What a decade of recognition means to us

e’ve been pretty happy at Houston Methodist the past few days, ever since we learned our company has been ranked – for the 10th year in a row – by FORTUNE magazine among its “100 Best Companies To Work For.”

At the moment it’s just a big deal inside our own company, and in the three other Houston companies that also earned the distinction for 2015. But in coming weeks and months you’ll likely hear more about this distinguished list because ultimately, this is also a big deal for everyone.

It’s a pretty serious process to get on the FORTUNE list. The company polls employees about their opinions on a number of workplace issues like compensation, fairness, opportunities for advancement, and if they like their boss and their jobs. Once they get an idea how employees feel about working at a company, the auditors look at a company’s culture: the workplace atmosphere created by the people working there.

As a company, we have agreed to live and work by a set of values we call I CARE. Click To Tweet

Houston Methodist has always worked hard to create an environment that brings out the best in our employees. We want Houston Methodist to be a place that supports our employees both on and off the job by encouraging healthy behaviors and striving to balance work and life.

As a company, we have agreed to live and work by a set of values we call I CARE – an acronym for integrity, compassion, accountability, respect and excellence. We pack our I CARE values like our lunch kits, and we share them with our patients and visitors every chance we get.

We believe that’s a key to making our hospitals and care centers great workplaces. In other words, we believe very deeply in what we do and that’s why we like working at Houston Methodist.

We live by our I CARE values – an acronym for integrity, compassion, accountability, respect & excellence. Click To Tweet

As I said, it’s a big deal to all of us who work here. But what does it have to do with you?

In fact, it’s all about you – our patients. When you come to one of our hospitals for medical treatment, we know you want the best care possible. And you will get that, as long we have employees who enjoy their work and are willing to give their best effort.

One person who’s seen it in action is Peggy Obert-Voitik, worked as a long-term care nurse and nursing home administrator in Illinois before she relocated to Texas last summer.

Shortly after moving here, she required medical treatment and hospitalization at Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital. “I’ve been a nurse for a while … I’ve seen a lot,” she says, “so I kind of had my guard up.”

But instead she encountered friendly, always pleasant caregivers. “People were tending to me every hour … I never once had to wait for anything I needed. Everyone was always pleasant, always willing to make sure I had the answers to all my questions,” Peggy recalls.

“I was extremely, pleasantly surprised,” she adds. “It was certainly not my typical hospital experience.”

After her discharge, Peggy went home and logged on to the internet to look for an open position for a skilled, long-term care nurse at Houston Methodist San Jacinto as a result of the great care she received.

Now Peggy Obert-Voitik, RN, is MDS coordinator for the Skilled Nursing Facility at Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital, a job she’s had since September of last year. She says she’s happy to be here.

Like Peggy, everyone at Houston Methodist is inspired and energized by our work at one of the “100 Best Companies To Work For.” For the past 10 years, we’ve been happy to be there.

Home remedies to beat any cold or flu

It’s been a brutal winter. On top of the bone-chilling, frigid weather, many people are on their second bout with a cold this season.

You might have gone to a doctor and received the usual, sensible advice: expect to have symptoms for 7-10 days; get lots of rest; drink plenty of water; and treat the symptoms. Antibiotics do not help in this case, and they can cause side effects.

Now you’re stuck at home, sniffling and feeling crummy. You have a runny or stuffy nose, maybe a sore throat, you’re sneezing and coughing. You undoubtedly have that resting and water-drinking down, so let’s talk about treating the symptoms.

With all this time on your hands you can try some cold and flu home remedies, time tested and grandma-recommended. Some may work for you, others not so much. Recently we tried a handful of these home remedies and asked Houston Methodist primary care physician Dr. Natalie Dryden to assess each one.

First we tried a hot toddy, a mixture of warm water, honey and whiskey or rum in small but roughly equal amounts, topped with a bit of lemon juice. “Warm beverages can soothe a sore throat and many patients find them useful,” Dryden said. “Adding alcohol in small amounts is not likely harmful but more than one alcoholic drink a day can suppress the immune system.”

