Researchers uncover possible suicide risk biomarkers

When it comes to diagnosing who might be at an elevated risk of committing suicide, behavioral health practitioners have to hope patients having thoughts of taking their lives will confide in them.

Much of the time, however, that doesn’t happen.

So some other way of screening people for suicide potential could prove a boon to the mental health profession. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine have reported finding biological markers in the blood that appear to be associated with elevated suicide risk.

Writing in the Aug. 20 issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the IU team, headed by Alexander Niculescu III, associate professor of psychiatry and medical neuroscience, report on a study that focused on a group of men with bipolar disorder for three years.

In addition to conducting psychiatric interviews with the test subjects, the researchers collected blood samples from the men every three to six months.

They then conducted numerous blood analyses on subjects in the study who began reporting they were having suicidal thoughts after initially having no self-destructive ideas.

After finding difference in gene expression between the low and high suicidal-thought states, Niculescu and his colleagues subjected those findings to a system of genetic and genomic analysis called Convergent Functional Genomics.

Starting in 1999, Niculescu and colleagues began developing CFG, a technique for prioritizing genes and biomarkers suspected of playing a role in complex psychiatric and medical disorders.

CFG is based on link analysis, a technique used in, among other applications, Web searches.

In this case, CFG identified a marker associated with a gene known as SAT1 and other biomarkers they believe provide a strong signal of suicide risk.

To test this idea, they analyzed blood samples of suicide victims they got from the coroner’s office in Marion County, Ind. They found some of the candidates’ suicide-risk markers were significantly elevated in the samples.

Niculescu and his colleagues are confident they are onto something but are not totally satisfied. One potential red flag is that all the test subjects were men. “There could be gender differences” in the relationships between the suspected biomarkers and suicide risk.

For now, Niculescu is willing to say, “These seem to be good markers for suicidal behavior in males who have bipolar mood disorders, or males in the general population who commit impulsive violent suicide.”

Moving forward, the IU researchers want to conduct studies that match the biomarker data with clinical and socio-demographic risk factors to see how this works in predicting suicide risk.

“Over a million people each year worldwide die from suicide and this is a preventable tragedy,” Niculescu said, who is associate professor of psychiatry and medical neuroscience at the IU School of Medicine, and attending psychiatrist and research and development investigator at the Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Indianapolis.

In addition to IU and the V.A., Niculescu’s collaborators came from the Scripps Research Institute.

The study was funded by a National Institutes of Health Directors’ New Innovator Award and a Veterans Affairs Merit Award.

Health events, Aug. 27

Quit smoking class

Gulfcoast North Area Health Education Center and the Florida Department of Health offer free tobacco cessation programs to anyone interested in kicking the tobacco habit. This is a two-hour program that helps participants plan their quitting process, establish goals and learn strategies that will help them succeed. Four weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gum or lozenges) is also available through this program. The program is available on the following days: From 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday at the Crescent Community Clinic, 5244 Commercial Way, Spring Hill; from noon to 2 p.m. Friday at the Enrichment Center at Brooksville Regional Hospital, 17222 Hospital Blvd., Brooksville; and from 1 to 3 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Florida Department of Health, 7551 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Call (813) 929-1000 to register.

Cancer screening seminar

Oak Hill Hospital, in conjunction with the YMCA of the Suncoast, will host a seminar titled “Screening Measures to Help Detect Cancers” at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday at the YMCA, 1300 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill. The program will be presented by Dr. Shilen Patel of Florida Cancer Affiliates. Admission is free and a complimentary lunch will be served. Seating is limited and reservations are required. For information, call (352) 597-6333.

Paper donations

The Crescent Community Clinic is asking for donations of old newspapers and clean paper to be deposited in the green and red recycle bin located at the northeast corner of Jericho Road Thrift Store in Winchester Plaza, 5244 Commercial Way, Spring Hill. Proceeds from the recycled paper helps to fund the operating expenses of the clinic. Everyone at the clinic is a volunteer, which allows operating expenses to be kept to the bare minimum.

Cancer support group

The Cancer Support Group at Oak Hill Hospital will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday at the H2U Partner’s Club, 11375 Cortez Blvd., Spring Hill. There will be a special guest speaker who will speak about her journey through cancer and how it led her to a complimentary weeklong vacation with the Little Pink Houses of Hope in North Carolina, a nonprofit group focused on promoting breast cancer recovery by offering opportunities for survivors to reconnect and celebrate life. Complimentary refreshments are served and admission is always free. For information, call (352) 597-6095.

CPR/AED classes

The Brooksville Enrichment Center will sponsor CPR/AED classes at 6 p.m. on Sept. 5 and Sept. 19 in Room 120 in the Medical Arts Building at Brooksville Regional Hospital. These classes are designed for the professional health care provider and meet the guidelines of the American Heart Association. Non-health care professionals are welcome to attend. Part of these proceeds are donated to the Enrichment Center. The cost is $20. To reserve a seat, call Bob Kanner at (352) 597-8875.

Da Vinci surgery seminar

The next “For Your Health” seminar sponsored by Oak Hill Hospital will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Palace Grand, 275 Della Court, Spring Hill. The seminar will feature Dr. Steven Visnaw, who will speak on advanced minimally invasive and single-site robotic surgery. The presentation will also focus on the benefits patients experience, such as a low rate of major complications, minimal pain, virtually scarless results and, most importantly, a short hospital stay using the da Vinci Surgical System. Admission is free and a complimentary hot meal will be served. Seating is limited and reservations are required. For information and to register, call (352) 597-6333 or register online at OakHillHospital.com/For YourHealth.

Women’s care seminar

HOMOSASSA – A “For Your Health” community education seminar titled “Comprehensive Care of Women of All ages” will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Sept. 25 at the First United Methodist Church, 8831 W. Bradshaw St., Homosassa. This will be a panel discussion featuring Dr. Alene Wright and Dr. Marc Polecritti. Wright, on staff at Oak Hill Hospital, will discuss the gene test for breast and ovarian cancer. Polecritti, also on staff at Oak Hill Hospital, will offer reconstructive surgical options for breast cancer patients. Admission is free and a complimentary hot meal will be served. Seating is limited and reservations are required. For more information and to register, call (352) 597-6333 or register online at OakHillHospital.com/ ForYourHealth.

