The Need to Breathe: May is Asthma Awareness Month

We can all agree that — out of the thousands of different things that can go wrong with the human body — problems with breathing rank right up there at the top. If you can’t breathe, you’ve got a serious problem. That’s why the science of pulmonology and the experts who practice in this field are so important to our overall health.

Jason_McKinney_1679668925We interviewed Dr. Jason McKinney, a pulmonologist practicing at Mercy, and Staci Hopper, an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), to get insight on what a typical “day in the life” is like for experts who specialize in keeping Hopper,Stacipatients breathing easy.

What types of conditions and problems do pulmonologists treat?

Pulmonologists most commonly treat COPD (chronic bronchitis, emphysema), Asthma, Bronchiectasis, Interstitial lung disease, Occupational lung disease, Pulmonary Hypertension, Complex Lung Infections, Pulmonary fibrosis, and Sarcoidosis. They often are part of the team diagnosing lung cancer and they help manage its complications.

What are the tests pulmonologists use to diagnose the problem?

Common diagnostic testing includes pulmonary function tests, chest x-rays, CT scans, blood work and sometimes using a bronchoscope to look inside the airways.

Asthma can be a scary condition for kids and parents. What are the red flags parents should watch for that might indicate a problem?

Some red flags parents should watch for include: Shortness of breath that worsens during physical activity, cough, chest tightness, reduced exercise tolerance or prolonged recovery time following exercise, excessive fatigue, and/or wheezing.

asthma-156094_640 (2)What are the latest advancements in the treatment of asthma in kids and adults?

There have been several new inhaled medicines useful in asthma over recent years. There is also some newer injection therapies available for more resistant cases.

What is COPD and who does it usually affect?

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and is often a mix of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In chronic bronchitis, the airways get inflamed and make a lot of mucus. This can narrow or block the airways, making it hard to breathe.

In emphysema, the air sacs are damaged and lose their stretch and ability to absorb oxygen as well. Less air gets in and out of the lungs, which makes the patient feel short of breath.

By far, the most common cause of COPD is smoking. Other causes include secondhand smoke, pollution and fumes, genetics, and asthma. Because COPD develops slowly, it is frequently diagnosed in people aged 40 or older.

What can patients do to prevent the likelihood of developing COPD?

The number one way to prevent COPD, or slow it down if you already have it, is to STOP SMOKING. If you have serious lung symptoms with no clear cause smoking-44467_640 (2)(like smoking) you might need testing for “Alpha one antitrypsin deficiency.”

What do you wish more people understood about lung health?

The biggest thing people need to know is that prevention and early intervention is key. Many lung diseases can be prevented by making good lifestyle choices like not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and routine exercise and wearing protective equipment when dealing with particles or fumes. If someone is having respiratory symptoms, they need to discuss them with their primary care physician. Many pulmonary problems can be very effectively managed by their primary care physician but for some resistant, complicated, severe or unusual cases, a person may need to see a pulmonologist.

Our thanks to Dr. Jason McKinney for answering our questions about breathing problems, prevention and treatment. To schedule an appointment with Dr. McKinney, call his office at 479-338-3080 or click here for more info on the clinic.


Healthy Mama: March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month

We know this isn’t always an easy topic to discuss, but it’s an important one and this month is the perfect time to talk about it. March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month which means it’s time to march yourself to the clinic for this important screening test, if you haven’t done it already. Why is it such a big deal? Because colon cancer is the SECOND LEADING CAUSE OF CANCER DEATHS in the United States.

We interviewed Dr. Natasha Nathan, a gastroenterology specialist with Mercy, to find out what we all need to know about the risks of colon cancer and about colonoscopies.

What factors increase a person’s risk of colon cancer?

The factors that increase your risk for colon cancer are:

  • Age
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle
  • Family History

colon cancer posterWhat types of lifestyle changes can lower a person’s risk of developing colon cancer?

There are several good things you can do to lower your risk of developing colon cancer, but these three are the most important:

  • Eat foods high in fiber
  • Eat less red meat
  • Exercise MORE

What are the symptoms that might indicate a person has colon cancer?  (Are noticeable symptoms always present in someone with colon cancer?)

The symptoms you might notice include seeing blood in your stool, having an unexplained weight loss or seeing a change in stool size. Some patients might also have abdominal pain.

But it’s very important to know that some patients may not have ANY symptoms. That’s one of the reasons why testing is so important.

