Back to basics for women

In a recent National Institute of Health study on pain, nearly 1/3 of respondents listed low back pain as the most common type they experienced. Aside from being frustrating and costly to treat, back pain can also keep you from your favorite activities. Women, especially, can suffer in conjunction with other life events, including pregnancy and menopause.

So, how can women of all ages can benefit from easy ways to prevent or fight back pain?

In your teens: If it’s painful, stop. Pain can be a warning sign that you need to seek help. You don’t want something that happens in your teens to turn into a chronic injury lasting years.

Pregnant woman with backacheIn your 20s–40s: Pregnancy is an easy way women can injure their backs. Toward the end of pregnancy, ligaments and tendons loosen to help the birthing process. But that tightness is what helps prevent injury. Also, make sure to keep your core muscles tightened when you lift or carry a child.

50+: After menopause, estrogen production begins to wane, giving women a higher risk of conditions such as compression fractures. Try yoga or Pilates to keep core muscles strong and protect your back. If you garden, take breaks often: None of us are made to be hunched over for more than a few minutes, unless you’re a master yogi!

There is good news about back pain, though it may not seem that way when you’re going through it: It will often resolve on its own. Heat, ice, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, and over-the-counter pain medications — taken as directed — can help.

But there is some back pain that does need urgent care: See a doctor if your pain is so acute you can’t walk or turn your body, if you feel numbness or weakness, or if you lose control of your bladder or bowels.

A leader in the latest techniques and technology, the OHSU Spine Center treats every back and spine condition, with a wide range of treatments, including physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, acupuncture, surgery, and more. To make an appointment, visit


Grace Chen, M.D., joined the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine in 2004. Her primary clinical interests are in the non-surgical treatment of back pain, spinal pain that is not alleviated by surgery, and non-opioid treatment of pain.



Join us for OHSU’s 5th annual “Night for Networking”

Wednesday, October 22nd, the OHSU community, along with local partners, employers and job seekers, will come together to celebrate the fifth annual Night for Networking.

This free event highlights job candidates with disabilities, introducing skilled, potential employees with Oregon-based employers and businesses that are truly committed to workforce diversity.

Organized by OHSU’s Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Department (AAEO), the event is expected to draw more than 400 people. Workforce diversity strategist Steve Hanamura and Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick will attend and speak to the importance of enhancing workplace diversity and inclusion to ensure success for people of all abilities.

Night for Networking V
October 22, 6-9 p.m.
Collaborative Life Sciences Building
2730 SW Moody Avenue
Portland, OR  97239

RSVP here by October 17

A big thanks to our executive sponsors: Kaiser Permanente, Diversity & Inclusion, Human Resources; Oregon Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Equity and Multicultural Services;  Oregon Health Authority, Office of Equity and Inclusion; Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe LLP; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Region; and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service.


Maileen Hamto is Communications Manager for the Center for Diversity & Inclusion, which leads and supports university-wide initiatives to create a culture of respect and inclusion for all people.

Your health questions answered: Cancer treatment and your heart

You ask. OHSU health experts answer. This month, our cardiology and pediatric specialists are on the hot seat.

Q. Can cancer treatments damage my heart?

A. While cancer treatments including radiation and chemotherapy may help fight the disease, they may have negative side effects on your heart. Although this is rare, treatment can weaken your heart muscle or affect your heart’s ability to pump blood.

Before you begin a cancer treatment that might affect the heart, you will have basic tests like anelectrocardiogram (ECG) or tests to measure your heart function like a cardiac ultrasound (echocardiogram). By finding heart problems before starting treatment, and by monitoring them during carefully, we can help to prevent heart issues. Make sure to talk to your oncologist if you have a pre-existing heart condition or if heart disease runs in your family.

Prepare your child for surgery

Q. How can I help my child prepare for surgery?

A.  Although specific details will depend on your child’s age and the surgical procedure, it’s always best to be clear and honest, as well as reassuring. In other words, don’t baby your child—explain what the surgery is for, what’s going to happen during it, and how he or she might feel after waking up.

You don’t need to explain every potential complication, but you do need to be truthful so your child knows what to expect: Kids are tougher than we sometimes give them credit for.

If you are concerned about your child’s fear or apprehension regarding surgery, our OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital’s Child Life program specialists use age-specific approaches to help lessen a child’s anxiety about any aspect of a hospital or surgery.


