-free

It’s also important to familiarize yourself with a gluten-free diet; write down grains to avoid and where gluten can hide in food, like in sauces. Also, be sure to tell your server that you’re gluten intolerant. Restaurants do their best to accommodate various diet restrictions but not everyone knows what gluten is or every food that contains gluten. When you know you’ll be eating out, research the menu ahead of time and see if they offer gluten-free options. Aim to choose restaurants that have been through training and or received certification for their gluten-free practices. You can determine this by calling ahead and speaking to a manager. Online reviews from websites like Find Me Gluten Free can help you gain insight into other customer’s experiences with gluten-free menus.

Gluten intolerance requires a significant change in your diet, but doing research and asking questions can help you feel more comfortable dining out.


Next steps:

  • Learn the basics of healthy diets.
  • Gluten sensitivity can sometimes be caused by celiac disease, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients. Look at our list of common celiac symptoms to see if you’re at risk.
Clinical trials participant Tom Wall turned to the Gill Heart Institute to get his high blood pressure in check

Gill patient takes control of his health by joining clinical trial

Sixty-three-year-old Tom Wall had had enough.

His high blood pressure had persisted for more than 20 years. His diabetes was worsening. He’d gone from a prescription of just one drug, to two, then to three, and finally four. He’d taken early retirement from his job as a bank equipment repairman because he had trouble climbing into his van. Then, when he had trouble getting to his beloved garden at his farm in Nicholasville, he decided to take control.

“The garden is down the hill from the house, and I couldn’t get down there unless I rode my tractor,” Wall said. “I have a 5-year-old granddaughter, Avery, and I love to spend time with her. I know those drugs don’t work forever, and if I didn’t do something about my health, I wouldn’t be around to watch Avery grow up.”

Wall cut all sugar and carbs from his diet and did as much exercise as he could tolerate. He scoured the internet for information that could help him lose weight and get healthy. Over several months, Wall lost 100 pounds. He was able to come off his diabetes medicine, but his blood pressure remained stubbornly high.

“Consistently high blood pressure — also called hypertension — damages the tissues of the artery walls,” said Dr. Khaled Ziada, an interventional cardiologist at the UK Gill Heart Institute. “If left untreated, hypertension can lead to serious medical problems like stroke and even death, particularly in people who also smoke or have high cholesterol and/or diabetes, as Tom did.”

Resistant hypertension

Hypertension is a chronic condition in which the systolic blood pressure (the top number in the measurement that your health care provider gives you) exceeds 140 mmHg and/or the diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) exceeds 90 mmHg.

Although it’s normal to experience minor fluctuations throughout the day, one in three Americans experience high levels of blood pressure (exceeding 140/90) even without activity or stress. Wall’s was 170/110 on good days, and as high as 200-210 on bad ones. Blood pressure that high is called a “hypertensive crisis.”

Ziada explains that patients can sometimes lower their blood pressure on their own by eating a balanced low-salt diet and adopting healthy lifestyle habits such as losing weight, exercising more, stopping smoking and reducing stress.

When these changes aren’t enough, there are numerous drug therapies that can be used separately or in combination to lower blood pressure. Sometimes, however, hypertension persists despite lifestyle changes and medications. Wall fell in this unfortunate group of people with what’s called “resistant hypertension.”

He returned to the internet for information.  Then, one day, he saw an ad for a clinical trial called SPYRAL at the Gill Heart Institute. He called the number immediately.

A new way to treat high blood pressure

The SPYRAL trial is exploring a novel approach to treat hypertension by manipulating the sympathetic nervous system signals that contribute to high blood pressure. The sympathetic nervous system regulates the vital functions of the body by connecting the brain to major organs such as the heart, kidneys and blood vessels. If the sympathetic nerves connecting the kidney to the brain are overactive, blood pressure rises.

SPYRAL uses a minimally invasive method to pulse small doses of energy through a catheter placed in the renal artery just outside the kidney itself, potentially decreasing the sensitivity of nerves lining the walls of the kidney arteries and reducing the signals that cause hypertension. There are only 24 sites testing SPYRAL worldwide; UK was one of the first 10 sites to be selected for this important research.