Avoid alcohol when sick, as it suppresses your immune system, prolonging recovery Click To Tweet

Then we heated up some chicken soup. “It may help, as it can act as a mild anti-inflammatory and helps temporarily speed the movement of mucus,” Dryden said.

Next it was time for a hot, steamy shower. The doctor said, “The steam may help moisturize mucous membranes and temporarily ease congestion.”

Neti pot
While Neti pots can be effective for treating cold and flu symptoms, make sure you fill them with bottled or distilled water.

We also tried a nasal irrigation system, with a Neti pot and saline. Dryden said these are typically safe to use and effective in clearing congestion and stuffiness. “Some people find the saline to be a nasal irritant so it may not be for everyone,” she added. If you do use a system of this kind, remember to use distilled or boiled water to prevent infections.

Gargling with salt water helped our throat discomfort temporarily, and we also tried a warm compress for sinus congestion.

Dryden stressed that the success of any one of these strategies will depend on the person. “If it doesn’t help,” she added, “at least it won’t hurt.”

We paid a visit to the drugstore and took a look at some over-the-counter cold and flu remedies. The sheer number of products available made our head spin.

First question: antihistamine or decongestant? “Antihistamines can reduce runny nose and sneezing but used alone these tend to have more side effects, such as sleepiness and dry mouth, than benefits,” Dryden said.

An medication combining antihistamine with a decongestant (pseudoephedrine, found in the product Allegra D) can be effective in reducing congestion, runny nose and sneezing. This may not be for everyone; it can raise blood pressure, so those with hypertension should avoid this compound.

An antihistamine/decongestant combo can reduce cold symptoms, but may raise blood pressure Click To Tweet

Dryden said expectorants and cough suppressants both have shown medium benefit and medicated nasal sprays (containing cromolyn sodium or ipratropium bromide) also have shown some benefit and can be a substitute for pseudoephedrine.

She cited studies that showed that vitamin C/D/E supplements have no effect on colds. Zinc has been controversial; it showed a reduction of symptoms in some trials but had some serious side effects. So serious, in fact, that the FDA has issued warnings about zinc products and Dryden does not recommend their use.

There’s a lot of winter left, and much more cold and flu to come. If you haven’t been infected, congratulations. Keep washing your hands, eating healthy foods and laying off the alcohol. Get a flu shot, too.

Just a flesh wound: movies vs reality

It doesn’t look good for our hero. He’s out of ammunition and the bad guy is drawing a bead on him. He decides to risk it all on one last, desperate attack. He springs into action but as he does the bad guy gets off a shot.

Luckily, the bullet hits our hero in the shoulder. Ha, no problem. In a second he has disarmed and disabled the bad guy, wounded shoulder and all.

Flip over to another channel, and Forrest Gump is in the war. Even though the movie is only five commercials deep, he gets shot. He is wounded in the, ah, BUTT-tocks. He recuperates by lying on his stomach, wearing a man-diaper and eating ice cream.

We sought out Dr. Jeff Kalina, co-director of the Houston Methodist Hospital Emergency Department, and asked: what’s the best kind of flesh wound to get in real life?

“A bullet striking the human body anywhere can cause an incredible amount of damage,” he says, “but it’s not always fatal.”

He’s seen the movies where someone is shot in the shoulder and fights even harder. “It’s more likely that a bullet hitting someone in the shoulder is going to cause some major damage to the bones and the joint in there,” Kalina says. “It may not kill you, but it will pretty much stop a lot of movement on that side of the body.”

And what about Forrest Gump? Getting shot in the rear end is pretty much always played for laughs in the movies but Kalina says it’s not so funny in real life. “Pelvic veins run all through that part of the body, like a spider web,” he explains. “There’s a real good chance a bullet going in back there is going to hit something important.”

So let’s ask Kalina to tell us where one can be shot and still have the best chance of survival. “Anywhere below the knee or in the calf … it might hurt, but you won’t die. On the outside part of the upper leg, either side of the upper body,” he says. “(In 1981) President (Ronald) Reagan took a bullet through the lung and he recovered completely.”

