6 ways to help prevent birth defects

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness of the causes and impacts of birth defects.

In the U.S., a baby is born with a birth defect every 4 ½ minutes. Birth defects are a leading cause of infant mortality, and babies with birth defects have an increased risk for developing life-long physical, cognitive or social challenges.

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but the chances of having a healthy baby can be increased by adopting healthy behaviors before and during pregnancy.

Here are a few things both men and women can do to prevent birth defects:

  1. Get vaccinated. Women should get both the flu shot and the whooping cough vaccine during pregnancy, and become up-to-date with other vaccines before getting pregnant.
  2. Prevent insect bites. Use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside and consider avoiding travel to areas with Zika virus.
  3. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water, and avoid putting a young child’s cup or pacifier in your mouth.
  4. Choose a healthy lifestyle. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
  5. Avoid harmful substances. Quit smoking, avoid alcohol and do not use “street” drugs. Men also shouldn’t drink excessively.
  6. Talk to your healthcare provider. Discuss any medication you’re taking and what you can do to prevent infections and sexually transmitted diseases that might increase risk of birth defects.

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New Year's resolution exercise

How to get active and stay active this year

Resolving to exercise more or increase your fitness level is a great goal. Being active – for as little as 30 minutes five times a week – can do wonders for your overall health. In fact, exercise will help you maintain a healthy weight, and it can also help reduce high blood pressure, high blood sugar and cholesterol.

Don’t know where to start? Here are some tips to get you going:

Talk with your doctor

If you haven’t been active in a while, schedule a visit to your doctor to gauge on your overall health. Discuss any aches, pains or limitations that might impact your plans to get active. Your doctor can also assess your cardiovascular health and help you understand how and when to increase your exercise intensity.

Warm up and cool down

Aerobic exercise, such as walking or biking, is recommended for those getting started with a new routine. Your exercise session should start with a warm-up period of slow walking or low-resistance bicycling and end with a cool-down segment at similar intensity.

At the end of exercise, stretch the major muscle groups used by holding each stretch for 20-30 seconds. This can minimize injury and fatigue and increase flexibility.

Make it manageable

Begin your exercise routine with an amount of time that is manageable, something as short as a five-minute walk around the neighborhood. Once you’re comfortable exercising for that long, slowly increase the duration of your sessions.

Don’t push yourself too hard, either. You should be able to maintain a conversation at all times of exercise without experiencing breathlessness.

Embrace the cold

Starting a new exercise routine is challenging, especially when it’s cold. But if you can manage to get outside, exercising in the cold has been shown to have numerous health benefits.

Outdoor exercise is a great way take in some sunshine, which is in short supply during short winter days. Sunlight exposure in small amounts helps with vitamin D intake and can improve your mood.

The cold weather can also give you a boost of energy, allowing you to exercise longer and burn even more calories. Exercise also boosts your immunity and can help prevent bacterial and viral infections during cold and flu season.

Of course, be sure to wear proper clothing if you plan to exercise outside. Wear a base layer made from moisture-wicking fabric, add a layer of fleece and finish with a wind-proof outer layer.

Have some fun

Exercise shouldn’t be a slog, so make sure you’re doing something that you enjoy and makes you feel good. A successful start of a new routine will keep you motivated to continue and progress.

Fitness trackers and fitness apps are additional options to stay engaged and monitor progress. Enlisting a companion for exercise will add an element of support and keep the activity enjoyable.


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detox diet

Thinking of trying a detox diet to start the new year? Think again.

Written by Kira Litras, RD, LD, a clinical dietitian at UK HealthCare. 

Losing weight and eating healthier are some of the most common New Year’s resolutions.

Unfortunately, these seemingly good goals can cause many people to fall prey to dieting scams touting quick fixes that involve restarting the metabolism. These are known as detox diets.

There is not one definition of a detox diet, but the most popular ones include a few days to a week of consuming only fruit juice, specialty drinks or over-the-counter supplements that claim to cleanse the body of harmful toxins ingested in the food we eat.

