Inside the 'Whimsically Sweet, Dream'-Inspired Nursery for Colton Dixon's Identical Twin Girls

Only the best for Colton Dixon's little ladies!

Five weeks after the American Idol alum, 28, and wife Annie welcomed their identical twin daughters Ava Dior and Athens Elizabeth, the couple are opening up to PEOPLE about the serene, "dream"-inspired nursery they put together for the girls, furnished with items from Pottery Barn Kids.

"We remember walking into the room that would become the nursery and had this thought to 'dream,' " says the couple. "After we spoke with PBK about the nursery, we realized our nursery dreams would be coming true."

"It turned into a whimsically sweet haven for our girls," they add.

As for the room's aesthetic, "We wanted a light and airy space with mostly neutrals and little pops of color. PBK brought our vision to life, and we added in some black and blush to our white room with light wooden cribs."

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Colton Dixon Recalls How He "Prayed" When One of His Twin Daughters Was Born "Without a Pulse"

And alongside a bevy of soft stuffed animals, Dixon and Annie "felt the unicorn rocking chairs ($199) were the perfect finishing touch to the twins' nursery," they add.

The new parents tells PEOPLE their "favorite part about the nursery is the nook with the rocking chair," which is a Bedford chair from PBK ($269 to $959).

"It serves as a place to spend quality time with our girls," they explain. "We placed the acrylic bookshelf behind the chair, making it the perfect place to read to them, sing to them and rock them to sleep."

Although Dior and Athens are currently snoozing in their parents' room, they say the babies have already taken a liking to their eventual sleep space.

"We know they will love all of the details of the room!" the couple tells PEOPLE. "They currently like the mirror behind the changing table. It reflects light and gives them something to look at during monotonous diaper changes."

"We are excited to make many more memories there," they share.

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Small Risk of Autism Seen in Babies Born Preterm and Post-Term

FRIDAY, Sept. 25, 2020 — There may be a slightly increased risk of autism for each week a child is born before or after 40 weeks of gestation, according to a new study.

Researchers are still trying to pinpoint the causes of autism, but both genetic and environmental factors are believed to play a role.

Some previous studies have suggested that being born before or after full term (40 weeks) may be associated with an increased risk of autism. But many of those studies were limited in scope and didn’t account for sex and birth weight.

In this study, researchers analyzed data on more than 3.5 million children born in Sweden, Finland and Norway between 1995 and 2015. Of those, 1.44% were diagnosed with autism, and 4.7% were born preterm (before 37 weeks of gestation).

The overall risk of autism was low, especially for girls born after 42 weeks of gestation, but the risk increased for each week of gestational age before or after 40 weeks.

Of the children born at term (37 to 42 weeks), 0.83% were diagnosed with autism. The autism rates were 1.67% for those born at 22 to 31 weeks; 1.08% for those born at 32 to 36 weeks; and 1.74% for those born at 43 to 44 weeks.

These differences in risk were independent of sex and birth weight for gestational age, the researchers said. Dr. Martina Persson, an adjunct senior lecturer at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, led the study.

The findings were published Sept. 22 in the journal PLOS Medicine.

In a journal news release, Persson and her colleagues said the study offers new information about the potential link between autism risk and gestational age at birth — a factor that’s potentially modifiable.

They also said further research is needed to learn more about these possible links and whether they could point to ways to reduce autism risk by addressing preterm birth.

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Insomnia, sleeping less than six hours may increase risk of cognitive impairment

Middle-aged adults who report symptoms of insomnia and are sleeping less than six hours a night may be at increased risk of cognitive impairment, according to a study by Penn State College of Medicine researchers. The results may help health care professionals understand which patients who report insomnia are at increased risk for developing dementia.

Insomnia is characterized by reports of difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep. When these symptoms occur at least three nights a week and for at least three months, it is considered a chronic disorder. Researchers found that adults who reported insomnia and obtained less than six hours of measured sleep in the laboratory were two times more likely to have cognitive impairment than people with the same insomnia complaints who got six or more hours of sleep in the lab. The study results were published in the journal Sleep on Sept. 24.

