February 26th, 2014
09:31 AM ET

Former CNN Correspondent Has Arm Amputated After Accident

Miles O'Brien, award-winning science journalist and former CNN correspondent and anchor, revealed in a blog post that his left arm was amputated recently after an accident.

"I wish I had a better story to tell you about why I am typing this with one hand (and some help from Dragon Dictate)," he wrote.

The story is not, he wrote with bittersweet humor, as "entertaining" as an "out-of-control quad copter that turns on its master," or perhaps a shark attack or assassination attempt.

What led to the loss of O'Brien's arm was a case of TV gear.

On February 12, he was stacking cases onto a cart after a reporting trip to Japan and the Philippines, and one of them fell on his left forearm.

"It hurt, but I wasn't all '911' about it. It was painful and swollen but I figured it would be okay without any medical intervention. Maybe a little bit of denial?" O'Brien wrote.

His arm seemed sore and swollen the next day, but didn't appear worse. That night, though, he experienced greater pain and swelling, and the next day asked the hotel where he was to refer him to a doctor.

The doctor told O'Brien he may be experiencing acute compartment syndrome. This condition involves increased pressure in a muscle compartment, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Muscles in the arms and legs are separated from each other by thick layers of tissue called fascia, and each fascia has space in it, called a compartment, with muscle tissue, nerves and blood vessels.

When there is swelling in a compartment, pressure in that area will increase and press on the muscles, blood vessels and nerves.

"If this pressure is high enough, blood flow to the compartment will be blocked," according to the NIH's MedlinePlus resource. "This can lead to permanent injury to the muscle and nerves. If the pressure lasts long enough, the muscles may die and the arm or leg will not work any more. It may need to be amputated."

Symptoms of severe cases of compartment syndrome include skin paleness, numbness, tingling, decreased sensation, weakness and severe worsening pain. Early diagnosis and treatment are key for a good recovery.

Patients need immediate surgery, which involves making long cuts through the muscle tissue to relieve pressure. O'Brien's doctor recommended this procedure, also known as a fasciotomy.

After entering surgery, O'Brien woke up to learn that his blood pressure had dropped during the procedure. To save him, the doctor had made the decision to amputate just above the elbow.

"He later told me it all boiled down to a choice...between a life and a limb," O'Brien wrote.

Since then, O'Brien has dealt with "phantom pain, the vicissitudes of daily life with one hand and the worries about what lies ahead," he wrote.

But he says he is grateful to be alive and urged readers not to worry.

O'Brien, who covered the U.S. space program for CNN, currently lives in Washington and focuses on science, technology and aerospace in his journalistic work, which includes being the science correspondent for PBS NewsHour. His website says he frequently pilots his own airplane to assignments.

He ended his blog post poignantly: "Life is all about playing the hand that is dealt you. Actually, I would love somebody to deal me another hand right about now - in more ways than one."

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February 5th, 2014
10:38 AM ET

CVS to Stop Selling Tobacco

Want to pick up a pack of cigarettes with your prescription refill? A major U.S. pharmacy chain is breaking that habit.

CVS Caremark announced Wednesday that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its CVS/pharmacy stores by October 1 of this year.

The retailer said the move makes CVS/pharmacy the first chain of national pharmacies to take tobacco products off the shelves.

"Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health," Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, said in a statement. "Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose."

CVS Caremark is the largest pharmacy in the United States based on total prescription revenue, according to the company. It operates more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy stores nationwide, in addition to more than 800 MinuteClinics, which are medical clinics within the pharmacy locations.

Health-oriented organizations and even President Barack Obama praised the move.

"As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and today's decision will help advance my administration's efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs - ultimately saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come," Obama said in a statement Wednesday.

"This is an important, bold public health decision by a major retail pharmacy to act on the long understood reality that blending providing health care and providing cigarettes just doesn't match," said Dr. Richard Wender, chief cancer control officer at the American Cancer Society.

"We need an all-hands-on-deck effort to take tobacco products out of the hands of America's young generation, and to help those who are addicted to quit," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "Today's CVS Caremark announcement helps bring our country closer to achieving a tobacco-free generation. I hope others will follow their lead."

Stopping cigarette sales comes at a price. CVS Caremark estimates it will take an annual loss of $2 billion from tobacco shoppers.

The company has enjoyed growing revenues in recent years, boosted by its pharmacy services business and prescription drug sales.

CVS Caremark hasn't reported its year-end results yet, but it took in nearly $94 billion in revenues in the first nine months of 2013, up slightly from the same period in 2012, according to its most recent earnings report.

In 2012, CVS Caremark reported $123.1 billion in revenues, a 15% jump from $107.1 billion the previous year.

"We commend CVS for putting public health ahead of their bottom line and recognizing the need for pharmacies to focus on supporting health and wellness instead of contributing to disease and death caused by tobacco use," the American Medical Association said in a statement.