Wall’s blood pressure was too high to qualify for SPYRAL at first, so he worked with Dr. Ziada and his team to lower his systolic blood pressure to 150 before being eligible for inclusion in the study.

SPYRAL is what’s called a randomized, double-blind study, which means that only half of study participants actually receive the treatment while the other half receives a placebo, or “dummy” treatment. Furthermore, neither the patient nor the doctor who follows the patient knows who receives the treatment and who doesn’t. If initial data after 12 months indicates that SPYRAL does, in fact, lower blood pressure, the treatment will be offered to the patient in the study who initially received only placebo treatment.

According to Alexandra Hull, one of the SPYRAL study coordinators, being in a research study has benefits, even if you aren’t selected to receive the test treatment.

“The Gill has the most sophisticated heart care in this region, so when you come here you’re getting the best of the best,” she said.  “If you’re in a research study here, you might be selected to receive the test treatment, or you might not. But even if you’re not, you’re getting the best standard of care this region has to offer.”

Tom takes control of his health

In the meantime, Wall has returned to his farm, built a fort for his granddaughter, and continues to work towards his goal to lose another 50 pounds. He’s hopeful that he received SPYRAL the first time around, but if not he says he’ll jump at the chance to get it if it’s proven effective.

He also encourages everyone to take control of their own health and ask their doctor about new treatments that can help once all other options are exhausted.

“I appreciate the opportunity they’ve given me,” he said. “I don’t feel like a guinea pig at all, and everyone here has been great.”

Check out our video for more about Tom’s story and the clinical trials taking place at Gill.


Next steps:

  • For more information about the SPYRAL study, call 859-323-5259 or email h.shinall@uky.edu.
  • The Gill Cardiology Clinical Research Center facilitates research that impacts all aspects of heart health. Learn more about the center and view open and ongoing clinical trials.
Mom Katie Schaftlein bonds with baby Sadie for the first time.

Quintuplets arrive at UK, granting mom a special birthday wish

The smallest of the quintuplets, Sadie, defied her size with her energy, churning her legs inside and out of the womb. Her sister Scarlett, on the other hand, established herself as the calm and docile member of the bunch. And family members have already pinned Lucas, the sole boy in the group, as the sweetheart perhaps a future golfer, his dad speculated.

“They have the same personalities as they did in my belly,” mom Katie Schaftlein said while getting situated for Kangaroo Care bonding with baby Sadie.

Surrounded by her 6-day-old babies in the Kentucky Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Katie Schaftlein beheld a lifelong dream fulfilled overnight. She always wanted five children, although her husband Lucas thought they might end up with three or four. The couple’s quintuplets arrived as on Katie’s 26th birthday. She delivered five early but healthy babies Sadie, Sofia, Scarlett, Savannah and Lucas at the UK HealthCare Birthing Center before the stroke of midnight on Friday, Nov. 11.

Preparing for quintuplets

The Lexington couple and UK graduates found out early in Katie’s pregnancy that five babies were on the way. They consulted with high-risk obstetrics specialists at UK HealthCare and neonatologists at Kentucky Children’s Hospital in preparation for delivery, with the goal of sustaining the pregnancy through 28-weeks gestation.

An interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses and therapists from UK Women’s Health, Obstetrics and Gynecology and Kentucky Children’s Hospital coordinated a integrative care plan for the Schaflein quintuplets, whose expected early arrival would require specialty care in the region’s only Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Quintuplets are extremely rare, with the Centers for Disease Control reporting 47 national cases of quintuplets or higher order multiple births in 2014.

On a Friday morning in September, Lucas boarded a flight for a business trip to Japan. As soon as he landed on the other side of the world, he learned Katie, who was 22-weeks pregnant at the time, was admitted to the hospital while he was in flight. He booked a flight back to the U.S. as soon as possible, flying home a couple days later.

“I left her that day and kissed her goodbye, and three four hours later she was in the hospital,” Lucas said.