According to Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral health and sleep specialist at Penn State Health Sleep Research and Treatment Center, about 25% of the adult general population reports insomnia symptoms and another 10% suffers from chronic insomnia. He said that being able to distinguish which of these individuals are at risk for further adverse health conditions is critical.

“This study reinforces the need to objectively measure the sleep of adults who complain of insomnia,” Fernandez-Mendoza said. In previous research, the team found that adults with insomnia who obtained less than six hours of sleep were at risk for various cardiometabolic conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease or stroke and mental health problems, such as depression.

“These new results demonstrate that these middle-aged adults also have an increased risk of cognitive impairment, which can be an early indicator of future dementia in a significant proportion of them,” Fernandez-Mendoza said.

Researchers examined data from the Penn State Adult Cohort, a randomly-selected, population-based sample of 1,741 adults who had one measured night of sleep. Before having their sleep measured in a sound, light and temperature-controlled room, participants completed a clinical history, physical exam and questionnaire to identify self-reported sleep disorders, physical health conditions, mental health problems and substance use. They also were evaluated for cognitive impairment before sleeping in the laboratory, including receiving tests that assessed attention, memory, language and other measures.

Fernandez-Mendoza and colleagues found that adults who reported insomnia symptoms or chronic insomnia and slept less than six hours in the lab were two times more likely to have cognitive impairment when compared to good sleepers. They also found that this association was particularly strong for adults with coexisting cardiometabolic conditions and cognitive impairment, which may be an indicator of vascular cognitive impairment—a condition where poor cardiovascular health results in impaired brain function.

Adults who reported insomnia but who slept six or more hours in the lab were not at risk of cognitive impairment when compared to good sleepers. The research team accounted for potential differences in sociodemographic factors—including age, sex, race, ethnicity, years of education—and the presence of physical and mental health problems, including sleep apnea, as well as substance use, such as smoking and alcohol intake.

Fernandez-Mendoza said that only having one measured night of sleep limited the study’s conclusion to in-lab sleep studies and cautioned that these data do not prove causality. Nevertheless, they further show that insomnia, cognitive impairment and cardiometabolic conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, often tend to co-occur in adults who get less than six hours of sleep in the lab but not in those who can sleep six hours or more, he highlighted.

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Billie Lourd Is A Mom! Actress Welcomes First Child with Fiancé Austen Rydell

Billie Lourd is a mom!

The Booksmart actress, 28 welcomed her first child with fiancé Austen Rydell, she announced on Instagram Thursday.

"👑💙👑Introducing: 💙👑💙Kingston Fisher Lourd Rydell💙👑💙" the new mom wrote in the caption, sharing a photo of the little boy's feet. 

As the grandson of the late Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher, the tiny tot was fittingly dressed in solar system onesie. He was also wrapped in a blue and white fuzzy blanket.

Lourd and Rydell got engaged in June. In his announcement of the happy news on Instagram, Rydell wrote that saying "yes" to his proposal was a no-brainer for the Scream Queens alum.

"💍💍💍She said YES!! (Actually she said 'Duhhh') But I guess that's even better than yes?!? 💗🤪🎉🎰💥🍾," he captioned a series of photos that encapsulated their romance.

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In July, Rydell shared a sweet tribute to Lourd on her birthday.

"Happy Birthday to my FIANCÉ @praisethelourd !! Your birthday feels like my birthday! I ❤️ YOU!! Here we go!!!" he wrote on Instagram.

This past February, Rydell wrote a sweet Valentine's Day tribute to his love on Instagram, alongside a photo of the two sharing a kiss in front of the sunset.

"I found the best girl in the world," the 28-year-old actor captioned his post. "Happy Valentines Day to us!! We're hangin with the redwoods today.💕 ❤️🔴🌲🌹🐿."

