Health And Wellness (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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This Week On Metro Connection: Health & Wellness

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and Happy New Year, everybody. We are just a few days into 2013 and for many of us, that's means 'tis the season for New Year's resolutions. Research shows that more than third of all Americans make resolutions each year and some of the most popular resolutions are all about getting and saying healthy.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

You know, exercising more, stressing less and eating an all around healthier diet. Granted, it's been said that not even half of us actually stick to those resolutions by the time July rolls around, but hey, why not at least start the year with a glass half full attitude, provided, of course, that glass is full of electrolyte enhanced spring water and not, I don't know, a milkshake.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

So on this week's show, we are charging right into 2013 with an entire hour devoted to health and wellness. We've combed through the "Metro Connection" archives and pulled out some of our favorite stories on the subject, like the tale of Jordan Bruns, the Glen Echo artist who came down with an extremely rare condition when he was in art school. But we'll start off today's show with a rather rare piece of history.

MR. J. JORDAN BRUNS

The brain tumor was probably pretty bad then and I wasn't remembering a lot of what my instructors were telling me so I think they got frustrated with me and I actually got put on probation.

SHEIR

We'll also hear Emily Berman's award winning story on a local ice hockey team for children with disabilities.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD

It's not as competitive as the actual sports because, you know, for slide hockey you're in a sled and not on skates, but it's still pretty fun.

SHEIR

And we'll revisit Sabri Ben-Achour's piece on the bride whose wedding feast included a heaping helping of a certain invasive species.

MS. CARRIE KENNEDY

So we're going to have a light lunch buffet and that lunch buffet, like most weddings, is going to have chicken and fish. But the fish that we're going to have is going to be snakehead.

SHEIR

First, though, we'll go back to a story that combines health and history.

MR. BARRY DEUTSCHMAN

Here's a receipt for a delivery to the White House for Mrs. Jacquelyn Kennedy.

SHEIR

Oh, wow.

DEUTSCHMAN

For $8.17.

SHEIR

This is pharmacist Barry Deutschman.

DEUTSCHMAN

This receipt was auctioned off at Sotheby's, but one of the neighbors sons worked at Sotheby's and made a copy of the receipt so that we could have it.

SHEIR

Deutschman has owned Morgan's Pharmacy in Georgetown since 1992. Can we see what she purchased? I'm trying to read the handwriting.

DEUTSCHMAN

Aspirin, I can't make that out, Almay face something, spot strips, probably a band-aid of some type and Revlon polish.

SHEIR

For 75 cents.

DEUTSCHMAN

Yeah. Well, the total delivery with federal tax and state tax came to $8.17.

SHEIR

Wow. We're in the back office of Morgan's, an institution whose history extends well beyond the Kennedy administration. In fact it was 100 years ago that Malcolm and Harold Morgan first opened their doors on the corner of 30th and P.

DEUTSCHMAN

This is what the store looked like in 1912. You can see the same fixtures going down both sides of the store.

SHEIR

Soda fountain, oh man.

DEUTSCHMAN

The soda fountain. You know, a funny story about the soda fountain. In 1912, the drink that they served in the most was either Coca-Cola or something called Two Cents Plain which was just seltzer water. Well, today the biggest seller in the cooler, for health reasons, is no longer Coke, it's seltzer. So it's interesting, we're going back to the future, so to speak.

SHEIR

Everything old is new again.

DEUTSCHMAN

Yeah.

SHEIR

Well, not everything. The drugstores products have expanded and diversified. The original black exterior is now a minty green and certain customer habits, I guess you could say...

DEUTSCHMAN

Here's a photo on the wall from the '50s...

SHEIR

...have gone up in smoke. A lot of people are smoking inside the pharmacy.

DEUTSCHMAN

Oh, my.

SHEIR

That's hilarious.

DEUTSCHMAN

Everybody smoked. You know...

SHEIR

But, yes, much has stayed the same over the past century. Morgan's still does deliveries, for instance, a couple hundred a week. It still offers personal charge accounts and, says staff member Dave Ibinson, it's still a place where everybody knows your name.

MR. DAVE IBINSON

Probably like 90 percent of our cliental is a return customer. So that in itself is something you don't get elsewhere.

SHEIR

And Ibinson knows all about getting stuff. He's the stores buyer and merchandiser. Right now he's going through a set of old wooden drawers where customers can find all sorts of goods. The drawers, by the way, probably date back to the 1910s or '20s.

IBINSON

You name it, you can find it.

SHEIR

And if you can't?

IBINSON

We'll get it for you.

SHEIR

Really?

IBINSON

We aim to please.

MR. MAURICE BROWN

It's our customers, you know, we take care of them.

SHEIR

Maurice Brown has been the manager at Morgan's since the late 1980s.

BROWN

It's like a big family and, you know, that's pretty special. Actually it's, you know, these places aren't around anymore. You know, all the big box stores comes in and gotten rid of all the little guys.

SHEIR

Well, not all of them. The National Community Pharmacist Associations says upwards of 20,000 independent pharmacies still exist in the U.S. In the 1980s, it was more like 40,000. And that's approximately the number of chain drug stores today. According to The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, that's up from 30,000 in the late '90s. But Barry Deutschman insists, when it comes to those big chains...

DEUTSCHMAN

Competition in itself was never really a problem.