Outreach program

SPRING HILL – The GFWC Spring Hill Service League, in conjunction with the Hernando Mental Health Alliance, will host a community outreach awareness program titled “Faith in Action” from noon to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the First United Methodist Church, 9355 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill. Participants will have an opportunity to introduce their social programs, learn about available community resources and interact with community advocates. Guest speakers include Diane Rowden, county commissioner; the Rev. Anthony Caruana, pastor at FUMC Outreach Ministries; and Barbara Sweinberg, director of Crescent Community Clinic. Lunch will be served. Space is limited; call (352) 650-9006 by Sept. 20 to RSVP.

Hep C support group

BROOKSVILLE/SPRING HILL – A hepatitis C support group for veterans is forming. Contact Art Fryer at (352) 503-2569.

Comfort caregivers

SPRING HILL – HPH Hospice offers a Comfort for Caregivers support group for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, with a safe retreat with other caregivers in a relaxed and confidential setting. The group meets the first Thursday of the month at 11 a.m. to noon, located at 8055 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Free to attend and open to the public. Call (352) 597-1882.

Visitor program

The Hernando County Ostomy Association offers a visitor program for new ostomy patients who need counseling and support. Call Ellen Boldt at (352) 597-5426 or Linda Ravenhorst at (352) 686-1956.

Prostate cancer group

BROOKSVILLE – Florida Cancer Institute-New Hope holds its “Man to Man” prostate cancer support group 6-7 p.m. the first Monday of every month at its Brooksville Center, 7154 Medical Center Drive, off Kadri Boulevard, across from the High Point community. Topics frequently discussed are: importance of early detection, signs and symptoms, prognosis, disease stages, incontinence, impotence, treatment options including hormone therapy and medications, and especially the latest research and treatment modalities. Speakers will include physicians, nurses, dietitians, pharmacists and social workers. The support group is co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Call Mary Capo at (352) 596-1926.

Caregiver support

SPRING HILL – Florida Cancer Institute-New Hope holds its Caregiver Support Group meeting 4:30-5:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month at its Spring Hill Center, 10441 Quality Drive, Suite 203, Medical Arts Building, next to Spring Hill Regional Hospital. Call Pamela McGee, support group facilitator, at (352) 688-7744.

AFO support

BROOKSVILLE – Alzheimer’s Family Organization offers support group meetings at 1 p.m. every Monday at the Brooksville Regional Hospital, Medical Arts Building Enrichment Center, Suite 120, 17222 Hospital Blvd.; 1 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month at the Hernando County Mining Association, Enrichment Center, 800 John Gary Grubbs Blvd.; or 1 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month at Spring Hill Regional Hospital, Medical Arts Building, Suite 105, 10441 Quality Drive, in Spring Hill. For more information, call John at (352) 232-0081 for Brooksville locations or Pam at (352) 688-1262 for Spring Hill. To volunteer, call (727) 848-8888 or toll free at (888) 496-8004. The DFLA is a program of the Volunteer USA Foundation. Go to www.volunteer usafoundation.org.

Health news releases to be published in Health Events listing should be received 10 days in advance and will not be published without complete information, such as the time, date and physical address of the location of the meeting or event. Also, an information telephone number for the public and the name and telephone number of a contact person must be included. Email news releases to Michael Terry at mterry@hernando today.com, fax to (813) 579-9246 or mail to Hernando Today, 15299 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville FL 34613.

Learn how to introduce yourself to a dementia patient

If you plan to visit with loved ones who have dementia, please don’t start out with questions. If you do, there is a very good chance that you will raise their anxiety level to a point where it will elevate their confusion.

Questions can be the root of all evil when it comes to dementia patients. For instance, consider a restaurant setting. You may be wondering why they become so perplexed in this atmosphere, but consider that the first thing that happens when you walk in is that you’re usually asked “Would you like a table or booth?” “Coffee or tea?” “What kind of dressing would you like on your salad?” Add to this the typical din of a public place with multiple conversations going on in the room. On top of everything, this may be an unfamiliar environment to them, and that may be another reason why their anxiety level has gone through the roof.

As caregivers, we need to learn not to approach a dementia patient with multiple decisions and questions. Instead, begin with a simple, uncomplicated introduction. Yes, even if you’re the spouse your first words should be “Hi, my name is Ellen. I’m your wife.” Don’t be abashed by this. The worst thing you can do is to say, “Hi, do you remember me?” This is especially true in hospitals. A health care professional should identify themselves immediately, looking the patient in the eyes and saying something like, “Hi, my name is Joanne. I’ll be your nurse today.”

Forcing patients to struggle for answers right off the bat will get you absolutely nowhere. If you must ask important questions, slowly work your way into them. If approached correctly, you may even get the correct answer. However, if this is about an important medical or financial matter, these answers need verification from a family member or the patients’ advocate.

Another piece of advice is, before you introduce yourself, make sure they have visual contact with you. Don’t walk up behind them and frighten them.

Most of these suggestions refer to those patients who are in the moderate to latter stages of the disease, but even those in the earlier stages may be more confused in a setting such as a hospital.

You may be lucky enough to have an exceptional conversation with them, just by starting it correctly. You know what they say about first impressions.

Gary Joseph leBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. He can be reached at us41books@bellsouth .net. His books “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” “While I Still Can” and the expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at www.commonsensecare giving.com.

CPAP Therapy and sleep disorders

Carol Anderson has lived with sleep disturbances for the majority of her adult life. She learned to cope using a mask and a certain type of gel to help clear her airway as she slept. But when she moved to Florida from Buffalo and could no longer obtain the supplies she needed to maintain that regiment, Anderson was forced to look for options.

“My doctor told me I have sleep apnea and my problems were because I wasn’t using the (CPAP) machine,” said Anderson, who traveled from Zephyrhills to Florida Sleep Institute on Mariner Boulevard after being encouraged by her physician to be studied. She underwent a sleep study and had returned to review the results.

“I’m going on CPAP therapy,” she said.

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, an estimated 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with about 80 percent of moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) undiagnosed. When left untreated, OSA can lead to high blood pressure, chronic heart failure, atria fibrillation, stroke and other cardiovascular problems. OSA also is associated with Type 2 diabetes, depression and persistent drowsiness that may lead to traffic accidents.

Three types of sleep apnea include:

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage of the airway, including when the tongue collapses against the soft palate, which then collapses against the back of the throat during sleep.

Central sleep apnea occurs when there is no obstruction but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe.