Maros Ferencik, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Maros Ferencik, M.D., Ph.D. sees patients at the OHSU Beaverton Cardiology Clinic, where he specializes in cardio-oncology (treatment of the cardiovascular side effects of cancer therapy) and general cardiology. U.S. News & World Report ranks the OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute as the top cardiology and heart surgery hospital in Oregon.



Dr. Kenneth Azarow, M.D. specializes in pediatric surgery and is the surgeon-in-chief at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Doernbecher has the most pediatric specialists in Oregon and ranks among the nation’s best children’s hospitals.

Celebrating National Nurse-Midwifery Week

The term Midwife means “with woman,” and each year we celebrate Midwifery Week by recognizing the contributions of midwives and the experiences of the women they serve.

This year, OHSU School of Nursing and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) invite you to learn more about midwifery and its rich 80-year history here in the United States.

At OHSU, we have a thriving faculty midwifery practice. Our midwifery graduate program was ranked number one by U.S. News and World Report consistently since 2004.

Since 1975, students and staff have educated the community on a broad range of women’s health issues, including nutrition, sexual health, menopause and osteoporosis. OHSU midwives also offer a water birth program, established in 1997.

To learn more about becoming a Nurse-Midwife, please take a look at the OHSU School of nursing program pages. Or to learn how to receive care from one of the OHSU midwives take a look at these web pages.

National Midwifery Week is supported by ACNM, its members, physicians, and women’s health organizations across the nation.


Christi Richardson is the Web and Communications Specialist for the OHSU School of Nursing. She manages the School’s newsletter, maintains the website and manages all social media and communications.


8 things to know about Ebola virus

The tragic Ebola outbreak currently ravaging West Africa is heartbreaking, and the news of the first confirmed case diagnosed in the U.S. had many in the Portland region questioning Oregon’s preparedness should Ebola reach our home state. Although the odds of seeing a patient with the virus in Oregon are very small, OHSU is prepared to safely house and treat any patient with suspected or confirmed Ebola virus.

It’s important to be informed about the virus, the symptoms, and the probability of seeing even a few cases anywhere in the United States, including Oregon. Here are some important points to keep in mind about the Ebola virus:

1. What is Ebola?
Ebola is a virus that can cause a severe, often-deadly illness that can spread from person to person.

2. How does Ebola spread?
People can catch Ebola by touching the blood, vomit, diarrhea, urine, or other body fluids of an infected person. Coming into contact with objects like soiled linens used while caring for a person sick with Ebola can also spread the virus.

An infected person does not transmit the virus until after symptoms develop.

Ebola is not spread through the air or by water.

3. What are the symptoms of Ebola?
The first symptoms of Ebola are fever, weakness, muscle aches, headache, and sore throat. Vomiting and diarrhea usually follow these initial symptoms. People sick with Ebola may also have bleeding inside and outside of the body. The average onset of symptoms is typically within 8 to 10 days but can appear anywhere between 2 and 21 days. People may die of Ebola if their bodies lose too much blood and fluids.

4. Where is Ebola occurring?
The countries where Ebola virus has been identified recently include Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, and Senegal – all in Africa. Only one case has been diagnosed in the U.S., when a man traveling from Liberia started experiencing symptoms after he arrived in Texas.

5. How is Ebola treated?
There is not yet a cure for Ebola; to treat it, doctors provide supportive care, such as intravenous fluids, to those who are sick while their bodies work to fight and kill the virus. An experimental treatment was given to two Americans, who are alive and have been released from the hospital, but it is not known if the new treatment truly “cured” these patients.

6. Is it likely that Ebola will appear in Oregon?
It is highly unlikely that Ebola will appear in Oregon. However, in the unlikely event a case is diagnosed here, it’s important to keep in mind that past experience with controlling Ebola virus outbreaks has shown that good infection control practices can easily prevent spread of the virus

Hospitals in the United States are equipped with advanced protective equipment and preventative methods that are very effective in blocking the transmission of viruses. Therefore, the spread of Ebola similar to what’s happening in West Africa is infinitely less likely here.

7. What is OHSU doing to prepare for a possible case of Ebola?
Portland-area hospitals, Emergency Medical Services, and county health departments are working together to be as prepared as possible to safely care for any patient with suspected or confirmed Ebola in the Portland region.

