Monday, March 28, 2011

Hearing: The Key to Quality Communication

Today’s technology allows many avenues of communication–e-mail, text messaging, telephone, even good old-fashioned letter writing. Still, the most important and satisfying contacts for most people are in-person visits. Getting outside ourselves to connect with others is essential, especially for people who live alone.

Studies show that relationships help us cope with stress. If we can turn to others for emotional support or advice, we can buffer the negative effects of stress. And key to good communication is the ability to hear.

As we age, hearing loss is a common cause of failure to communicate. Even people with mild hearing loss experience increasing levels of depression. It’s uncomfortable to be in a group and miss parts of conversations, having to ask people to repeat what they’ve said. People with hearing loss often withdraw, resulting in a downward spiral of depression.

Our brains are involved in our ability to hear. The brain evaluates changes in loudness, depth, origin and direction so sound makes sense. The brain processes a wide variety of messages and interprets what we hear so that we act appropriately. With gradual hearing loss, our brains lose these connections. The longer we are without full hearing capacity, the longer adjustment will take with hearing aids. One of the lessons to be learned from this fact is to see a hearing specialist early–don’t wait until your hearing loss is severe.

Answer these questions to test yourself on possible hearing loss:
– Do you avoid talking on the phone?
– Do you have trouble hearing in large, open spaces?
– Do others complain about the loudness of the TV?
– Do you have trouble hearing people at meetings?
– Do you still enjoy music the way you used to?
– Do you miss nature’s sounds, such as birds in trees, leaves rustling?
– Do you have to ask people to repeat themselves?
– Do you find your hearing loss makes you feel isolated and depressed?

Today hearing aids utilize the latest technology to help people keep their social contacts and live a more fulfilling, connected life.

The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) is the nation’s leading organization representing people with hearing loss. For more information, visit their website,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

After a failed attempt to climb K2, mountaineer Greg Mortenson, lost, hungry and dangerously cold, wonders into a Pakistan village. Taken in by the village chief, the discouraged and confused climber is fed, warmed by the hut’s fire and given a place to sleep. He awakes to a new world, a new life.

Three Cups of Tea, One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin is a remarkable story of tenacity, courage, and humanitarianism to the extreme.

Third world countries aren’t new to Mortenson. Born of American missionary parents, he spent his youth in Tanzania, Africa. His acceptance of the lack of creature comforts–familiar food, clean clothes, warmth–enable him to achieve what many simply could not do. Creature comforts aside, Mortenson treads, sometimes fearfully but nevertheless steadfastly, into situations that enable him to learn what he can do to make a difference–provide schools, particularly for girls.

Mortenson’s first attempt results in disappointment, logistical nightmares, and serious funding concerns. Many people would quit before completing a project this immense. But Mortenson listens and learns, finding ways to do business in a country fraught with stark poverty, hostile terrain, and war.

Among the many messages Mortenson sends to his fellow Americans is that “Muslim” is not synonymous with “terrorism,” that the true core tenants of Islam are justice, tolerance and charity. What we in America hear and fear is what extremists have done in the name of Islam.

Haji Ali, Korphe village chief, the man who initially gave Mortenson shelter and in whose village Mortenson built his first school, said, “Here (in Pakistan and Afghanistan) we drink three cups of tea to do business: the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family and for our family we are prepared to do anything...even die.”

Three Cups of Tea is a memorable story. As our untitled ambassador, Mortenson’s unbelievable hardships and determination are something all Americans can be proud of. His passion shines like the stars he has so often slept under. His story shows what one man can do to make a difference, one school at a time. To learn more about Greg Mortenson’s work, visit the Central Asia Institute,

Monday, March 14, 2011

In the Nick of Time

Photo by Haley Blavka
(Left to Right) Darla Varrenti, Executive Director of Nick of Time Foundation; Jessica Manca-Koeller, organizer of school event; Sue Apodaca, Director of Operations for Nick of Time

Did you know that one teen athlete suffers a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) every three days in the United States?

Recently, my granddaughter, Jessica Manca-Koeller, organized a terrific program at her school, South Whidbey High School in Langley, WA as part of her senior community graduation project. A life-long friend of Jessica’s participated in heart screening tests through his school in Auburn, WA and they found a possibly life-threatening abnormality. Inspired by this experience, Jessica contacted the Nick of Time Foundation, who had conducted the screening in Auburn, and asked them to work with her at South Whidbey High.

For several months, Jessica worked closely with the Foundation and with the community lining up the on-site location, local medical personnel, local volunteers, and donations.

The Nick of Time Foundation, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to educating schools, athletes and communities about sudden cardiac arrest in young people. The Foundation provides support and educational resources for the formation of public access defibrillator (PAD) programs, cardiac screenings, education and awareness.

Nick of Time Foundation was established by Darla Varrenti in memory of her son, Nicholas Dwain Varrenti, a high school junior and energetic football player who died of sudden cardiac arrest at the age of 16.

Nick of Time, based in Mill Creek, WA, working in partnership with the University of Washington Medical center, conducts free, on-site heart screenings. The screenings consist of a survey asking about possible signs, symptoms and family history, an ECG (electrocardiogram) that analyzes electrical signals of the heart, and, in some cases, performs an echocardiogram (ultrasound) of the heart. After on-site reviews of the tests, cardiologists and sports physicians consult with the students.