When should a person have her first screening test for colon cancer?  How often is it necessary to repeat the screening tests? 

Have your first test when you turn 50 years old, unless you have a family history of colon cancer OR you have had polyps or cancer in the past. If there’s past cancer or a history of it in your family, start having screenings at age 40.

What are the latest advancements in the detection of and/or treatment of colon cancer?

Some of the latest advancements in this field of medicine include improved stool tests as well as genetic tests. The great news here is that, with early detection, people with colon cancer live longer lives.

What do you say to patients who are fearful about getting a colonoscopy?  What information helps them overcome the natural tendency to procrastinate doing something that seems so unpleasant?

I let them know that our sedation methods have improved over the years which means there is much less pain associated with this test.

It’s also good to know that the preparation method required the night before the test has also improved. Some patients found it difficult to drink all of the prep liquids the night before their scheduled colonoscopy. There’s a new “split dose preparation” method that lets patients drink part of the liquid the night before and then the remainder the next morning. Ask your doctor about the split dose preparation method to see if this would be a good fit for you.

The most important thing I can tell patients about this test is that colon cancer is a PREVENTABLE cancer, and this test is the best tool we have that helps us Thusha_Nathan_1295718211prevent this cancer from taking a patient’s life. It’s as simple as that.

We want to give our thanks to Dr. Nathan for taking the time to answer our questions. For more info on Dr. Nathan or to schedule an appointment with her, call the Mercy Gastroenterology Clinic at 479-338-3030 or click here for more info. The clinic is located in the Physician Plaza at 2708 S. Rife Medical Lane (Suite 300) in Rogers.



Three Northwest Arkansas doctors in ONE family: Meet the Weathers

weathers doctor group2It’s not uncommon to feel like you’re being treated “like family” when you’re at Mercy, but there are three doctors in Northwest Arkansas who take that “family” thing pretty literally.

Meet Dr. Larry Weathers, Dr. Lance Weathers and Dr. Tiffany Weathers — a father/son/daughter team of specialists at Mercy whose bonds are not only biological but professional, too.

Since it’s so unusual to find three doctors in one family working for the same health provider, today we’re taking a look at the family dynamics in this trio of specialists in Northwest Arkansas.

larry weathers dad graphicWhat is it like to have your kids turn into work colleagues?

It is fun watching them be great physicians!

Did anything in their childhood make you think that your kids might be destined for a career in medicine?

No, other than they were exposed to medicine as little children. They were in the clinic after school and they made rounds with me in hospital on the weekends.

flexibilityWhat’s the one thing you wish more people knew that would help them improve their heart health or keep it healthy long-term?

Medical studies have found that there’s a link between how flexible you are and your risk of heart disease. So stay as flexible as a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7-year-old child.

lance weathers son graphicHow did your dad’s career influence your decision to go into medicine? What was it about his work that fascinated you?

heart modelI was always with him as a kid. I used to wake up on Saturdays and go sit in his truck while he made rounds.  I spent a lot of time playing with echo machines, heart models, and stethoscopes — probably not normal toys for a kid. :-) I know those experiences probably had to influence my fascination.

What are family dinners like at your house with 3 doctors at the table? Do you “talk shop” or do you leave the medicine at the clinic?

razorback logoMom doesn’t like cell phones or “doctor talk” at the table. We usually talk sports (Razorbacks, of course) or we talk about the grand-kids.

My office is on the same hall as my dad’s office, which is a very unique situation in cardiology. There are not many father and son combinations in this field of medicine.

What would an ideal day at work look like for you?

Make a difference with one person. It’s the starfish approach. But you never know which one it’s going to be!

What new medical advancements in cardiology do you get most excited about?

That’s what drew me to cardiology — the ever-changing technology. And cardiology really does change daily.

tiffany weathers daughter graphicHow did your dad’s career influence your decision to go into medicine? What was it about his work that interested you?

Basically, if I wanted to spend time with my Dad growing up, I went to make rounds or went to the Cath lab with him. I met the families when he would make rounds and I saw that he was making a difference. He has the most amazing work ethic I’ve ever seen, and his bedside manner with patients is so kind and calming.

With a father and a brother in cardiology, what was it about gynecology and obstetrics that drew you into that specialty versus cardiology?