The OHSU Infection Prevention and Control Department ran a tabletop Ebola virus drill earlier this month, where several Ebola virus patient scenarios were discussed, from how an Ebola patient would be isolated to the cleaning and disinfection of contaminated items.

Although Ebola virus infection often causes severe illnesses and deaths, preventing contact with infected body fluids can prevent transmission. Personal protective equipment such as gowns, gloves, face masks and goggles are sufficient to protect healthcare workers who come into contact with patients. The virus is also killed easily by the disinfectants used in hospitals. OHSU hospitals already utilize disinfecting and sanitary measures in day-to-day operations. Health care staff is prepared to expand on the preventative measures already in place, if necessary.

8. What if someone in my family has a fever or other symptoms similar to Ebola?
Unless you or someone in your family has recently traveled to any of the West African countries affected by the Ebola epidemic, or been in close contact with someone who has, you are not at risk for contracting the Ebola virus.

If you or someone in your family has traveled to any of these locations and you start to have symptoms, notify your healthcare provider immediately and disclose all travel history.

Remember, the beginning of flu season is quickly approaching and many flu symptoms are similar to the initial symptoms caused by the Ebola virus, such as:

  • A fever of 100 degrees or higher
  • A cough and/or sore throat
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills, fatigue and/or weakness
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (most common in children)

If you or someone in your family experiences any of these symptoms, notify your healthcare provider. And, don’t forget to get the flu vaccine!


John Townes, MD
Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Control
Oregon Health & Science University
Associate Professor of Medicine,
 Division of Infectious Diseases
Oregon Health & Science University and Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center


Oregon Health Authority Frequently Asked Questions
CDC Ebola Information

Your health questions answered: A woman’s risk for stroke and “normal” periods

You ask. OHSU health experts answer. This month, our stroke and pediatric specialists are on the hot seat.

Q. Is a woman’s risk of stroke higher than a man’s?

A. Yes. Of the 6.8 million stroke survivors in America, 3 million are men, while 3.8 million are women. The American Heart and American Stroke Associations recently released stroke guidelines that suggest how woman can lower stroke risk. Women who’ve had pre-eclampsia during pregnancy should talk to their doctors about blood pressure since it can mean a higher lifetime risk of high blood pressure or stroke.

To avoid stroke, women on the pill should be screened for high blood pressure; women who get migraine headaches with aura should quit smoking; and women older than 75 should be screened for an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation). Existing recommendations to reduce stroke risk for women and men still apply; manage blood pressure, control cholesterol, exercise moderately, eat healthily and quit smoking.

Q. My 12-year-old daughter is worried her period is too heavy. What’s normal?

A. If your period lasts longer than seven days, requires changing a pad or tampon more often than every hour, or occurs more frequently than every 21-45 days, that may be cause for concern. While heavy periods can be common for the first few years of menstruation, if your period causes you to miss out on daily activities or you have the above symptoms, talk to your primary care provider. Bleeding disorders are a common cause of heavy periods, but they are often easily treated with medications such as birth control pills that regulate menstrual cycles and reduce blood loss. If you have heavy periods, please speak up: Untreated bleeding disorders may lead to related problems such anemia (low iron) which can decrease concentration and increase fatigue.


Dr. Helmi Lutsep, M.D., is Vice Chair of Neurology and sees patients at the OHSU Stroke Center, which was recently recognized by the American Heart and Stroke Association for achieving the highest level of performance in stroke care.



Dr. Kristina Haley, D.O., of OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and our Center for Women’s Health, specializes in caring for children and young women with bleeding and clotting disorders and cancer. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Doernbecher one of the nation’s best in 10 out of 10 pediatric specialties.


The dangers of “MDS” and what OHSU is doing about it

As cancer treatments improve, survivors are living longer. The treatments, unfortunately, put some survivors at risk for secondary conditions. About 13,000 cancer survivors in the United States are diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) each year, typically after receiving radiation or chemotherapy. While these treatments don’t directly cause MDS, they put patients at a higher risk for the disease over time, as the number of new diagnoses is on the rise each year.

Gabrielle Meyers, M.D., a hematologist and oncologist with the Knight Cancer Institute, is working to better understand how chemotherapy impacts bone marrow, making patients more vulnerable to MDS.

Her work received a boost when she won The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Oregon and Southwest Washington Woman of the Year fundraiser in June 2014 by raising nearly $54,000 for a LLS-funded research project that will study MDS. She shared some insights into the latest thinking about MDS and what cancer survivors should know.

