Sunday, August 26, 2007

Science Finds the 'Fat' Gene

Newsflash! Researchers have found the “fat” gene! Overweight people are predisposed to gaining weight in much the same way that kids born to brunette parents are likely to have, gasp!, brown hair.

As early as 2005, the low carb craze had begun to ebb. Diets lose their luster when a body’s pre-set clock reverts back to a predestined weight, and dieters lose interest in self-deprivation.

As evidence, there are the food banks that report big increases in donations from manufacturers of Atkins Diet products. It’s pretty easy to find discounted South Beach diet products, too, despite the lure of the diet’s promise to re-set the body’s insulin clock and make pounds melt away.

Science has reaffirmed that many people genetically programmed to have weight problems have a chromosomal glitch. One that deprives them of normal amounts of dopamine, the feel-good drug released by the brain in response to stress.

The World Health Organization ( estimates that 1.6 billion adults worldwide are overweight and at least 400 million adults are obese. Sadly, I myself have always struggled with my weight. I come by it honestly. My grandfather was portly; grandma was stout; mom was a bit broad in the beam; Aunt Mabel was downright fat and my brother, well, he takes after grandpa.

Nonetheless, with the attendant health issues frequently associated with being overweight – diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis – beginning to manifest their unwelcome selves, I’ve been walking more and eating less.

It’s working. Sort of. Slowly.

I once saw a fat girl on Dr. Phil pointing out that it’s not like you can just “kick” a food addiction. After all, you do have to eat. With other stuff, you can give it up and rid your life of all traces of that which tempts you.

The journal Science reports what researchers call the first clear evidence that a common gene causes some people to gain weight while others don’t. Those studied who have two copies of a variant of the “FTO” gene were 70 percent more likely to be obese. Seventy percent!!!

As always, researchers say they hope their discovery will lead to improved means of preventing and treating obesity. Translated, that may mean they’ve patented their discovery, and a deep-pocketed drug company will buy the rights to develop a drug that will turn off the genetic trigger.

Meantime, it seems to me it might be time to table the fat jokes. It doesn’t seem quite kosher to make fun of people for something they’re born with and just can’t help. Besides, the Centers for Disease Control ( has released an obesity study that says it’s not nearly the killer we’ve always thought. Not as terrible for your health as, say, chronic smoking.

It would be great, wouldn’t it, if everybody accepted everybody for who they are, not what they look like? As Martin Luther King Jr. said, for the content of their character? Hm. What a concept.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Surviving Hepatitis C

By Carol Bogart

Five years ago, a woman named Sally in Seattle called me in Ohio to talk about her Hepatitis C. She was, as I recall, nearing 70 and a retired teacher. Her niece, an adult lawyer, had taken me to lunch to talk to me about her. She said Sally was the dearest sweetest woman; one whose husband was gone, had not had children, and was now alone.

I was a columnist for the local newspaper and had been writing about my own Hepatitis C. For a year, I endured a clinical trial that was very much like chemotherapy. The niece told me Sally was afraid to have a liver biopsy, and wondered if I’d mind if her aunt called me.

As a result of my weekly column, many people you would never suspect to have this “dirty” disease often linked with injecting illegal drugs had come forward to either get tested and start treatment, or to simply thank me for giving voice to a condition about which so many are ashamed.

Like me, Sally had no idea how she’d gotten Hepatitis C. A diabetic, she wondered whether she’d been infected during a blood draw to check her sugar. I wondered whether it was a single acupuncture session for my herniated disk. I don’t remember, either, how Sally found out she had it. That I did was a lucky twist of fate.

I was symptom-free in 1995 (the liver is an “uncomplaining” organ) and covering a terrible story for a Cleveland television station. It was about a paramedic who, coming home from work, had flipped the light switch, not knowing that in the basement, the leaking furnace had filled the house with gas. A small spark from the switch triggered an explosion that blew him out the door into his backyard, burned over 75 percent of his body.

As the videographer and I swung into the parking lot at Metro Health Center, paramedics, firefighters and cops filled the waiting room and halls. Throughout the night, it was touch and go as their friend and co-worker needed so many transfusions that the hospital was starting to run out of platelets.

Two days later, the firefighters staged an emergency blood drive. I urged the TV station’s assignment editor to let me cover what was to me a poignant human interest story: the coming together as one of those whose occupations so often put them in harm’s way.

The first person I interviewed was the paramedic’s dad, a retired firefighter and, usually, self-contained stoic man. Now, with his son hovering at death’s door, he could barely hold back his tears. I talked, too, to the paramedic’s partner on the ambulance, a man so broken up he could barely speak.

When I learned that the paramedic’s blood type was O-negative, the same as mine, I set my reporter’s notebook aside - signing up on the spot to donate blood, despite my lifelong fear of needles.

God moves in mysterious ways.

Two weeks later, a letter from the Red Cross arrived. It said in bold capital letters across the top: “THIS IS NOT A LETTER ABOUT AIDS BUT … .” I was informed that my blood had tested positive for Hepatitis C and had been discarded. I was never again to give blood, the letter said, nor was I to be an organ donor. I thought about the organ donor sticker that had been on my driver’s license for many years.

A visit to my internist confirmed the diagnosis.

The paramedic made a slow recovery. I might have died but for that decision to give blood. That’s not to say I instantly started treatment. I didn’t. In 1995, despite country singer Naomi Judd’s success with Interferon for her Hepatitis C, for many, it meant terrible side effects, but no eradication of the virus. I had a young boy at home. I decided to wait until medicine could offer something better.