I think that with Cardiology, people either have poor genetics and/or poor habits that cause them to have heart disease. Most of the time when my Dad was called to see them, they were dying. It was difficult for me to cope with people dying everyday. No matter what you do, people die from heart attacks. I have the newborn babyutmost respect for my father and brother. They both have amazing hands in the Cath lab.

Obstetrics and gynecology drew me in because I was able to assist with bringing life into the world. It’s such an amazing honor.

What do you wish more pregnant women understood about pregnancy and/or childbirth?

I wish more women would discuss questions with their doctors and not believe all of the information they see on blogs on the Internet.

pregnancyBeing pregnant is actually a 9-month “adaptation period” where your body is expected to perform and develop another human with major hemodynamic changes. You have an increase in cardiac output, sodium and water retention, leading to blood volume expansion, with reductions in systemic vascular resistance and systemic blood pressure. This enables optimal growth for the fetus and protects the mother from hemorrhage, complications and death.

Young healthy women without any medical problems usually do well. The problem is that there are diseases of pregnancy such as pre-eclammpsia, for example, that we as doctors still don’t fully understand. Pre-eclampsia can happen to anyone and has major complications that can lead to seizures, stroke and ultimately death. It’s also a disease that can happen within the “blink of an eye.”

What are the advantages of having three doctors in the family? Would your other family members say that there are any drawbacks of having three doctors in the family?

It’s an honor to work together at Mercy because we often share patients and we can discuss difficult clinical cases.

It’s also beneficial to have people that understand how difficult it is to practice medicine and try to maintain a healthy work-life balance. We sacrifice a great deal of things for this profession and many times our own families do not come first. This is probably why I don’t know many families that have three physicians who are all currently still practicing medicine.

Our thanks to Drs. Larry, Lance and Tiffany Weathers for answering our questions and for their continued service to patients throughout Northwest Arkansas.

To contact Dr. Larry Weathers or Dr. Lance Weathers, call the Cardiology clinic at 479-338-4400. To contact Dr. Tiffany Weathers, call the Women’s Clinic at 479-338-4000. Click HERE to visit the Mercy website.


Q&A with Pediatrician Dr. Susan Demirel

pediatrician sliderOne of our favorite things to do is pick the brain of a real expert on children’s health. We always learn so much when we do. Here’s a recent question and Susan_Demirel_1154647238answer session we had with a local pediatrician at Mercy  — Dr. Susan Demirel. She offers some valuable insights on which problems concern her most about today’s kids, what to look for when you’re Googling your kid’s symptoms (yes, we do that, too) and some sweet thoughts about the best part of her job as a pediatrician. Read and enjoy.

What’s the most challenging part of being a pediatrician today?

Seeing a child suffering is, by far, the hardest part of my job. The second hardest part is seeing his or her parents suffering through the illness with them. For better or worse, I have a huge sense of empathy that often leads to sleepless nights hurting for the families I work with but also leads to incredible relationships with that family.

What pediatric health problems concern you most about today’s kids?

stethescope-tealPreventable ones. There are so many horrible things in this life we have no control over. However, there are some major health concerns in the pediatric population that we can not only do something about but we can prevent entirely. A few examples are the child who keeps having extreme asthma attacks that are triggered by smoke exposure, safety issues like never leaving your child around any sort of water unsupervised (bathtub and toilet included), and various forms of obesity.

What do you wish more parents understood about keeping their kids healthy?

I wish more parents understood that Antibiotics aren’t the answer to keeping their kids healthy. Sometimes they help – a lot. However, many times antibiotics don’t help at all and can even cause harm if they aren’t needed. For example, Viral upper respiratory tract infections (colds) can be miserable for anyone (and even last up to two weeks!) but not even the strongest antibiotic will do any good if the child has a viral infection and not a bacterial infection.

What are pediatricians and their nurses doing to help decrease the fear that some kids feel about going to the doctor?

Going to the doctor can be really scary – for children and adults alike! There are several things, as pediatricians, we try to do to put the kids at ease. Most of my partners and I don’t wear our white coat because that is often intimidating and scary for young children. We try to stay positive and encouraging all while Doc_McStuffins2being honest with the kids. There are little tricks to the trade to establish good rapport and put them at ease (i.e. a blood pressure cuff is “giving a little hug” to their arm) that we use pretty consistently. While it is often very age appropriate to have some stranger anxiety, we are usually able to become fast friends with the kids which usually helps a lot. Also, I don’t promote a lot of TV watching but Doc McStuffins sure has helped ease many little girls’ fears of the doctor’s office!

