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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Most Americans say they want to die at home. But without the right paperwork, many end up living out their final days in institutions or hospitals. The West Virginia e-Directive Registry is trying to change that.

The e-Directive Registry includes advanced directives, living wills, medical orders and Do Not Resuscitate cards. These documents help medical providers understand West Virginians’ end-of-life wishes, including where participants want to die and what kind of treatment they want in their last days of life. 

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Although Congress hasn't presented the American public with a clear replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act – the ideas proposed so far are unlikely to make coverage more affordable or allow everyone who has coverage now to keep it. Uncertainty surrounding the ACA is also making it difficult for health plans to stay in the marketplace because they don’t know how to price their plans for next year.

But as members of Congress left Washington today for their February recess, Republicans made it clear they still intend to repeal the ACA.

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If you have a Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield plan that you bought through the Affordable Care Act Marketplaces, you should know there is a change this year that might save you some money.

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Low birth weight is traditionally associated with physical problems such as difficulty breathing, developmental delays or hearing problems in children as they grow. But new research published in the journal Psychological Bulletin found that babies born with extremely low birth weights are at an increased risk for specific mental health problems, including Attention Deficit Disorder, anxiety, depression and shyness, beginning in childhood and extending at least into their 30s.

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Most Americans say they want to die at home when the time comes. But a new study suggests that the more obese someone is, the less likely they are to achieve that goal.

The study was published this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine and looked at the records of more than 5,600 senior citizens taking part in a long-term health study. The researchers looked at how body mass index – a measure of obesity – impacted use of and access to end-of-life services like hospice. hospice provides support to people in their final months of life – usually in their own home.

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Studies have found that strengthening the quadriceps – or thigh muscles – may help prevent knee osteoarthritis. But a new study has found that how fast the quadricep muscle is able to generate force – for example pushing the leg out – may impact knee osteoarthritis too.

More than a third of West Virginian adults report experiencing arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Evzio Naloxone Auto-injector
Clark Davis / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Department of Health and Human Resources has begun a distributing naloxone statewide in hopes of preventing opioid overdose deaths and increasing access to the medication.

 

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A new study has found that couples in which both partners are obese may take more than 50 percent longer to become pregnant than couples who aren't obese.

Last week, doctors at Mon General Hospital performed a new hybrid procedure to correct irregular heartbeats – called atrial fibrillation – in a 71-year old patient. The surgery was the first of its kind performed in West Virginia.

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Today is the last day to enroll in or change a 2017 insurance plan through the federal healthcare marketplace. But if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, this may be the last time people can sign up for insurance through the marketplace.

In 2016, more than 37,000 West Virginians signed up for health insurance through the ACA marketplaces. Nationwide, enrollment numbers for 2017 are up slightly from 2016 numbers – despite promises from President Trump to repeal the healthcare law.

Patricia Harman is the author of the bestselling novel The Midwife of Hope River. We last heard from her during our April, 2016 Inside Appalachia episode on home birth. Harman's latest book – the Runaway Midwife – was released today. Kara Lofton talked with Harman about how more than three decades of work as a midwife informs her writing today.  

On Being a Midwife

"One of the things about midwives is similar to a solider or someone in combat we're right on the border between life and death and I think that makes for a great hero."

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A CDC study released earlier this month found that rural Americans are dying at a higher rate from potentially preventable diseases than their urban counterpoints.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study looked at the five leading causes of death from potentially preventable diseases. They are heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke. The study found that the percentages of deaths from these five diseases were higher in rural areas than urban areas.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

President Trump is four days into his first term and already has made big moves to repeal former President Obama’s signature healthcare law. A repeal of the Affordable Care Act – also called Obamacare - has the potential to affect millions of Americans. In this audio postcard, three West Virginians – a former chair of the House health committee, a college student and a small business owner – talk about how they are feeling about their healthcare coming into an era of Trump.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

At the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Clinic in Scarbro, oxygen tubes dangle from the noses of three miners slowly pedaling on stationary bikes.  All of these men have black lung – a disease caused by breathing in coal dust. Over time, the dust coats the lungs and causes them to harden. Hard lungs don’t easily expand and contract, and that makes it difficult to breath.

Steve Helber / Associated Press

During his campaign, president-elect Donald Trump promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act – a move many West Virginians say they support after facing rising premiums and deductibles.  But a repeal without a replacement plan could be disastrous for the millions of Americans who have gained health insurance under the law, including 173,000 West Virginians newly covered under Medicaid expansion and 37,000 who have bought private insurance plans through the Marketplace. And Republicans have yet to release a replacement plan.

 

 

Elk River
Malepheasant / wikimedia Commons

Monday marks the third anniversary of the Elk River chemical spill that left more than 300,000 West Virginians without usable drinking water for more than a week.  The leak  originated at Freedom Industries just outside of Charleston.

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President Obama met with Senate Democrats today to discuss strategies to save his signature health care law. Meanwhile Senate Republicans have already introduced a budget resolution that would unravel large pieces of the Affordable Care Act with a majority vote.

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A recent study published in the international pain journal PAIN has found that patients with pre-existing psychiatric and behavioral conditions may be more likely to use opioids later in life.

Researchers used a national insurance database to identify 10.3 million patents who filed insurance claims for opioid prescriptions over a nine-year period. Researchers wanted to see if pre-existing psychiatric conditions and use of psychoactive medications were predictors of later opioid use.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Ten tiny homes lined up in two rows at the National Guard air base in Charleston recently. West Virginia high school students built the homes for victims of the June, 2016, historic flooding who were still struggling to find adequate housing.

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Gambling has many of the same symptoms as other addictions, including the urge to continue the behavior despite negative consequences, but it’s different in one key way.

 

 

“With problem gambling, sometimes people see the problem as the solution,” said Sheila Moran, director of marketing for the helpline 1-800-Gambler.

 

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