SHEIR

What has been a problem, he says, is the health care system. Since he graduated from the now defunct George Washington University School of Pharmacy in 1958, he's watched reimbursements from private and government third party payers shrink.

DEUTSCHMAN

You know, the tighter squeeze in terms of making a profit on certain medications.

SHEIR

And he's watched prescription prices rise.

DEUTSCHMAN

I did work here in the '70s, part-time, and you filled a prescription and you made a fair profit, but the average price of a prescription was maybe $25, maximum. Well, today, prescriptions are very expensive, especially brand name drugs.

SHEIR

Then, of course, there's been the growth of pharmacy benefit managers or PBM's, huge companies like Caremark and Medco, which administer nearly every prescription drug insurance plan in the United States.

DEUTSCHMAN

Customers don't understand, when insurance companies don't want to pay for a specific drug, and they'll say but that's what my doctor wants me to have. And unfortunately, that's not what the insurance company wants you to have so you have to go through the process of a prior authorization and that can take anywhere from 24 hours to three or four days or a total rejection.

SHEIR

Which is why Deutschman's goal is to help customers navigate the system.

DEUTSCHMAN

And fight the hurdles and the maze of getting through that. You know, I mean, that's one thing that independents still can afford to give and that's the time and the energy and the service.

SHEIR

And Morgan's, he says, can give something else, too, 100 years of colorful history. One of his favorite moments was when Julia Child came to town to work with some chefs at the Smithsonian.

DEUTSCHMAN

And then she walks in one day and I looked at her and I said, well, hello Ms. Child, how are you? What a pleasant surprise to have you come into Morgan's. And she said, oh, I need some help. I said, well, what's that? She said, I need some Tums for the tummy. So I'll never forget that and that's a story I like to tell. Of course, when I do tell it, I do imitate her.

SHEIR

You didn't imitate her this time.

DEUTSCHMAN

I know.

SHEIR

Barry Deutschman has collected decades of stories by now, but he says he's not taking off his crisp white Morgan's Pharmacy button down anytime soon. In terms of your future here at Morgan's, you're going to stick around?

DEUTSCHMAN

I have no plans on retiring. I love what I do. I've always considered myself a people person. So I love being around people and I love talking with people. I mean, what more could I want?

SHEIR

Well, only he knows the answer to that question. But whatever it is, chances are, he can find it at Morgan's. After all, they aim to please.

SHEIR

To see photographs of Morgan's Pharmacy through the years from 1912 to the present day, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

This next story is about kids, kids who are playing one of the more aggressive sports out there, hockey. A while back, Emily Berman headed to Ballston, Va. to visit Kettler Capital's Iceplex, that's the Washington Capital's practice rink, and she brought us this story behind one of the city's most vibrant hockey teams, the D.C. Sled Sharks.

MS. EMILY BERMAN

The D.C. Sled Sharks are down 4-0 at the end of the second period. A few of the top players are out with injuries and they're down to six, just enough to play, no subs. It's not looking good, but the team isn't too discouraged. Actually, they look pretty happy.

MR. BRIAN DUTTON

They love throwing big hits. Everything about hockey, these guys are into.

BERMAN

That's Coach Brian Dutton.

DUTTON

Yeah, we've had kids with spina bifida, we've had amputees, we've had conjoined twins at the head out here, so we had two players that were connected at the head on two different sleds.

BERMAN

Sled hockey, or sledge hockey, as the Europeans call it, was invented by three Swedish wheelchair athletes back in 1961. The athletes decided there had to be a way to translate NHL style hockey into a game for people who can't use their legs. The three Swedes decided that instead of skating players would sit on a tiny sled with two blades under it, blades just like the kind on hockey skates.

DUTTON

And on top of that sled contraption is a bucket that they sit in.

BERMAN

Which is not actually a bucket, but more like a backrest to hold the player's torso up. Their legs are strapped into the sled and they hold two short hockey sticks, maybe a third the size of a traditional hockey stick. On one end is the blade to hit the puck and on the other end there's metal teeth, which players dig into the ice to move around the rink.

DUTTON

Shoot. There you go.

BERMAN

Within a year of the game's invention, there were five teams in Stockholm and by 1994, sled hockey made it to the Para-Olympic games.

MS. JOAN JOYCE

What's nice for the children to from a physical point is that it's the opposite movement than pushing their wheelchair. So if you have a wheelchair user and they're always pushing forward, when they're skating, they're pulling back.

BERMAN

Joan Joyce is the manager of the Sled Sharks. She's also the recreation therapy coordinator at National Rehabilitation Hospital, the organizer and main sponsor for the team. NRH has a Para-Olympic sports club, which also organizes teams for wheelchair basketball, quad-rugby, wheelchair tennis and hand-cycling.

JOYCE

One of my favorite moments was we had one of the kids, who's on the team, is in high school and we had just come out and he was going down the hall in his wheelchair and this able-bodied kid stopped him and said, Vitaly, what are you doing here? And he goes, I'm on a hockey team. You're on a hockey team? You know, and the kid was shocked and the kid's on a hockey team so it gave them a connection that they hadn't had before.

BERMAN

In the final period of the game, Connor Delaney is playing defense. He's the youngest one on the team and by far, the smallest.

MS. DELANEY

I'm Ciel (sp?) Delaney, mom of Connor Delaney, number 25 on the D.C. Sled Sharks. Connor was born early, 12 weeks early. He has cerebral palsy, other than that, he's 100 percent typical boy.