Why are cancer survivors at risk for developing MDS?

Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, put some survivors at risk for secondary conditions, such as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

MDS occurs when the bone marrow stem cells have been damaged—usually following chemotherapy or radiation—so that they no longer function normally. Ultimately, there is a risk of this turning into leukemia.

Prior treatment with certain chemotherapies is the most important risk factor for MDS in cancer survivors; the National Cancer Institute provides a list of chemotherapies most frequently associated with MDS. Combining these treatments with radiation further increases the risk of MDS. While some cases of MDS are linked to known risk factors, the cause is unknown in many patients.

There is no medicine that reverses the damage to bone marrow cells; patients are generally given medications to help MDS-afflicted cells function well enough to sustain a bone marrow transplant. While Knight Cancer researchers are looking for ways to prevent MDS after chemotherapy, a transplant is currently the only known cure.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of MDS include shortness of breath, feeling tired, paler-than-usual skin and easy bruising. The disease does not always cause obvious symptoms and is usually found during routine blood tests.

What is OHSU doing to combat MDS?

To fully understand how chemotherapy damages bone marrow cells, Knight Cancer Institute researchers are studying blood and bone marrow samples from patients exposed to chemotherapy and radiation and have a diagnosis of MDS or leukemia.

Researchers are also studying new treatments that might be combined with MDS drugs to make the afflicted cells function better.

What advances are we seeing in clinical care for patients who suffer from MDS?

Each patient is impacted by MDS in a unique way. Focusing on what drives the MDS cells in a specific patient, and ultimately understanding why it turns to leukemia, will help physicians make better choices in treatment and have newer drugs that target the problem.

The Knight Cancer Institute is conducting research trials designed to better understand MDS. One study explores whether a combination of Busulfan—a drug used to treat leukemia—and reduced chemotherapy is safe and effective for MDS patients; another ongoing study compares the quality of life in patients who receive a less aggressive combination of chemotherapy and/or radiation before a transplant to patients receiving more aggressive therapies.

Learn more about ongoing clinical trials for MDS patients at OHSU.


Gabrielle Meyers, M.D., is a hematologist and medical oncologist with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. She studies cancers of the bone marrow.

A user’s guide to your thyroid

Body temperature. Appetite. Fatigue. You may be surprised to learn that your thyroid, a small, butterfly-shaped body part right below your Adam’s apple controls all of them — and more.

Like the control tower at an airport, your thyroid directs the behind-the-scenes actions of your body. The thyroid creates two important hormones called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). T3 and T4 are made with the help of iodine, a chemical found in foods including iodized salt, fruits and vegetables, dairy products and fish.

Several thyroid disorders are common: The most frequent is hypothyroidism, which means your thyroid is not making enough T3 and T4. You might feel tired or cold, gain weight, get dry skin or lose hair. Usually the remedy for hypothyroidism is simple: a daily supplement of T4 hormone.

Hyperthyroidism is the opposite: Your thyroid makes too much hormone. You might lose weight, get heart palpitations or diarrhea, feel jittery or sensitive to heat. Often the cause of hyperthyroidism is your immune system attacking your thyroid; you’ll either need medication to counteract that, or you can disable/remove its target.

Your thyroid also may develop nodules or growths. Most are generally harmless, but some are at risk for containing thyroid cancer. Signs of thyroid cancer may include a lump at the front of your neck, difficulty swallowing, a hoarse voice or coughing blood.

The good news? Thyroid cancer is generally treatable.

It usually involves removal of your thyroid and occasionally additional treatment with radioactive iodine. There are also new therapies available at OHSU, such as chemotherapy specifically for advanced thyroid cancer.

All this is why thyroid health needs to be part of your regular checkup. Make sure your provider examines your neck.

The thyroid is lower than the Adam’s apple and usually closer to the collarbone. If your doctor finds anything needing additional evaluation, seeing a thyroid specialist could be beneficial, especially if you have a family history of thyroid disease.

For more information, be sure to visit the OHSU Thyroid and Parathyroid Center.


Mira Milas, M.D. is Professor and the Director of Endocrine Surgery at OHSU. Her background includes specialized training in general surgery, surgical oncology and endocrine surgery. She was the founding director of the Thyroid Center at Cleveland Clinic, and is involved in numerous national and international activities in the field of thyroid and parathyroid disease.