Inside Billie Lourd and Austen Rydell's Relationship: How Rekindling the Romance Led to Their Engagement

Lourd shared her own loving post as well, writing alongside a slideshow of photos featuring the couple, "🌎💑🌏All 'round the world you make my world go 'round."

Lourd and Rydell, who first dated in early 2016 but later broke up, rekindled their romance in late 2017.

In December 2017, Rydell joined Lourd for a trip to Norway in honor of the one-year anniversary of the actress' mother's death. Fisher, who famously portrayed Princess/General Leia Organa in the Star Wars franchise, died in 2016 at the age of 60.

Lourd, who is the daughter of Fisher and Bryan Lourd, has previously spoken about her childhood with the famous Star Wars actress.

"I grew up with three parents: a mom, a dad and Princess Leia," Lourd wrote in an essay for Time in November 2019. "I guess Princess Leia was kind of like my stepmom — technically family, but deep down I didn't really like her … When Leia was around, there wasn't as much room for my mom — for Carrie."

It wasn't until Lourd — who appears in the newer trilogy of films as a Lieutenant Kaydel Ko Connix, with her hair in two buns as a nod to Leia's signature hairstyle (and a young Leia in the most recent, The Rise of Skywalker) — finally sat down to watch the films as a middle-schooler that she came to realize why Leia was, in her words, so "cool."

"I realized then that Leia is more than just a character. She's a feeling. She is strength. She is grace. She is wit. She is femininity at its finest," Lourd wrote, adding, "And no one could have played her like my mother. Princess Leia is Carrie Fisher. Carrie Fisher is Princess Leia. The two go hand in hand."

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Kids Are Getting COVID-19 at School and Spreading It to Families

  • Many schools around the country are cautiously beginning to allow children to return to in-person classes.
  • As children head back to school, parents may have questions about whether their families are at risk.
  • Experts say kids can develop COVID-19, and there have been cases where they’ve transmitted it to adults.
  • While it usually causes mild disease in children, it’s rarely fatal.
  • One basic way to help protect children is to emphasize the importance of handwashing, physical (social) distancing, and mask wearing.

With schools around the United States beginning to cautiously return their students to on-campus classes, many parents have questions.

They want to know whether their children will be prone to getting COVID-19.

In addition, there are concerns as to whether they might transmit it to their families, friends, and teachers.

Here’s what we currently know about COVID-19 and children.

Yes, children can get COVID-19

Dr. Lisa Gwynn, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics and public health sciences at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, said that yes, children can get COVID-19.

However, according to Brian Labus, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the infection rates in children are low.

Adults over age 75 have 10 times the rate of infection of children, said Labus.

Adults under 45 have 5 times the rate of infection.

“When children do get infected,” explained Labus, “they tend to have a very mild disease compared to adults.”

They can also transmit it to adults

Gwynn said that children can transmit COVID-19 to adults.

She noted that children ages 10 and older are especially able to transmit the illness to the adults around them.

While there’s limited information regarding children younger than 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on September 18 indicating that younger children can transmit the virus to adults as well.

The report cited one case in which an 8-month-old child transmitted the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, to both parents.

Another child at the same day care facility who contracted the virus was 8 years old.

Both children had mild signs and symptoms, including runny nose, fatigue, and fever.

The report included information about 12 children who had developed COVID-19 at three different child care facilities.

Transmission, either confirmed or probable, was shown to have occurred to 46 people outside of the facilities, including one parent who had to be hospitalized.

Also, two children who had confirmed COVID-19 but were asymptomatic were shown to have transmitted the disease to adults.

COVID-19 is potentially but rarely life threatening in children

“For the vast majority of children, COVID-19 presents as a very mild disease or with no symptoms at all,” Gwynn said.

However, it can be serious for children with underlying health problems, she said.

Gwynn added that the COVID-19 death rate for children is very low. Only 71 of 190,000 deaths through the end of July occurred in children.

When children do die from COVID-19, it’s usually due to either complications from underlying conditions or a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), according to Labus.