Why detox diets are unnecessary

Detox diets are often created and marketed by professionals without nutrition credentials. Frequently, the contents of detox supplements have either not been extensively researched or have not been approved by the FDA.

Aside from that, detox diets are unnecessary thanks to our livers. The liver is designed to withstand the toxins we ingest and excrete them in order to promote a healthy metabolism. Harmful toxins are continuously being removed from our bodies with the help of the liver.

What you can do instead

Instead of trying out a detox diet, here are some thing you can do to promote a healthy metabolism fully capable of detoxifying your body:

  • Keep a water bottle close by and drink plenty of water throughout the day to continuously cleanse the body.
  • Eat more than five different fruits and vegetables per day in order to increase antioxidant intake and combat the toxins within the body.
  • Increase fiber intake by eating whole grains, beans, lentils, avocados, and other fruits and vegetables. These will all help with bowel regularity and help the liver in eliminating toxic waste from the body.
  • Limit processed and convenience foods, which add toxins to the body.
  • Consider trying fermented foods like kombucha, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi or probiotics, all of which can support gastrointestinal health by promoting good bacteria within the gut.

If you want more help developing a healthy nutrition and eating plan, contact a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are credentialed nutrition professionals who can address your nutrition-related questions and concerns.


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New year, new goals for UK grad student and cancer survivor

Meg Gravil has a few major goals for 2018. She wants to continue to build her level of fitness, and she plans to finish her dissertation by the end of the year.

But most importantly, Gravil wants to remain cancer-free.

As a UK College of Education graduate student studying interdisciplinary early childhood education, Gravil finished her qualifying exams in spring 2015 and began working on her dissertation. But just a few months later, her life ground to a halt.

After a regular annual exam, she was called back for a diagnostic mammogram and then a biopsy. Shortly after, she got a phone call from the UK Markey Cancer Center.

Diagnosis and recurrence

“I was sitting home on a Friday afternoon, and I had just five minutes to walk to go get my daughter from school,” Gravil said. “The phone rang. It was a nurse at Markey, and she said, ‘The results are positive. You have cancer.’”

The news came as a shock to Gravil, who was only 43 years old at the time and had no family history of breast cancer. She chose to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, performed in separate surgeries by UK’s Dr. Patrick McGrath and Dr. Brian Rinker.

“For peace of mind, I thought, take it all,” Gravil said.

Although the entire breast is removed during a mastectomy, the surgery isn’t a guarantee that the patient will remain cancer-free. Breast cancer can still return to the chest wall or nearby lymph nodes, known as locoregional recurrence, and an estimated 5 to 10 percent of women who undergo a mastectomy will experience a recurrence.

For Gravil, all was well at first. But just a few months later, she noticed a nodule that continued to get larger and redder. After having several doctors examine it, she received the bad news: The breast cancer had returned.

“I was absolutely stunned,” she said. “It was worrisome, because the recurrence was so soon after my initial diagnosis. The biggest part of that was thinking about my daughter – what if something happens to me? What effect will that have on my daughter’s life?”

Just one year after her initial surgery, Gravil was back in the operating room for surgery to remove the new tumor and install a port for chemotherapy. Chemo came next, and then radiation. The second time around, Gravil said, she was determined to do whatever it took to beat the disease. When her hair began falling out, she hosted a head-shaving party in her backyard with family and friends.

“The first time I was diagnosed, I was worried about losing my hair,” she said. “The second time, that was an afterthought – it was just, ‘I’ll do whatever I need to do to kick this thing.’”

Aiding recovery with exercise

While undergoing treatment at Markey, Gravil chose to participate in several programs at the UK Integrative Medicine & Health Clinic, including jin shin jyutsu and narrative medicine. Through Integrative Medicine & Health, she learned about LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a free 12-week exercise program offered to cancer survivors. While attending Markey’s Expressions of Courage survivorship event last June, Gravil spoke with Corey Donohoo, director of community health at the Y, and decided to start the program in July.

