Kara Leigh Lofton

Appalachia Health News Coordinator

Kara Leigh Lofton is the Appalachia Health News Coordinator at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In 2016, Kara filed 140 reports aimed at healthcare consumers in West Virginia and adjacent regions, with topics ranging from health insurance policies to midwife-assisted home births. Kara’s stories were about evenly divided between her radio reports and short pieces she wrote for internet readers. Eight stories reached a national audience through NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition,” including several pertaining to the impact of record-breaking flooding in West Virginia and the threatened loss of health benefits for former miners. Kara’s radio stories are often illustrated by her own photographs, posted on WVPB’s website.

Previously Kara was a freelance reporter for WMRA, an affiliate of NPR serving the Shenandoah Valley and Charlottesville in Virginia. One of her nationally broadcast reports, “Trauma Workers Find Solace in a Pause That Honors Life After a Death,” garnered a first place award for a feature story from the Virginia Association of Broadcasters.

Kara’s work has been published by Kaiser Health News, Medscape.com, The Hill (the news outlet and blog serving Congress), Side Effects Public Media, Virginia Living, and Blue Ridge Outdoors among other outlets. She has also written and photographed for Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree.

Prior to and during her university years, Kara had stints living internationally, spending months in Morocco, Spain, Turkey, and England, with shorter visits to Zambia, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and a half-dozen countries in western and central Europe. In the fall of 2015, she toured Guatemala (using her conversational Spanish), where she reported on its woefully underfunded health system. In her spare time, Kara enjoys hiking with her nurse-husband and their three friendly dogs, practicing yoga, and reading.

Ways to Connect

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A new study finds that medications used to treat opioid use disorder are greatly underutilized even though they’re proven to significantly reduce chances of opioid-related deaths. 

 

Kara Lofton

About ten years ago, the National Park Service noticed that fewer kids and families were using the parks. And they wanted to change that.

So in 2009, they partnered with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation to launch an initiative to help families unplug, get outside, and connect with their local natural resources. The initiative, called Kids in the Park, soon expanded to encompass pediatricians like Erin Regan who are trying to combat childhood obesity, diabetes and excess screen time by writing “scripts” for kids to go outside.

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A little over a decade ago, a psychologist named Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder,” meaning that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, to the detriment of their mental and physical health. It’s not an officially recognized medical disorder. But health professionals from various fields are embracing the idea that America’s shift toward sedentary, indoor lifestyles is harming our health.  

 

 

WVU

Kandi Messinger is a health educator for WVU Cabell County Extension Service. She teaches a nutrition and cooking basics class for those going through the Cabell County drug courts program. Kara Lofton spoke with Messinger about why alternative education and life skills training is an important piece of recovery. 

LOFTON: Why is it important to teach people in recovery nutrition and cooking skills?

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A United Nations special report said that the United States’ principal strategy for dealing with extreme poverty is to criminalize and stigmatize those who need assistance.


Brittany Patterson / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

UPDATE 6/1/18:

After this story was published, resident Annetta Coffman sent West Virginia Public Broadcasting a list including an additional 89 names of people in Minden who have had cancer or died of cancer. West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported earlier that according to an unofficial list compiled by community members, about 152 people have had cancer or died of cancer in this community of 250 residents.


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A new study has found that strong statewide firearm laws is associated with lower firearm suicide rates as well as a lower overall suicide rate in the state.

The study was published earlier this month in the online Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers analyzed data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, nuts and fish may help older adults prevent age-related brain shrinkage. 

The study, published this month in the online medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggests that diet can impact brain volume – and people with greater volume have been shown to have better cognitive abilities.

Brain shrinkage is an unavoidable part of aging. But significant brain shrinkage is associated with memory loss and loss of mental sharpness as well as premature death.

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Hey Appalachia lovers. We are starting a new summer series all about getting outside, enjoying wild wonderful recreational activities, and staying safe while having fun. We need your help! Please send us your hidden gems, outdoor favorites and organizations that are doing awesome things to help people enjoy the great outdoors. This series is not just about being outside in West Virginia. Please send us your eastern Kentucky, southeast Ohio, southern Pennsylvania and southwestern Virginia spots too.

These could be favorite spots for:

1. biking

Photo Courtesy of Nancy Abrams

Nancy Abrams is the author of a new memoir The climb from Salt Lick published by WVU press. The book is about her experience as a young photojournalist from the Midwest moving to Preston County to live and work. Abrams documents how she came to love West Virginia and the people who live here. Kara Lofton spoke with Abrams about the new book and what it means to write honestly about one's own life. 

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A new study from the National Institues of Health has found that gestational diabetes may put women at a higher risk of developing early-stage kidney disease. 

 

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The Beckley VA Medical Center is opening a new Whole Health Wellness Center Wednesday as part of its 12th annual Health Fair. The new facility is centered on a more holistic approach to health care representing a “fundamental re-envisioning and redesign in the philosophy and practice of healthcare delivery for our Veterans,” according to a press release.

The Wellness Center will offer health-focused classes and alternative approaches to healthy living including space for yoga, tai-chi, meditation, several other innovative therapies.

An annual report from the United Health Foundation found that West Virginia’s seniors are some of the most unhealthy older adults in the country. 

The report looked at the intersection of behaviors, community & environment, policy and clinical care to determine health outcomes.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Depression and anxiety both during pregnancy and afterwards are common, affecting 4 to 17 percent of all mothers, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“I have struggled with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember, even as a child I struggled with that sort of thing,” said Jennifer Petrosky, a therapist who has two young children. “And what I have learned about maternal health as a therapist and just being a mom is it’s just not discussed until after the baby is born.”