BERMAN

In the past, Connor had played sports for kids with disabilities, but no one kept score and that, he told his mother, was not what he wanted.

DELANEY

Like any typical male, they're competitive. He wants to be out there playing, wants to go fast and wants to score and, you know, now he can.

BERMAN

Connor, she says, has been playing now for almost two years and loving it.

DELANEY

It changed his life, which changed our life when he joined the team.

BERMAN

After the game, Connor's father, Pat Delaney, helps pull the players and their sleds off the ice. The Sharks lost 5-1.

MR. DELANEY

Hello, Mr. Peanut, how are you?

MR. CONNOR DELANEY

Well, I'm sweating so badly. We had no subs.

DELANEY

I know.

BERMAN

During a postgame interview, I ask Connor about the game. At nine years old, he handles it like a pro, spinning a loss into the makings of a great underdog story.

DELANEY

We are kind of a new team so we are losing a little bit but we'll get better and we'll keep on going and we'll keep trying and we're going to get better.

BERMAN

As far as Connor is concerned, he plans to keep playing the sport and, of course, winning for a long time.

SHEIR

That was "Metro Connection's" Emily Berman reporting on the D.C. Sled Sharks.

SHEIR

Time for a quick break. But when we come return, we'll hear from the local bride who decided to put an invasive species on her wedding menu.

KENNEDY

With snakehead, we realized that our challenge is that we want it to go away so we're going to try and create a market and I think that this is my part that I can do and encourage people to eat as much of it as they can.

SHEIR

That, and more is coming your way on "Metro Connection" here on WAMU 88.5

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we are kicking off the New Year by playing some of our favorite "Metro Connection" stories about health and wellness. In a few minutes, we'll hear Sabri Ben-Achour's piece on snakeheads and how these toothy invaders are affecting the health of our local waters.

SHEIR

We'll also hear from the Glen Echo artist who struggled for years with a mysterious illness and with the dancer who managed to return to the spotlight after overcoming some serious physical ailments. But first, we're going to talk about health and children. Earlier this year, Kavitha Cardoza joined me here in the studio to talk about how physical education is changing in the D.C. public schools.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

The most basic change has to do with the types of games children play, Rebecca. Here's Heather Holliday who's in charge of physical education for DCPS.

MS. HEATHER HOLLIDAY

Physical education of the past would involve games like dodge ball, elimination games, and if you're not able to compete on the level of everyone else, then you're not getting the same benefits from the class. Those games, you know, sort of exclude the kids that really the class is for, and that's those kids that are overweight or obese.

CARDOZA

So instead of dodge ball, for example, students are asked to compete against themselves. Each child has an individualized plan and goals. So for example, in running, if they can do five laps, the next time they try and do six laps. They're trying to beat their previous scores. Students also have individual heart monitors or pedometers so they can track how they're doing.

SHEIR

Wow. So students are just doing their own thing?

CARDOZA

Mm-hmm.

SHEIR

Does that mean you won't find kids playing, say, volleyball or basketball? Team sports, for example?

CARDOZA

You'll still find those sports, but teachers may modify the games. So for example on a volleyball court, teachers may use half the number of players so students are forced to move around a lot more. And PE teachers are for several types of sports including golf, archery and tennis. And high schools often have giant Wii screens that students can use to learn say, yoga and Pilates.

SHEIR

Wii yoga and Pilates. We have come a long way from the days I was in school. But I have to ask. Is anyone voicing concerns that all this time spent on phys. ed is time that could otherwise be spent on things like reading or math.

CARDOZA

Well, I did a series on obesity last year.

SHEIR

I remember it well.

CARDOZA

And researchers said that children who are more active, or who actually participate in physical education, can concentrate better in class. They sit still, they don't go as much to the nurse's office. I checked back in recently with Yolandra Hancock. She's the doctor I interviewed for that series. She works with children who are overweight or obese. She says weight problems actually affect how these children do in school.

DR. YOLANDRA HANCOCK

Some researchers believe that there may be something physiologically that's affecting the child's ability to learn. Others believe because of self-esteem issues and bullying, it makes them less eager to attend school and participate in school activities.

SHEIR

Well, while we're talking about physical activity and phys. ed., what about the nutrition side of things. I mean nutrition and exercise do, after all, go hand-in-hand. And I know DCPS has revamped the entire school lunch menu. But is nutrition something that's being taught in health class in the public schools?

CARDOZA

Yes, in health class, students now have to learn how to create a meal plan for themselves and their families. As Heather Holliday points out, they learn how to advocate in their families for healthier choices, such as low-fat milk.

HOLLIDAY

We teach skills like reading a food label. We teach refusal skills. Starting in middle school all of our students every single year are required to create a personal fitness plan. They're also required to create meal plans for themselves and/or their family.

CARDOZA

Some schools also have family activity night where they teach families how to cook a nutritious meal or they exercise together. At the end of the day though, Rebecca, the point is, are these students becoming healthier and, in many cases, are these students losing weight?

SHEIR

Excellent question. Kavitha Cardoza, thanks so much for bringing us up to speed on what's happening in the D.C. public schools.

CARDOZA

You're welcome.

SHEIR

And we want to know, do you think phys. ed is working in your local schools? If not, how would you revamp things? You can reach us at metro@wamu.org or send us a tweet. Our handle is wamumetro.