Five babies in four minutes

Katie remained in the hospital on bed rest for two months before delivering the babies at 29 weeks and five days gestation. Teams of nurses were assigned to each of the five babies upon arrival, and the medical teams made special accommodations to ensure three additional neonatologists were on-call at all times. Five NICU beds were reserved for the Schaftlein quintuplets.

Neonatologists met with the family during inpatient treatment to assess infant development and predict the status of each baby upon arrival. Katie’s ultrasound a day prior to delivery provided the comprehensive medical team with current information on the development status of each baby.

When Sadie’s water broke at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, Dr. Wendy Hansen’s obstetrics team alerted KCH neonatologists to prepare to receive the babies and took Katie into surgery for an emergency caesarian section. The operation started at 11:30 p.m., but all the babies were delivered in time to share a birthday with their mother.

Hansen, who delivered five babies within four minutes, presented each baby to Lucas and Katie before sending the infants to the NICU for precautionary care and respiratory support. Hansen delivered the last baby at 11:56 p.m., a declaration that sent a cheer through the halls of the UK Birthing Center.

“We were worried because we didn’t want them to have two different birthdays,” Katie said. “Everyone cheered, and at that point I was like, ‘Okay, they are out.’”

It takes a team

Dr. Peter Giannone, the chief of the Department of Neonatology at KCH, credits the dedication of the Schaftlein family, as well as collaborative efforts and streamlined communication among obstetricians, nurses, neonatologists and therapists, for a positive outcome for the quintuplets.

The two departments recently formed the Obstetrics, Maternal-Fetal-Medicine, Neonatology, and Infant (OMNI) follow-up care service line, eliminating communication and collaboration barriers common in academic medical systems by coordinating cross-disciplinary efforts and uniting medical teams to enhance family-centered care.

“My biggest memory is the teamwork that everyone showed to pull this off so seamlessly,” Giannone said.

The Schaftlein quintuplets will remain in the hospital for several weeks before they are ready to go home. In the meantime, UK neonatologists will monitor the respiratory strength and development of the babies. Lucas and Katie Schaftlein, as well as family members in Louisville and Lexington, are visiting and bonding with the babies in the NICU.

The couple said they are grateful for the support, dedication and poise of members of their integrative medical team. Katie was put at ease by the calm demonstrated by Hansen as her water broke and delivery was imminent. Several nurses who assisted the family throughout Katie’s hospitalization were present at the delivery to “catch” (or retrieve) each baby to the NICU.

“It came full circle,” Katie said. “Everyone who helped in the beginning was there for the delivery.”


Next steps:

Media inquiries: Elizabeth Adams, University of Kentucky Public Relations and Marketing, elizabethadams@uky.edu

The Gensel Lab's objective is to determine how to harness reparative capabilities of inflammation in spinal cord injuries.

UK researchers discuss the search for cures to spinal cord injuries

John Gensel, an assistant professor in the physiology department and the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center, and two members of his lab team – Bei Zhang and Taylor Otto – were featured in the most recent UK Research Media podcast.

Taylor Otto, an undergraduate lab assistant in Gensel’s lab, described UK as being the full package. “We have it all here. It’s a good program to be able to come into, not really knowing what you want to exactly do in the science field, but being able to figure it out at the same time,” said Otto.

Bei Zhang, a research scientist, said that working with Gensel has motivated her to do the best science she can. “If we can work at our research project every day in generating different thoughts and prove our hypothesis, we can make a contribution to the cure for spinal cord injuries.”

The team’s objective is to determine how to harness reparative capabilities of inflammation in spinal cord injuries. “Our goal is to really find out what physiological factors regulate the reparative or pathological balance, and gain insights into developing therapies for that,” said Gensel. “The overall goal is to improve the lives of individuals with a spinal cord injury.”


You can listen to the full podcast below:


Next steps:

  • Learn more about spinal cord injuries and what makes them so difficult to treat.
  • The UK Spine Center brings together orthopaedic experts and neurosurgeons for an advanced approach to spine care.