Monday, August 29, 2016


Nine things people with cancer want you to know

Doesn’t it feel as if everywhere you turn, there is somebody fighting cancer?

It’s no wonder when you read the statistics of the incidence and prevalence of cancer.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approximately 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2010-2012 data). In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States.

The American Cancer Society reports that the majority of cancer survivors (64 percent) were diagnosed five or more years ago. Fifteen percent of cancer survivors were diagnosed twenty or more years ago.

I asked several friends and neighbors who are cancer survivors to share some insight into their experience, specifically, “What one thing do you wish people would know, do or say?” I was surprised at some of their answers.

• “Don’t judge me. Making healthcare decisions is very difficult. They are literally life and death decisions, and it’s discouraging when someone questions or second-guesses my decisions.”

• “Sometimes I wish people would refrain from giving me their opinion or telling me horror stories about others with cancer. Just be with me.

• “Designate a spokesperson who can give updates.” The friend who shared this said that when she had surgery, her husband gave frequent updates to all who cared to know. It was a great relief to know her family and friends were sending their love and support, but she could rest and recuperate while her husband handled all of the communications. Another resource is, a free online tool to keep friends and family updated.

•“Don’t just drop in to visit. I don’t want to hurt your feelings by telling you I’m too exhausted and don’t want to chat. Call me and ask if it’s a good time. I would love to see you when I’m feeling stronger.”

• “Offer specific things to help me, like pick up groceries, or mow the lawn, or bring my kids to a birthday party. Please don’t say, ‘Call me if you need anything’ because I have limited energy and won’t do that.”

• “Just because I’m diagnosed with an incurable cancer doesn’t mean it’s the end for me. Cancer treatment can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to get discouraged. I want to still have fun and joy in my life.”

• “Sometimes I just want to open up and talk about my struggles with someone who has been there. That’s why going to a cancer support group on a regular basis has been so helpful to me. We’re all in the same boat and can understand each other.”

• “I am more than my disease. Sometimes people forget I’m a mom, daughter, sister, teacher, friend and good neighbor. It’s hard when people just see me for my cancer diagnosis and don’t remember I’m still me.”

• “I’m very grateful for the cards and notes and emails from people just saying ‘I’m thinking of you’ or ‘sending positive thoughts your way.’” My friend contends it’s never too late to send a card, even weeks after surgery, or at intervals during the long months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
The emotional boost the cards and notes bring is very welcome at any time.

Keeping in mind that these suggestions do not apply to everyone, the insight and thoughtfulness is very much appreciated. It is food for thought as we strive to be sensitive and supportive for our family and friends living with cancer.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, August 22, 2016


Never too late to learn something new about nutrition

Since May, I have had the pleasure of working with Brenda Viens. She is a young, enthusiastic, knowledgeable registered dietitian. I didn’t think there was much that a 20-something dietitian could teach me, an experienced registered nurse who has been grocery shopping and cooking for my family for 40-plus years. I was so confident, I challenged Brenda to tell me “five things I didn’t know about nutrition and healthy eating.”

Here is what she came up with:

Lycopene is a fat soluble antioxidant that supports cardiovascular health, and may suppress tumor growth. You may not know that lycopene protects the tomato against ultraviolet rays and that new research suggests it may do the same for us. In one study, participants who consumed a lycopene-rich product experienced less erythema after sun exposure. Applying sunscreen and avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are still the most effective ways to avoid sunburn, but eating lycopene-rich tomatoes and tomato products may just provide a little extra protection.

Prepared mustard is not just a flavorful and low calorie substitute for mayonnaise. My grandmother had a tiny jar and spoon just for making mustard. She used this condiment for anything from sandwiches to steak and she would occasionally massage it on her joints. Mustard seed has strong anti-inflammatory properties and a topical application of the crushed seeds has a warming effect that suppresses joint and muscle aches.

Turmeric, the spice that gives mustard and Indian dishes a vibrant golden color, also has potent anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for thousands of years as an alternative therapy for joint and muscle aches. Try adding turmeric to soup, or mix it with a little olive oil then drizzle over chicken or fish. An added bonus is that sprinkling turmeric on your toothbrush is a natural way to whiten your teeth.

Unrefined and virgin oils are always a better choice compared to refined oils, right? It depends on how you use them. Extra virgin olive oil and other unrefined oils, such as flaxseed oil, are smart choices for salad dressings but should not be used for sautéing. Why? The antioxidants, enzymes, and minerals that contribute to the health benefits of unrefined oils are damaged when exposed to high temperatures. Therefore, unrefined oils have a low smoke point. Oil heated past the smoke point begins to produce fumes and free radicals that are harmful to your health. So look for the smoke point on the label and select oils that have been refined for high heat such as: canola, peanut, safflower and vegetable oils.

• Ever heard of a guilt-free “cookie dough?” This yummy, low calorie, egg-free treat is meant to be spooned right out of the mixing bowl. Blend until creamy: one 14 ounce can chickpeas, 1½ cups softened dates (or sweeten to taste with ¼ - ½ cup honey), a splash of vanilla extract, ¼ cup nut butter, a pinch of salt, ½ tsp cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons quick oats (optional). Thin with milk to desired consistency, and then fold in dark chocolate, dried fruit, or nuts. Serve with apple slices, celery sticks, or whole grain crackers.

I made the cookie dough recipe and it was delicious. My husband was surprised when I told him it was made from chickpeas. Brenda has taught me that no matter how experienced you are, it’s never too late to learn something new about nutrition and healthy eating.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, August 15, 2016


Working toward a better understanding of autism

It is not surprising that a quick Google search reveals that autism has held a central place in the media for years, yet much of the discussion is filled with confusion and misunderstanding. What is the cause of autism? What is the progression? How does autism present? How can we treat people diagnosed with this disorder? There are no simple answers to these questions, and yet the progress we have made in recent years related to autism have brought improvements in diagnosis and increased resources for families. Despite continued progress, a diagnosis of autism can be especially difficult for parents to understand and manage.

When you take your child to the pediatricians you are asked to fill out an autism screening tool known as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Children (MChAT). It asks 20 questions such as “Does your child get upset by everyday noises?” and “Does your child respond when you call his or her name?” While you may be unaware of its purpose when you are filling it out, the MCHAT is a preliminary screening tool in the diagnosis of autism. It does not provide a diagnosis but rather targets children that need further testing for autism. However, parents do not have to rely solely on the MCHAT if they have concerns regarding their child as it is merely meant as a screening tool.

Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician Sarah Schlegel, MD, of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, recommends discussing any concerns first and foremost with the child’s pediatrician. Further steps are age dependent. The "Birth to Three" program in Connecticut can be utilized for children under three and can be contacted through the Child Development Infoline at 211 or 800.505.7000. If the child is over three and in school, parents can request an evaluation from their school district's special education program. If the child is not in school yet, parents can still turn to the central office or local school for evaluation.

An autism diagnosis can be a scary time for a family, however it is not necessary to deal with it alone. Your child’s pediatrician can serve as your primary resource for further guidance. This may include working with a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, special education in school districts, and utilizing state and nation specific resources. Dr. Schlegel recommends Autism Services and Resources Connecticut. In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of resources for families.

It is important to realize that autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it can present in a range of ways. It will not present the same way in every child. Some children have greater challenges with social interaction, while others have difficulty with verbalization and may even be unable to talk. Still other children may be hypersensitive to sounds, smells, sights, or tactile stimulation. There is no clear-cut presentation, so there is no single treatment method. This is what can make it so challenging to help children with autism and can also make it difficult for parents and family members to understand how the child sees and experiences their environment.

In his article in Forbes entitled “Experience What if Feels Like to Have Autism,” Robert Szczerba, a father of an autistic child, compiles six online videos that can help others understand how some children with autism experience their environments. Many of the videos are created by children with autism and provide a powerful insight into how simple everyday activities like walking down the street or watching TV can take on a whole new meaning for someone with an autism diagnosis. While it certainly does not capture what every child experiences, resources like this are beginning to help others understand the world through the eyes of an autistic child. This can help family members make sense of some of their child’s behaviors and can provide important insights into how we can best help these children.

A diagnosis of autism can be scary, there is no denying that. However, progress in medicine, technology, and an increased awareness of autism have put us in a place to better understand and help children diagnosed with autism. There is a renewed sense of hope that we can do more for these children than we were ever able to before.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, August 08, 2016


The wonders of massage therapy

There are few things more pleasant and relaxing than getting a massage. Massage has been practiced for thousands of years. According to WebMD, there are more than 80 massage therapy styles with a wide variety of pressures, movements, and techniques. These all involve pressing, rubbing, or manipulating muscles and other soft tissues with hands and fingers. Sometimes even forearms, elbows or feet are used.

For her birthday this year, we gave my mother a gift certificate for an hour-long massage from my friend Lisa Mazzaro, owner of “All About You” Massage in Gales Ferry. After her massage, my mother said that was the best possible gift we could have given her. Lisa says, “There is no age restriction on massage. From infants to elderly, massage techniques can be adapted to fit your needs.” My mother certainly supports that premise since she just celebrated her 95th birthday.

Besides simple relaxation, numerous studies have proven the health benefits of massage therapy, including:

Back pain relief. Massage has been shown to relieve back pain and stiffness and improve function.
Headache pain relief. Another type of pain — headache — also responds to massage therapy, as shown by more than one study. Massage therapy may possibly reduce the number of migraines a person has.
Improved sleep. Insomnia is associated with a lack of serotonin. Massage increases serotonin levels.
Relieve depression and decrease stress. According to WebMD, A review of more than 12 studies shows that massage helps relieve depression and anxiety. It can lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, by up to 50 percent.

It’s important to take a health history prior to the massage so the therapist is aware of any health conditions and can subsequently tailor the treatment to the person. Some therapists require a physician’s note for people with certain health conditions before getting a massage.

Massage therapy is one of the services offered for cancer patients at the Center for Healthcare Integration (CHI) located in the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Backus Hospital. Used as a complement to traditional Western medicine, massage can promote relaxation and reduce cancer symptoms or side effects of treatment. It may help reduce pain, swelling, fatigue, nausea or depression, for example, or improve the function of one’s immune system. It is important to note massage therapy doesn’t replace conventional cancer treatment — it is a supplement that may enhance its effect.

I am a convert to the benefits of massage therapy. It even helped me simplify my gift list next year: a gift certificate for a massage therapy session for everyone on my list.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, August 01, 2016


Berries: Why we should be eating more of them.

A little girl toddles from behind a blueberry bush at a local orchard. Cheeks covered in berry juice she grins, points and says “booberry.” We should be all agog for berries like this little girl because they are one of the healschnthiest foods on the planet.

Berries have four times more antioxidant activity than most other fruits, and ten times more than most vegetables. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress and chronic disease risk by scavenging potentially harmful free oxygen radicals. Berries are also packed with vitamin C, fiber, magnesium and potassium. One cup of raspberries is only 65 calories and provides 53% of the daily value for vitamin C, and 32% of the daily value for fiber.

Overall, dietary surveys reveal that berry-rich diets are associated with: healthy body weight, a reduction in risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and improvements in mood and cognitive function. The health benefits of berries have been in the news for a long time so it is surprising that berry consumption remains so low.

On average, a person living in the United States consumes one white potato a day and a mere one tablespoon of berries per week. The bottom line is that berries are low in calories, and rich in nutrients that support overall health and wellbeing. We need to eat more of them.

Set a reasonable goal such as one half cup of berries each day. To achieve this goal, consider adding berries to your diet in new ways. Try them in yogurt, smoothies, and salads. Use a toothpick to dip berries in yogurt, and freeze on a lined cookie sheet to make a frosty snack kids will love. Or make this fresh blueberry sauce and serve it as a healthy alternative to pancake syrup or as a dipping sauce for chicken tenders and kebabs.

Fresh Blueberry Sauce (recipe inspired by Nigella Lawson)
Bring to a boil, and then simmer two to three minutes:
¼-½ cup maple syrup (to taste)
1½ cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
Optional additions: vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, orange zest

Does cooking destroy the nutritional value of berries? No. Cooking actually rearranges the shape of the antioxidant molecules in berries enabling you to absorb more of them. Berries in any form (fresh, frozen, dried, and cooked) are good for you, but fresh berries are the highest in vitamin C which supports healthy hair, nails, and skin, and aids iron and calcium absorption.

Though berries are on the expensive side, you can save money by shopping savvy. Look for sales when shopping for fresh berries in the grocery store, and always open the clam-shell box to examine them. If you see juice or mold, skip them and go to the frozen department. Pay less per pound by purchasing frozen berries in bulk (five pound bags) and look for frozen wild blueberries which are higher in antioxidants than their cultivated cousins. Another way to save is by picking your own.

Visit to find a farm or orchard near you. In eastern Connecticut, strawberries are available in June, blueberries from mid July through August, and raspberries from July to the end of summer. Berries stay fresh three to seven days in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. To extend their life, spread berries out in single layer on a lined cookie sheet, freeze until solid, and transfer to heavy duty storage bags. Frozen berries and other fruit keep well for 12-18 months.

Be well!

Brenda Viens is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Viens or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, July 25, 2016


Treating the inevitable summer mishaps

It’s summertime and there is an abundance of seasonal activities to get involved in like barbeques, picnics, kayaking, hiking, fireworks, and just poolside relaxing. It’s my favorite time of year, but the nurse in me is compelled to look at the health and safety aspect of summer: inherent in those activities can come the inevitable health problems: muscle sprains, sunburns, heat exhaustion, and grill burns. The questions here is — what do you do if band-aids, antibiotic ointments, and a bag of ice don’t relieve or alleviate the injury?

Hospital emergency departments are available 24/7, but many of the people seeking medical care do not have true emergencies. Waiting times and co-pays are usually much less at walk- in- clinics and in your primary care provider’s office.

I caution, however, if you feel that you do have a life-threatening emergency, please go directly to an emergency department where the triage nurse will evaluate you to determine the severity of your problem. Those with life-threatening conditions are of course treated first.

True emergencies, requiring emergency department care include:

• Sudden slurred speech, visual changes or weakness
• Numbness or paralysis of an arm or leg
• Chest pain
• Abdominal pain
• Allergic reactions
• Loss of consciousness
• Drug overdose or poisoning
• Serious burns
• Head injuries
• Spinal injuries
• Heavy bleeding
• Severe trouble breathing

Calling 911 for an ambulance is one of the most important steps you can take in a true emergency situation. Paramedics can begin treatment on the way to the hospital and alert special response teams to get equipment and rooms ready for when you arrive. This is especially important for someone suffering from a heart attack or stroke.

So how do we know what health problems are appropriately treated by making a same-day appointment with your primary care provider, or going to a walk-in urgent care center? Here are some examples of non-emergent health problems:

• Mild asthma attacks
• Skin or ear infections
• Cuts
• Minor burns and rashes
• Sore throats and flu-like symptoms
• Minor broken bones
• Muscle strains and sprains
• Urinary tract infections
• Coughs and colds

A good rule of thumb: if you can wait for several hours at an emergency room to be seen, the problem may not be an emergency. It is possible that you may experience an extended wait because someone else arrived with a life threatening injury. Take care and enjoy this summer safely, out of harm’s way. I would much prefer to meet and greet you at a local poolside gathering than in the emergency room.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, July 18, 2016


Fire safety tips from the experts

If a fire starts in your home, you may have only two minutes to escape to safety, according to the American Red Cross. That’s a startling message, and firefighters everywhere want people to be attentive and mindful of it.

At the annual Safety Camp held recently at Backus Hospital, I had the opportunity to talk to Assistant Chief William Hadam and longtime volunteer firefighter David Plante, of the Taftville Fire Department. I asked them to give me a few home fire safety tips that readily come to mind — things they want to stress to people.

Asst. Chief Hadam immediately said that most house fires are preventable:

In order of frequency, the most common causes of house fires are:

• cooking fires
• improperly discarded smoking materials
• portable heaters / kerosene heaters
• candles (he explained unattended candles can burn down, but often the family cat or dog knocks over the candle and causes a fire)
• overloading electrical outlets
• improper maintenance of furnaces (filters not changed, etc.)

He also explained there are accidental fires caused by electrical shorts and furnace malfunction, but are less common.

They both stressed the importance of maintaining smoke detectors in the home. They agree the number one way to save lives is to have active, working smoke detectors. “A smoke detector without a battery doesn’t do you any good.” Smoke alarms should be installed just outside each separate sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement. “Change the batteries when you change the clocks twice a year,” is their motto.

Also, it’s crucial for house numbers to be clearly visible and identifiable in an emergency, especially in rural areas. I can attest to this. When I was a home care nurse, I often had trouble identifying the address to visit because house numbers were nowhere to be found. I would think that if my home visit was an emergency, precious time would be lost. Assistance Chief Hadam explained often there are four or five numbered mailboxes in a row, or a common driveway, but no corresponding numbers on the actual homes.

I asked about people having home fire extinguishers. For small kitchen cooking fires, they advise calling 911 promptly and then trying to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher. Even if you are successful, they still want to be notified because they will want to come and check to make sure there are no unseen smoldering fire safety issues remaining. If a fire is too big to handle easily, “Get out and wait for the fire department,” they caution. “Get out and stay out. Never go back inside for people, pets or things.”

If you encounter a fire and evacuate, it’s important to close the door behind you to deprive the fire of oxygen and slow the spread of smoke and fire until the fire department arrives.

And last but not least, Mr. Hadam told me about the American Red Cross Home Fire Preparedness Campaign. I called to find out more information. The Red Cross will install free smoke alarms within your home and give guidance in the development of a Family Disaster Plan. To schedule your home visit, register at or call 1-877-287-3327 and choose option 1.

We are indeed fortunate to have such wonderful resources, ready to help us protect our families against fire.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, July 11, 2016


Collaborating to create safer homes and communities

Most people shudder at the words “domestic violence.” Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence.

It’s hard for most of us to understand how and why it occurs, unless we have experienced this heartache firsthand, or have witnessed someone living through domestic violence. I recently discovered that a co-worker of mine was the victim of domestic violence. I was shocked as she is an intelligent, beautiful, generous lady and I just couldn’t fathom how this could happen. In an effort to gain some understanding about this complicated issue, I contacted Melva O’Neill, the Community Engagement Coordinator of Safe Futures, formerly The Women’s Center of Southeastern CT.

Melva explained, “We often think of domestic violence as being physical. Indeed, serious injuries are inflicted on victims every single day, by coercion, by force, by fist or by gun. What is not so often recognized is the emotional impact it has on an individual and on others within their circle. Those victims are both male and female, and they vary greatly in age.

“Living in a controlled, demeaning environment can break down our self-confidence, create negative coping mechanisms, and cause life-long psychological damage. Many survivors of intimate partner violence have post-traumatic stress disorder, trouble concentrating, high levels of anxiety, and panic attacks. They may be hypervigilant, and may have trust issues, which makes it difficult to form relationships of any kind or to feel safe in any environment.

“These health issues are not limited to the primary victim alone. Other family members often develop similar symptoms, including the children. If a child is worried about what happened at home last night, or what could happen tonight, that child will not be able to concentrate in school. Grades will suffer, friendships will suffer. Emotional challenges perpetuated by the situation at home may bring about physical illnesses as well. Additionally, children who grow up in homes or environments where there is violence within the relationship are more likely to develop those negative behaviors. They may also have more difficulty standing up for themselves, which could lead to involvement in risky situations.

“It is important that we remember not to blame the victim. A person does not go into a relationship looking to be harmed, physically or emotionally, and it is often difficult to leave a relationship for many, many reasons.”

Melva told me about a wonderful collaboration between Safe Futures and Writer’s Block Ink (WBI). Writer’s Block Ink was started in 2003 as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization to encourage youth to use writing and performance as tools to address personal and social challenges on the community stage. Students create original productions which explore critical themes and issues. WBI and Safe Futures have now partnered in a project called “Raising voices against domestic violence!” This project aims to engage the Southeastern Connecticut community in the collecting and expressing of first-person stories through interactive community forums, and creative storytelling studio sessions chronicling stories of survival and hope.

The next community engagement forum will be held at the ISAAC School in New London on Saturday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to noon, immediately followed by an Open Arts Studio. This event is for women and men, teens and adults, survivors and witnesses, first responders and community members — all are welcome. Forums will include testimonial from inspiring survivors, educational information and discussion, and theater-based group activities exploring what you can do to prevent violence. For more information, visit

We should all applaud this effort by the youth of our community to collaborate with Safe Futures, working together to understand and prevent the philosophies and behaviors that support this type of degradation in our society. Efforts and events like this will hopefully help us realize what we can do to help stop domestic violence, find help for all affected by it, and ultimately change our culture for the better.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, July 04, 2016


Time to celebrate with chocolate

Charles M. Schultz is credited with saying, "All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." I couldn't agree more.

And experts agree that, in moderation, chocolate may have heart health benefits. The reason is the cocoa bean is rich in a class of plant nutrients called flavonoids. They can be found in a variety of foods, such as vegetables and fruits. We also benefit from their antioxidant power when we eat foods rich in flavonoids.

Flavanols are the main type of flavonoids found in chocolate and cocoa. In addition to having antioxidant qualities, research shows that flavanols have other potential influences on vascular health, such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.

Not all types of chocolate are healthy as some forms contain lower levels of flavanols. The more chocolate is processed (through fermentation, alkalizing, roasting, etc.) the more flavanols are lost. Our best bet is dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate (especially milk chocolate that has loads of added fats and sugars) and cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing (cocoa that is treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity). I always thought Dutch chocolate was a better grade of cocoa.

The caveat here is still "in moderation." An ounce of dark chocolate a few times a week is best. Remember to eat other flavonoid-rich foods like cranberries, tea, apples, onions and if appropriate, red wine.

World Chocolate Day is celebrated on Thursday, July 7. That's my favorite day of the year. That reminds me: I will have to ask my boss for that day off to celebrate. All of my friends are invited to celebrate with me. But like Linda Grayson says, "There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate."

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, June 27, 2016


Summer grilling makeover — building a healthy plate

For those grilling this summer, a juicy steak with a side of potatoes might sound like the perfect meal but before taking a bite, you might want to look at the numbers.

One half pound of New York Strip steak garnished with roasted potatoes and a pat of butter contains one day’s worth of protein (50 grams) and 60 percent of the daily value for saturated fat (12 grams).

But don't worry; you can make healthy choices and still enjoy the foods you love by following these simple tips to build a healthy plate this summer:

1) Keep portion sizes right. Choose a four-ounce portion of lean meat and surround it with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Kebabs make it easy to serve a balanced meal because they can be assembled in advance and take just minutes to cook. Try tossing cubed skinless chicken thighs with bold spices, and then thread them onto skewers alternately with your choice of fruits and vegetables such as: pineapple chunks, red onion, and mushrooms. Cook’s tip: Soak wooden kebab sticks in water for 30 minutes and freeze in a plastic storage bag so they are ready when you are.

2) Try grilling fish. Toss shrimp in a grill basket with vegetables for a tasty taco filling or satisfying stir fry. Another smart choice is skinless salmon filets. Packed with heart healthy omega-3 fats salmon can handle the heat of the grill and does not tend to fall apart like white fish. Cook’s tip: Place salmon filets on cedar planks and close the lid to infuse them with flavor.

3) Grill leaner red meat. Choose ground buffalo, it has fewer calories and half the saturated fat of 90 percent lean ground beef. To keep these extra-lean burgers moist add a small handful of parmesan cheese and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Another smart option is flank steak because it has 30 percent less saturated fat than top sirloin. For best results, cook flank steak quickly over high heat, let it rest for five minutes, and slice thinly against the grain. Cook’s tips: Handle ground meat gently to avoid dense, tough burgers. Score flank steak lightly so it lays flat on the grill.

4) Make better beverage choices. Reach for sparkling water with a splash of 100 percent juice instead of soda.

5) Use a grill basket to cook more vegetables with ease. A variety of colorful vegetables such as corn, bell peppers, chilies, and onions make a lovely grilled vegetable salad that can be the star of any dinner menu. Crank up the heat to maximize flavor, then toss cooked vegetables with avocado, black beans, cumin, lime juice, fresh herbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Now wipe out that grill basket because it’s time for dessert.

6) Make dessert delicious with fruit. There are many fruits that are suitable for grilling such as: peaches, pineapple, melons, and—if you own a grill basket—you can wow your guests with grilled cherries. Try grilled peaches topped with fresh raspberries, two tablespoons Greek yogurt cream*, dark chocolate, and fresh mint for a satisfying dessert that is less than 200 calories. (*For the Greek yogurt cream mix: ½ cup non-fat Greek yogurt, 3 tablespoons cream, 1 tablespoon honey and ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.)

Brenda Viens is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Viens or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, June 20, 2016


Food safety tips for picnics and BBQs

Roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick annually from the food they eat. Reducing food borne illness by 10 percent would keep five million Americans from getting sick each year. Individuals in their own homes can help keep food safe by following the four principles of food safety: CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK and CHILL.

• CLEAN: Proper hand washing, a clean work area, and clean produce are key factors in the prevention of food borne illness.

Regularly washing hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds is the most effective way to kill germs. A soap product that claims to kill 99.90 percent of all germs is not more effective, nor does it work faster than other soaps.

When handling raw meat, wash dishes in warm soapy water, then soak in a solution of one tablespoon bleach per gallon of clean water for 10 minutes. Another batch of this solution can be used to disinfect stainless steel, plastic and other non-porous surfaces. Sponges can harbor potentially harmful bacteria, use disposable towels instead.

Produce is attributed to 46 percent of all food borne illness in the United States. The surface of a melon may look clean but slicing through an unwashed rind can transfer harmful bacteria to the edible portion. Therefore, it is important to wash all produce and scrub rough-skinned produce before chopping or slicing.

• SEPARATE: Always keep raw meat separate from produce and service ware. To significantly reduce the risk of cross contamination: purchase a raw-meat only cutting board, color-code so cookware used for raw meat is not used for other items, and immediately discard marinades used for raw meat. Do not use wooden utensils and bowls because the porous surface can hold on to potentially harmful bacteria.

• COOK: To ensure meat cooks evenly, preheat the grill and create two heat zones. A good tip is to position thicker portions of meat closer to the flame. Do not cook directly over the flame because that will result in a burnt exterior and undercooked interior.

To determine doneness, let whole cuts of meat rest for three to five minutes, and then insert a food-grade thermometer in to the thickest portion. If the safe minimum temperature is not reached within 15 seconds of inserting the thermometer, put it back on the grill.

Food / Safe Minimum Temperature (°F)
Poultry, whole and ground           165
Ground Meat (excluding poultry) 160
Steaks, roasts, and chops            145
Fish                                            145

• CHILL: All refrigerated foods and raw meat should be kept at or below 40 degrees. Bacteria can begin to multiply when frozen and refrigerated foods are warmer than 40 degrees. Meat should be unthawed in the refrigerator or under cool running water. Never unthaw meat on the counter.

Keep cold food on ice beneath a tent or shaded area. Cover dishes and service ware to keep flies and other pests away and note when the food is put outside so you know if it is still safe to eat.

Food is not safe to eat when it has been in the danger zone of 40-140 degrees for more than two hours (1 hour if the temperature was above 90 degrees). If you are unsure, the safest thing to do is throw it away.

If you follow the principles outlined in this article you will help keep food safe at picnics and BBQs this summer. For more information and answers to specific food safety questions:

• Visit:
• Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) TTY: 1-800-256-7072 or email

Brenda Viens is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Viens or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, June 13, 2016


Traveling the road together with a nurse navigator

“What the heck is a nurse navigator?” I’ve probably heard this question dozens of times since returning to Backus Hospital’s Cancer Institute as an oncology nurse navigator. I like to compare it to being a travel guide. When’s the last time you took a road trip through uncharted terrain? Did it go smoothly or did you have to seek help, whether from an experienced guide, a map, or the Internet? Did you hit any detours? Get a flat tire? Get hopelessly lost? Wish you had planned things differently?

As any patient will tell you, the cancer experience — from diagnosis to treatment to recovery — is a journey in and of itself. With our complicated healthcare system, it’s easy to get lost. That’s where a nurse navigator comes in. Whether it’s questions about your cancer type and treatment, how to talk to your doctors, where to get emotional or financial support, or how to deal with treatment side effects, I like to tell my patients that no question is too big or small — just ask. I will either have the answer or more importantly (and more likely), know how to get it.

Each branch of Hartford HealthCare’s Cancer Institute — which includes campuses at Backus Hospital, Windham Hospital, the Hospital of Central Connecticut, Hartford Hospital and MidState Medical Center — has dedicated oncology nurse navigators to help cancer patients. I reached out to my counterpart at Windham Hospital, Lori Surber, RN, BSN, to see what she had to say about her nursing role. Lori has been an oncology nurse navigator for four years.

“I reach out to patients right from their moment of diagnosis. Then I work with the healthcare team to get them from one step to the next. The best advice I can give to patients is to take one step at a time. Don’t look too far down the road,” she says.

What’s the most rewarding part of being a nurse navigator?

“Making a difference in someone’s life every day. Knowing you made the road a little easier for someone going through cancer is so rewarding,” Lori says.

I couldn’t agree more.

Here are the last 10 questions I have answered as a navigator:

• What does my pathology report really mean?
• Why is my doctor talking about taking an anti-hormone pill for five years?
• Will I be totally sedated for my biopsy?
• Should I be “freaking out” if my doctor mentions chemo?
• How can I coordinate my chemo and radiation so I’m not driving back and forth all day?
• How can I be considered for a clinical trial?
• Do you have any support groups for cancer patients?
• Am I allowed to have cats while on chemo?
• How can I reduce stress and anxiety during treatment?
• My doctor hasn’t called me back with my results, what should I do?

If you or a loved one are coping with cancer and need a little extra guidance and support, please contact your oncology nurse navigator. Working together, we can make your journey through cancer a smoother ride. I can be reached at Backus Hospital at 860-425-3870. For Lori Surber at Windham Hospital, call 860-456-6952. Let’s travel the road together.

Jessica Vanase is the Backus Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Vanase or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, June 06, 2016


Health benefits of a good night’s sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep used to be a nice target to aim for, but until recently, no one really knew the true benefits of sleep. As college students, my friends and I would pride ourselves on “pulling an all-nighter” and still being able to “ace” our exams the next morning. Now we understand that adequate sleep really is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, and can benefit our heart, weight, mind and more.

Experts now say that consistent sleep patterns can improve memory, curb inflammation and even help us when trying to lose weight.

Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging. Research indicates that people who get less sleep — six or fewer hours a night — have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more. In particular, C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk, was higher in people who got six or fewer hours of sleep a night.

It’s not just adults who require adequate sleep. According to a 2010 study in the journal Sleep, children between the ages of 10 and 16 who have sleep disordered breathing, which includes snoring, sleep apnea, and other types of interrupted breathing during sleep, are more likely to have problems with attention and learning. This could lead to "significant functional impairment at school," the study authors wrote.

A 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics found that children ages 7 and 8 who got less than about eight hours of sleep a night were more likely to be hyperactive, inattentive and impulsive.

I asked my friend and colleague Dr. Setu Vora to expound on the health benefits of good sleep. He put it succinctly:

• Sleeping well, about 7-8 hours, at night, is great for our health.
• Sleep deprivation is linked with increased risk of errors and accidents.
• Good sound sleep helps the heart and brain.