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This legislative session, thousands of teachers and other school employees walked off the job and onto the grounds of the state capital to rally for better pay and benefits. Many have wondered how the nine-school-day strike might impact the coming elections.

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get some pretty different answers.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with the teacher’s strike at all,” said WV GOP chairwoman Melody Potter.

Democratic chairwoman, Belinda Biafore, had a different take.

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The Commonwealth Fund released their State Health System Performance scorecard today, finding that West Virginia was fifth most improved on health performance, but still ranks as one of the least healthy states in the country.

West Virginia improved on markers such as the number of uninsured children and adults, adults smoking and the number of people dying from colorectal cancer, but worsened in the number of obese adults, deaths from suicide, alcohol and drug use and adults with mental illness who did not receive treatment.

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Senator Joe Manchin’s office released a report today that found in 2016, the economic cost of the opioid epidemic in West Virginia was more than 8.7 billion dollars.

Nationwide, the economic cost of the opioid crisis is more than 500 billion, according to a 2017 report from the Council for Economic Advisors.  The brief from Manchin’s office relied heavily on the CEA report to draw conclusions about the financial impact on West Virginia.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A new study finds that the epidemic of drug overdose deaths in the United States has led to an increase in organ donors. Despite previous stigma attached to using organs from overdose donors, the study indicates that outcomes from these transplants are highly successful. This news is hopeful for patients like Vicky Keene who desperately needs a lung transplant.


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In a policy brief, a progressive policy research organization said a sugar-sweetened beverage tax or “soda tax” would reduce consumption – potentially impacting West Virginia’s obesity rates – and bring new revenue to the state.

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found West Virginians consumed sugar-sweetened beverages at the third highest rate in the nation.

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy said that a tax of just a penny per ounce could raise around 98 million dollars and prevent more than 17,000 cases of obesity.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This week, West Virginia University Student Health hosted a "Puppy Pilates" class aimed at de-stressing students before finals.


Kids in Charleston play soccer at the 25th annual Healthy Kids Day while volunteers from the WV State football team supervise on Saturday, April 21, 2018.
Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

At the YMCA in Charleston, friends Jaidyn, Ceaira, Shayla and Tyra have just gotten down from the mobile rock wall. They’re all 12 and are a little giggly about being back down on the ground.

“My favorite part of today was climbing that rock wall because -- that was scary,” Tyra said.

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A new study has found cigarette smoking and other environmental pollutants may increase the likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis, as well as cause the disease to be more severe in those who do get it.

Scientists have known for decades that people with a particular gene have an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis. More recent studies have found that smoking further increases the likelihood that people with that gene will get rheumatoid arthritis and that it will be more severe.

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The National Institute for Early Education Research released its annual State of Preschool report today.

The report found that more young children in the United States are enrolled in public pre-K programs than were in 2002, but that not all of those programs are preparing young learners for kindergarten.

West Virginia, though, is one of 10 states that the report said has both expanded access to pre-K while maintaining high quality standards. West Virginia is also one of 10 states with the highest number of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool.

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The Journal of the American Medical Association published a 26-year study on the burden of diseases and injuries in the U.S. The report found that West Virginia has the lowest healthy life expectancy years of any state in the union. West Virginia’s rate is almost 18 years lower than the healthiest life expectancy state - Hawaii. The greatest disease burden was caused by heart disease and lung cancer.

The main risk factors associated with U.S. morbidity and mortality are poor diet, smoking, high blood pressure and obesity.

Erika Kapin Photography

Doctor Pamela Murray is is the chief of adolescent medicine at West Virginia University. In the next installment of our occasional series "Windows into Health Care," Kara Lofton talks with Murray about the role adolescent specialists play in West Virginia, and how treating the child most effectively, sometimes means getting the whole family on board.

LOFTON: When we think about medicine, we usually think about pediatrics and then we think about adult medicine. I mean, what is young adult and adolescent medicine and kind of, how does those differ from those other two ends?

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A new study found that major adverse life events, called fateful life events by the research community, such as divorce, conflict, death in the family or financial hardship can measurably accelerate aging in the brain in middle aged men. Just one fateful event could cause the brain to appear a third of year older than their chronological age, based on an MRI.

The researchers studied almost 360, primarily white men ages 57 to 66.

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A new study has found that childhood weight gain may have a negative impact on liver health in children as young as eight.

The study found that bigger waist circumference at age 3, raises the likelihood that by age 8, children will have markers for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat accumulates in the liver and triggers inflammation, causing liver damage. It’s the most common chronic liver condition in children and adolescents.

Kara Lofton

One West Virginia city is trying a new approach to persuade more overdose patients to seek treatment. The idea is simple: Within 24 to 72 hours of an overdose, a "quick response team" fans out into the community and tries to meet with the patient to discuss treatment options. A handful of similar programs exist around the country, but West Virginia's first team launched in December in Huntington with the help of two federal grants. Health officials said it already has been remarkably successful.

 


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Yesterday, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced 48 Child Protective Services positions will be added across the state.

In a press release, the DHHR said the positions will primarily serve counties with extremely high caseloads.

Kara Lofton

During the teacher strike a couple weeks ago, West Virginia educators were asking for two main things: a pay raise and for legislators to “fix PEIA.” While the prorgam’s finance board ultimately agreed to freeze proposed changes to the plan that would have increased costs, truly fixing PEIA on the long term might not be that simple.

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