In fact, the 70-year-old President didn’t immediately realize he had been shot. Reagan thought he had broken a rib when a Secret Service agent pushed him into a car. But Reagan took a bullet in the chest, lodging in his left lung just an inch away from his heart.

What saved the President was the fact that the bullet ricocheted off an armored limousine before striking him, probably reducing much of the projectile’s lethal velocity. And the fact that Reagan received almost immediate medical care certainly helped in his recovery.

White House Press Secretary James Brady was shot in the head, permanently disabling him. When Brady died earlier this year, his death was ruled a homicide – caused by the gunshot wound he received nearly 33 years ago.

It’s tough to predict what can happen when a bullet enters the human body. “A bullet never travels in a straight line inside the body,” says Kalina. “It can be deflected by bone or large, thick muscle mass. It can cause a little damage, or a lot.”

A bullet never travels in a straight line inside the body. It can cause a little damage, or a lot Click To Tweet

Kalina once saw a patient who had been shot in the side of the head. Instead of going straight through, the bullet was deflected by the man’s skull and traveled over the curve of the skull under the skin and exited the other side. He lived.

“There are literally thousands of stories like that,” Kalina says. “But more often than not, bullets do serious, permanent injury and kill people. Movie fantasy is fun; getting shot in real life is not.”

How does color blindness affect one’s life?

While recently visiting my son at college, I immediately noticed something was a bit off. “What, is your hair pink?” I asked. “No, it’s blue,” he said.

For many years I have had this problem, and it’s not my son’s hair color. I’m color blind. No need for a pity party though, because I’m not alone. An estimated 32 million Americans – 8 percent of men and less than 1 percent of women – have some degree of color blindness.

This is not a handicap by any stretch of the imagination. People who are color blind see colors; they just don’t see them as normal-sighted people do.

“Instead of calling it color blindness,’ you could call it color confusion,” says Dr. Andrew Lee, chairman of the department of ophthalmology at Houston Methodist Hospital and a professor of ophthalmology, neurology and neurosurgery at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Sure, it can be a drawback in a few aspects of life but for the most part, color blind people rarely notice the difference.”

Color blind people don’t see life like a black and white TV show. Recognizing pure, deep color is no problem but color blindness tends to smear those millions of in-between shades into a spectrum of just a handful. A color blind person sees about 1 percent of the colors that everyone else can see. The color blind viewer can confuse colors, and some colors may appear washed out.

color-blind-featured
Do you see a number in each circle? The Ishihara color blindness test is the most well known color vision deficiency test. Click the image to take the test.

To me apples are red, summer leaves are green and the sky is blue. But I probably wouldn’t be much fun on a drive to see fall foliage, or a trip to the paint store. Rainbows? Forget it.

“In most people color blindness is caused by a congenital defect in photoreceptors in the retina of the eye,” explains Lee. “There are other, rarer forms of acquired color blindness that can be caused by injury, illness or a reaction to medications. Any disease of the optic nerve or retina, or rarely even a brain tumor, can bring on acquired color blindness.”

Color blind people figure out simple workarounds to help them function in a multi-colored world. And it helps to have a sympathetic family who corrects the settings on the TV or hangs a matching tie with a freshly pressed shirt.

A color blind person sees about 1% of the colors that everyone else can see Click To Tweet

Color blindness can close some jobs to affected people. Pilots and air traffic controllers must be able to read color-coded instruments or recognize colors that represent different altitudes on a radar screen. Railroad engineers are guided by signal lights of different colors, and laboratory technicians read colors for litmus tests and specimen slides.

Some companies sell corrective glasses or contact lenses to brighten those troublesome colors and a few video game manufacturers are building in modes to substitute icons and shapes for colors. And there are few phone apps that are advertised as filters to show what a color is supposed to look like.