MIS-C is a condition in which multiple parts of the body, such as the heart, kidneys, lungs, skin, gastrointestinal organs, or eyes, become inflamed.

The CDC states that it’s unknown exactly what causes MIS-C, but it’s been linked to COVID-19.

Labus emphasized that MIS-C is quite rare. Through July, only 570 cases have been reported in the United States.

In addition, many children can recover from MIS-C with medical care.

Protecting kids as they return to school

Gwynn’s advice to parents is first to make sure children are following the basics of infection control.

They should be wearing masks properly (mouth and nose covered), maintaining physical distancing, and washing their hands, she said.

Labus suggested that parents look to the CDC’s guidance as children begin to return to the classroom.

While not an all-inclusive list, some of the recommendations made by the CDC include:

  • Check in with your child daily to monitor them for any signs of illness, such as a cough, fever, of vomiting.
  • Talk with your child about safety protocols, such as washing hands, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distancing.
  • Make sure your child is up to date on vaccines, including the flu vaccine.
  • Familiarize yourself with your school’s COVID-19 action plan.
  • If your child has had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, keep them home.
  • Make note where you can obtain testing in the event that your child does become sick.
  • Create a routine for your family to make sure they’re always prepared with items like hand sanitizer and spare masks.
  • Create a plan for how you’ll protect any household members who are at greater risk for severe illness.
  • Be prepared in the event that your school has to close or to impose a period of quarantine on your child.
  • Make sure the emergency information you have on file with your school is up to date.
  • Speak with your school about their plans for any special services that your child uses, such as speech therapy or tutoring.
  • Be aware that your child will need to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing if they’re riding the school bus or carpooling with other kids.

If COVID-19 hits your child’s school

While the hope is that everyone’s hard work in preventing COVID-19 will keep everyone safe and well, parents need to be prepared in the event that cases do develop.

Both Labus and Gwynn suggest looking to your school for guidance. They’ll be in the best position to tell you if your child is safe to return to school or will need to quarantine at home.

Labus noted, however, that just because there’s been a case at your child’s school, this doesn’t mean that your child has been exposed.

If your child does develop symptoms of COVID-19, Labus said it’s important to not send them to school.

“There is no need to rush to the doctor,” he added. “If you wouldn’t normally take your child to the doctor for their illness [mild to moderate symptoms], COVID-19 doesn’t really change that.”

But he added that if your child has underlying health problems, it’s important to talk with his or her doctor for advice.

Talking with your child’s doctor will ensure that you’re responding appropriately.

Once your child has recovered, speak with the school regarding their policy for allowing children to return to classes. They may require a doctor’s release before your child can go back to school.

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Public Awareness Low for Invasive Fungal Diseases

THURSDAY, Sept. 24, 2020 — More than two-thirds of individuals have never heard of any of six invasive fungal diseases, according to research published in the Sept. 25 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Kaitlin Benedict, M.P.H., from the CDC in Atlanta, and colleagues conducted a nationally representative online survey to assess whether participants had heard of six invasive fungal diseases to guide public health educational efforts.

The researchers found tlow awareness, which varied by disease, from 4.1 percent for blastomycosis, 5.1 percent for aspergillosis, 7.5 percent for histoplasmosis, 7.6 percent for coccidioidomycosis, 9.0 percent for cryptococcosis, and 24.6 percent for candidiasis. Overall, 68.9 percent of respondents had never heard of any of the diseases. Those who were aware of one fungal disease were more likely to be aware of others. There were associations seen for female sex, higher education, and increased number of prescription medications with awareness.

“These first nationally representative estimates of public fungal disease awareness demonstrate major gaps, indicating a need for continued efforts to strengthen education messages, particularly for groups at higher risk and those with lower educational attainment,” the authors write.

Abstract/Full Text

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Scientists track down a protein that may add to lung damage in asthma and related diseases

Your lungs and airways need to be stretchy, sort of like balloons. Take a big breath, and they’ll open right up.