According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 2,500 young people die from SCA every year. Two acronyms I heard a lot that day – SCA and HCM – are associated with these grim statistics. SCA, Sudden Cardiac Arrest, is a sudden or unexpected cessation of heart function which often causes a sudden arrhythmia, such as ventricular fibrillation. The heart’s electrical impulses suddenly become chaotic, blood flow to the brain ceases and the victim quickly loses consciousness. Unless help such as defibrillation is promptly delivered, the victim will most likely die.

HCM, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, is a congenital heart defect affecting 1 in 110 births. Most are undiagnosed until suffering sudden cardiac arrest, often resulting in death.

Warning Signs and Symptoms:– unexplained fainting or seizures
– unusual shortness of breath or fatigue
– dizziness or lightheadedness during or after physical activity
– chest pain, discomfort, racing heartbeat
– family history of heart disease
– family history of unexplained sudden death of an otherwise healthy person under age 50

Cardiac Chain of Survival:– early recognition of sudden cardiac arrest
– early contact with 911
– early CPR
– early defibrillation
– early advanced care

Of the 220 students who were screened at Jessica’s school, they found 9 students who need to be monitored, and 2 students with potentially serious problems that needed immediate follow-up. Without the screenings, it is entirely possible that these conditions would have gone unnoticed and they would have become unfortunate statistics.

My thanks to the Nick of Time Foundation and to Jessica Manca-Koeller for their dedication to our community’s heart health. For further information, visit

Monday, March 7, 2011

We Found Heaven in Hells Canyon

Remote and wild, Hells Canyon is ruggedly striking. Skimming over the water on a jet boat river tour, we were awed with the canyon’s beauty and unbroken wilderness as the Snake River slices through steep canyon walls in broad, bending curves. I loved knowing that it looks much the same today as it did when Lewis and Clark made their way 100 miles up river during their expedition of 1806.

Nearly surrounded by national forests, Hells Canyon is bordered by three states: Idaho on its eastern rim, Oregon on the western border and Washington to the north.

Hells Canyon covers a 74-mile portion of the Snake River as it flows from Hells Canyon Dam to Cache Creek on the Oregon-Washington border. The Snake River’s 1,038-mile passage originates in northwest Wyoming and ends when it meets the Columbia River in southeast Washington.

Several outfits offer river tours of Hells Canyon and we chose a three-hour jet boat tour. After briefing us on the boat—a 26-passenger, 33-foot welded aluminum boat with twin inboard jet drives—the captain instructed us on safety procedures and we began our tour, entering on the Washington side. We first drew in close to Hells Canyon Dam which, as we fought the turbulent waters, proved what a powerful boat we rode. Then, with Idaho on our right and Oregon on our left, we began our journey down the Snake River.

Almost immediately on a bluff high above us, we saw a mother brown bear and her cub, rummaging for food. Around a bend, a bighorn sheep stood so still it looked as though he were posing to have his picture taken. Other wildlife commonly seen in the canyon are elk, cougar, mule deer and mountain goat. The area is a bird watchers’ favorite with many species of owls, hawks, eagles, falcons and songbirds of every description. The habitat is varied in Hells Canyon because of the extreme differences in elevation within a short distance, from 7,000 feet at Hat Point in Oregon, down to 1,500 feet on the Snake River, and back up to 9,393 feet in the Seven Devils Mountains in Idaho—all within a 10-mile horizontal distance.

Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America, has history dating back to prehistoric times. Geologists claim millions of years ago, lava or basalt formed bold cliffs, then later Hells Canyon was created by erosion as the Snake River cut its way through rocks of a rising mountain range. It is still being cut and is probably deeper and more rugged today than at any other time in its history. At the present time, the gorge measures up to a mile and a half from mountain top to river bottom.

Traces of human existence in Hells Canyon date back as far as 8,000 years, from prehistoric Native American tribes, to Chief Joseph’s band of the Nez Perce Indians, to the 1860s gold miners and late1800s homesteaders.

We stopped at one clearing on the Idaho side that was at one time a transient Native American camp. We viewed Indian pictographs with painted scenes, now a faded red but still visible, a cave believed to have sacred spirits, and the remains of a pithouse, a structure used before teepees.

In places along the river, traces of gold mining operations are evident where the miners sluiced water from the river over the ore.

Early homesteaders were as rugged as the surrounding terrain. Due to the difficulty in travel, most families left the homestead to make the journey back to civilization for supplies only every one to three years. Supplies reached them via floating river rafts. Mostly, they caught or grew everything they needed and traded with neighbors.

Jagged cliffs go straight up on either side. Some cliffs are basalt, many shiny with manganese, others, made of pillow lava, are lumpy. Where trees could grow, we saw sumac, a few pines and low-growing brush. At times the cliff flattened out to patches of meadow grass. The Forest Service maintains the Oregon side and some of the Idaho side; other parts on the Idaho side are private land. The Snake is the deepest river in North America and is popular for fishing sturgeon, small-mouth bass, steelhead, trout and catfish.

Hells Canyon—there’s nothing like it to get back to the basics of nature and unmatched scenic adventure.