SHEIR

So on today's show, we're talking about health and wellness and so far, we've talked about a bunch of people. But people aren't the only ones we hope will stay healthy and well. What about, say, the environment? Back in April, Sabri Ben-Achour introduced us to an invasive species that's threatening the health of our environment and he brought us this tale of one bride's unusual approach to keeping our ecosystem in tiptop shape.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

So I don't know if you all remember this so let's go back 10 years, almost exactly to when the snakehead came to Maryland. It's an exotic fish from Asia that someone released here.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

Then there was a documentary...

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

...and an unbelievably bad movie...

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

...now fast forward a decade and meet Carrie Kennedy.

KENNEDY

My name is Carrie Kennedy.

BEN-ACHOUR

And she's getting married.

KENNEDY

So we're going to have a light lunch buffet and that lunch buffet, like most weddings, is going to have chicken and fish. But the fish that we're going to have is going to be snakehead.

BEN-ACHOUR

Kennedy is a fishery scientist from Maryland's Department of Natural Resources.

KENNEDY

Snakehead's an invasive species here in Maryland and we want it to go away. So we're trying to create a market.

BEN-ACHOUR

And their strategy is kind of working.

MR. JOHN RORAPAUGH

Our biggest load so far has been 560 pounds in one day.

BEN-ACHOUR

John Rorapaugh is with PROfish, a wholesaler in Northeast D.C., he's standing over crates of iced giant snakehead.

RORAPAUGH

We have a couple hundred pounds that we got in yesterday and all this fish will be gone this weekend.

BEN-ACHOUR

Now, are they a monstrous looking fish? That is a yes.

RORAPAUGH

They have a boa constrictor-python look to them from the neck down. If you open up the mouth, it has a full row of teeth in the front on the lips and then it has bigger teeth set back into the mouth.

BEN-ACHOUR

It cannot walk on land, that was just a rumor, but they can breathe air by gulping and they can survive for long periods out of water. And are they ravenous? Yes. Check out what they found in these guys' bellies.

RORAPAUGH

AA batteries, mice, birds' feet, we've found turtles, baby turtles, anything that swims past them that's living, they'll eat.

BEN-ACHOUR

But guess what? They are delicious.

RORAPAUGH

We're actually next door. Louie's Diner is right next to our warehouse. So earlier, I brought over some snakehead fillet for him and he put a light marinade on them. So we're going to throw them on the grill and let you taste them.

BEN-ACHOUR

All right. Let's try. This is great. It's so -- it's dense, it's almost not like fish.

RORAPAUGH

When you bite into it, it almost feels like it falls apart because it's so tender.

BEN-ACHOUR

This fish is mostly just available in fancy restaurants right now and it's kind of pricey, plus it's called snakehead and looks like Jacques Cousteau's nightmares so it's not totally taking off yet, as delicious as it is, so it's very much still here and very much a part of the ecosystem now.

MR. JOHN ODENKIRK

The entire Potomac River system, including non tidal and tidal, from Great Falls all the way to Chesapeake Bay.

BEN-ACHOUR

John Odenkirk is a biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. And he's standing on a boat on the Occoquan River, basically he's tasering fish.

ODENKIRK

So what we'll do is we'll start shocking and the generator is going to be running the whole time.

BEN-ACHOUR

He's actually surveying the fish population.

ODENKIRK

We're actually putting electricity current in the water, about a 1,000 volts DC. So don’t fall in.

BEN-ACHOUR

Two sets of electrodes, they look like tire size aluminum spiders, are dangling into the water ahead of the boat. The generator goes on...

BEN-ACHOUR

...and fish fly everywhere. Glimpse of silver flash over the surface as fish of all types start spasming toward the cables.

ODENKIRK

Actually, as the electricity goes through the fish, it forces the fish to sort of -- in a trance. It's like zombies in a trance.

BEN-ACHOUR

And then one, two, three enormous snakeheads emerge from the depths. Odenkirk scoops them up in a 10 foot long pole net.

BEN-ACHOUR

That's awesome. When you hit them like that. They're not the easiest fish to work with either. They're kind of uncooperative. He measures the fish...

ODENKIRK

699...

BEN-ACHOUR

...tags them...

ODENKIRK

It's got a unique number on it, it says remove tag, report location and kill fish.

BEN-ACHOUR

...and throws them back. The idea is to figure out how fast they grow and where they travel to. In a half hour, they catch 35 snakeheads, up to three feet long. Odenkirk is also catching largemouth bass.

ODENKIRK

So we're trying to track both populations. The contention is that if the bass population was hurting, some people making that contention because of the snakeheads presence, but it's not what we're seeing at all. This year's been a phenomenal year for bass.

BEN-ACHOUR

In fact, Odenkirk says, it looks like the snakeheads aren't turning out to be the monster people feared.

ODENKIRK

We still don't know. We don't have enough information to really make that call yet and we probably won't for several more years. But it does look like some of the initial hysteria was probably overstated. Not probably, it was almost surely overstated.

BEN-ACHOUR

The real question is how much further the population will expand, geographically and in terms of numbers.

ODENKIRK

If it tops out where it is now, like it seems like it might be, based on last year's data, I think it'll assimilate and not really cause a lot of damage.