Complex sleep apnea is a combination of the two. The brain partially rouses the sleeper to signal the need to breathe. This can occur several times a night, most intently during the late sleep cycle of rapid eye movement (REM). Sleep is extremely fragmented and oxygen to the body is reduced continuously.

Signs of sleep apnea, as outlined by the Mayo Clinic, might include:

Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)

Loud snoring, more prominent in obstructive sleep apnea

Breathing cessation during sleep

Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath

Morning headaches

Awakening with dry mouth or sore throat

Insomnia

Attention problems

It is recommended that you see a doctor if you experience the following:

Snoring loud enough to disturb others

Shortness of breath that awakens you

Intermittent pauses in breathing during sleep

Excessive daytime drowsiness

Anderson visited Florida Sleep Institute three times, initially to meet with the doctor and to schedule her study. “I was impressed with the doctor because he acted like a doctor,” she said with a little chuckle. “He looked at my eyes, my ears, my throat. He weighed me, did my height. I’ve done this before and most of the time they didn’t care what I looked like.”

Florida Sleep Institute is a medically sound facility that focuses on the health of their patients, providing the highest quality of medical skill and techniques. Yet the atmosphere is less clinical in appearance, which Anderson also praised.

Her experience during the study was equally impressive, she said. “The gentleman that did the sleep study test was fantastic. He was so courteous and he really wants to please you.”

Anderson described being hooked to a multitude of wires that were connected to a head box and plugged into the monitoring equipment controlled from a separate room. Microphones and video cameras were in the room to alert the monitoring staff of any problem or issue. She was able to move around comfortably when necessary by removing the plug and using the bathroom inside her private room.

Monitoring comprises the whole body, including leg movements, brain waves, heart, breathing and snoring. Patients are monitored for about eight hours on continuous data feeds that transmit to a central information location inside the facility.

Instructions are given to the patient through a speaker system, explained Liz Kohler, Florida Sleep Institute’s technical director. “We tell the patient to look up, look down, look left or look right and you can see the eyeball movements as they respond to the instruction.” The data is constantly gathered into the patient’s results and monitored constantly from the computer monitors.

“We try and do most studies in one night if possible or do split nights,” said Dr. William C. Kohler, Medical Director of the Florida Sleep Institute. “We run up to four patients a night six nights a week. With those who have severe apnea we’ll do a couple of hours of baseline to see how bad they are and then we put them on CPAP.”

The rooms inside Florida Sleep Institute are very inviting, similar to a top resort accommodation. Everything is designed to mimic the comfort of the patient’s home environment while offering minute-by-minute monitoring.

The data is gathered, from various points on the patient’s body, and evaluated. Those items looked at include snoring, leg movements, gaps in breathing and activity during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

Anderson had been through a sleep study once before, she said. But the experience was completely different. The atmosphere was typical of a clinical setting, with hospital-type beds and equipment around the room that was cold and intimidating. “I had to use the bathroom down the hall,” she remembered.

Florida Sleep Institute was the first accredited facility in the region, said Kohler.

“We do teaching here as well as research and patient care.” They have been visited by physicians from Egypt, Cambodia and Honduras, Kohler added.

Anderson came in to go over her results, and CPAP therapy was recommended.

“We ordered the equipment,” Kohler said, which consists of a machine with a hose attached to a mask worn by the patient. The machine acts as an air compressor to open the airways during obstructive sleep. There also is a card inside the machine that records data, which Anderson will bring on her next visit, scheduled after six weeks on the therapy.

“I really need it,” Anderson said, surrendering to the idea of finally getting some relief. “I do feel tired during the day. I was wiped out.”

Florida Sleep Institute is located at 4075 Mariner Blvd. The office can be reached at (352) 683-7885. You can visit their website at www.flsleep.com.

Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame can be reached at dame writes@yahoo.com

Can radiation be linked to Parkinson’s?

In the late 1970s at a Nevada air force base, a technician accidentally exposed airman Dan Hott to a great deal of radiation, perhaps the greatest amount ever any American has received.

Dan’s wife, Angie, of Berkeley Springs, W. Va., said, “Dan was radiated in the head at a rate much higher than test animals have received. He said he felt the right side of his head behind the ear heat up.

The doctor (looking him over) said he didn’t know what would happen to Dan over the years, but urged him to keep the documentation (about his exposure).”

Now fast forward to 2007, when Dan was experiencing a number of physical challenges. His left arm and legs were cramping up. He dragged his left leg, and often walked like he “had been drinking alcohol,” said Angie.

He was experiencing fatigue and taking naps throughout the day.

Angie realized something was really wrong when her grandmother asked Dan to slice the Thanksgiving turkey and he physically couldn’t with his left hand.

In June 2008, a neurologist diagnosed Dan with Parkinson’s disease. Eventually, he became so affected he would lose his business, career, income level and more physical functioning.

The National Institutes of Health describes Parkinson’s disease as a “movement disorder” causing limb and face trembling, limb and trunk stiffness, slow movement, and poor balance and coordination.

It can lead to trouble walking, talking, swallowing, speaking, and chewing.

Dan had been a successful, self-employed environmental engineer. In part, through his business, he designed remediation systems for gasoline stations that had spills.

Said Angie, “Dan’s neurologist now thinks it’s more than likely he ended up with Parkinson’s disease because of having been exposed to the radiation.” However, the Hotts have had trouble persuading the Veterans Administration, which has significantly limited Dan’s benefits.

Angie has done lots of research on the connection between Parkinson’s disease and radiation. For example, she discovered a Department of Defense study from the early 2000s in which the government radiated test animals to see whether they would acquire Parkinson’s disease.

The amount of radiation, said Angie, was far less than the level to which Dan had been exposed.

Angie also spoke with a University of California scientist who believed no other living American had been exposed to radiation levels higher than Dan’s.

For more stories of courage in disability, visit www.danieljvance.com or find them on Facebook at “Disabilities By Daniel J. Vance.” LittleGiantFudge.com and Palmer Bus Service made this column possible.

Health News, July 28

Men’s health seminar

SPRING HILL – Oak Hill Hospital, in collaboration with the YMCA of the Suncoast, will present a seminar titled “Maintaining Men’s Health from A-Z” from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the YMCA of the Suncoast/Hernando County branch at 1300 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill. The program will be presented by Dr. Rashid Saba, board certified in internal medicine. Admission is free and the doors open at 11:45 a.m. A complimentary lunch will be served. Seating is limited, and reservations are required. To RSVP or for more information and to register, call (352) 597-6333, or register online at OakHillHospital .com.