On the medical side, Lee says there really is no medical or surgical correction that can cure congenital color blindness. “Most people adjust, and move on with their lives,” he says. “The human brain has a remarkable capacity to compensate for a deficiency and people often make very clever adjustments to get around color blindness.”

Because the genetic condition most likely began centuries ago, Lee believes humans have dealt with color blindness throughout history. “Humans managed to survive all these thousands of years, so good news – it’s not a serious disadvantage,” he says.

Now, blue hair? That’s a serious disadvantage. Anyway, the joke’s on my son: other people looking at a photo agree his hair looks more green than blue.

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

One of the most acclaimed and successful American entertainers of all time is an Arkansas country boy named Glen Campbell. In his heyday, Campbell was truly the king of all media: first and foremost a singer with 36 chart hits including “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Gentle On My Mind,” he also happened to be host of a network TV variety series, a movie star and an instrumentalist so accomplished that he was an elite studio musician in his early days.

In 2011 Campbell – who was 75 years old at the time – announced a series of concerts that would be a victory lap for his five-decade career. They would also be a poignant farewell, because he also revealed that he had Alzheimer’s disease.

A new documentary, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, follows the entertainer on this final tour and powerfully traces the entertainer’s decline as his disease progresses. It is heartbreaking to see this gifted man virtually fade away before your eyes.

Dr. Joseph Masdeu, director of the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist and a professor of neurology for Weill Cornell Medical College, has seen the movie and he believes that it may help educate audiences about Alzheimer’s, which affects more than 5 million Americans.

“It is excellent, very perceptive … fascinating for a neurologist,” Masdeu says. “The film is really a moving and informative documentary.”

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me
Glen Campbell and his daughter Ashley Campbell perform in the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which will open in Houston Nov. 21. (Photo courtesy of PCH Films)

Masdeu is impressed how matter-of-factly the film depicts Alzheimer’s symptoms and a patient’s state of mind. In the opening scenes, Campbell watches old home movies with his wife Kim. Campbell recognizes no one – not his then-wife, not his own children, not even himself. Later, in a medical examination, Campbell is incapable of naming the first U.S. president and cannot identify where he is at the time.

But even in the face of this devastating condition, the film is a joyous celebration of Campbell’s music and strikes a hopeful note as it shows his family’s love and support. “It shows how, when a family understands the disease, a patient’s life can be wonderful,” Masdeu says.

Masdeu also applauded the film’s depiction of the support Campbell received from audiences at shows along his tour. Because he could not remember song lyrics, Campbell was completely dependent on teleprompters. One sequence begins when the teleprompter system crashes, and Campbell brings the performance to a dead halt. The camera does not turn away as viewers relive awkward minutes until the system is restored and the show goes on.

James Keach, the film’s director, says scenes like that and others, which starkly depict Campbell’s condition, were tough to film and to experience. “We had the complete, total support of Glen’s family … ultimately, they want to help educate everyone about the true face of Alzheimer’s disease.”

In fact, Campbell himself asked Keach and his partner Trevor Albert to make the documentary. Keach and Albert co-produced the Academy Award-winning Walk The Line, about Johnny Cash and June Carter, and at first they believed they were going to create a simple music documentary about Glen Campbell.

“Originally we thought there was no way to make an upbeat movie about Alzheimer’s disease,” Keach says. “But we saw Glen’s humor and courage, his faith and his love for his family even as he faced this horrible disease. And we saw the love and complete support that came from his family … That is truly the heart of this film.”

 

By the time Campbell finished the tour of 151 shows in 2012, his skills had deteriorated noticeably. In April of this year, he was admitted into a long-term care facility. Keach says his disease has progressed to the point where communication is nearly impossible.

Even so, the 78-year-old Campbell can still occasionally pick up a guitar and play with some of the skill that made him a sought-after musician decades ago. Masdeu says this shows how the disease does not affect the entire brain at one time, but affects some areas more than others. Keach believes it also proves how deeply music is embedded in Glen Campbell.

“Music is his first language,” Keach adds, “and it’s the last thing he’s going to forget.”