Some of the most common side effects of cancer treatment include fatigue and weakness. Through the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program, the certified trainers help survivors build up their strength and endurance based on their individual assessment and goals.

“At the beginning and end of the program, we do functional assessments, and we’re likely to see improvement,” Donohoo said. “But what’s really rewarding is to hear the stories of what these participants are able to do because of the program, like playing with their kids or grandkids, getting up and down, running errands, and more.”

Although Gravil is relatively active – she enjoys being outdoors and hiking – she hadn’t participated in any regular exercise routine in decades. Through the program, she got the opportunity to try a number of new fitness modalities, from learning to use the equipment on the floor of the gym, to TRX, yoga and Pilates Reformer.

And last September, she discovered that she was stronger than she realized, when she scaled a rock wall during a mother-daughter retreat at Life Adventure Center in Versailles. However, her newfound strength isn’t the only thing she’s gained.

“The big component wasn’t just feeling physically stronger and getting stamina back,” Gravil said. “The mental health and psychological benefits were really great for me.”

Regular exercise (and by extension, weight management) plays a significant role in maintaining the well-being of cancer survivors, according to Gravil’s oncologist at Markey, Dr. Aju Mathew. During treatment, it can help patients better tolerate their therapy. After completion of their treatment, it will improve functional capacity and promote healing.

Additionally, Mathew says, exercise may offer some protective benefits for survivors.

“There is increasing evidence that regular exercise can reduce the risk for cancer recurrence, as well,” Mathew said. “Overall, exercise and fitness training is a win-win for persons with a history of cancer.”

Looking forward

Throughout her journey, she says she’s been happy and confident in the care she received from her Markey physicians, nurses and staff.

“I was really impressed with the time that they took with me during my appointments,” she said. “I never felt like I was being rushed off – they answered all my questions to my satisfaction.”

With life more settled, Gravil already has momentum for her first two 2018 goals. She continues to go to the YMCA (Pilates Reformer is now her favorite class), and has begun the research and writing for her dissertation. If she finishes in December, she can walk to receive her PhD in special education next May.

And with her treatments at Markey complete – she finished her last dose of Herceptin in December – Gravil is looking forward to maintaining that most important goal of all.


Next steps:

  • Markey is Kentucky’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, providing world-class cancer care right here in the Commonwealth. Learn more about why patients choose Markey for their cancer treatment.
  • Watch our Making the Rounds post featuring breast cancer specialist Dr. Aju Mathew, where he tells us about his newest hobby and which historical figure he most admires.

UK researcher using NIH grant to seek early predictors of Alzheimer’s

Olivier Thibault, a researcher in UK’s Department of Phamacology and Nutritional Science, along with researchers from four other institutions, is using a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a collaborative project using non-invasive treatments on mice to measure early predictors of Alzheimer’s disease in hopes of finding a cure.

Alzheimer’s disease wreaks emotional havoc on patients who are robbed of their memories, their dignity and their lives. It’s financially devastating as well: care for Alzheimer’s patients is predicted to top $1 trillion by the time children born today are having children of their own.

Alzheimer’s begins its destruction decades before there are outward signs of memory loss, so some recent scientific effort has focused on recognizing the earliest signs that portend disease onset. Those telltale signs, called biomarkers, would enable patients to receive treatment for Alzheimer’s sooner, thereby delaying the disease’s devastating progress or stopping it altogether.

The biomarker treasure hunt has been difficult thus far. There’s been little to no progress toward finding one that is a “triple threat” – non-invasive, inexpensive and easily translatable to community populations. So, the NIH called for research proposals to find new ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and predict its progression.

Building a research proposal

Among the grant applicants was a group of scientists from four different institutions, each with a specific scientific skillset that when put together had the resources to test the presence and reliability of one such biomarker.

“When I first saw the call for applications, I was really excited,” Thibault said. “I remembered some interesting work that came out of Bruce Berkowitz’s lab at Wayne State University and thought it might be the cornerstone of a project that met the grant’s parameters.”

