West Nile FAQ

Posted by on Oct 20, 2013 | 0 comments

If you missed it, I appeared on a recent episode of Animal Planet’s Monsters Inside Me.  I’ve had a bunch of questions from friends about the episode and my experience, so I’m posting some answers here.  (Plus, it’s a great venue for my philosophizing about my illness.)  I’ll continue to update this page if more questions roll in.

 

The Monsters Inside Me Episode

How can I watch it?

I am in Season 4, Episode 2: “There’s a Worm in My Eye.”  If you have Animal Planet, check here for the schedule.  We’ve discovered that this schedule changes a lot.  If you prefer to watch online, you can stream or download the episode from Amazon (affiliate link).

 

When did you film it?/What was filming like?

April 2013.  They flew me up to Lubbock and we spent a full day doing interviews – 4 hours of my mom, 3 hours with me, and 1 hour or so with Dr. Hannel.  They closed all the windows in my parents’ living room to give it that “mysterious” feel.  My dad and I did some acting, but it didn’t make the final show.  It was a neat experience (Animal Planet!), but it was kind of depressing recalling just how bad my illness was.

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UTI – Bacteria Invasion

Posted by on Sep 15, 2013 | 0 comments

I’ve somehow made it through 5 stories without talking about one of the most famous pathological agents… bacteria.  It’s time.

Bacteria1 are incredibly different from us.  We are more closely related to dinosaurs, roses, mushrooms, and even slime molds than we are to bacteria!

A greatly pruned version of the tree of life - bacteria branch off from most other forms of life very early.

A greatly pruned version of the tree of life. Bacteria branch off from most other forms of life very early.

There are plenty of good bacteria – they make yogurt or break down our trash– but the most famous are the bad ones.  They have names like E. coli, Staph, and Strep, and we don’t particularly enjoy their presence.  Generally, when bacteria invade, the invaded part gets warm, swollen, and tender (though there are many exceptions).  Let’s learn more by looking at one particular kind of invasion: a urinary tract infection (UTI).

  1. Bacteria is plural, bacterium is singular (because it’s a Latin neuter noun).  Now you can sound like a nerd. []
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Fracture – Rebuilding Bone

Posted by on Aug 18, 2013 | 1 comment

In honor of my dear mother, today we’re looking at repair of a broken bone.  Get well soon, Mama!  Hang in there, Daddy!

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor – just a bioengineer who happens to find pathophysiology fascinating.  If you find an error, please let me know!  Also, NONE of my drawings are to scale.

Today we turn to a common ailment: broken bones.  Because, as I learned, reading about how bones get fractured freaks me out1, we’ll jump in right after Jill has broken her arm.  Sorry we weren’t there to stop it, Jill.

 

Sorry, Jill.

Sorry, Jill.

Jill's broken elbow.

Jill’s broken elbow.

 

Steps to repairing this bone:

  1. as does any trauma to the eye.  I’m too empathetic!  If you want to see a post about injured eyes on Pathology Storybook, you’ll need to write it yourself. []
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Sickle Cell and Malaria – A Double-Edged Sword

Posted by on Jul 29, 2013 | 4 comments

And now for the exciting conclusion to these two posts.  

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor – just a bioengineer who happens to find pathophysiology fascinating.  If you find an error, please let me know!  Also, NONE of my drawings are to scale.

In this post, we looked at how one tiny change in a person’s DNA caused her to suffer from sickle cell anemia.  We learned that, untreated, about 50% of children with sickle cell anemia die before their fifth birthday.  If you understand natural selection, you’ll recognize this as a puzzle: if sickle cell anemia is so deadly, why are there so many people still affected by it?  Let me explain the puzzle a little further.

For almost all traits, a person has two copies of instructions: one from her father and one from her mother.  Sickle cell disease is autosomal recessive – which just means that both parents must pass on the sickle cell trait for the child to be sick.  People who only received the trait from one parent aren’t sick, but can pass the disease on to their children.

In this case, Mom and Dad are both carriers of a genetic disease.  Statistically, 1/4 of their children will be completely healthy, 1/2 of their children will be healthy carriers of the disease, and 1/4 of their children will be sick.

In this case, Mom and Dad are both carriers of a genetic disease. Statistically, 1/4 of their children will be completely healthy, 1/2 of their children will be healthy carriers of the disease, and 1/4 of their children will be sick.

In most cases where an autosomal recessive trait is deadly early in childhood, the disease dies out.  A child affected by the disease won’t live to have children of his own, and thus won’t pass down the bad information.  With no one to pass it on, the disease stops.

But, sickle cell disease hasn’t followed that pattern. 

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Malaria – An Ancient Struggle

Posted by on May 13, 2013 | 0 comments

Before we discuss why sickle cell anemia has persisted for so long, let’s take a detour to learn about once of the most ancient human diseases: malaria.  

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor – just a bioengineer who happens to find pathophysiology fascinating.  If you find an error, please let me know!  Also, NONE of my drawings are to scale.

Malaria: scourge of the human race since time immemorial.  The disease is mentioned by the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Sumerians as far back as 2700 BC.  Some Biblical scholars even believe that Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering from malaria before Jesus healed her.

Unlike the ancient scholars who attributed malaria to the “bad air” (mala aria) of the swamps, we now know that malaria is spread by mosquitoes (who, as it so happens, absolutely love swamps.  You were close, ancient scholars).  But what happens after that terrible bite?  How does malaria make you sick?

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