Music is Glen Campbell's first language and the last thing he’s going to forget Click To Tweet

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me is currently playing in select theaters around the country. It will open in Houston on Nov. 21 for a limited engagement.

Concussion: movies vs. reality

Our hero sinks back into the shadows, waiting for the night watchman to make his regular rounds. He doesn’t have to wait long. He swings with the butt of his pistol and renders the guard unconscious with a blow to the head. “Sweet dreams,” he says. “You’re gonna wake up with a wicked headache.”

Stop the video. For decades, good guys and bad guys (and girls, too) have been knocked out with a bop on the head, a sock to the chin or a quick karate chop. The movies’ all time knockout champ has to be super spy James Bond, who usually comes into consciousness bound and gagged for the next cliffhanger. The hapless detective on The Rockford Files was knocked out pretty much every episode of the TV show’s six-season run.   

We asked Dr. Kenneth Podell, a neuropsychologist and co-director of the Houston Methodist Concussion Center: Is it really possible to smack someone in the head and render them unconscious?

The short answer is yes, it is indeed possible, but the complications come after. “If you hit somebody hard enough with an object to cause unconsciousness, you could also be hitting them hard enough to break the skull,” Podell says. “It depends on the weapon … one with a large surface area (like a frying pan) dissipates the shock over a larger area, while a smaller weapon focuses the force and can easily fracture a skull.”

It doesn't take a big blow to result in a concussion that carries many long-term health effects Click To Tweet

Podell has seen many cases of people suffering long-term effects from concussion after receiving a blow much less violent than those usually depicted in movies. A person coming out of an unconscious episode, waking up as if from a nap, does not happen most of the time. “There’s a kernel of truth there but a blow substantial enough to cause unconsciousness is also very, very dangerous,” he says.

Let’s speed up the video a bit and check out this part: two combatants grapple fiercely in hand-to-hand combat, and the battle is at a deadlock. Suddenly, one uses an explosive head butt to stun his opponent and gain the upper hand.

“Again, this has a bit of truth to it as well … the front, top part of the skull is the thickest part and can theoretically be used as a weapon,” Podell explains. “But remember that’s also the other guy’s thick skull, so the butt-er needs to select a weak point on the butt-ee, like the bridge of the nose or the side of the head.”

Podell cautions that any kind of head injury has the potential to be very serious and have long-term complications. Concussion can cause dizziness, shaky balance, confusion, headaches and memory loss that can linger for weeks or even months. If you suspect you or someone you know may have had a concussion, please immediately seek medical care. 

Like many other physicians, Podell regularly sees things in movies that don’t really line up with real life. He tries to check his expertise at the door, he says, and suspends disbelief to enjoy the fantasy on screen.

Heroes of Houston heart history featured in book

At some point during his long career at Houston Methodist Hospital, Dr. William Winters realized he was working side by side with living heart history. He thought someone should compile a book to tell the stories he experienced, but never thought he’d be the one to eventually do it.

Houston Hearts: A History of Cardiovascular Surgery and Medicine at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center at Houston Methodist Hospital” is the title of Winters’ recently published history book, co-written with Houston writer Betsy Parish.

“Everywhere you looked at (Houston) Methodist Hospital, heart history was being made,” says Winters, who has worked as a cardiologist at the hospital since 1968. “So many breakthroughs, so many discoveries changed medicine around that time … and much of it took place right here in this institution.”

Dr. Winters with his recently-released book, "Houston Hearts."
Dr. Winters with his recently-released book, “Houston Hearts.”

“Houston Hearts”covers the 95-year history of Houston Methodist Hospital, and tells the stories of surgeons and cardiologists who worked here. The chronology kicks into overdrive during the swinging late 1960s, as Dr. Michael DeBakey and his team earned the world’s attention with an unprecedented string of surgical and medical breakthroughs.

“In 1968 we performed nearly one-third of the heart transplants in the country, and nearly one-fifth of the open heart procedures,” Winters says. “DeBakey and his team of surgeons would sometimes perform up to 12 successful surgeries a day. It was a great time to be a new cardiologist in this city.”