CPR/AED course

Crescent Clinic is offering the American Heart Association’s Heartsaver Adult/Child/Infant CPR/AED course. Paramedic Jose Miguel Juarez, who is AHA certified, will be the instructor. Upon successful completion of this class, you will receive an AHA Heartsaver CPR AED card. Certification period is two years.

This course will be given 4-8 p.m. Aug. 12, at Spring Hill United Church of Christ, 4244 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill. The classroom is located in Fellowship Hall. Cost to attend is $45.

For more information and to register, call (352) 610-9916. Checks may be mailed to Crescent Community Clinic, 5244 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606. Please clearly print your name for your certification card.

HPH seeking volunteers

HPH Hospice is recruiting volunteers to help out in the kitchen at its Sturgill Hospice Care Center. HPH is also in need of volunteers to visit patients in their homes in the Brooksville area or assist the agency performing clerical duties. A two-part orientation will be provided from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20, and Thursday, Aug. 22, at the Care Center, 12242 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville. Attendance is mandatory both days and lunch will be provided. There is no cost, but registration is required as seating is limited. Call Jacquie Lambert at (352) 796-2611 to register.

Stroke recovery group

The H2U Partner’s Club will host a new stroke recovery group titled “iPad Users Group for Stroke Recovery.” The group will at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, in the H2U Partner’s Club at Oak Hill Hospital, 11375 Cortez Blvd., Spring Hill. For more information, call Renee Payne at (352) 263-9265.

Paper donations

The Crescent Community Clinic is asking for donations of old newspapers and clean paper to be deposited in the green and red recycle bin located at the northeast corner of Jericho Road Thrift Store in Winchester Plaza, 5244 Commercial Way, Spring Hill.

Proceeds from the recycled paper help to fund the operating expenses of the clinic. Everyone at the clinic is a volunteer, thus operating expenses are kept to the bare minimum.

Outreach program

SPRING HILL – The GFWC Spring Hill Service League, in conjunction with the Hernando Mental Health Alliance, will host a community outreach awareness program titled “Faith in Action” from noon to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the First United Methodist Church, 9355 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill.

Participants will have an opportunity to introduce their social programs, learn about available community resources and interact with community advocates.

Guest speakers include Diane Rowden, county commissioner; the Rev. Anthony Caruana, pastor at FUMC Outreach Ministries; and Barbara Sweinberg, director of Crescent Community Clinic. Lunch will be served. Space is limited; call (352) 650-9006 by Sept. 20 to RSVP.

Hep C support group

BROOKSVILLE/SPRING HILL – A hepatitis C support group for veterans is forming. Contact Art Fryer at (352) 503-2569.

Comfort caregivers

SPRING HILL – HPH Hospice offers a Comfort for Caregivers support group for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, with a safe retreat with other caregivers in a relaxed and confidential setting. The group meets the first Thursday of the month at 11 a.m. to noon, located at 8055 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill.

Free to attend and open to the public. Call (352) 597-1882.

Visitor program

The Hernando County Ostomy Association offers a visitor program for new ostomy patients who need counseling and support. Call Ellen Boldt at (352) 597-5426 or Linda Ravenhorst at (352) 686-1956.

Caregiver support

SPRING HILL – Florida Cancer Institute-New Hope holds its Caregiver Support Group meeting 4:30-5:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month at its Spring Hill Center, 10441 Quality Drive, Suite 203, Medical Arts Building next to Spring Hill Regional Hospital. Call Pamela McGee, support group facilitator, at (352) 688-7744.

Prostate cancer group

BROOKSVILLE – Florida Cancer Institute-New Hope holds its “Man to Man” prostate cancer support group 6-7 p.m. the first Monday of every month at its Brooksville Center, 7154 Medical Center Drive, off Kadri Boulevard, across from the High Point community.

Topics frequently discussed are: importance of early detection, signs and symptoms, prognosis, disease stages, incontinence, impotence, treatment options including hormone therapy and medications, and especially the latest research and treatment modalities.

Speakers will include physicians, nurses, dietitians, pharmacists and social workers.

The support group is co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society. For information, call Mary Capo at (352) 596-1926.

AFO support

BROOKSVILLE – Alzheimer’s Family Organization offers support group meetings at 1 p.m. every Monday at the Brooksville Regional Hospital, Medical Arts Building Enrichment Center, Suite 120, 17222 Hospital Blvd.; 1 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month at the Hernando County Mining Association, Enrichment Center, 800 John Gary Grubbs Blvd.; or 1 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month at Spring Hill Regional Hospital, Medical Arts Building, Suite 105, 10441 Quality Drive, in Spring Hill.

For more information, call John at (352) 232-0081 for Brooksville locations or Pam at (352) 688-1262 for Spring Hill. To volunteer, call (727) 848-8888 or toll free at (888) 496-8004. The DFLA is a program of the Volunteer USA Foundation. Go online to www.volunteerusa foundation.org.

Chatterboxes group

NEW PORT RICHEY -Community Chatterboxes meets 3-4 p.m. every other Thursday at Community Hospital, 5637 Marine Parkway. Community Chatterboxes is a support group to assist individuals suffering from communication deficits (i.e., aphasia, apraxia, dysarthria, etc.) as a result of a cerebral vascular accident or other neurological disorders. The group was originally established for outpatients who had been discharged from traditional speech therapy but still wished an outlet to practice and interact with others with the same problems. Call (727) 845-0757.

Alzheimer’s support

Alzheimer’s Association, Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, offers support groups for family members, caregivers and others interested in learning more about Alzheimer’s disease. Support group facilitators have received training as required by chapter and National Alzheimer’s Association standards.

Program schedule is:

First Friday of each month, 2:30 p.m., Main Branch Public Library, 238 Howell Ave., Brooksville, Jerry Fisher, (352) 688-4537.

First Thursday of each month, 2:30 p.m., Oak Hill Hospital-Senior Partners, 11361 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville, Jerry Fisher, (352) 688-4537.

Third Monday of each month, 2 p.m., The Residence at Timber Pines, 3140 Forest Road, off U.S. 19, Spring Hill, Diane Koenig, (352) 683-9009.

First Tuesday of each month, 11 a.m., Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, 550 U.S. 41 S., Inverness, Cathy Heaps, (352) 527-4600.