Annual picnic celebrates OHSU transplant family

It started out as a potluck planned by liver patients in the 1990s. Since then, the OHSU Transplant Picnic has become an annual event for hundreds whose lives have been touched by transplants. The event is an opportunity for transplant recipients and their families to get together outside the clinic setting to share stories, give hope and spend time with their transplant teams.

Clinical Transplant Services Outreach Coordinator Sondra Tootell shares more about the picnic’s history and what it means for recipients, donors and their loved ones.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the day of the picnic? 

The picnic agenda includes transplant group photos, speakers from Donate Life Northwest, Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank and Northwest Kidney Kids, and an activities booth with crafts and face painting for kids and adults alike. After lunch comes what I feel is the best part of the event: the guest speakers. At our last picnic, we heard from the family of a young man who passed away and the recipient of his kidney and pancreas. We also heard from the family of a deceased young woman and the recipient of her liver. Both the families and the recipients had expressed an interest in meeting each other and previously worked with our social workers to make this happen.

Who attends the picnic?

We invite all of the OHSU and VA solid-organ transplant recipients, living donors, families of deceased donors, patients on the waitlists, caretakers, families and friends. The entire OHSU and VA transplant team is invited, including surgeons, physicians, coordinators, social workers, nurses, pharmacists, dieticians and all other supporting staff. We had nearly 500 guests at the 2014 picnic, by far our largest turnout!

Why do they attend?

Our guests tell us they love this event. It gives them a chance to speak with others who’ve had similar experiences. They get to visit with their surgeon and coordinator, whom many haven’t seen in some time. Our waitlisted people have the opportunity to hear stories from those who waited and finally received their transplant – it gives them hope and the strength to hang in there.

I personally love this event because I am surrounded by people who are so happy to be alive! They’ve had their hardships and now many of them are experiencing a whole new life. Families of deceased donors get to see the faces of those who are alive because someone gave them the gift of life, just like their loved one. Our staff love this event and volunteer their Saturday to set up the event, work the registration desk, help at the activities booth, and just spend time with our entire transplant family.

The OHSU Transplant Picnic is held annually on the third Saturday of July. Mark your calendars for next year’s picnic, which will be held July 18, 2015. For more information or to see photos from past picnics, click here.


Sondra Tootell has been the Outreach Coordinator for Clinical Transplant Services at OHSU since August 2011. She moved to Portland in 2006 to pursue her Master’s degree and started at OHSU in 2006 in Cardiovascular Medicine. Sondra coordinates the Transplant Picnic as well as other outreach programs such as the Combined Transplant Conference and the transplant outreach clinics held in Oregon, Idaho and Washington. 

Ice, ice, baby: OHSU takes on the ALS #IceBucketChallenge

At OHSU, we’re all about stepping up to the challenge – even if it involves a bucket (or multiple buckets) full of ice water.

Recently, several OHSU’ians, including President Dr. Joe Robertson and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital’s Physician-in-Chief Stacy Nicholson, have voluntarily donated and been drenched as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge is a viral movement designed to raise awareness about ALS and funds for charities like the ALS Association.

Click here to learn more about the campaign, see what OHSU researchers and clinicians are doing to study and support the ALS community, then watch below as a few of our own get in on the action.

Last week, Dr. Nicholson was nominated by his nephew to take the chilly challenge. He didn’t disappoint:
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Governor Kitzhaber challenged OHSU President Dr. Joe Robertson, and he accepted the challenge with not one but two buckets of ice water:
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President Robertson had a surprise nomination for Laurie Litowinsky, who has worked at OHSU since 1966 and is known campus-wide for her sense of humor. You’ll never guess who she nominated!
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Just for fun: A slow-motion version of President Robertson’s ice bucket challenge!
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A group of OHSU’ians (33, to be exact) gathered to meet Moda Health’s challenge and issue a new kind of challenge – this time, to Congress:
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Have you or someone you know been Ice Bucket Challenged? Share a link in the comment section below.

Why 96,000 Square Miles?

OHSU Health Fair at Pioneer Square.

President Robertson is fond of saying that OHSU has a 96,000 square mile campus, serving Oregonians “from Enterprise to Coos Bay, from Portland to Klamath Falls.”

This blog aims to highlight that breadth. 96,000 Square Miles (96K for short) will focus on the people of OHSU, the Oregonians we serve and the ripple effect of our work in Oregon and beyond.

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