About John Lundy

John Lundy covers health and health-related issues for The Duluth News Tribune. He's a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Too much salt

If you don’t have too much sodium in your diet, you’re part of a small minority, at least according to the U.S. government.

More than 90 percent of children and 89 percent of adults eat more sodium than recommended int he 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, said a study released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That doesn’t include salt added at the table. It does include people in all sorts of categories — the figures hold true regardless of age, race, gender or whether individuals have high blood pressure, according to the report published in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Researchers used data from the 2009-12 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys and included nearly 15,000 people in reaching their conclusions.

In a news release, CDC director Tom Frieden called the findings “alarming.” “The evidence is clear: Too much sodium in our foods leads to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke,” he said.

Norovirus in Minnesota

A new strain of norovirus, the illness many of us mistakenly call “stomach flu,” is showing up in Minnesota, according to the state’s health department.

The new strain, called Gil.17 Kawasaki, caused many outbreaks in Asia last winter and has since migrated to the U.S., according to a Minnesota Department of Health news release. Sporadic cases occurred in Minnesota earlier this year, but the state’s first outbreak of the new strain occurred just last week.

Symptoms of norovirus can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, body aches, a run-down feeling and a mild fever. It’s different from influenza, which is a respiratory disease.

The best defense? Thorough hand-washing and proper handling of food, according to the health department.

A suspected outbreak of norovirus or any food-related illness can be reported to the health department’s foodborne illness hotline at (877) 366-3455. More information is available at the health department’s website here.

Contact health reporter John Lundy at jlundy@duluthnews.com.

‘No safe level’

Fetal alcohol syndrome may be more common than previously thought.

The condition, a birth defect caused by the mother drinking during pregnancy, can cause brain problems and growth difficulties, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Its prevalence in the United States has long been estimated at no more than three out of a thousand children, according to a news release today from the North Carolina Research Campus. But a new study published in the journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence reports a prevalence of between three and eight children per thousand. When that’s combined with partial fetal alcohol syndrome, the range totals between 11 and 25 out of a thousand, according to the news release.

The study was led by Philip May of the University of North Carolina and involved 2,300 first-graders in 17 elementary schools in what’s described as a Rocky Mountain city. Children below growth standards for height, weight and head circumference were examined by physicians. Those who were diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome or partial fetal alcohol syndrome were given additional cognitive and behavioral tests.

May, who has been researching fetal alcohol syndrome since 1979, said previous study methods captured only 15 to 20 percent of children with the birth defect.

“When we find severe cases, we find that only one in six have been diagnosed or even referred for diagnosis,” May said in the news release.

The advice for avoiding passing on fetal alcohol syndrome to your children hasn’t changed, according to May.

“There is no safe level of alcohol to consume while you are pregnant,” he said. “There is too much that is not known about how alcohol affects each individual woman differently during pregnancy to risk it, especially when we know the lifelong impact it can have on an individual child.”

You can reach John Lundy at jlundy@duluthnews.com. 


Cancer and journaling

Project lulu is offering free guided online journaling groups for cancer patients and survivors and for family caregivers beginning Monday, Oct. 12.

We’re told that participants will receive weekly emails with tips on how to start writing a “Reflecting Pool” to get the most out of their own reflections and to learn from the writings of others.

It continues for six weeks through Nov. 20.

Sign up at projectlulu.org/reflectingpool. If you have questions, email lisa@projectlulu.org or call (218) 349-9121.

John Lundy can be reached at: jlundy@duluthnews.com. 

Guest post: Lessons on Living from a Dying Man


Editor’s note: A guest blog today from Cathy Wurzer of Minnesota Public Radio.

Grief counselors say one of the most frequent questions they get from clients, newly diagnosed with a terminal illness, is “How am I supposed to live in the time I have left?”

I wish all of us would try to answer that question well before a life-altering diagnosis forces us to finally consider our options.

Cathy Wurzer Minnesota Public Radio photo

Cathy Wurzer
Minnesota Public Radio photo

I do not have a terminal illness, although my life condition, at some point, will include a definite denouement. I’m at peace with my future demise but only because, for the past few years, I’ve had the heartbreaking and yet joyful experience of being with two men who taught me what it means to live and how to die. One teacher was a friend and the other was my father.

The process played out in a very public way thanks to a blog, a radio series and now a book and podcast.

Both men were teachers, gifted educators who knew how to engage their students. My father, Fritz Wurzer, came to teaching late in life after having had enough of the corporate world.

Dr. Bruce H. Kramer Photo by Michael Ekern, University of St. Thomas

My friend, Dr. Bruce Kramer, was one of those dynamic teachers a student never forgets. I met Bruce, the former dean of the College of Education at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, shortly after my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Bruce started blogging about living with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, several months after his diagnosis in December of 2010. A mutual friend steered me to his blog, thinking my public radio audience would appreciate Bruce’s candid and reflective thoughts on living while slowly dying.

Some of my newsroom colleagues were skeptical that a series of conversations with a dying man would be something early morning radio listeners would want to hear, and, to be honest, I wasn’t convinced it would work.

I nearly pulled out of the entire project, thinking that I was not going to be able to handle someone else’s pain while also dealing with my own as I watched my father fall apart.

My plan was to do a couple of interviews with Bruce, see how they went, and move on. Instead, our series of extraordinary conversations stretched over more than four years, ending with his death in March of 2015. My father had passed away a year earlier in March of 2014.

Watching how both men lived with their respective illnesses taught me about the gift of grace that reveals itself when accepting one’s reality and the surprising realization that a diseased life can be a worthwhile life.

Shortly after he was diagnosed, Bruce started asking himself some important questions as he mapped out how he was going to live with ALS. One of them jumped out at me.

“Out of the emptiness that was once the surety of my life came the question: ‘What will you be from here into eternity?’”

Think about the question. What will you be, even in the face of the pain, nausea, and exhaustion associated with many physical illnesses, the confusion of dementia, the darkness of mental illness, or the uncertainty of whatever you’re living with?

As his body deteriorated, his spirit expanded, and Bruce Kramer chose to live his days to their fullest without the ability to move a muscle. This isn’t what Bruce had envisioned his life would be, but toward the end of it, he said he wouldn’t have wanted to take back the gifts and lessons ALS taught him even if he could have had his old life back.

Bruce said his life had a richness and depth knowing that it was going to end soon. Might we be better served if we started asking ourselves, earlier, the deep questions that tend to get asked as we enter the final laps of our lives? What gets in the way of that kind of reflection? Fear, most certainly, and denial—after all, we live in a culture of immortality.

Kramer felt that, by facing his death and embracing it, he had the opportunity to focus on the task of growing into the person he was meant to be. He said, “That’s how I want to die. I want to die fully alive.” And indeed he did.

Now, how will YOU live your life? Are you clear about what really matters to you? I’m still working on those questions, but my intention is to live the rest of my days as fully as my now-departed friend did.

By the way, MPR has just created a new podcast of Bruce Kramer’s story. I hope you’ll give it a listen! http://mprnews.org/podcasts/living-while-dying

Contact John Lundy at jlundy@duluthnews.com. 

More information on the Cathy Wurzer’s blog tour is available here: