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Op-ed, blogs and columns

Our Sports Fanatic on the death of Monday Night Football

By Tommy Gartrell

Sports editorial writer

            A dear friend of mine is very ill and his passion and luster disappeared over the past few years. I fear his demise is eminent. This great and once loved friend took his first breath on Monday, Sept. 21, 1970 – eight days after my birth. My friend is called Monday Night Football, but I simply do not recognize him anymore.

            Seemingly, MNF stands at the pentacle of success by reaching an average of 12 million viewers weekly, but the show’s success is merely a by product of the league’s overwhelming popularity because professional football displaced baseball as America’s favorite game some years ago. The show itself is only a frail and barely breathing core of the icon once revered by fans everywhere.

            William Shakespeare said, “Sweets grown common lose their delight.”

            MNF is not even a sweet anymore and certainly not a delight. I recall declining meals or bathroom breaks to watch every second of each Monday night broadcast. I passed on dinner dates, movies, concerts, family functions and even coed study sessions because of this once magnificent delight. Now, MNF is like a succulent delicious apple which has impossibly grown under-ripe and become hard and sour. Once upon a time, changing the channel during the Monday night football game would result is fist fight, but I gladly switch to reruns of River Monsters or a 15 year old cable movie today.

Hope. Energy. Life -- Mitochondrial Disease and a Pickens Woman's Battle


By Ceciley Bierman

I know this is a tad late, but I hope you'll consider sharing it regardless.  It regards Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week and the very inspirational story of my best friend, Meaghan McConnell, as she fights this disease.

My hope is that maybe those who are affected by this disease(or any other disease for that matter) gain hope from this story.  And even if readers aren't affected by a disease, they'll be inspired to fight tooth and nail for what really matters to them.

An article about her was published in the Pickens Progress in November 2008, “Meaghan McConnell still Making Plans Despite Incurable Disease.”

Above, They said over and over that she'd only live another 6 months max,  Meaghan McConnell, left, with best friend and the writer of this story, Ceciley Bierman.

North Ga. Environmental Health Director discusses swimming pool safety

Story and Cartoon By Raymond King - Director of Environmental Health for the N. Ga. Health District

Recently an 8-year-old girl swimming in a Doraville apartment complex pool had her arm trapped in a vacuum drain.  Her brother kept her afloat in the water, while her mother called 911. Crews worked for about three hours -- first, lowering the water level in the pool, then chipping away at the concrete pool siding.                                     

The girl was taken to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston to have the pipe removed from her arm. The girl is expected to make a full recovery but many children die needlessly each year in private and public pools because simple safety equipment and health precautions are not taken.

You may be surprised to learn that the swimming pool serving your residential development or apartment complex is not inspected by any authority for health and safety.

There are statewide health and safety regulations for most public pools, but the rules do not include subdivision or apartment pools.  In our area of north Georgia, only the Cherokee County Board of Health has adopted rules covering private subdivision and apartment pools. There may be a contract with a private company to insure properly disinfected water but that may be the limit of the company's responsibility. The recycling rate through the filter and disinfection unit may be inadequate because the pool is of a design for private homes, not public use.

Transmission of diseases is easy in swimming pools if filtration and disinfection rates are inadequate. For example, a child in ordinary diapers may swim and transmit viruses or bacteria throughout the pool.

In June of 1998, Georgia health officials were notified that a number of children had become ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections and were hospitalized in Atlanta-area hospitals.  Public health investigators interviewed victims’ families and learned that all had become ill after visiting in a public swimming park.  Twenty-six culture-confirmed E. coli 0157:H7 cases were identified, and while health officials hypothesized that the outbreak was considerably larger, the outbreak size was never known due to under-reporting of illnesses.                         

Forty percent of children under five years of age were diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome (kidney damage) and a number were hospitalized. Low chlorine levels in the suspect pools were detected on all days of exposure, and it was never determined whether one of the pools had chlorine in it at the time when the exposures occurred.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself before letting your family swim in your neighborhood pool:

• Is the water always clear and properly disinfected?

• Are chlorine and pH levels checked at least twice a day and more often during very sunny  weather and heavy use? Sunlight and heavy bather loads can degrade chlorine levels quickly. Appearance of algae anywhere in the pool is an indicator that chlorine levels are not being maintained.

- Are NO DIVING signs posted in the shallow end of the pool? (some pools are too shallow for any diving at all.)

• Do drain covers and vacuum systems comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Act? This is extremely important - see below.

• Are disinfectants such as chlorine kept in a locked room?

• Is there a phone at the pool for calling 911 in case of an emergency?

• Do you see any electrical hazards such as exposed wiring?

• Are decks and equipment surrounding the pool in good repair?

• Are there depth markers four inches high painted on the deck and on the pool wall?

• Is there life-saving equipment such as a 12' pole with a body hook and a throwing rope with attached ring buoy?

• Are the restrooms and dressing areas kept clean, disinfected, and supplied with soap and paper towels?

• Are safety warnings and pool rules clearly posted on a large sign (e.g., NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY, no children without an adult present, requirements for swim diapers, etc.)

• If there is a water slide, is a lifeguard or responsible attendant on duty at all times?  Is the design of the slide dangerous?

• Is the pool enclosed in a fence?  Is there a self-closing gate with a latch at least four feet high to prevent entrance by smaller children?

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act  takes its name from Virginia Graeme Baker, a young girl who drowned after she was trapped under water by the powerful suction from a hot tub drain. Efforts by her mother to pull Graeme from the drain proved unsuccessful. Two men who eventually freed Graeme from the spa pulled so hard that the drain cover broke from the force. Graeme died from drowning, but the real cause of her death was suction entrapment due to a faulty drain cover.

She was the daughter of Nancy and James Baker IV, the son of former Secretary of State James Baker III. A member of her community swim and diving team, Graeme was able to swim without assistance since she was 3 years old.

After her tragic death, her mother, Nancy Baker, worked tirelessly to advocate for pool and spa safety. Mrs. Baker, her family and Safe Kids Worldwide actively lobbied Congress to win support for a law to require anti-entrapment drain covers and other safety devices, as needed.                         The statute sponsored was signed into law by the President in December 2007.  To carry out the requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, a national public education campaign was launched to raise public awareness about drowning and entrapment prevention, support industry compliance with the Act’s requirements, and improve safety at the nation’s pools and spas.

If you have a pool at home, find out if all of your drains and vacuum lines comply with this Act.  Children have been drowned and even eviscerated by pool drains and vacuum lines.  Unfortunately the Graeme Act does not require compliance from private pools and spas.

There are chemical as well as physical dangers in all pools. I recall inspecting a Boy Scout camp where gas chlorine was used to disinfect a very old swimming pool. A chlorine gas leak killed every tree, piece of grass and all other living things within 200 feet of the pool.

Fortunately no one was at the camp at the time. Chlorine is a strong oxidizer. It must be handled and stored safely in any form (solid, liquid, gas).

Gas chlorine is so dangerous that it is normally not used as a swimming pool disinfectant any longer.


Local Vet Advises: Be careful when following advice from Dr. Google

By Dr. Lyn Lewis

Wayside Animal Hospital in Jasper

We now live in an, “I want it now” age. We get our news online, we shop online, a lot of you even read this newspaper online. I went to an interesting seminar about the new power of the Internet about 2 weeks ago.  It really opened my eyes as to the power of the Internet now.

Did you know that 80 percent of people with a sick pet consult the Internet first? This is not even the scary part; most of these people try remedies from online first without consulting a veterinarian. These facts have really affected both me and a few of my patients this week.

The first case I had was a client who put down rat poison in his home, his dog ate a brick and he went on Google to see what to do. It told him to make his pet vomit with peroxide and if he did that in the first 15 minutes the pet should be fine.

When the owner brought the dog in 3 days later he was bleeding profusely from the rat poison, he died before we could even get a transfusion set ready.

The second incident was a client who I was talking to about using heartworm prevention.  She said that she was buying it online, at a site where she did not need a prescription at a really low price. I was very concerned and asked her to bring it in because I would love to see the product she was using. She came back the next day with a box of Heartgard, but the box felt too thin, the internal package was also wrong. We called the company and found that it was counterfeit. Pretty scary, because who knows what was in that product. We tested her dog and it was positive for heartworms. We will begin the long treatment process soon.

The final case involved a small wound on the leg of a small dog. The owner looked up some things online and thought it was a common wound. She had some of her own antibiotics at home and treated that way based on the advice off of some breeder’s Web site. When I saw the wound it had a lot of necrotic tissue and the wound was about the size of a silver dollar.  What the owner thought was a common wound actually ended up being a spider bite. With a change in antibiotics and aggressive surgery to remove the damaged tissue, the puppy should make a full recovery.

The Internet is a powerful tool, it is changing our world. It is putting information at our fingertips. Some of these changes are for the good, and some not so good. The real problem with the Internet is that it is full of OPINIONS, not facts. If you looked hard enough you would find credible facts that Elvis is still alive and sharing a townhouse with Tupac Shakur.

There is no major Web site that gives credible information for veterinary care yet. Instead, people find sites that give biased opinions, blogs from people with no training and some personal Web sites that are just flat out wrong.  On the human side a great Web site emerged as the voice of many doctors,  This Web site gave good peer reviewed information that helped people understand diseases and pointed them to healthcare professionals who could help.

We are yet to find such a well-known voice online for our pets, but hopefully soon we will, a new Web site called I think this site goes live sometime next month and will give good peer reviewed information to anyone who does a search for a multitude of ailments. So remember, I don’t mind anyone trying to become more educated on a subject but don’t try to treat on your own. I fully understand how bad our local economies are and at home solutions are a cheap way of dealing with things. But look at the three cases we went over, I guarantee we could have done better for our patients. Remember, we are here to serve our clients and their pets. There are many ways of dealing with problems. Always ask your vet for an estimate, they will be happy to provide one. If the cost is too high, tell them. There are always many ways to treat a pet; some can be very cost effective as long as you are willing to do more work at home. So feel free to use the Internet, it is a great tool to educate yourself. Please, just don’t put any treatments into effect before consulting your veterinarian.


Heatstroke in Pets -- local vet offers advice


By Dr. Lyn Lewis

Wayside Animal Clinic, Jasper

Over the last few weeks we had our first few days of really hot weather and, of course, I saw my first heat stroke victim this season. This was a 12-year- old dog that routinely goes hiking with the owner. Within a half hour of starting the trail, the dog collapsed and could not walk. Heat stroke can occur when our pet’s temperature reaches above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the body’s immune system begins to go haywire and their organs and blood begin to malfunction. Death can quickly occur without lowering their temperature and dealing with any other problems that can arise.

Typically I see animals with heat stroke from two common scenarios. One, the animals were left in the car, even with the windows cracked. Secondly, animals that are kept outside without adequate shade or water. Both of these situations are very common. Some other risk factors include brachycephalic breeds; these are dogs that have short noses such as bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers. Dogs that are very young (under 6 months) and dogs that are seniors (over 7 years) are also much more likely to develop heat stroke. Finally, dogs that are overweight or have a history of heart disease are also at high risk.