Damaged lungs can’t open properly. Patients with asthma, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and systemic sclerosis suffer from fibrosis and tissue remodeling, where a build-up of tissue and immune cells, and proteins that form a glue-like substance, keep the airways from expanding. As fibrosis gets worse, taking a breath feels like blowing up a balloon filled with concrete.

In a new study, researchers at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) report that a protein called TL1A drives fibrosis in several mouse models, triggering tissue remodeling, and making it harder for lungs and airways to function normally.

“Our new study suggests that TL1A and its receptor on cells could be targets for therapeutics aimed at reducing fibrosis and tissue remodeling in patients with severe lung disease,” says LJI Professor Michael Croft, Ph.D., director of scientific affairs at LJI and senior author of the new study in The Journal of Immunology.

Croft’s laboratory is focused on understanding the importance of a family of proteins, called tumor necrosis factors (TNF) and tumor necrosis factor receptors (TNFR), in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. By investigating these molecules, researchers hope to track down the root causes of inflammation and stop tissue damage before it’s too late.

Previous research had shown that a TNF protein called TL1A can act on immune cells involved in allergic reactions and drive those immune cells to make inflammatory molecules. The Croft Lab wondered—if TL1A leads to inflammation, could it contribute to fibrosis in the lungs?

For the new study, Croft and his colleagues used genetic and therapeutic interventions, tissue staining, and fluorescence imaging techniques to study protein interactions in mouse models of severe asthma, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and systemic sclerosis. They first discovered that TL1A acts directly on a receptor on cells in the lungs and bronchial tubes, which leads to fibrosis and tissue remodeling.

We’re all familiar with the idea of tissue remodeling. When a wound on the skin heals, the new area of skin is sometimes shiner, darker or tougher than the skin around it. The tissue has been remodeled. When lungs and airways try to heal—in response to an asthma attack, for example— the cells in the area also change. The damaged area accumulates cells called fibroblasts, which make several glue-like proteins, including collagen. Too much collagen makes the lungs and airways less elastic—and less functional.

As Croft describes it, tissue remodeling is like wound healing, “but wound healing that goes wrong and becomes so exaggerated that it blocks tissue from behaving in its normal way.” With the new study, scientists now know that TL1A is driving this harmful remodeling in the lungs.

In addition to causing fibroblasts to make collagen, the researchers found that TL1A also helps fibroblasts to behave like smooth muscle cells. A thin layer of smooth muscle cells naturally lines the bronchial tubes allowing them to dilate and constrict, but a thick layer of these smooth muscle cells—that includes fibroblasts—will keep the airways from expanding and contracting normally, making it even hard for a patient to breathe.

The scientists then studied lung tissue remodeling in mice that lacked the receptor for TL1A, called DR3, or were given a reagent that blocked TL1A activity. These mice showed less lung remodeling, less collagen deposition and reduced smooth muscle mass in the lungs.

These animal model data may support recent research in humans. Researchers have found that patients with severe asthma have excessive production of TL1A. This could explain why these patients are more vulnerable to lung fibrosis and remodeling.

“This type of research needs to be expanded to really understand if there are subsets of patients with asthma or other inflammatory lung diseases who might express TL1A at higher levels than other patients—which could potentially guide future therapies for targeting TL1A to reduce remodeling and fibrosis,” says Croft.

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Scientists identify biomarkers in blood, revealing often-missed minor strokes

An interdisciplinary group of researchers at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University have uncovered a new suite of human blood biomarkers which could someday help emergency clinicians quickly recognize whether someone is experiencing a stroke with a simple blood test.

While a viable test is probably still years away, the researchers have identified new biomarkers whose presence in the blood indicates damage to brain tissue, said Grant O’Connell, an assistant professor and director of the Biomarker and Basic Science Laboratory at the nursing school.

O’Connell and colleagues from the School of Nursing recently published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Others on the research team, all students taught by O’Connell in the nursing Ph.D. program at the School of Nursing, were Megan L. Alder, Christine G. Smothers and Julia H. C. Chang.