BEN-ACHOUR

What could be a big deal, though, is if the fish gets into isolated streams or if it gets into an area where there's an endangered fish species. It has Virginia worried enough that the Common Wealth isn't ready to allow the sale of snakeheads for fear that that would encourage people to spread the fish themselves. But back in Maryland, Carrie Kennedy is trying a sample for her wedding.

KENNEDY

It's really good. The best thing would be if it wasn't around at all, but you know what, if you have lemons, you might as well make lemonade.

BEN-ACHOUR

I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

For photos and videos of snakeheads, as well as some recipes for the more daring chefs out there, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Now, it' no secret that stress can play a huge role in determining how healthy we feel and the same goes for our infrastructure. Earlier this year, Martin Di Caro brought us this story on the high tech equipment being used to measure stress on our roads and bridges.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

As you whiz down the highway, you're focused on getting where you need to be, hoping you don't get stuck in bumper-to-bumper, maybe hating the Sunday driver in front of you in the left lane. You're not thinking about whether this highway sign might fall over. Men in hard hats kneel down around its space using a good old fashioned hammer to perform a preliminary inspection.

MR. CRAIG FREEDLINE

It's just a test to see if these nuts are loose.

CARO

Don't worry, the sign is sturdy. The reason why technicians at the Virginia Department of Transportation know that is that they're also using technology more advanced than a hammer or power drill.

MR. BERNIE SAVIA

It's an ultrasonic testing equipment using sound waves. What I'm holding now is actually emitting a sound wave through the rod.

CARO

This is cantilever sign structure.

FREEDLINE

Meaning that you have a vertical pole and then you have a horizontal arm that's suspended, that's attached to the pole and then suspended out over a traffic lane.

CARO

Near exit 160 here on 95 North in Prince William County is held down by four vertical rods. Technicians, Bernie Savia and Craig Freedline, are using ultrasound to see more than four feet down into the concrete if there are any stress-related problems in the rods.

SAVIA

I'm setting it now to a 100-inch rang and you can see that we have a spike at 51 inch.

CARO

51 inches down.

SAVIA

It's down. It's reading the length of the anchor bolt. That's the entire length of this bolt.

FREEDLINE

I don't know if you could possibly do this kind of inspection without that equipment. We're testing the bolt below concrete level.

CARO

These tests make clear, stress affects concrete and metal as much as our blood pressure and nerves.

FREEDLINE

Everything you can see on the road is being stressed out, whether it be another human being, their vehicle, the signs. Everything is stressed.

CARO

Nicholas Roper, VDOT structure and bridge engineer for northern Virginia explains how.

MR. NICHOLAS ROPER

An overload on the anchor bolts could be caused by very high winds, an exceptional ice storm that puts additional vertical loads on the sign that the anchor bolts eventually have to carry. If one bolt was cracked and became overstressed, that would put additional stress on the other three bolts.

CARO

To detect problems hidden from the naked eye, Roper's teams of technicians are employing the high-tech on hundreds of signs like this one and also on the hundreds of bridges across the interstate. They use ultrasonic devices, ground penetrating radar and infrared thermo graphics.

ROPER

The way that works is you're looking for what we call dalamination, which is a separation of concrete into different layers.

CARO

Finding cracks and other problems deep inside structures lets VDOT stay ahead on maintenance that is so critical to commerce and commuting.

ROPER

Inspections are the catalyst for just all the repair, rehabilitation preventive maintenance work that we do. The first thing you have to get is a good handle on the condition of the existing structure that you're examining. Everything else comes from that inspection.

CARO

No matter how much maintenance any state DOT performs, there's no way to turn back the clock on aging infrastructure. At the D.C. based think tank, Bipartisan Policy Center visiting scholar Emil Frankel, a former assistant transportation secretary under George W. Bush, says bridges on the interstate system are generally 40 to 50 years old.

MR. EMIL FRANKEL

The lifetime of bridges is estimated to be 40 or 50 years. Structural deficiencies even more serious risks than that are not unexpected. They're coming -- many of them are coming to the end of their lives, but the difficulty is what we do about it. We can discover the problems, but remedying the problems is quite another issue.

CARO

Until those investments are made, he says, both our infrastructure and the commuters who use it every day will continue to shoulder more and more stress. I'm Martin Di Caro.

SHEIR

You can see photos of the ultrasound equipment you just heard about on our website, metroconnection.org. Time or another break now, but when we get back, we'll hear Jessica Gould's story of the dancer whose illness nearly made her hang up her toe shoes.

MS. ALICIA GRAF MACK

When my career was finished, I had no job. I lived in New York City. I couldn't pay my rent. Like, I mean, these are major things. I felt like a failure.

SHEIR

Plus, we'll visit two more neighborhoods on our regular "Door to Door" segment and read from your letters. That and more is coming up in just a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And as everyone makes their resolutions for the brand-new year, this week we're testing the hypothesis that a bit of public radio a day keeps the doctor away so we're checking out some of our favorite health and wellness stories from the past year. And we'll kick off this part of the show by heading up to the studio of an artist whose own health and wellness, not too long ago, were hanging in the balance. So you -- your class is downstairs and then your studio is up?

BRUNS

Yep.

SHEIR

This is J. Jordan Bruns. So you've got two floors.

BRUNS

Yep. That's why it's the best studio in Maryland.