That cornerstone is called Quest MRI, a dynamic process that is able to pinpoint levels of oxidative stress in specific regions of the brain over time, and in living subjects. The technique is non-invasive and usually doesn’t require expensive modifications to existing equipment.

“Almost everyone with a television set has heard about the benefits of antioxidant-rich vitamins like A, C and E, and superfoods like blueberries, green tea and dark chocolate,” Thibault said. “Well, antioxidants are the body’s defense against something called free radicals. Free radicals are natural byproducts of chemical processes in the body, and in a healthy state free radical production is offset by the work of antioxidants. But when there are too many free radicals, the balance is disrupted, and the resulting oxidative stress can increase the risk for diseases like AD.”

People write off the times when they can’t remember where they left their keys, but realizing they don’t know how to get home from the grocery store is a wake-up call that something is terribly wrong. The scientific term is “spatial disorientation,” and it’s a critical hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

The capacity for spatial orientation lies in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. Berkowitz and Thibault hypothesized that using Quest MRI to measure oxidative stress in the hippocampus of a live animal and compare it to that animal’s ability to remember how to navigate a maze could be proof of the existence of a biomarker for Alzheimer’s. Even better – the process uses inexpensive drugs that are already FDA-approved – making Quest MRI easily translatable to the general population.

The NIH was impressed, and awarded the foursome $2.8 million over five years to test the hypothesis.

How the collaboration works

Rounding out the project are Geoffry Murphy at the University of Michigan and Brian Bennett at Queen’s University in Canada. Bennett has developed a mouse genetically predisposed to high levels of oxidative stress, and Murphy’s mice are already afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

Thus begins a roughly 850-mile circuit of testing where Bennett’s oxidative stress mice are flown from Ontario to Ann Arbor, Mich., where Murphy puts them and his own Alzheimer’s mice through a maze to assess spatial navigation. Murphy himself then drives the mice to Detroit, where Berkowitz uses his Quest MRI to determine free radical production in the hippocampus. Ultimately, the mice end up in Thibault’s lab, which uses calcium imaging techniques to measure how neurons are affected over time, thereby measuring the relationship between free radical production, oxidative stress and behavioral changes in the same animal. Some of the mice actually make more than one circuit to assess cognitive and corresponding biochemical changes over time.

“The entire process provides a deeply characterized analysis of mice that may well affirm Quest MRI’s ability to identify the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease,” Thibault said.

Even better, says Thibault, the group foresees a bonus aspect of their research: they will also be able to test the efficacy of pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic methods to reduce free radical production in the hippocampus. Advantageous data would point to the possibility of reducing free radical production using either an antioxidant “cocktail” or a light therapy called photobiomodulation.

Either option, Thibault said, would be “the cherry on the cake.”

The mice don’t begin their journey until later this month, but Thibault and his colleagues are energized at the prospect of joining the hunt for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

“To be able to identify or even predict Alzheimer’s disease using Quest MRI, and then also be able to intervene using antioxidants or photobiomodulation, would be a one-two winning punch,” Thibault said.


Next steps:

  • Last year, the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging was redesignated as an NIH Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Learn more about this prestigious designation and what it means for our patients and their families.
  • Alzheimer’s disease usually affects people who are 65 or older. If there’s a senior in your life, be aware of these signs and symptoms of the disease.

Try these simple tips to lower your diabetes risk for a healthier 2018

Resolving to live healthier in 2018? If you’re among the 84.1 million people in the U.S. at high risk for diabetes, resolving to lower that risk may be the best health move you could make.

Diabetes, which affects the way that our bodies process blood sugar, is a dangerous disease in itself, but it can also lead to other serious health issues – like heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. Type 2 diabetes develops most often in people over age 45, but more and more children and teens are affected by the disease.

While some risk factors for diabetes – like genetics or family history – can’t be changed, there is good news. Many cases of Type 2 diabetes, generally caused by being overweight or inactive, can be prevented through a few healthy changes.