Dr. Vora and Dr. Olimpia Radu, pulmonologists and sleep disorder experts, will be speaking on this important topic at Backus Hospital on June 22, from 6:30-8 p.m. At this free community education program, “Better Sleep for Better Health,” they will discuss sleep problems like snoring, sleep apnea, and give tips to get a better night’s sleep. Call (855) HHC-HERE or (855) 442-4373 to register or for more information.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 30, 2016


Kale: Taking the first bite

Kale is a nutrient-dense, leafy green vegetable that is a good source of calcium, magnesium and vitamins A, C, E and K. Even with its stellar nutrient profile,  kale does not seem to rank high on the average person’s food preference scale and it is often avoided. Two major reasons for this are that kale and other dark leafy greens have a mild to sharply bitter flavor and traditional methods of cooking them (e.g. steaming and boiling) do not improve meal-time appeal.

There are many ways to improve the appeal of kale. For example, the sourness of citrus juice is a lovely contrast to the bitter undertones of dark green vegetables. Fats from dressings, oils, nuts, seeds and avocados do a wonderful job of masking the bitterness as well. Therefore, I encourage you to try a new way of preparing kale. Simply sauté for a few minutes (with flavorful additions such as onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, kumquats, etc.) or make a massaged kale salad by following the recipe outline below:

• Wash the kale, pat dry, remove stems, and tear the leaves into smaller pieces.
• Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of kosher salt (1 tsp/8 cups kale), and massage until kale just begins to wilt.
• Then add: chopped avocado (2 avocados/8 cups kale), a squeeze of lemon juice (1 lemon/8 cups kale), and thinly sliced red onion.
• Massage once more until the avocado becomes a creamy dressing. Leave some chunks of avocado please!
• Season to taste with black pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional.)

This spring, I demonstrated how to prepare this simple and delicious kale salad at the Know Your Farmer Fair in Windham. The event was a first annual collaboration between nonprofit organizations: GROW Windham and CLICK Inc. Both organizations are rooted in food justice, sustainable agriculture, community outreach, and small business development. During this event, I had the pleasure of meeting a mother and her daughter. The mother hesitated when I offered them a sample of the kale salad. She explained that, despite all of her efforts, her 4-year-old daughter would not try kale.

I explained to her daughter that the kale was made a special way. I asked her if she liked avocados, and she nodded her head. I showed her the avocado pieces in the salad and asked if she would like to try it. She said yes! Later, mom and daughter returned for the recipe and information about the farm who generously donated the kale.

Children (and adults alike) can be very particular about the food they eat. In addition to flavor, texture and overall mouth feel are very important things to pay attention to. For example, a child might not like the soft, moist texture of cooked broccoli but he or she might eat an entire bowl of crunchy raw broccoli with his or her favorite dressing. Another way to encourage children to try new foods is to use different cooking methods and pair new foods with their favorites. Also consider having your children help you in the kitchen.

Research shows that children who are more active in food selection and preparation will be more likely to try new foods. Food avoidance is often more than a generic dislike of the food itself. It is often a reflection of a child’s desire to be independent and to make their own food choices. So give your child the opportunity to have an active role in food selection and preparation by asking them to help you choose a recipe, and also to help you find the ingredients in the grocery store. Make it a scavenger hunt!

If you decide to take this step please understand that there are many factors that can contribute to a child’s eating behaviors. Children are very observant and learn food behaviors from parents, siblings, and other role models. Attention parents and guardians: If you want your children to be adventurous and try new, healthful foods, you need to be adventurous too!

Brenda Viens is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Viens or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 23, 2016


Pet therapy: Healing methods that have gone to the dogs

Pet therapy isn’t just fun, fur and games. According to the Mayo Clinic, interaction with a gentle, friendly pet can result in many physical health benefits such as:

• lowering blood pressure
• releasing endorphins (oxytocin) that have a calming effect
• diminishing overall physical pain
• producing an automatic relaxation response from the act of petting, reducing the amount of medication some folks need.

There are also many emotional health benefits:

• lifting spirits and lessening depression
• decreasing feelings of isolation and alienation
• encouraging communication
• providing comfort
• increasing socialization
• reducing boredom
• lowering anxiety
• helping children overcome speech and emotional disorders
• creating motivation for a person to recover faster

On their website, the risks of pet therapy have been addressed. The biggest concern, particularly in hospitals, is safety and sanitation. Most hospitals and other facilities that use pet therapy have stringent rules to ensure that the animals are clean, vaccinated, well-trained and screened for appropriate behavior.

It's also important to note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has never received a report of infection from animal-assisted therapy.

My friend Fran Poris volunteers in the Center for Healthcare Integration (CHI) at Backus Hospital. I asked her to share a little about her experiences as a certified pet therapist.

“I was a special education teacher for 37 years. In my last year of teaching, I brought my Bearded Collie puppy Quincy (named after a former student) to school with me so my fifth graders could read to him. The program was so popular that all the fifth graders, not only my students, wanted a chance to read to him.”

“Quincy and I have volunteered at schools, libraries, nursing homes, Center for Hospice Care and at Backus Hospital. When I clip Quincy’s nametag and blue leash onto his collar he knows it is time to work.”

“There are places Quincy likes to visit more than others. One of those places is Backus Hospital. Quincy can hardly wait to jump out of the car when he sees where we are going and his tail wags enthusiastically. He loves when people pet him, talk to him and scratch his back. Quincy, being motivated by food, loves when patients give him treats that I provide for him. The first year that we volunteered, I brought dog treats for patients to give him and Quincy gained 10 pounds! Now I bring kibble from his dinner and that works equally well.”

“People often think that pet therapy is just for patients. Not so. Quincy makes doctors, nurses, staff and visitors feel happy as well. Many people have told me that we made their day with our visit. Patients too ill to talk often place their hands on Quincy’s head to pet him or just smile when they see him next to their beds. Patients who have pets at home are especially grateful for a visit from Quincy. They miss their pets and tell me stories about their animals.”

“Just like people have their favorites, so does Quincy. He has even formed bonds with favorite patients. He enthusiastically wags his tail and snuggles up to his favorites waiting for a scratch behind his ears or on his back,” Poris said.

It’s hard not to smile at that image. It helps us to visualize man’s best friend as a healer with paws and fur.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 16, 2016


Therapy that’s music to our ears

Haven’t we all had the experience of listening to music and suddenly sensing a change in our mood? I’m sure all of us can recall feeling a flood of emotions when hearing a song associated with a joyful, exciting, or even sorrowful time in our life.