SHEIR

Jordan, as he's known, is the resident artists at Glen Echo Park in Maryland. He teaches classes in the parks famed yellow barn and creates and displays his paintings and drawings up in the old stone tower.

BRUNS

I've been in the stone tower since 2000 -- right after brain surgery so 2007.

SHEIR

It's kind of hard to hear in the towers echo-y stairway so in case you missed that, in 2007, Jordan underwent brain surgery, a million dollar brain surgery, in fact, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

BRUNS

It was rare enough of an illness to qualify for one of their studies and once I was finally back to normal, it actually took about a year.

SHEIR

When say normal, what does that mean?

BRUNS

Not diseased. Healthy, thinking back to where I used to be once upon a time.

SHEIR

As for what once upon a time means, Jordan's doctors suspect it was probably around high school, which the Ohio native attended in a suburb of Cleveland.

BRUNS

And I was the first student to go to art school from my high school. And then we -- I was in Baltimore so I have a kind of affinity with Maryland.

SHEIR

But it was in Maryland at the Maryland Institute College of Art that Jordan first started noticing something was off. For starters, he was gaining weight.

BRUNS

I was 50 pounds heavier then I am now.

SHEIR

Lots of weight.

BRUNS

Really bulbous face and I have a buffalo hump on the back of my neck. But I had very skinny arms.

SHEIR

And he knew this wasn't a case of the notorious freshman 15.

BRUNS

You know, I was vegetarian diet and running five miles a day, yet I weighed over 200 pounds. So there was something not right.

SHEIR

Then when Jordan got into the MFA art program at Indiana University, he found he was really struggling with memory.

SHEIR

And I wasn't remembering a lot of what my instructors were telling me.

SHEIR

And focus.

BRUNS

I had six bodies of work. I produced more than anyone else in my program, for sure, but they got frustrated with me and they just wanted me to focus and actually I got put on probation.

SHEIR

Finally, he decided enough was enough. He went to IU's health clinic and after hearing Jordan's symptoms, the clinics doctors said, look, this is kind of a long shot.

BRUNS

I'm going to test for Cushing's Disease. And low and behold, that's what I had.

SHEIR

Cushing's Disease is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland, right at the base of the brain and that tumor over stimulates the production of the stress hormone, cortisol.

BRUNS

A normal person's between one and 10 on their cortisol level, whatever doctors measure cortisol with, and mine was over 400.

SHEIR

Cortisol controls your bodies use of carbohydrates, fats and protein. It helps reduce swelling and inflammation. It also affects your mental state. So too much cortisol and all those things get out of whack, which is why the doctor thought to test Jordan for Cushing's Disease. So she thought you might have it, you were tested, you came out positive for it and what was your reaction?

BRUNS

Oh, it was relief. You know, I was very unhappy with the way I looked and my memory was terrible. So when it finally got resolved, you know, I had some sort of depression issues just because I felt so terrible, but I thought this was going to be something I had to live with for the rest of my life.

SHEIR

And, of course, it wasn't, thanks to the surgery Jordan eventually received at NIH, which again, was a kind of experimental surgery since most cases of Cushing's Disease...

BRUNS

Apparently, it's more prevalent in women and dogs and horses.

SHEIR

...don't occur in guys.

BRUNS

The actual probability of me having it, I think we calculated it to 2 in a million men.

SHEIR

As to why it took Jordan an entire year to recover after the surgery, you have to remember, basically his body had been addicted to cortisol...

BRUNS

My body was fiending for cortisol...

SHEIR

...ever since the tumor appeared during his high school days, so his doctors...

BRUNS

It was essentially being a heroin addict, then removing all your heroine.

SHEIR

...had to wean him off.

BRUNS

So I was taking medication and during that time period, my pituitary gland, which had been a sleep for nine years because of the tumor was taking over, was slowly starting to wake up again and do its job.

SHEIR

And now that Jordan's pituitary is back in business and he feels normal again, to borrow his word...

BRUNS

I'm back to running, I'm back to producing artwork on a daily basis.

SHEIR

He says he feels forever indebted to NIH for getting his life back on track. That's why, earlier this year, he started a fundraiser for the Children's Inn at NIH. Back in May, five Glen Echo artists painted in the bumper car pavilion as the Washington Conservatory of Music performed jazz. The event raised $10,000 for art therapy programs at the Children's Inn. This year, Jordan says, the money will go toward music therapy. And you said, this is kind of your way of giving back?

BRUNS

Yeah. I didn't have to pay for my surgery so this is my way of saying thank you. And they do a really wonderful job at the Children's Inn of making that environment friendly for kids. I can see myself, if I was a younger kid, really appreciating that kind of opportunity to not be in a very stark hospital.

SHEIR

And of course, Jordan hopes he won't wind up in such a place either, like, say, if the tumor comes back.

BRUNS

I run the risk of losing the pituitary gland if it does come back. As of now, I'm off hormone replacements. I don’t wake up and go through withdrawals of feeling sick and nauseas all the time. But, you know, there's always the chance that it could come back. But it's less now than ever.

SHEIR

As for how Jordan runs his bout with Cushing's Disease has affected his art, well, he's always been fascinated by the cycle of destruction and rebirth. And now he says that theme takes on a whole new meaning in his artworks. Many of which depict sweeping, almost surreal stone buildings, often crumbling and falling down from the inside and out.