Winters and his medical partner Dr. Donald Chapman often marveled at the history that unfolded all around them. Chapman, also a cardiologist, is credited with bringing heart catheterization to Houston, while Winters began the use of echocardiography in Houston. Eventually Chapman would write three books about his own career, and those contained much of the history he experienced after coming to Houston in 1944.

In 1968 Houston Methodist Hospital performed nearly one-third of U.S. heart transplants Click To Tweet

Winters had an idea to create his own unique record by interviewing key physicians on video. He was able to talk with a number of important players in Houston Methodist’s history, including Chapman (who died in 2007) and DeBakey (who died in 2008) as well as other physicians and hospital administrators.

“A few years ago I realized there aren’t many of us left,” Winters recalls. “So I contacted Betsy Parish and we went to work writing this book. It has a lot of history, but it tells my story as well. As I’ve heard it said, the last man standing gets to tell the tale.”

“Houston Hearts” is available now on Amazon.com, and at select bookstores in the Houston area including the River Oaks Bookstore at 3270 Westheimer Ave., and the Houston Methodist Hospital gift shop.

Helping those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

After nearly 18 years of working with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients, Pam Glazener had a vision. Glazener, an occupational therapist at Houston Methodist, ached to find a way to improve the lives of the people she encountered every day.

Those are people with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that causes progressive muscular weakness. As the body’s nerves wither and die, there is nothing left to stimulate muscle tissues, so the body gradually wastes away. ALS leaves a healthy mind trapped inside a helpless body.

People with ALS develop weakness in a group of muscles called the neck extensors, which hold the head upright. Glazener encounters many patients with neck weakness that must rely on an external support for head control, like a brace or a specially-equipped wheelchair with neck support.

“Many of the braces support the neck from the front, with a piece that attaches to the chest and comes up under the chin,” she explains. “While that worked to support the head, I also saw these braces restrict speaking, eating and sometimes breathing.” She envisioned a different kind of brace, one that would offer head and neck support, but from behind the head.

Pam Glazener adjusts the head support on her prototype neck brace for ALS patients.
Pam Glazener adjusts the head support on her prototype neck brace for ALS patients.

Pam’s design moves the business end of the brace to the back. A head support reaches up the neck and secures around the forehead, keeping the jaws free for movement. The lower part of the brace secures closer to the waist rather than around the chest, allowing patients with lung and diaphragm weakness to breathe more easily.

“When patients have no head control, they often have to rely on a wheelchair or become bedridden,” she says. “What I like about (this new) design is that it keeps patients talking, eating, breathing and walking.”

Working with a company that manufactures braces, Pam worked up a prototype of her brace and conducted a small study on patients at the Vicki Appel MDA/ALS Center at Methodist Neurological Institute. Her study found the prototype allowed ALS patients with neck weakness to remain ambulatory while maintaining or improving their breathing.

ALS leaves a healthy mind trapped inside a helpless body Click To Tweet

Encouraged by the results of this initial study, Pam plans to conduct more research and development. When that is complete, Houston Methodist Hospital will attempt to identify a company to manufacture the brace and place it on the market.

Each year ALS affects an average of 3,000 people in the United States, usually between the ages of 40- 70 years old. Many know ALS better as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the New York Yankees first baseman who retired in 1939 upon learning of his diagnosis with the disease.

This July 4 will mark the 75th anniversary of Gehrig’s iconic farewell speech, where he told thousands of people in Yankee Stadium and countless more listening in on radio, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” He died less than two years later, at the age of 37. He remains a source of inspiration for tens of thousands of patients and caregivers like Pam Glazener.

It’s my great joy to possibly make a difference in the lives of some of our patients. If I can help improve the quality of life for just one patient, I’ve done my job.

Obviously, for Pam this is more than a job. “My patients are my extended family,” she explains. “When I can’t see them in person, we communicate through email, asking questions and getting advice. One of my original patients (from 18 years ago) is still living … so I am always happy to provide some hope.”