When you think about it, we have all been engaging in a form of therapy in our lives — music therapy — in a variety of ways. We listen to music in our cars, during commutes to work, at the doctor’s office, in waiting rooms, while shopping in stores, performing household chores, and more. Personally, I could never keep up with the mandate for daily exercise if I didn’t have music to accompany me on the treadmill. And music is at the core of the increasingly popular Jazzercise and Zumba exercise programs.

According to WebMD, music therapy is the use of music to gain physical and emotional healing and wellness. This can involve listening to music, music-making, or both. Some of the health benefits associated with music therapy are:

• Reducing stress
• Easing anxiety
• Decreasing depression
• Promoting relaxation
• Increasing concentration
• Boosting immune system
• Decreasing blood pressure
• Elevating mood
• Alleviating pain
• Helping express feeling

There are numerous studies detailing the effect of music on children with autism spectrum disorders, on infant development, management of the pain associated with childbirth, cancer, burn treatment, physical rehab, to reduce discomfort during dialysis, and to promote sleep.

In older adults with Alzheimer's, dementia, and other mental disorders, research suggests that music therapy can reduce aggressive or agitated behavior, reduce symptoms of dementia, improve mood, and improve cooperation with daily tasks, such as bathing.

As always, check with your health care provider before adding or substituting a complementary or alternative therapy like music therapy to your conventional treatment regimen.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 09, 2016


From one nurse to another

There are almost 3 million nurses practicing in the United States today, so chances are you or someone in your family has chosen this profession. Most nurses would agree that it is a privilege to travel with patients on their healthcare journeys. I asked a few of my nurse friends and colleagues to share some of the things they have learned in their nursing career.

Jessica Vanase, Backus Breast Care Navigator Nurse said, “People trust nurses. A lot. The trust that patients put in your hands is an enormous responsibility, and you have to be on your game every day you work.” She also said, “The best thing I can do is teach a patient how to advocate for themselves, find legitimate information, and take charge of their own health conditions.”

Lisa Bazinet, Eastern Region Manager of Cancer Care Services, said, “Being a nurse is really, really hard work. It’s not like an episode of ER or Grey’s Anatomy. You often see the nurses in these shows on break or in the cafeteria. That is the Hollywood version of nursing. Nurses are never in the cafeteria sipping coffee or on break. It never happens.”

Another important point Lisa wanted to make is, “It’s OK to cry if your patient dies. Many of us were taught not to get too close to your patient — ‘it’s unprofessional — keep your distance.’ I feel differently. Having that emotional connection with that patient and their family makes their loved one feel special and cared for- not merely a diagnosis or a room number. Making these special connections is why I became a nurse in the first place. There’s nothing more rewarding than making that difference in the lives of people in need!”

Liz Fracchia, an APRN at Backus Hospital told me, “Kindness always matters; whether it’s appreciated or not doesn’t matter.” Her advice for new nurses is, “Always do the right thing for your patients, for your family, and for yourself. If you follow this rule you will never regret it.”

All of the nurses I surveyed felt that injecting humor into healthcare encounters can be positive and promote healing. “Laughter is the best medicine” seems to be a common theme. Lori Surber, Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator at Windham Hospital shared some very humorous insights. She said, “I have become the best co-pilot for road trips since nurses are known to be able to go without using the restroom for an entire 12 hour shift.”

Amy Dunion, Director of the Center for Healthcare Integration (CHI) agrees: “Humor goes a long way, but love goes all the way.” Always the optimist, Amy also adds, “You never know when something miraculous is going to happen.”

Nurses have many roles, all with varying challenges that we must meet on a daily basis. But providing comprehensive quality healthcare requires enormous team effort; from patients, doctors, nurses, medical assistants, dietitians, aides, respiratory and physical therapists, lab and x-ray techs, pharmacists, and many more. A smart nurse values and acknowledges the importance of every other member of the team.

Most of us love being a nurse and couldn’t imagine being anything else. National Nurses Week is May 6-12 this year, a time to pause and celebrate the nurses in your life. I am proud to a part of the nursing profession and concur with Nurse Amy Dunion as she declares, “We’re all in this together.”

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 02, 2016


Use your head for bicycle safety

Let’s face it —there are few things more fun for children than riding a bicycle. It offers freedom, fun and fresh air exercise. Since we all want to keep kids as safe as possible, here are some basic safety tips we should all be aware of:

• Always wear a properly fitting helmet.
Ride on the right side of the road in the same direction as traffic. Go with the flow, not against it.
• Always ride with both hands on the handlebars. Carry books and other items in a bicycle carrier or backpack, not in your arms.
Avoid riding at night. It makes sense that it’s more dangerous riding at night because of the inability to be seen by others. Wear clothes that reflect light and are easily seen in daytime, dusk, dawn, nighttime, or foul weather.
Observe rules of the road. Don’t ride into a street without stopping, swerve into traffic that is coming from behind, or run stop signs.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, more children ages 5 to 14 are seen in emergency rooms for injuries related to biking than any other sport. Helmets can reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88 percent — yet only 45 percent of children 14 and under usually wear a bike helmet. On their website, they have a simple saying: "Use your head, wear a helmet." It is the single most effective safety device available to reduce head injury and death from bicycle crashes.

Actually, it’s not just children; everyone, regardless of age or cycling experience, needs to wear a helmet every time we ride.

I asked my friend and colleague Renee Malaro, RN, Backus Hospital’s Trauma Program Manager to shed some light on the issue of bike safety. I was hoping she would be able to say she has not encountered many bicycle-related injuries in the ER, but sadly that’s not the case.

Renee says that according KidsHealth roughly 300,000 kids go to the emergency department every year due to bike related injuries and this area is certainly not immune to this statistic. There are accidents and there are predictable events, and unfortunately it is easy to predict that every year we will receive patients with bicycle related injuries, she says. Of these injuries the most severe cases often include head injuries that may cause significant brain injury resulting in a need for hospitalization, life altering changes of daily routine or even worse death.

“What cannot be predicted is whether while riding a bicycle control will be lost due to going downhill, hitting an object on the road, sidewalk or path that is being ridden, or if that vehicle may not be able to stop in time if they happen to see you coming into the road. I urge every parent to ensure your children know the safety tips for riding safely and model the behavior that may save your life as well. I cannot agree more and think it is worth repeating that helmet use is the single most effective way to reduce bicycle-related fatalities as Safe Kids Worldwide suggests,” Renee says.