Third Wednesday of each month, 11 a.m., Avante Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, 304 S. Citrus Ave., Inverness, Cathy Heaps, (352) 527-4600.

Second Wednesday of each month, 2:30 p.m., Sunflower Springs Assisted Living Community, 8733 W. Yulee Drive, Homosassa, Cathy Heaps, (352) 527-4600.

The free meetings are open to everyone.

Also, visit the Alzheimer’s Association online at www.alzsupport .com for a live chat at noon every Wednesday.

Message boards are open at all times to post questions and leave replies. Call (352) 688-4537 or (800) 772-8672.

Crescent Clinic open

SPRING HILL – Crescent Community Clinic is open for services at the Winchester Plaza, 5244 Commercial Way. The primary health care and basic dental services clinic is for uninsured adults ages 18 to 64 who meet federal poverty guidelines. Patients must bring a photo ID and proof of income; e.g., paystub or other income verification. The clinic is open the first three Saturdays of the month, excluding holidays.

The policy for services has changed; a limited number of new patients can sign in 8:30-9:30 a.m. only. Patients on file can sign in 9:30-10:30 a.m. only. Lab patients with a script for blood work can sign in at 9:15 a.m.

Basic dental services consisting of infection control, extractions and cleanings are now offered. Patients needing refills on prescriptions should have the pharmacy fax a refill request to the clinic by Wednesday. Prescriptions and renewals can be picked up after 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Call (352) 610-9916. Fax is (352) 610-9915.

Arc seeks volunteers

The Arc Nature Coast is seeking volunteers for its POSSE (Promoting Opportunities and Skills with Special Equestrians) Program, Enrichment Program at the Education Center or Neff Lake Road facility, any of several office locations, community outings and special events.

Applications and background screenings are required for any position that involves direct contact with customers.

There is a one-time fee of $28 for submission of paperwork to two outside agencies.

For information and application forms, contact John DiRienzo at jdirienzo@thearc-nature coast.org or call (352) 544-2322.

Church support group

WEEKI WACHEE – Christian Church in the Wildwood offers a Cancer Support Group, which meets at 1:30 p.m. the second Monday of every month in the Building A Café of the church, 10051 Country Road. The purpose of the support group is to help caregivers, survivors or those currently dealing with cancer. The support group is free. Call Godfrey Eason at (352) 597-9916 or (352) 263-3784 or email geas46@bellsouth.net

Myeloma support

SPRING HILL – Multiple Myeloma Support Group meets at 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month at the Partner’s Club behind Oak Hill Hospital, 11375 Cortez Blvd. Contact Pat Killingsworth at (715) 271-5037 or email pat@helpwith cancer.org.

Leukemia group meets

SPRING HILL – Leukemia, Lymphoma, and Multiple Myeloma Support Group meets at 6 p.m. the fourth Wednesday of each month at the Moose Lodge, 5214 Mariner Blvd. For more information, contact Lourdes Arvelo at (813) 963-6461, ext. 11, email Lourdes.Arvelo@lls .org or visit www.lls.org.

Respite program

SPRING HILL – Catholic Charities has openings in its Respite program on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 8370 Forest Oaks Blvd., in Spring Hill.

The program is for people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and other memory loss illnesses, including stroke, Parkinson’s disease or senile dementia. The program offers caregivers some short-term, dependable relief, providing their loved ones the opportunity to participate in planned activities and friendships.

For more information, contact Gary Chapin at (352) 686-9897 or Charles Locasto at (813) 624-8978.

Al Anon meetings

MASARYKTOWN – Holy Trinity Lutheran Church conducts an Alcoholics Anonymous Family Group meeting at 7 p.m. each Tuesday in the Ministry Center of the church, 1214 Broad St. (U.S. 41). Meetings are open to the public. For information, call (352) 796-4066.

Hospital volunteers

BROOKSVILLE – Regional Hospital and Good Shepherd Medical Clinic are seeking volunteers for various positions. Shifts can be morning or afternoon at the hospital,17240 Cortez Blvd., and from 7 a.m. to noon at the medical clinic, 8425 Northcliffe Blvd., Spring Hill. Year-round residents are preferred. For information, call (352) 544-6117 or (352) 544-6080 or visit www.Brooksville Regional.net.

Volunteers needed

American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program is in need of volunteers to drive cancer patients in Hernando County to their chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Schedules will be flexible, and training will be provided. Requirements will be a safe driving record, valid driver’s license, insurance and a smoke-free vehicle in good running condition. For information, call Joan at (352) 799-9078.

Ambassador service

Oak Hill Hospital announces the establishment of a new position of Patient Ambassador. The ambassador is an advocate for their patients’ needs while respecting the confidentiality of all involved. The patient advocate’s job duties entail greeting each patient at least twice per four-hour shift to determine whether the patient’s needs are being met – whether the patient needs a newspaper, directions, a water refill or simply a friendly ear, the ambassador will attempt to fulfill the needs and information requests. If medical assistance is needed, the ambassador will alert the necessary medical staff. For information, contact the hospital at (352) 596-6632 or visit online at www.OakHillHospital .com.

Health news releases to be published in health events listing should be received 10 days in advance and will not be published without complete information, such as the time, date and physical address of the location of the meeting or event. Also, an information telephone number for the public and the name and telephone number of a contact person must be included. Email news releases to Michael Terry at mterry@hernandotoday.com, fax to (813) 579-9246 or mail to Hernando Today, 15299 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville FL 34613.

Shedding light on Tarlov cysts

Katherine Lockwitch is used to dealing with pain. Since being hit by a car as a teen, her body has suffered through a multitude of issues. Yet the onset of Tarlov cysts, settling in her entire spine, nearly cost the Ridge Manor resident the complete use of her right leg.

“I was having a lot of pain in my middle upper back,” Lockwitch said. She went for an MRI to figure out the origin of the pain, assuming it was related to her car accident years before. “And they found that I had Tarlov cysts as an ‘incidental finding,'” she explained, “which means they don’t know what it is but it’s something I shouldn’t worry about.”

When her physician received the report, he was uncertain how to proceed with Lockwitch’s treatment. “His exact words to me were that I was a zebra with different kinds of stripes. And he couldn’t identify my stripes,” she remembered.

Her physician then sent Lockwitch to a neurologist who was even less interested in taking her case. “He said there weren’t enough people with the same problem.”