By 2001, though, I was feeling very fatigued. Regular monitoring of my liver enzymes – a barometer of how much damage the Hep C is doing in your liver – found that they were getting worse. My son was now 16. It was time.

Like Sally, the idea of a liver biopsy terrified me. It was, however, required of those who wanted to take part in a clinical trial being offered by the Cleveland Clinic. For the first time, those with Hepatitis C had a shot at a new “combination” therapy – a three-drug treatment it was hoped might up their odds of surviving what some call a silent epidemic.

The day of my biopsy, I was grateful to my doctor, head of the clinic’s gastroenterology department, for coming in early to hold my hand as the “routine” procedure was performed. I would later assure Sally it really wasn’t all that bad. When asked afterward if I needed pain relief, I truthfully answered, “No.”

The result, though, was pretty scary. Stage 3 liver fibrosis (scarring): bridging and portal. One stage away from full blown cirrhosis. I’d be starting the trial just in time.

For a year, I injected Pegylated Interferon into fatty tissue in my tummy once a week and took Ribavarin and Amantadine capsules every day. I lost 60 pounds and handfuls of hair and, by the 10th month, once failed to recognize a friend I saw at Kroger’s. At the same time the drugs were attacking the virus, healthy stuff was dying, too.

At night, I ached so much I couldn’t sleep. In the last month, the side effects were so bad that, with the approval of my research nurse, I started cutting back the dose of both the Interferon and the pills. It was either that, or just stop taking everything altogether.

I’d been getting the meds and supplies for free thanks to the clinical trial – a good thing because, otherwise, I couldn’t have afforded to get treated. Pegylated Interferon alone costs a fortune.

Once a month I’d drive the two hours to Cleveland to have eight vials of blood drawn to monitor my liver enzymes. I wasn’t allowed to take Advil during those 12 months (an anti-inflammatory, it could have skewed the results) – but that meant no relief for my osteoarthritis.

As I was going through my clinical trial, two very close friends were enduring what would prove to be their final unsuccessful round of chemotherapy – one for breast cancer, one for leukemia. We told each other that which we didn’t tell those we loved: We were in so much misery, we really didn’t care if we died, but we worried what would happen to those we left behind; in my case, my 16 year old son. My friends, farm wives, had both been married for more than 40 years.

Dolores and Shirley finally decided: No more chemo. One after the other, they passed away. At the end of my treatment, my blood work came back “clean.” No trace at all of the Hepatitis C. My enzymes were back to normal.

Every six months, I get the liver panel done. To date – and it’s been four years – I remain Hepatitis free. I’m a Type 2. Ninety percent of the Type 2s in the clinical trial had the same result. For Type 1’s, who are more resistant to treatment, the success rate was 60 percent. In the ’90s, when I was first diagnosed, Interferon, the sole drug available at the time, cleared the virus in only 10-15 percent of those treated for Hep C. I felt like a living miracle.

Sally, after we talked at length several times, did have her biopsy and started treatment. She’d waited too long. She died.

Dr. William Carey, my gastroenterologist, warned me often that the longer I waited, the more opportunity the virus had to “replicate” and become stronger.

Hep C is a quiet killer. Health officials estimate 4.1 million Americans are infected. Many are unaware. If you think there’s any chance you might have it, get tested. It could save your life.

For information on testing for Hepatitis C, contact your state or local health department.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer/editor. Read her articles at Contact her at

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Buy a NBD Car to Discourage Car Thieves

When the phone first rang, I thought it was the alarm and felt around for the snooze button. Four a.m. typically finds me sound asleep.

Eyes still closed, I fumbled the receiver off the hook. "Hullo?" I mumbled.

At first, hearing police scanners in the background, I thought it was the news desk at the TV station I was then working for in Denver. A deep male voice asked, "Is this Carol Bogart?" I was now awake. "Yes," I said warily. "This is the Denver Police Department," he informed me. "Do you have a Camaro?"


"I don't know," I said. "Do I?"

The last I'd looked, my brand new cream-colored Berlinetta with charcoal trim was parked in the lot behind my high rise – a well-lit lot in a good-neighborhood. I'd parked it and its predecessor there without problems for a couple years.

It was gone.

A band of juvenile thieves had stolen four sports cars that night. Mine was stripped and every single thing in it stolen. These punks had smashed the overhead light so they could dismantle my dash undetected. Then, my low-slung car suffered lots of undercarriage damage during the high speed chase, sailing airborne over every bump in the road, landing again and again in a spray of sparks.

The police came and picked me up to go get it so I could drive it to the dealership for repairs. It sat idling some distance from my apartment. The kid who stole it was in the back of another cruiser as I walked toward my car. When I looked at him, he glared. The police couldn't turn my car off because the steering column had been stripped. Once off, it couldn't be restarted.

The cop had been telling me my Camaro had been in not one, but two, high speed chases. An alert officer had noticed the four teenage thieves lined up at a light around 1 a.m. in these brand new sports cars. They were in the left turn lane – but none had turn signals. This struck him as suspicious.

When he tried to pull them over, the four late model Camaros and TransAms shot through the light and the chase was on. The cop called in backup, and the four were finally pushed to the curb in a residential neighborhood.

The kid driving mine jumped out, ran, circled back, got back behind the wheel, and took off AGAIN!!!! The officer told me he'd had the pedal to the metal. "How did it do?" I asked, trying to keep the pride out of my voice. The cop shot me a wry look.

"Not as good as he hoped," he answered.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer/editor. Read her articles at and her column at Contact her at