Major strokes, minor strokes

The symptoms of a major stroke are readily apparent, often repeated in public service announcements as FAST—the acronym for Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech slurred and Time to call 911.

However, O’Connell said, most strokes cannot be definitively diagnosed until revealed by advanced radiological tests at a hospital, such as an MRI or CT scan.

“You would think that a stroke would be really obvious, and that’s true with severe strokes, but most strokes are actually minor (in terms of the initial symptoms),” O’Connell said. “Many people might just think that they’re having a bad migraine, so they don’t go to the hospital.”

More importantly, it can be difficult for health care workers such as paramedics, nurses and physicians to recognize that a stroke is happening in this group of patients who have less obvious symptoms. Because stroke treatment is time-sensitive, this can lead to life-threatening delays in care.

“(Clinicians) don’t have CT scanners or MRI in the back of an ambulance, or even in the emergency rooms of some of the smaller hospitals,” O’Connell said. “Because of this, up to one-third of strokes are missed at the initial contact with a clinician, which delays treatment that could prevent death or disability.”

The discovery of blood biomarkers associated with stroke could be an avenue to avoid such delays, he said.

“If we had a blood test to tell us right away if someone is having a stroke, that could make a huge difference in patient care,” O’Connell said.

Finding new biomarkers

The idea of finding biomarkers for brain damage, such as the damage caused by stroke, in the blood is not new. In fact, the problem with advancing the technique was more that the data were old, O’Connell said.

Neurodiagnostic researchers have known for years that if proteins can be identified that are only expressed within the brain, their detection in the blood could indicate that there is damage to the brain tissue.

“But what we’ve started to realize is that the proteins we study as candidate biomarkers had been identified some 20 to 40 years ago,” O’Connell said. “And it turns out that a lot of these proteins aren’t as specific to the brain as we thought because we’re now seeing them expressed in other organs, so it could look like you’ve had a brain injury and you didn’t.”

The Frances Payne Bolton team used a custom developed algorithm to assess gene expression patterns in thousands of tissue samples from the brain and other organs to identify proteins which could serve as more specific biomarkers of neurological damage. The analysis revealed up to 50 new possible markers, several of which were subsequently measured and successfully detected in the blood of a cohort of patients with stroke, O’Connell said.

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After grieving mother’s death, teen commits to helping others

Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, Ngoc Vuong had a wide circle of Vietnamese friends to play with in his neighborhood.

His parents had left Vietnam in the 1990s to build a new home in the U.S., making Vuong and his two older sisters first-generation Americans.

“A lot of my summers were spent hanging out with people who looked like me,” Vuong said. “At school, it was a different story. I struggled with my identity. Am I really Vietnamese? Am I really American?”

What Vuong, 20, discovered as he grew up was that he embraced being Vietnamese American. He took on leadership roles, serving in the student council and as student body president.

His guiding force was his mother. In Vietnam, she had to forego college and work to support her siblings after her father was sent to a communist prison camp and her mother was arrested. Despite those hardships, she went on to serve others.

“My mom taught me the importance of kindness and to help those less fortunate,” he said.

When Vuong was only 15 and a sophomore, he lost his role model and nurturer. His mother died at age 46 from a ruptured brain aneurysm. Her death sent him into a depression.

“For a year after, I felt like I was leading a double life,” said Vuong, now a rising junior at Wichita State University, where he studies psychology, with concentrations in public health and economics. “I was still functioning at school, but I would come home and just crash. It was hard to see a way out.”

He was grateful for having a supportive family and teachers, but he also needed professional help for the depression, which he sought after several months in pain.

“In the Vietnamese community, and really in general, there’s that stigma that comes with seeking mental health treatment,” he said.

Although Vuong already had been taking on leadership roles, his focus had been more about being successful as opposed to making a difference, he said. “My mom’s death gave me a new purpose in life. It wasn’t enough to live a successful life; I wanted to live a significant one.”