Bladder surgery doesn’t stop student from graduating

Saturday, May 31, 2014, was a big day for Harrison Bowe and for everyone around him, but one couldn’t tell it from the 19-year-old’s laid back demeanor. Sitting in his patient room in Houston Methodist Hospital, Bowe didn’t show any outward signs of excitement that he would soon become the very first graduate from the Class of 2014 at Bellaire High School.  “It’s gonna be a great day,” he coolly observed.

Bowe was still recovering from a serious complication from a rare birth defect, and from bladder surgery that surely saved his life. He was born without a functioning bladder, so from the first weeks of his life, Bowe underwent a series of operations to construct one out of his own intestines. He’s managed his condition throughout his life, working his way toward graduation from high school.

Harrison and his family celebrate his high school graduation at Houston Methodist Hospital.
Harrison and his family celebrate his high school graduation at Houston Methodist Hospital.

But in early May, his bladder ruptured unexpectedly and Bowe quickly developed a dangerous infection and acute renal failure. At Houston Methodist Hospital, Dr. Lee Morris performed an emergency bladder surgery.  “Harrison came through it very well,” Morris observed. “Once he gets rid of any lingering infection, he should be right back on track.”

So Saturday was graduation day, but since Harrison was still recuperating, officials from Bellaire High School and the Houston Independent School District brought the graduation to him.  The graduate wore a cap and gown and was wheeled to a conference room at Houston Methodist Hospital, where friends and family gathered for the one-man graduation ceremony.

Nurses caring for Harrison decorated his patient room and door with congratulations, and everyone signed a poster on a bulletin board on the nursing unit. Mike McDonough, Bellaire principal, walked in with a red cap and gown for the ceremony.

McDonough praised Harrison’s determination in making sure he was going to graduate even while he was still in intensive care.  “He was still hooked up to a ventilator, but Harrison was still trying to figure out how he could graduate,” McDonough said.

Quoting from Baz Luhrmann’s song “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),”  the principal reeled off some profound advice: “Enjoy  your body, use it every way you can/Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it/It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.”

Then, with diploma in hand, Harrison thanked his supporters and caregivers and tossed his graduation cap into the air.

10 rules for a long and healthy life

It used to constantly amaze me that the great Dr. Michael DeBakey continued to perform surgeries well into his 90s. He used to say he would never retire, there were too many diseases to conquer.

9. DeBakey 60s
Dr. Michael E. DeBakey’s surgical career spanned more than seven decades and 60,000 patients.

And he never did retire; when he died in 2008, DeBakey was still coming in to work whenever he could. He was 99 years old.

People used to ask him if he knew the secret to a long and healthy life. “Yes,” he would say, and nothing else.

Once, with DeBakey’s slight participation, I put together a list he could use to answer those questions about a long and healthy life.  He never used it, but we agreed the list was absolutely true. There have been literally thousands of studies to prove or disprove these rules, and they all came out the same way.

Years later, these rules still stand up even with minor updates. They are so true, they’re boring. You can print them out and tape them to your refrigerator or carry them around in your wallet. But you probably know them already.

What is the secret to a long and healthy life? Common sense. Click To Tweet

The question should always be: “What is the secret to a long and healthy life?” To which DeBakey would have replied, “Common sense.”

10 (or so) Absolutely True Rules For A Longer, Healthier Life

  1. Don’t smoke cigarettes.
  2. Exercise as much as you can.
  3. Lower your cholesterol level to reduce risk of heart disease.
  4. More often than not, choose foods that are good for you – rather than foods that are bad for you. (You know what they are.)
  5. Wear a seat belt in the car. And don’t mess with cell phones while driving.
  6. Practice safe sex.
  7. Go easy on your exposure to the sun.
  8. Don’t play with guns.
  9. When it’s time, get all of your recommended screenings. (Mammograms, prostate exams, colonoscopies, etc.)
  10. Be friendly and happy whenever you can.
  11. Remember: everything in moderation – including friendliness and happiness.