As you know, moms get worried and tend to Google their child’s symptoms. In what situations do you advise parents to do their own research and when does that sometimes cause problems?

Having well educated parents who are invested in their child’s health is priceless! However, most clinics have an on call line to call 24/7 if something is really worrying the mother. However, if a mom absolutely must Google, a good generality is to avoid the “.com” websites. Try to stick more with the “.org” or “.gov”. And if you plan on visiting your doctor after Googling, remember that your doctor and nurses have had years of experience and education addressing these issues – things that the internet just can’t offer. That being said, moms also have a sixth sense about their own child if something just doesn’t feel right. So, don’t be afraid to express your concerns and gestalt feeling about the situation when you do go to the doctor.

Is there a good rule-of-thumb for deciding when a child is contagious and when he’s not?

Every infection is a little different. However, typically when the child has not had a fever (without using Motrin or Tylenol) for over 24 hours, are feeling back to themselves and drinking well, it is typically safe to go back to school. However, every infection is a little bit different, so feel free to ask your doctor about specific conditions and their contagiousness.

Are there any current trends that are impacting the way pediatric medicine is practiced today?

The practice of medicine is always changing. Currently there have been a lot of changes with documentation requirements, Electronic medical records, insurance reimbursements, and billing and coding changes. However, the foundation of pediatrics has not changed – as the American Academy of Pediatrics states, our mission is to attain optimal physical, mental and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents and young adults

What are the best parts about your work as a pediatrician?

The smiles. And hugs. And little drawings my patients make for me. The kids are and always will be the best part of my job. It is rare that I leave a clinic room not smiling from the sweet child I was just blessed to care for.

Our sincere thanks to Dr. Susan Demirel for answering our questions! Click HERE to read more about the pediatric clinic at Mercy.


Different Ways to See a Mercy Doc

Mamas, we know how tough it can be to get yourself or a sick kid to a doctor’s appointment, and it’s especially tricky when you need to do it during one of the busiest months of the year. Thankfully, accessibility to doctors and nurses is getting better all the time, thanks in part to the increased use of technology in doctors’ offices.

If you, your husband or one of the kids need to see a doctor pronto, here’s a run-down of some of the different ways you can get a Mercy doctor’s attention in a hurry.

stethescope-tealOption 1: Call the clinic directly. (We all know there are some days of the week and times of the day when phone lines will be busier than usual, so avoid those times if possible.

Option 2: Call the “Doctor Finder” phone line at 1-888-338-3885.  When you call the number, you get access to ALL available doctor schedules. (This method eliminates the need to call several different clinics to see which one can get you an appointment the quickest.)

Option 3: Use the Mercy website to send a message to a scheduler who will then contact you. The perks of this method are that you can do it anytime — including the middle of the night, weekends and holidays, too.

Option 4: Be a walk-in at the Convenient Care clinic. It’s located on Highway 102 (or 14th Street) in Bentonville. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week. To avoid longer wait times, try to get there before 9 a.m. if possible.

Option 5: Do an E-Visit. This option is available for adults and kids, but it’s only for “non-urgent” medical conditions. The good news is you can do it anywhere you have Internet access.

When you do an E-visit, you just answer a series of online questions about your symptoms and then the doctor recommends a treatment plan. (It costs about the same as a typical office visit co-pay.)

Here’s a list of the kinds of non-urgent conditions that might be addressed with an E-visit.

  • Cough
  • HeartburnMERCY2
  • Back pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Red eye
  • Sinus issues
  • Urinary problems
  • Vaginal discharge

If you’re on the fence about whether or not what you or your child has is something that requires a doctor’s visit, here’s a good way to figure it out. Call the Nurse On Call number (1-855-530-5300). You’ll be able to talk to a trained, experienced nurse who can help you decide whether or not to go in for a visit or wait a little longer for the problem to resolve on its own.

But… be aware that doctors say that if you or your child has body aches with a fever that’s 101.5, it’s best to see a doctor asap. (If you have an emergency that absolutely can’t and shouldn’t wait, be aware that the new ER department at Mercy’s Bella Vista facility tends to have much shorter waiting times than other ER units. The Bella Vista facility is just a minute off the bypass in Bella Vista so it’s easy to find.)

Here’s hoping that everyone in your family stays healthy this month so that you won’t need any of these options. But if you do, it’s good to know what’s available and the quickest way to get help and get back on your feet.