Here are five tips that can reduce your diabetes risk and help you kick-start a healthy 2018:

  1. Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five times a week. If that seems overwhelming, start slowly and build up to your goal.
  2. Eat a healthy diet. This should include fiber and whole grains – foods that will help you feel more full and maintain a healthy weight. Read more about how to eat here.
  3. Drink water, not soft drinks. The excess sugar found in soft drinks and other sugary drinks has been linked not only to diabetes, but also heart disease and obesity.
  4. If you smoke, try to quit. Smokers are much more likely than nonsmokers to develop diabetes. Get help quitting.
  5. Have regular health checkups. Warning signs for Type 2 diabetes can be hard to notice, so keep your appointments and talk to your doctor about maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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A record-setting, life-saving year for the UK Transplant Center

This is a really big deal! The UK Transplant Center made history in 2017, performing 208 organ transplants, a single-year record in Kentucky. We couldn’t be prouder!

Every transplant we perform is a life-changing event, giving patients and their families a renewed sense of hope, an improved quality of life and more meaningful time together.

And in 2017, we facilitated more of these events than ever before.

In total, our transplant teams performed 101 kidney transplants (including three kidney-pancreas transplants), 43 heart transplants, 41 liver transplants and 23 lung transplants. It’s a significant milestone that cements our place in the top 25th percentile of transplant centers nationally based on volume.

And not only are we performing more transplants than most centers in the country, our outcome success consistently meets and exceeds national standards, too.

“This is an extraordinary achievement for our program,” said Transplant Center Director Dr. Roberto Gedaly. “It’s particularly special because of what it means for patients and families across Kentucky and the region. It’s further proof that if you need life-saving transplant care, you don’t have to travel outside of the state to find it.”

Our comprehensive approach to transplant care involves working with patients and their families through every step of the transplant process – from initial consultation through surgery and follow-up care.

And the care teams at the UK Transplant Center are backed up by other experts from across UK HealthCare, too – including the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute – allowing us to provide advanced care for even the most complex diagnoses.

For more than 50 years, we’ve provided solid-organ transplantation services to the people of Kentucky and beyond. Check out the video below to learn more about our legacy.


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healthy eating

Your 5-step guide for eating healthier this year

Looking to improve your health this new year? Start in the kitchen.

Adopting sustainable healthy eating habits – not short-term fad diets or unrealistic restrictions on food – can help you shed unwanted weight, reduce your risk for disease and improve your overall well-being.

The good news is you don’t have to change everything about your diet to find success.

Here are a few easy ways to start eating better today:

1. Embrace fruits and veggies.

Your mom was right: eating your fruits and vegetables is important! Plant-based diets can significantly reduce your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Don’t know where to start? Dr. Gretchen Wells, director the UK Women’s Heart Health Program, suggests adjusting your favorite recipes to be more plant-based. They’ll still taste great, and they’ll be even healthier.

For example, trying making your chili with all beans, or prepare a stir-fry with tofu or edamame instead of chicken. Check out the rest of Dr. Wells’ tips for eating more fruits and vegetables.

2. Enjoy breakfast.

Start every day with a protein-packed healthy breakfast, such as low-fat yogurt and fruit or whole-grain cereal. Eating breakfast speeds up your metabolism and helps prevent unnecessary snacking later in the day.

3. Snack smarter.

Not all snacking is bad, however. Eating a healthy snack, such as an apple, low-fat yogurt, or pita and hummus, can help you feel full between meals and keep you from munching on unhealthy options.

4. Say so long to sugar and sodium.

Consuming too much sugar and sodium each day can increase your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.

Sodium comes from items such as breads and rolls, deli meats, pizza, cheese, pasta dishes, and condiments (like ketchup and mustard). Limit your daily sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams, which is equal to about one teaspoon.

Added sugar is found in items such as regular soft drinks and fruit drinks, candy and grain-based desserts like cakes, cookies and pies. Women should aim for no more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories of added sugar each day, while men should limit themselves to no more than 9 teaspoons or 150 calories. Here are some simple ways to cut back on added sugar.