BRUNS

You know, destruction, I think I was doing to myself during that time period. But also, the rebirth is still there. So there's always kind of a glimmer of hope and some people kind of walk in the studio saying, oh, it's very post-apocalyptic. It's very depressing. And I’m like, yeah, and that's part of what life is. If things die, things are reborn. And I think that cycle is true to me. You know, it feels like it came through experience in a way.

SHEIR

For more on Jordan Bruns, Glen Echo Park and the Children's Inn at NIH, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

So that whole process of rebirth that Jordan Bruns was describing, Alicia Graf Mack knows a thing or two about that. As a young girl in Maryland, Mack would rush home from school, put in a video of legendary choreographer Alvin Ailey's classical dances and mimic all the steps. Now, performs those very same pieces with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. But as Mack told Jessica Gould a little while back, the road to success has been full of twists and turns.

MS. JESSICA GOULD

The late choreographer Alvin Ailey once said his masterpiece "Revelations" was based on blood memories of growing up African American in the Deep South. So as dancer Alicia Graf Mack arches her arms heavenward like a bird ready to take flight, she thinks about her ancestors who suffered through segregation and the relatives who struggle today.

MACK

Sometimes I think about my grandmother who is 95, this beautiful woman, she's still living and she lost her husband a few years ago and they had been married for over 70 years, and what she says to God when she thinks about her husband or when she is upset.

GOULD

Then sometimes she thinks about her own story.

MACK

We've all been through times in our lives where we feel like we weren't going to make it through. So while I'm glad that it touches other people, it's deeply personal for me. It's just an opportunity to talk to God and to thank him or her for the gifts I have received.

GOULD

Mack, who grew up in Columbia, Maryland, began dancing when she was still in diapers.

MACK

I think I just was a born mover.

GOULD

And she danced everywhere she could.

MACK

In the house...

GOULD

In the supermarket.

MACK

Something about grocery store aisles were very appealing to me. I always danced down grocery store aisles and places where there was a lot of space.

GOULD

By elementary school, Mack knew Alvin Ailey's most famous pieces by heart.

MACK

I had a VHS tape of "Revelations" that I would watch with one of my friends. We would try to imitate what was going on on the video.

GOULD

Then by 17, Mack was starring in concerts of her own as a principal with the Dance Theater of Harlem in New York City.

MACK

For me, dance is such a part of me and just like when people get up and brush their teeth in the morning, I get up and I'm a dancer. That's what I do.

GOULD

Lithe and long with legs that look as if they could skim the sky when she extends them, Mack was an instant sensation. Soon her image was plastered on subways and bus stops throughout the city. But after a few years, her joints, which had always bothered her, started acting up.

MACK

From the time I was young, I would have various joints that would swell and so I just went through life just draining various joints whenever they got swollen.

GOULD

Doctors didn't know what to do and Mack was forced to give up dancing.

MACK

And we're sitting on the train and I look up and there's a picture of me above my head and it was just painfully ironic and I broke down in the subway car.

GOULD

She was just 21 and the life she knew was over.

MACK

I had trained to be a dancer my whole life. I did not go to college so when my career was finished, I had no job, no career option. I lived in New York City, I couldn't pay my rent. Like, I mean, these are major things. I didn't want to go home. I felt like a failure.

GOULD

So Mack turned in her toe shoes and began again. She went to college studying history at Columbia University and started preparing for a future in finance.

MACK

Everything can be stripped away, but that just means that you build even stronger.

GOULD

Then as Mack's body began feeling better, she decided to give dancing one more chance.

MACK

And I thought, I'm just going to try it for a year and a year turned into six amazing years.

GOULD

During her 20s, Mack danced with Dance Theater of Harlem, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and eventually Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, performing the same steps she'd practiced in her living room back in Maryland.

MACK

I feel like, to perform "Revelations," it's a huge honor to know that 23 million people have seen "Revelations" in its lifetime. You have a responsibility to do it well.

GOULD

It's seemed too good to last and it was. After three years with Ailey, Mack's joints began to bother her again. So she said her goodbyes one more time.

MACK

I moved to St. Louis, Missouri, because my then boyfriend, now husband, was living there at the time.

GOULD

She studied nonprofit management in hopes of leading her own company one day and she started teaching on the side. But dance kept calling her back.

MACK

I would be teaching and in between every class that I would teach at the university, I'd take a class.

GOULD

Now, with a new treatment for her aliment, which doctors think is a form of arthritis, Mack is back with Ailey.

MACK

It's beautiful, it's powerful and it's touching and there's nothing else like it in the world.

GOULD

And this time, she says she's determined to make the most of every minute while she still can.

MACK

When I was younger, I stressed about everything. I wanted to please everybody. I wanted to be perfect and in doing that, I realized that I was denying myself some of the joy of being a dancer. Now, it's about sharing and enjoying the craft and living in it.

GOULD

Call it a revelation. I'm Jessica Gould.

SHEIR

You can learn more about the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and see photos of Alicia Graf Mack on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And now, our weekly trip around the region. On today's "Door To Door," we visit Eckington in Northeast D.C. and the historic downtown of Herndon, Va.

MS. LISA MERKEL

My name's Lisa Merkel and I live in the historic downtown of Herndon. The town of Herndon is four square miles and we have a historic downtown. We have a town green and a beautiful library that the town green hosts festivals and concerts throughout the summer. We were a dairy farm town. The railroad was essential to our economy in the 1800s and early 1900s and we know that Metro rails' arrival in 2016 will be the centerpiece of Herndon's economic future in the 21st century.