Renee is coordinating the 12th annual Backus Safety Camp on Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Backus Hospital parking lot. Representatives from the police, fire, ambulance, health departments and more will be on hand to talk about safety in a fun and interactive event. Kids will be fitted for free bicycle helmets while supplies last. All are welcome.

I recently saw a big gentleman sporting a T-shirt with a great slogan, also appropriate for the Safety Camp: “All bikers big and small, biking safety is for all.”

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, April 25, 2016


The hard truth about energy drinks

I won’t be winning any popularity contests with this topic, but let’s go ahead and talk about energy drinks.

It’s hard to believe how popular they are – you can find them at the checkout counter of every convenience store, grocery store, gas station, and of course, on the internet.

Energy drinks are beverages that contain large doses of caffeine and/or non-caffeine stimulants. They are used to increase energy, enhance mood, and delay sleep.

They are definitely not harmless, as many people seem to believe. Here is an example. I was conducting a free blood pressure screening at a community fair and a young 33-year-old man asked me to check his blood pressure. The result was the highest of the day: 165/104. When I asked him if he had any history of hypertension or heart disease, he denied any knowledge of it.

Upon further probing, he admitted he had just finished a 5-hour energy drink, something he did at least once daily. When I explained how unhealthy energy drinks were, his response was, “Then why do they sell them?” My reply was, “Because people will buy them. They sell cigarettes, don’t they?” Of course, there may be more health issues involved with this young man, but it was certainly an eye-opener for him.

The issue becomes even more concerning when young children are involved. Poison control data show energy drinks and young kids don’t mix. More than 40 percent of 5,156 calls about energy drinks to U.S. poison control centers involved children younger than 6, with some suffering serious cardiac and neurological symptoms, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014. That’s an alarming statistic.

Many people don’t realize stimulants in energy drinks may have other names which are less recognizable than caffeine. Look for these ingredients on the label:

Caffeine stimulants:
• Methylxanthines
• Theine
• Mateine
• Guaranine/Guarana
• Methyltheobromine
• Methyltheophylline

Non-caffeine stimlulants:
• Ginseng
• Ma-huang
• Ephedra
• Other ephedra-like substances

Symptoms of caffeine poisoning may include: nausea, vomiting, nervousness, tremor, insomnia, restlessness, delirium, sweating, headache, seizures, and increased heart rhythm. Seek medical attention for these symptoms. The Poison Control Center hotline number is 1-800-222-1222.

Alternatives to energy drinks include fruit juices, decaffeinated green tea, and low-fat milk. But hands down, the healthiest choice for a beverage is water. No calories, no preservatives, no fat, no sugar, and especially no caffeine. For those who dislike the taste of water, I suggest squeezing a few drops of lemon or lime juice to make it more palatable.

Bring a reusable water bottle wherever you go and avoid energy drinks...and be kind to your heart.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, April 18, 2016


Personal safety should be everyone's goal

Since our daughter and her family moved to the San Francisco area years ago, we have traveled to that fascinating city many times to visit them. They love the city life and are very savvy when it comes to negotiating public transportation like Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) or the maze of city streets.

I am not so savvy. Several times my daughter cautioned me not to gaze up at the skyscrapers looking like a distracted wanderer. She reminded me there are personal safety ideas that everyone should be aware of, not just city dwellers or visitors.

When I returned home I decided to ask for some basic personal safety tips from Dave Guiher, the Hartford HealthCare East Region Public Safety Manager. His advice:

• Be mindful of your surroundings.
• Stay in well-lighted areas.
• Walk confidently, projecting an assertive, purposeful image.
• Keep your purse close to your body, and hold it tight. If it has a long strap it's even better to place it diagonally across your body, with the purse under your arm. Close all zippers and clasps.
• Keep your cell phone handy in your pocket, but don't walk around using it.
• Avoid walking alone at night, and walk or travel with a friend during the day, if possible.
• If you are ever confronted by a person who you fear will attack you, run away, yell for help, scream, “Get away from me!” — do whatever you can to attract attention. If the person is after your purse or other material items, throw them one way while you run the other.

Be careful and mindful of these tips all the time and it will soon become second nature. Then you can relax and enjoy all of the unique experiences community life has to offer, whether in an urban, suburban, or country setting.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, April 11, 2016


Local child leaves legacy of love

A wise physician once said, “The best medicine for humans is love.” Someone asked, “What if it doesn’t work?” He just smiled and said, “Increase the dose.” That’s a wonderful sentiment, and good words to live by, but we all know that sometimes love is just not enough —medically speaking.

Many of us are well aware of Maddie Guarraia, a brave and courageous 9-year old girl who battled cancer for five years, and died on Wednesday morning. She was an inspiration to thousands of people who never met her. Her mother Amie’s Facebook page, “Mad About Madeline,” garnered more than 25,000 followers. Her mother chronicled her journey as she fought leukemia like a warrior. Her mother frequently posted pictures, always of a smiling Maddie, surrounded by her beloved family and friends. She had an infectious smile that was like a mega-dose of anti-depressant.

Maddie brought the community together in an outpouring of support that most of us have never seen before. I never had the opportunity to meet Maddie, but like so many others, I felt that she touched my life by witnessing her bravery and courage. Maddie was fighting for her life, but was always thinking of others with a kind and generous spirit. For example, Maddie’s wish was that people would collect toys to donate to children battling illnesses at Yale-New Haven Hospital. More than 70 organizations and businesses from Niantic to Rhode Island participated in “Madeline’s Wish Toy Drive.” That was quite a feat, considering the current economic climate.

She was the motivation to conduct several bone marrow drives in the community to combat childhood cancers. The Waterford Police Department made her an honorary police officer, Badge #8, and the whole department truly loved and supported this young girl.

Her mother made a request on Facebook to share how Madeline has impacted your life. The response was overwhelming. Almost 1,000 people responded with stories of how witnessing Maddie’s brave struggle provided the impetus to withstand a difficulty in their own life. Strangers declared their love and devotion to this courageous girl —and that was just the impact documented through Facebook. Who knows how widespread beyond social media boundaries her positive influence really was?

She gave her love freely and made a profound and lasting impact to so many. People said she made them “smile more, complain less.” Nine-year old Maddie made more of an impact on the emotional health of thousands than I have made in 40 years of nursing. Come to think of it, maybe that wise physician was right after all — a good dose of love from a 9-year old girl might be the best medicine for us all.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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