5. Don’t deprive yourself of the things you enjoy.

Eating healthy doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the foods and activities you love. The key is enjoying them in moderation.

For example, instead of vowing to no longer eat out, focus on choosing healthier options (such as fish or chicken instead of red meat) when you do decide to go to a restaurant.

And use the 80-20 rule when it comes to enjoying foods that might not be considered healthy. Make 80 percent of your calories healthy and leave the remaining 20 percent for your favorite treats.


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Bundle up and know the warning signs of hypothermia

It’s cold outside. Really cold. Temperatures this week have hit record lows, and there’s not much relief in the forecast.

This extreme cold causes our bodies to lose heat much faster and can even cause hypothermia, which happens when our body temperature gets below 95 degrees. Hypothermia is a serious medical condition that requires immediate attention. If untreated, it can lead to pneumonia, cardiac arrest or even death.

Here’s what to look out for:

  • The “umbles”: grumbling, mumbling, stumbling or fumbling.
  • Shivering, though shivering also means that a person’s heat regulation systems are still working.
  • Exhaustion, confusion or memory loss. These symptoms will begin gradually.
  • For infants, look for bright red, cold skin and very low energy levels.

What to wear – and do – to stay safe in cold weather:

  • Cover your face and mouth with a warm hat, scarf or mask.
  • Wear several layers of loose-fitting clothing, with a water-resistant coat.
  • Keep your hands and feet warm with mittens or and water-resistant boots.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a big cause of hypothermia.
  • Always monitor your children. Talk to them about the dangers of cold weather and make sure they’re dressed appropriately.
  • Check on elderly or sick loved ones – it’s often harder for them to stay warm.

How to treat hypothermia:

  • Seek shelter inside immediately. Hypothermia can happen indoors, so pay attention to inside temperatures as well.
  • Remove the person’s wet clothing and cover them with dry, warm clothes or blankets.
  • Monitor the person’s temperature, and offer warm liquids that don’t contain alcohol or caffeine.
  • If a person’s temperature falls below 95 degrees, call 911 and get medical help immediately. If there’s no sign of breathing or a pulse, begin CPR.

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New Year's resolutions

How to make your healthy resolutions stick this year

Making New Year’s resolutions is easy. Sticking to them is hard.

Whether you’re looking to eat better, start a new fitness program or just achieve a healthier overall lifestyle, here are some tips to help you find success in your resolutions throughout 2018.

Start small and be focused.

Trying to do too much too fast could lead to burnout. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re trying to improve your health, so instead of focusing on wholesale change throughout your life, work on changing one unhealthy behavior at a time.

Trying to cut back on sugar? Start by eliminating one soft drink a week. Looking to exercise more? Start by working out once or twice a week and increasing your frequency only when you feel ready.

Be patient.

New behaviors won’t stick overnight, and new habits can take weeks or months to form. Give yourself time, and know that committing to small lifestyle changes now will make a big difference over the course of the year.

Tell your friends.

Don’t keep your resolutions a secret, and don’t be ashamed to tell your friends and family what you’re aspiring to accomplish. Having a support system can make your resolutions seem less overwhelming, so talk with friends and family members about your health goals, struggles and successes.

Don’t beat yourself up.

None of us is perfect, and missteps along the way are nothing to be ashamed of. Improving your health is a long-term effort, so don’t let one mistake or setback get you down. Instead, resolve to do better going forward.

Celebrate your successes.

Be proud of your success! Improving your health shouldn’t feel like punishment, so don’t be afraid to reward yourself when you accomplish a goal. Of course, moderation is key, and overindulging too much can undo the healthy gains you’ve made or the new habits you’ve acquired.

However, it’s OK to have a tasty dessert (a piece of chocolate, not the whole box) if you’ve been sticking to your goal to eat better.  Or if you’ve hit your exercise goal several weeks in a row, it’s OK to take a day off and binge watch your favorite TV show.


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