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Vital Signs

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Flight Attendant At DHMC
Hummingbirds may be among the world's smallest birds, but they pack a big punch at DHMC. Every spring and summer, inpatients get to watch the tiny iridescent creatures hover around feeders that have been set up by Joyce Langevin, R.N. Over a decade ago, DHMC's "hummingbird lady"—inspired by a patient's family who hung a hummingbird feeder outside of their loved one's hospital room—began placing and maintaining the feeders all around One West.

It's a task Langevin takes very seriously. Each year in late April, she starts to track hummingbirds' migration patterns on www.hummingbirds.net. In early May, she sets up the feeders. And then every week until mid-September, she cleans and refills the feeders with a fresh, homemade sugar-water solution: four parts water to one part sugar—and hold the red food coloring, which, according to Langevin, can harm a hummingbird's delicate liver.

Langevin (pictured at left) retired in 2003 to battle breast cancer, but she has continued to care for DHMC's hummingbirds—and, indirectly, all the patients on One West. "It's something I can still do for patients that I'm just not ready to give up," she says.


Be A Card-Carrying Skeptic
When researchers at Dartmouth's Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences created a handy wallet-sized card with tips to help doctors evaluate medical information, they didn't realize that it would become a hit with patients, too. Now it has even made the national press. "The card makes you think clearly about what someone is trying to tell you," Dr. Elliott Fisher told the New York Times. "If you are uncertain, don't leap to the conclusion that you should take this new drug."

The card contains the following questions:

  • What is the assertion?
  • If true, would you care?
  • Who stands to benefit from the assertion?
  • How good is the evidence? Does it come from multiple studies and if so, how good are they?

And as an added bonus, the flip side of the card contains tips for evaluating medical studies. To get a free "Evaluating Medical Assertions" card, e-mail CECSWeb@Dartmouth.edu, call 603-650-1684, or visit http://www.dartmouth.edu/~cecs/.


An Act Of Generosity
The Norris Cotton Cancer Center isn't a museum, but an important piece of history is now on permanent display there: an original copy of the 1971 National Cancer Act (pictured below). The ground-breaking act, signed by then-President Nixon, provided the funding and authority for the National Cancer Institute to lead the nation's fight against cancer.

The Cancer Center was given a copy of the act—one of only two in existence—by Marilyn Cole, widow of former Nixon administration official Kenneth Cole, who is credited with shepherding the Cancer Act through Congress.

"Our family felt that this was the perfect place for this document," explains Brady Cole, Ken Cole's brother; he is a counselor at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., as well as a member of the Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center. "The Cancer Center embodies the spirit and intent of the act and is a place my brother would have loved," Brady Cole adds, "because of its sense of inclusion, family, and community."


Celebrating Humanity
Noted author and environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams, a recent Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth, was an unusual choice of speaker for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center's weekly grand rounds. She's neither a scientist nor a clinician, but she has lost several family members to cancer. She's best known for her book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, which juxtaposes the 1983 rise of Great Salt Lake, the flooding of a bird sanctuary, and her mother's struggle with ovarian cancer. Tempest Williams thanked "the nurses, the physicians, the technicians, and health-care providers" who care for cancer patients. "Your honesty, your professionalism, and your humanity have a trickle- down effect on the family," she said.

"We live dignity, honesty, service, hope, every day, but we rarely talk about it," said Dr. Mark Israel, director of the Cancer Center at the end of Tempest Williams's presentation. "And we even much more rarely celebrate it."


SCREEN SAVER: Medicare will soon cover the cost of ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) in high-risk individuals, thanks to a campaign led by Dr. Robert Zwolak, a DMS vascular surgeon. AAAs kill more than 15,000 Americans every year.

WORLDLY-WISE: In a March 3 New York Times op-ed essay, DMS researcher Kendall Hoyt called attention to the need for better preparedness—especially the development of better vaccines—against the global health threat of avian flu.

MAKING A STATE-MENT: A children's book in the "It's my state!" series says "New Hampshire's tech-friendly environment is also drawing some of the best scientific minds in the country" and gives Dr. Charles Brenner, a DMS geneticist, as its example.

ON TARGET: Dr. Edward Merrens, chief of hospital medicine at DHMC, got to tour Turin as a physician for the U.S. Olympic biathlon team. Biathlon is cross-country skiing combined with rifle sharpshooting; Merrens was a cross-country skier in college.

TEEN TIME: Through the Rural Health Scholars program, DMS students have been volunteering weekly at Lebanon, N.H., High School. They discuss health issues the teens will face as they become independent of their parents, such as health insurance.

GOING FOR GOLD: As the annual Audrey Prouty Bike Ride, which raises funds for Norris Cotton Cancer Center, got ready to mark its silver anniversary, James Gold was the top fund-raiser (really!). The 25th Prouty, on July 8, has a goal of $1 million.

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Dartmouth Medical SchoolDartmouth-Hitchcock Medical CenterWhite River Junction VAMCNorris Cotton Cancer CenterDartmouth College