But Lockwitch’s pain grew worse, causing her right leg to buckle at the knee and requiring that she walk with assistance from a cane. She took control of her own condition, researching online about Tarlov cysts and becoming proactive in finding solutions to help relieve her pain. Then she started using a rigid knee brace.

Tarlov cysts, according to the National Institute of Health, are fluid-filled sacs that affect the nerve roots in the sacrum, a group of bones at the base of the spine. The cysts can compress nerve roots, leading to lower back pain, sciatica (shock-like or burning pain in the lower back, buttocks and down one leg to below the knee), urinary incontinence, headaches, sexual dysfunction, constipation and some loss of feeling or control of movement in the leg or foot.

Tarlov cysts may also put pressure on the nerves where the cysts exist, causing pain and gradual deterioration of the surrounding bone. In some cases, like Lockwitch’s, Tarlov cysts can become symptomatic following shock, trauma or exertion, causing the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid.

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons reports that most Tarlov cysts are relatively small in size and, in most cases, cause little to no pain. Yet, in about 7 to 9 percent of the general population – and in more women than men – the cysts can be very large and very painful, leading to immobility and other related conditions that get worse over time.

Many of these smaller cysts remain undiagnosed until a trauma occurs, usually around the tailbone area, such as with a fall.

Symptoms of Tarlov cysts disease may include:

Pain in the area of the nerves affected by the cysts.

Weakness of muscles.

Difficulty sitting for prolonged periods.

Loss of sensation on the skin.

Loss of reflexes.

Changes in bowel functions.

Changes in bladder functions.

Changes in sexual function.

Lockwitch suffered from bladder and bowel problems as the cysts pressed on those nerves, disabling the signals that triggered their emptying. “I was in a lot of pain,” Lockwitch said. “I was unable to maintain mobility.”

In her research, Lockwitch found the Tarlov Foundation, filled out a questionnaire online and was put in touch with Dr. Frank Feigenbaum, one of only a few surgeons across the country who specializes in Tarlov cysts disease, according to Lockwitch.

“He was in Kansas City at the time,” Lockwitch said. So she and her husband, Greg, boarded a plane and met Feigenbaum face to face, who then officially diagnosed her with Tarlov cyst disease. And he recommended surgery.

Lockwitch underwent the surgery in October of 2012 in Texas where Feigenbaum had moved his practice. “He removed two of the cysts that were causing the most problems,” she said.

She was told her full recovery could take up to a year. And nearing the one year anniversary, Lockwitch has made a dramatic recovery. “It’s like night and day,” she said. It was recommended that Lockwitch undergo at least two more surgeries to remove cysts in other areas of her spine.

But not all Tarlov disease sufferers are so lucky. In her search for answers, Lockwitch met another local woman who is fighting her own war with Tarlov cysts. Amy Hans from Spring Hill fell in 2010 at work and began experiencing severe pain in her lower back, near her tailbone, after the accident.

She underwent an MRI, which found Tarlov cysts, like with Lockwitch, as an “incidental finding.” Since her diagnosis, Han has suffered with constant severe pain in her lower back and has problems with parathesia. She also suffers with weakness in her lower extremities.

Hans was battling a workman’s comp case for the injuries sustained in the fall and settled earlier this year. But she continues to suffer from the effects of her Tarlov cysts, which evidently flared up as a result of the work accident. Unfortunately, her insurance does not cover the surgery.

“I have two choices,” Hans said. “I can either be in pain in bed or I can be in pain doing things I love.” She chose to fight for each day, refusing to let her disease define her. But Hans lives in constant pain. “This has become my new normal,” she said.

And she struggles with an uncertain future, knowing that Tarlov cysts may debilitate her completely at one point if she doesn’t get the surgery. Like Lockwitch, Hans’ disease was minimized by doctors because so little is known about it. Many physicians have never been trained in Tarlov cysts and therefore do not know how best to treat their patients’ pain.

Lockwitch uses a service assisted canine to help with her rehabilitation and her physical independence. Her former canine partner, Baron, was hit and killed just days after Lockwitch returned from Texas after her surgery.

But a local breeder and trainer of award-winning German shepherds stepped in when they heard of Lockwitch’s misfortune. Pendragon Acres U.S. K-9 donated a new puppy, born Dec. 12, and is currently raising the $35,000 to train him as an assisted service canine.

Lockwitch named the pup Pendragon’s Prince Tarlov to help bring awareness to a disease that is physically and emotionally draining.

“Tarlov disease has taken so much from me,” Lockwitch said. “He’s helping me get it back.”

Hans struggles to keep her positive outlook intact as she gives back in an attempt to help those who fight a different battle. Hans makes charity quilts, “even though it hurts.”

The two Hernando County women keep close contact, supporting each other in their common battles.

They hope one day to bring enough awareness to the disease so others who find themselves walking a similar path might have an easier time.

For more information about Tarlov cyst disease, contact the Tarlov Foundation at www.tarlovcyst foundation.org

Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame can be reached at damewrites@yahoo.com.

Balancing act: Menopause and hormone replacement therapy

When Maureen began feeling light-headed, fatigued and moody, she wondered if these were typical symptoms of aging or if she might be experiencing early menopause. Now in her late 40s, menopause was certainly a process of life she knew she couldn’t avoid. And as her symptoms became more severe, she decided it was time to have her hormone levels tested.

Menopause, while an unavoidable process of aging, doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience. In fact, knowledge is power and knowing what symptoms are related to menopause can help map a course of treatment that can make all the difference between suffering through and enjoying the process without annoying and often life-altering symptoms.

Menopause is described as the normal process when the female body begins to fluctuate the levels at which the ovaries produce female hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, which can then lead to certain symptoms.

Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 55, with the average of American women being around age 51. The time between the onset of menopausal symptoms and the actual final period is called menopausal transition or perimenopause, and may begin several years before the final menstrual period. Once menopause is determined, perimenopause might then last for another year after the final period.

Certain classic symptoms are experienced during perimenopause and include:

Changes in the menstrual cycle: One of the early signs of perimenopause is a change in the duration or frequency of your period. Signs for concern that require a doctor visit might include periods that are closer together, heavier bleeding, spotting between cycles or periods lasting longer than a week.

Hot flashes: Typical symptoms of menopause, hot flashes are likely caused by the changes in estrogen levels. A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat in the upper body. The face and neck may become flushed, red blotches might appear on the surface of the skin and you may experience heavy sweating followed by cold shivering. Most hot flashes last between 30 seconds to several minutes and may occur anytime, day or night (called night sweats).