MS. LISA MERKEL

We have a small Main Street with great harvest bread and locally owned restaurants and everybody knows the landmark of Jimmy's. Jimmy still buses tables at Jimmy's Old Town Tavern and if you want to know what the heartbeat and the pulse of the town is, stop by Jimmy's and you'll see what Herndon is. People want to live in Herndon because you can have a little bit of everything. We've got the small town feel with the white picket fences. We're 10 minutes from Dulles Airport, we're a half hour from D.C. and a half hour from Wine Country.

MR. STEVEN REINEKE

My name is Steven Reineke. I'm a member of the Eckington Civic Association and I play a role of historian there. I've been in Eckington for over 10 years. Eckington is near the New York Avenue Metro Station on the Red Line. It's actually between North Capital Street Northeast and the Metro tracks to the east. It's Rhode Island Avenue to the north and Florida Avenue Northeast to the south.

MR. STEVEN REINEKE

Eckington's fortunes have risen and fallen due to transportation shifts. And I think, as one of the first commuter suburbs of Washington in the late 1800s, we were part of the Eckington Soldiers Home Line. And then eventually, when that street car went out, our neighborhoods kind of went down economically and then with the new Metro coming in, you could see a spike of development.

MR. STEVEN REINEKE

It's still very much a quiet sort of isolated feel compared to other neighborhoods because we're kind of cut by various traffic corridors, including the Metro rail. It's basically a neighborhood filled with people who work in the District. You know, people have said it's kind of an oasis, an open oasis. And in a way, it is because you've got other neighborhoods that are within the vicinity. You get a lot more foot traffic, but here, you could walk around and not see a lot of people. It sort of makes you feel like you're further out of the downtown.

SHEIR

We heard from Steven Reineke in Eckington and Lisa Merkel in Herndon. If you think your neighborhood should be part of "Door to Door," send an email to metro@WAMU.org or visit us on Facebook. That's facebook.com/metroconnection.org. And to see a map of all the doors we've knocked on so far, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Before we say goodbye on this first show of the New Year, we thought we would pass the mic to you and read from your letters and emails. Jacob Fensten's recent report on D.C.'s bike lanes and the confusion their causing among drivers and cyclists prompted this note from Rachel. She writes, "I am a driver, not a biker and I have no problem with bike lanes. However, the bikers who regularly weave in and out of traffic and make the driving experience exasperating.

SHEIR

If bikers are supposed to obey the rules of the road, they should be required to obey all rules of the road." We also heard from several cyclists in the city, one avid bike commuter writes, "I ride the L Street bike lane daily on my commute home from work. The early days were confusing, prior to the signs and paint, but three weeks later, it seems pretty smooth sailing along L Street.

SHEIR

For those complaining about the loss of driving lanes, there were always parked and standing cars in the lane. Traffic couldn't flow anyway. The biggest loss is the commercial loading zones, but it seems delivery trucks have gotten the message now." Another city cyclist disagreed, writing "The L Street lanes are a mistake. The street was already overly congested with vehicular traffic. I know there are people who regularly commute by bike and I hope that they will increase, but the number will never be big enough so that bike traffic volume will justify permanently removing one-fourth of the flow of a major thoroughfare."

SHEIR

Another listener, John, wrote us to comment about a recent piece by NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg who occasionally contributes to "Metro Connection." He writes, "I was blessed to catch two pieces by Susan Stamberg on consecutive days," he writes. "Her piece on the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit on 'Metro Connection' on Friday and her remembrance of Dave Brubeck on "Weekend Edition." I just love the smile in her voice. Thank you, Susan and WAMU, you are treasures."

SHEIR

And finally, Amy sent us a message saying she listens to "Metro Connection" "every Saturday morning as I eat breakfast and get ready to go teach swim lessons at the YMCA. As a transplant to D.C., I really feel like the stories you tell on your show make me feel more connected and tuned in, literally, to my city, home and neighborhood." Thanks so much, Amy, for making us part of your Saturday morning routine.

SHEIR

If you have a comment or question about the show, you can reach us a metro@WAMU.org. Or send us a tweet, our handle is @WAMUmetro.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Sabri Ben-Achour, Emily Berman, Kavitha Cardoza and Martin Di Caro along with reporter Jessica Gould. WAMU's managing editor of news is Meymo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Rachel Schuster. Lauren Landau, Rachel Schuster and John Hines produce "Door to Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts" and our "Door to Door" theme "No, Girl" are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on an individual story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.

SHEIR

Also on metroconnection.org, you can find our Twitter and Facebook links, you can read free transcripts of stories, and if you missed part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing by clicking the this week on "Metro Connection" link. To listen to our most recent episodes, click the podcast link or find us on iTunes.

SHEIR

We hope you can join us next week when we'll dive head long into the New Year with a show we're calling Into The Future. We'll step inside the world of preppers, Washingtonians who spend a lot of time preparing for life's big what-ifs. We'll tour a D.C. neighborhood that's been the site of all sorts of change over the decades and is bracing for an even bigger makeover.

SHEIR

And we'll take a crash course in predicting the future from a celebrated psychic in Maryland. I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news
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