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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Joseph Reed has been a family doctor in Buckhannon, West Virginia for more than 50 years. Now in his early 80s, Reed continues to see patients a couple days a month at St. Joseph’s hospital. In our next installment of our occasional series, Windows into Health Care, health reporter Kara Lofton talks to Reed about his career and how he’s seen medicine change over the last half century. 

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A new study indicates that children exposed to high indoor levels of pet or pest allergens during infancy may have less risk of developing asthma.

Previous studies found that reducing exposure to things that aggravate asthma like pet dander can help control the condition. But the new study, published today in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that exposure to certain allergens before asthma is established, may help prevent kids from developing asthma at all.

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A bipartisan coalition of 37 states and territories are calling on health insurance companies to help find solutions to the nation’s opioid crisis.

West Virginia and Kentucky attorney generals Patrick Morrisey and Andy Beshear announced the coalition in press conference at Marshall University Monday afternoon.

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If you look at the data, West Virginia has enough pediatricians to cover the number of children here. What there aren’t enough of is many pediatric specialties such as pediatric allergists, neurologists or rheumatologists. And that’s forcing many families like the Laxtons to seek care out of state.

Lori Laxton met me at McDonalds in Beckley. When her daughter was four she began having trouble with her kidneys.

The closest pediatric urologist was at the University of Virginia Medical Center - 3.5 to four hours away from her home in Pineville.

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A number of studies have been published in recent years looking at the connection between sitting too much and poor health outcomes. But a new study published today found that adults who sit for one to two hours at a time without moving may have a higher mortality rate than adults who sit for the same total amount of time, but in shorter segments.

Study participants who sat more than 13 hours a day usually in bouts of 60 to 90 minutes at a time were twice as likely to die earlier than those who sat for the same amount of time, but got up and moved more frequently.

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A new study has found that sedentary older adults who add less than an hour of moderate physical activity per week can improve overall physical functioning.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 1600 men and women ages 70-89 over an average of 2.6 years. All had problems moving normally at the beginning of the study and most reported fewer than 20 minutes of physical activity a week.

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At the St. Joseph’s Hospital women’s health clinic in Buckhannon, midwife Kathy Robinson is using a doppler to look for a heartbeat during a prenatal visit. Women travel to Buckhannon for prenatal care from as far as two hours away.

 

 

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Experts and advocates gathered in Morgantown yesterday for the West Virginia University Children’s Health Policy Summit to talk about policy issues related to children’s health care.

 

 


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Millennials may be less likely to use opioids to manage chronic pain than older generations, a new nationwide survey has found.

One in five millennials who used opioids to manage pain say they regretted it.

Instead, millennials report preferring lifestyle changes to improve pain management such as exercising, eating right, quitting smoking and losing weight.

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A new study published this month in the journal Obesity has found that mothers who gained more weight during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy than deemed healthy by the Institute of Medicine were 2.5 times more likely to have babies be born large.

Large birth weight, meaning more than 8.5 pounds, is associated with a higher risk of childhood obesity.

Maternal obesity and weight gain in pregnancy have already been strongly linked to the development of overweight and obesity in children, but this is the first study to pinpoint the implications of when weight gain occurs.

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Five states, including West Virginia, have adult obesity rates above 35%, according to the 2016 State of Obesity Report. American’s waistlines have been steadily increasing since data collection began in 1990, but the problem is particularly acute in the Southeast and Midwest.

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Fifty years ago there were around 65 birth facilities in West Virginia. Now, there are only 24, which means pregnant women have to travel farther to give birth and, often, for prenatal care.

 

Take Deana Lucion, for example. Lucion was 20 weeks pregnant when the last remaining obstetrician in McDowell County retired, effectively closing Welch Community Hospital’s birthing services.

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Lung experts at Ohio State University Medical Center are testing whether nicotine can help people with a particular type of chronic inflammatory lung disease called sarcoidosis. If left untreated, sarcoidosis can cause severe lung damage and even death.

It is not completely understood why patients develop the disease, but some experts think it may happen when your immune system responds to a trigger, such as bacteria, viruses, dust, or chemicals.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Liam Rusmisel is a different kid this year. On the first day of kindergarten he walked into the classroom, head held high, according to his teachers. This is no small feat for a kid who had a bit of a rough start to last year.

 

 


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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human resources announced it will use $22 million in settlement monies received from drug distributors to combat the drug epidemic in West Virginia. 

The money came from a suit that found defendant drug companies failed to detect, report and stop the flood of suspicious prescription drug orders into the state. The defendants denied any liability, but the parties agreed to the settlement to avoid litigation.

Shayla Klein / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Twelve West Virginia counties have been granted public assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency  (FEMA) for emergency work needed after July 28 and 29 storms damaged or destroyed buildings and homes.  The severe storms caused flooding, landslides and mudslides across the northern part of the state.

Individual assistance will be made available to individuals and households in Harrison, Marion, Marshall, and Wetzel Counties.

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In part one of this occasional series, Windows Into Health Care, health reporter Kara Lofton talks with Crittenton Services CEO and President Kathy Szafran on the issue of Trauma and Poverty.

Szafran outlines work Crittenton is doing to provide trauma-informed elementary schools - exploring ways to break the cycle of trauma by working with both kids and their families and provide insight into the effect trauma can have on the developing brain. 

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting


When health care experts talk about the supply of nurses nationwide, they usually warn of a shortfall if more young people don’t go into the profession. But here in West Virginia, “there is a nursing shortage. It’s not coming, it’s here,” said Ron Moore, vice president and chief nursing officer for Charleston Area Medical Center.

Perry Bennett West Virginia Legislative Photography

U.S. Congressman Evan Jenkins visited Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston today to hold a roundtable with local experts about how best to address addiction and neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The roundtable was attended by about 20 health workers and community members, most of whom deal with addiction, including neonatal abstinence syndrome on an almost daily basis.

“The disease, yes disease of addiction is our most challenging public health and safety issue of our time,” Jenkins said during an opening statement.

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A new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month found a 264 percent increase in overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, tramadol, and Demerol between 2012 and 2015.

Experts think the spike is likely related to illicitly manufactured drugs, particularly fentanyl, which is often cut with heroin or cocaine, rather than pharmaceutically manufactured synthetic opioids. Illegally manufactured fentanyl is often mixed with or sold as heroin. Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.


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