Problems with the vagina and bladder: Changes in estrogen levels can cause the genital area to become drier and thinner. Sexual intercourse may become uncomfortable and the bladder might be weakened, causing leakage of urine during exercise, sneezing, coughing or running.

Interrupted sleep patterns.

Changes in sexual desire: Diminished libido or increased sexual desire during menopause is common.

Mood swings.

Altered physical appearance: muscle tone relaxes and muscles might begin turning into fat, skin starts thinning.

Many of the above symptoms of perimenopause are blamed on the decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone.

Losing estrogen during menopause can lead to other problems, including osteoporosis and heart disease, according to the National Institute of Aging.

The body consistently breaks down old bone and replaces it with new healthier bone. But the loss of estrogen, the hormone that controls bone loss, during menopause can lead to osteoporosis because more bone is lost than is being replaced. Bones become weak and can break easily. A bone density test can determine if you are at risk for osteoporosis.

Heart disease is yet another concern for menopausal women.

Lowered amounts of estrogen are contributing factors.

High blood pressure and increased weight also are common factors that can lead to heart disease.

Blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol should be tested regularly for menopausal women.

Patients typically seek the advice from their physician once these symptoms begin affecting their daily lives. At that time, hormone replacement therapy is often discussed as a viable next step in dealing with menopausal symptoms.

Hormone replacement therapy includes medications that contain female hormones and are used to replace those the body no longer makes during menopause.

According to the Mayo Clinic, hormone replacement therapy used to be the standard treatment for women who experienced typical menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes. Hormone therapy also was thought to have long-term benefits for preventing heart disease and possibly dementia.

Risks have been associated with these hormone replacements, particularly after a clinical trial found the treatment posed more health risks than benefits for certain types of hormone therapy, especially when used in older postmenopausal women. Doctors became less likely to prescribe it.

Because hormone therapy is still considered the best defense against certain menopausal symptoms, many women have sought more natural alternatives.

Enter the bio-identical hormone therapy, which is described by Harvard Health Publications (health.harvard.edu) as “hormones that are identical in molecular structure to the hormones women make in their bodies.” It is often called “natural hormone therapy” because they act just like hormones the body produces.

The body cannot distinguish bio-identical hormones from those produced by the ovaries. However, bio-identical hormones should be monitored when taken by symptom reduction in the individual patient.

Dr. Danny Abbruzzese, a general medicine physician for nearly 30 years who practices in the Oak Hill Hospital ER, is a strong advocate for bio-identical hormones. Abbruzzese also is the practicing physician at Clarity MedSpa in Land-o-Lakes where he works with bio-identical hormone therapy.

Abbruzzese said the body’s slowdown in producing certain hormones actually begins around the age of 25 and peaks in the mid 30s. Certain symptoms, like hot flashes, reduced sexual libido, vaginal dryness, weakened bone and muscle density, etc. become stronger as the patient reaches full menopause.

The older the patient, the less the body is making of its own natural hormones. “Then things abruptly go downhill,” he said.

Hormone therapy replaces those hormones the body stops making, thereby reducing symptoms associated with menopause. “We are replacing the hormones they are losing,” he added. “But it has to be done in a skilled way.”

He used the metaphor of a traffic jam resulting from an unknown accident. To determine the cause of the traffic jam, investigators must first uncover the source. It is the same technique, in a sense, with hormone replacement. “We are trying to trace the source of the problem and finding that one thing may be causing another.”

Hormone replacement therapy is a specialty, he said, because it requires a specific way of approaching the desired outcome in a healthy way. “It has to be balanced.”

Patients usually seek treatment when symptoms become uncomfortable. Abbruzzese usually evaluates the patient through consultation, observation and blood work to determine levels of specific hormones.

“If hormone levels come back low, we can begin treating,” he said. When levels are determined to be normal or near normal, Abbruzzese will likely do more extensive clinical testing.

Those interested in learning more about bio-identical hormone therapy should consult their physician for more information or to determine if bio-identical hormone therapy is a good option for them.

Abbruzzese has been practicing hormone therapy at Clarity MedSpa for five years and enjoys the clinical setting that also offers many medical procedures under the same roof.

“I do a little bit of everything because it all ties in to the general well-being of my patients,” he said.

From Smart Liposuction to Botox treatments to weight management and nutritional counseling, Clarity MedSpa addresses several concerns under the direct supervision of a practicing physician.

For more information, visit their website at ClarityMedSpa.com.

The facility is located at 19401 Shumard Oak Drive in Land O’ Lakes.

Contact them at (813) 388-6818.

Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame can be reached at damewrites@yahoo.com

Wild Ivy’s Salon and Karma Couture bring unique combination to Brooksville

Many small businesses begin with a dream. Wild Ivy’s & Karma Couture began with two.

The business is a conversion of two entities, each inspired by the passion of their owners, Ivy Cordell and Donna Brooks, and began separately in different locations.

Ivy Cordell is a cosmetologist who specializes in hair and nails and has been perfecting her craft for nearly 20 years. She opened her salon, Wild Ivy, seven years ago on Ponce de Leon Boulevard where she immediately began building a clientele that has remained loyal.

Donna Brooks started selling gifts, accessories and handbags out of her house while maintaining full-time employment. It was a side business she learned after working for years with Joe and Donna Giarratana, owners of Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant, developing such a tight bond with them and assisting them in running their gift shop.

“They introduced me to the wholesale market and taught me the trade,” Brooks remembered.

She eventually expanded her business to a small room inside another local salon. Called the Hidden Closet, Brooks began building a client base that loved her quality products and unique styles. She offered wholesale prices on unique gifts, accessories and jewelry pieces, which she sold in a traditional retail environment while also doing parties and special events upon request.

In December, the two women decided to merge their businesses into one unique, cozy beauty salon and boutique. They chose a quaint downtown shop on Main Street, bringing a creative concept to the heart of Brooksville’s historical business sector.

Inside, guests are greeted with the boutique-style décor, flashy and catchy patterns and tropical and bold colors of handbags, makeup bags and totes; jewelry pieces; candles; and so much more.

In the back of the store, Ivy and her beauty staff work on client’s nails, from acrylics to gel applications, hair styling, perms, color treatments, etc.

“We are a full-service salon,” Cordell said.