Since then, Vuong has worked tirelessly on several initiatives to help reduce the stigma around mental health, especially related to drug addiction. Although he hasn’t personally been affected by addiction, he’s seen its effects on students, friends and in the Wichita community.

He’s particularly interested in helping underserved communities because “they are excluded from the decision-making table.”

His first effort resulted in ICTeens in Mind, a student-led coalition that supports youth affected by mental illness and promotes awareness. It has since been folded into the nonprofit Partners for Wichita, where Vuong works part-time as a community mobilizer.

Vuong, who has been awarded several scholarships, including from the American Heart Association’s EmPowered to Serve program, is working on two new grassroots projects. City Voices and Healing Kansas both address mental health and addiction issues through art, storytelling and civic engagement. He also was tapped to serve on the Wichita mayor’s Civil Rights Advisory Council, and he handles social media for school board member Stan Reeser.

Reeser met Vuong in 2018, after hearing Vuong speak at his high school graduation ceremony.

“I was so impressed with his passion, and I reached out to him,” said Reeser, who now uses Vuong as a sounding board on issues relating to youth.

Vuong also helped Reeser with his re-election campaign in 2019, first with social media, but Reeser said his young charge grew into the role of campaign manager.

“He’s definitely wise beyond his years,” Reeser said. “He has this perfect balance of feeling passionate about issues but at the same time he’s very reasonable and loves to look at data.”

Vuong, who hopes to become a clinical psychologist and researcher, is assisting on a project at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita examining disparities in mental health treatment.

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Using "pain sketches" to optimize migraine surgery outcomes

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

“Can you draw me a picture of your headache?” may sound like an unusual question—but drawings of headache pain provide plastic surgeons with valuable information on which patients are more or less likely to benefit from surgery to alleviate migraine headaches.

Patients with more “typical” patterns on pain sketches have larger reductions in headache scores after migraine “trigger site” surgery, suggests a new study by Lisa Gfrerer, MD Ph.D. and William Gerald Austen, Jr., MD, and colleagues of Harvard Medical School. The study appears in the October issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

Migraine surgery has become an established treatment alternative for some patients with intractable migraine headaches. Developed by plastic surgeons who noticed that some migraine patients had fewer headaches after cosmetic forehead-lift, migraine surgery targets specific trigger sites linked to certain headache patterns. More than 5,200 patients underwent migraine peripheral trigger site surgery in 2019, according to ASPS statistics.

However, it can be difficult to predict which patients will get good results from migraine surgery. Drs. Gfrerer, Austen and colleagues have noticed that there are “pathognomic” pain patterns for each trigger site. “In our experience, a valuable method to visualize pain/trigger sites is to ask patients to draw their pain,” the researchers write. In the new study, they analyzed how well the patterns on these pain drawings predict the outcomes of migraine surgery.

The study included 106 patients who made pain sketches as part of their evaluation for migraine surgery. The sketches were reviewed by experienced researchers who were unaware of the patients’ headache symptoms or other characteristics, and classified into three groups:

  • Typical – showing pain originating from and spreading along the expected path of a specific nerve (59 percent of sketches)
  • Intermediate – showing pain along the path of the nerve, but with an atypical spread (radiation) of pain (29 percent)
  • Atypical – pain originating and radiating outside of the expected nerve distribution (12 percent)

One year after surgery, outcomes were assessed using a standard score, the Migraine Headache Index (MHI). Patients with typical or intermediate patterns on their pain drawings had similarly good outcomes: MHI scores improved by 73 and 78 percent, respectively.

However, for patients with atypical pain sketches the results were not as good: only 30 percent improvement in MHI score. Just one-fifth of patients in the atypical group had more than 30 percent improvement after migraine surgery.

The researchers emphasize that pain drawings should be just one part of the standard patient assessment. Migraine patients with atypical pain drawings may still have “compelling reasons” for surgery but should understand that they have lower chances of a positive outcome.

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