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December 24th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

Husband of Pregnant Woman Wants Her Off Life Support

Erick Munoz wants to see his wife's wish fulfilled this holiday season, but it's one that carries ethical and legal challenges: To be taken off of life support, CNN's Pamela Brown reports.

Marlise Munoz, 33, is in serious condition in the intensive care unit at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, hospital officials said. She is unconscious and on a ventilator, her husband told CNN affiliate WFAA, but she wouldn't have wanted her life sustained by a machine.

"We talked about it. We're both paramedics," he told WFAA. "We've seen things out in the field. We both knew that we both didn't want to be on life support."

Complicating an already difficult situation is that Munoz is also pregnant, about 18 weeks along, WFAA reported. Texas state law prohibits withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient, regardless of her wishes.

Patients can indicate their future wishes about medical treatment, in the event that they are unable to communicate them, through forms called advance directives. But in Texas, under the Health and Safety Code, such a form includes the provision "I understand that under Texas law this Directive has no effect if I have been diagnosed as pregnant."

Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, spoke on "New Day" Tuesday and said the law is too broad.

"What you want is a law that recognizes the difference between a one-day-old embryo and almost a baby due to be delivered. Pregnancy is not a single condition, so I think the law is way too broad. Plus, the dad is worried in this case – was the fetus harmed when his wife went through this terrible medical incident?"

Erick Munoz told WFAA doctors said his wife may have suffered a pulmonary embolism, which happens when blood clots travel to the lungs from elsewhere in the body. They do not know how long the baby went without nutrients and oxygen.

The hospital would not release specific details about Marlise Munoz's condition, but officials said the hospital would follow Texas law regarding care during pregnancy.

"We have a responsibility as a good corporate citizen here in Tarrant County to also provide the highest quality care we can for all of our patients," said J.R. Labbe, vice president of communications and community affairs for JPS Health Network, in a statement.

"But at all times, we will follow the law as it is applicable to health care in the state of Texas. And state law here says you cannot withhold or withdraw life sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient. It's that clear."

The husband and wife, both paramedics in the Tarrant County area, have a 14-month-old son named Mateo.

Erick Munoz and Marlise Munoz's mother did not immediately respond to requests for comment from CNN.

Erick Munoz found his wife unconscious on November 26, around 2 a.m. He performed CPR on her and then called 911, WFAA reported.

Since that day, the pregnant woman has been on life support, her husband said. Tests have shown that the fetus has a normal heart beat, he said. At 24 weeks, doctors may know more about when the fetus can be taken out, Munoz's family told WFAA. Doctors have also discussed the possibility of taking the fetus to full term.

He told WFAA that his wife had said she would not want to be kept alive by machine, and said he has reached "the point where you wish that your wife's body would stop."

Munoz wears his wife's pink and blue bracelets on his wrist, WFAA reported. Her wedding ring is on his pinkie.

When Munoz walks in the door, he said his son Mateo is waiting for his mother to show up.

"You can see it in his eyes," Munoz said.

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November 19th, 2013
10:58 AM ET

Princeton Students Closer to Getting Meningitis Vaccine

Pending final approval from the Centers for Disease Control, Princeton University is preparing to provide a vaccine targeting a strain of meningitis in the wake of a campus outbreak, the school said Monday.

The CDC was preparing to recommend that all Princeton undergraduates and graduate students living in dormitories receive the vaccine, the Ivy League school said in a statement.

Other members of the university community should be vaccinated if they have conditions where the spleen is compromised or immune system disorders, the statement said.

The recommendations are still pending the review of the CDC's Independent Review Board, the CDC said Monday.

"Pending final CDC approval, the university is prepared to accept these recommendations and make arrangements to provide access to this vaccine as soon as possible," the Princeton statement said.

Princeton has seen seven cases of meningitis, a potentially fatal illness, since March. Only one vaccine exists to target meningococcal bacteria known as type B, the strain that appears responsible for the outbreak.

See CNN's Elizabeth Cohen says this vaccine is called Bexsero and is made by Novartis. It has not been licensed for use in the United States, but it was approved this year in Europe and Australia. The Princeton situation is the first outbreak of this strain since the vaccine was licensed in those countries.

The necessary doses would need one to two months to get to Princeton, according to Novartis spokeswoman Julie Masow. Bexero is manufactured in Italy, Masow said.

The university would cover the cost of the vaccine for all students who receive it.

Two doses are required to protect individuals against this rare disease. Princeton hopes to make the first two doses of the vaccine available in early December, and the second in February.

The meningococcal vaccines already available in the United States to college students would not protect them against this serogroup B bacteria.

The university, the New Jersey Department of Health and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are discussing options to control the outbreak, CDC spokeswoman Sharon Hoskins said Monday.

Before the news of the possible CDC recommendation on Monday afternoon, Princeton's board of trustees had met over the weekend to consider whether to offer students the vaccine on a voluntary basis.

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