Both women are long-time residents of Hernando County whose hearts belong to their community. Therefore, both are big into giving back.

Brooks has a soft spot for cancer support, triggered by the diagnosis of breast cancer a few years ago of a dear friend. Last year in April she coordinated a benefit for breast cancer awareness, collaborating with a local artist to create a T-shirt design, and held an open house at her previous location.

The artist, Crystal Buck, designed an image of an elegant, wispy spirit with a gentle ribbon of pink. The image was put onto T-shirts by Island Tees and Graphics, along with the slogan, “Believe in a Cure.”

A copy of that original design still hangs in Texas Roadhouse on Cortez Boulevard and has made its way across the country.

The money raised helped support breast cancer research and treatment options for local residents.

This year, on the anniversary of that event, she and Cordell were busy preparing for the second annual Blueberry Festival. But Brooks still envisioned another T-shirt by the same artist in collaboration.

This one, depicting a similar image but of an angel, would support all cancers by including the different rainbow of colors in support.

The new shirt was debuted during an event both Brooks and Cordell held to support all cancers as well as an effort that is dear to Cordell’s heart that collects, packs and mails gift boxes by request to a special force of the military serving overseas.

The event, held earlier this month, raised money to help pay for the postage for gift boxes for the troops and brought awareness to all cancers.

A major factor leading to the success of any small business, particularly during a slowed economy, is its ability to be creative.

Ivy Cordell and Donna Brooks combined two very creative industries into one, providing a cohesion that only magnifies their commitment to their customers who live, work and play in their community.

How they display their unique presence in the community with beautiful, affordable gifts and grounded beauty care services, while combined with a commitment to paying it forward, makes them a dynamic team.

Water safety precautions

On a bright Florida evening, Jody indulged in a phone conversation with her 16-month-old son’s father while out by the family pool. Her hand was only inches from the son’s shoulder. Yet she was distracted just long enough for toddler to plunge head first into the deep water.

Jody responded with a knee-jerk reaction, grabbing her son’s shirt and lifting him back to safety. Yet she stood shaking for a minute afterward, fully aware of the fact that, given a few different scenarios, the outcome might have been different.

“I was standing right next to him,” Jody said, remembering with clarity as if it happened yesterday. “When you have young children, you just can’t be too careful around water.”

According to the Department of Health, drowning can be a silent catastrophe and can happen in a matter of seconds. In the time it takes to answer the phone or retrieve a towel, a child left unattended near a pool can drown.

“Florida loses more children ages 1 to 4 in drowning than any other state. Annually in Florida enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown and do not live to see their 5th birthday.”

That statistic is troubling to Jim Billotte, the Director of Education for Spring Hill Fire Rescue. He therefore works diligently on educating residents about water safety and the importance of creating barriers between children and open water sources.

Pools aren’t the only danger, he said. Children can drown in any body of water as little as a few inches deep. Bath tubs, hot tubs, lakes, creeks, retention ponds are all drowning risks to children who are left unattended.

A collaborated effort to keep awareness constant and at the forefront of conversation will help prevent future accidents, thereby protecting innocent lives.

Constant supervision is the best defense against accidental drowning, the second leading cause of death in Florida for children ages 1 to 4. More people have pools, Billotte said, and a lot of children using them. That combination alone makes the need for awareness and education even more important than ever.

Florida’s Residential Swimming Pool Law, effective Oct. 1, 2000, requires that new residential swimming pools have at least one of the following:

“An enclosure, pool safety cover, exit alarms on doors or self-closing, self-latching devices on entries to the pool. The enclosure must be a barrier at least four feet high on the outside and surround the perimeter of the pool. Gates to the swimming pool must also be equipped with self-closing and self-latching locking devices. The residence may be used as one side of the barrier if it does not contain doors or windows that provide access to the swimming pool.”

Laws alone will not prevent accidental drowning, however.

Therefore, an effort to reduce the number of children dying in Florida from accidental drowning begins and ends with vigilant education, consistent awareness and a commitment from the community to work in a collaborated effort to protect its youngest citizens.

The Florida Department of Health, Office of Injury Prevention, launched a drowning prevention awareness campaign, WaterproofFL, which is a statewide initiative. Through WaterproofFL, the focus is on incorporating “layers of protection,” which includes supervision, barriers and emergency preparedness.

By providing public education, expanding partnerships and utilizing web based outreach resources, the message from WaterproofFL will reach millions of Floridians. The purpose is to make them aware of their role in saving the lives of children when around bodies of water that, while attractive sources of summertime recreation, can prove deadly if precautions are not taken.

“Although we all have a right to enjoy the sun and fun,” the WaterproofFL website reads, “owning a pool comes with responsibilities. So whether you’re a parent, caregiver, neighbor or business, pool safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

WaterproofFL is dependent on the collaboration of several organizations to keep the message circulating through communities and protect its most innocent members.

Billotte agreed that the responsibility belongs to everyone, particularly those who own pools. Fundamental precautions should be in place, he said, like pool fences with latching gates, pool alarms, and reinforced latches on doors and windows.

Pool toys also should be kept away from the edge of the pool. Young children are attracted to bright colors and may try and reach for the items. Ladders for above-ground pools should be kept inside the pool when not in use. A phone should be kept near the pool and all members of the household should be trained in CPR.

Flotation devices also should be kept near the pool, especially if adult members of the household cannot swim, Billotte said.

The Fire Corps of Hernando County offers CPR classes and the local fire houses stock informative brochures about safety, including how to protect your child and others from the risk of drowning.

Water safety training is also a good practice for all children, Billotte said. The local chapter of the YMCA offers water safety classes to children of all ages. And classes are free.

“The Y wants to help (children enjoy summer) safely while still having fun. From Gulf beaches to backyard pools, supervision and skill are key to enjoying the water this season.” Instruction is available for any child in the community, and swim lessons are free.

Billotte, who also is a father, takes a strong role in water safety. When he and his wife added a pool to their home, they were careful to take every precaution. “My daughter was only a year old,” he said.

They installed a pool fence, alarms, extra locks on windows and doors and made every family member take CPR classes.

Of course he knew none of these efforts would ever take the place of constant supervision while children are playing near water.

“It can take just a second for a child to drown,” Billotte said. “Texting or answering a phone can put the child at immediate risk.”

The startling fact is that any child is at risk. “Unfortunate accidents happen to good parents,” Billotte said.