2015’s Celebrity Health Stories: Part 2

11. The world lost its favorite Vulcan.


Leonard Nimoy, beloved member of the original Star Trek cast, died in February at the age of 83. The cause of death, according to his granddaughter, Madeleine Nimoy, was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

llap-300x194Nimoy played the pointy-eared half-human/half-Vulcan Science Officer Spock.  He endeared fans despite his unemotional, logic driven character. Although best known for his that role, Nimoy’s show business career spanned more than six decades.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. “Progressive” means the disease gets worse over time. COPD is a major cause of disability, and it’s the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. More than 12 million people are currently diagnosed with COPD. An additional 12 million likely have the disease and don’t even know it.

COPD can cause:

  • coughing that produces large amounts of mucus
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Most people who have COPD smoke or used to smoke. Long-term exposure to other lung irritants, such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust, also may contribute to COPD.

Live Long and Prosper Spock!

12. Angelina Jolie Underwent Second Preventative Cancer Surgery.


In March 2015, Angelina Jolie Pitt wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times describing her decision to have her ovaries removed to eliminate her risk of developing ovarian cancer. Two  years earlier, in May 2013, Angelina made a similar announcement that she had undergone double mastectomies after testing positive for a mutated BRCA1 gene.

Because she tested BRCA1-positive, and her mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, died at the age of 56 from ovarian cancer,  Jolie has been followed very closely for early signs of ovarian cancer. Blood work showed number of inflammatory markers were elevated which could be a sign of early cancer. Although imaging studies did not show any sign of tumors, Jolie Pitt decided she didn’t want to wait for things to change and underwent a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy- i.e. she had both her ovaries and Fallopian tubes removed.

The latest research on ovarian cancer indicates that ovarian cancer may not be a cancer of the ovaries at all, but rather starts in the finger-like ends of Fallopian tubes (called fimbriae) and then spreads to the ovary and rest of the pelvis.

The potential impact of this revelation could be immense for patients.  If what we now call ovarian cancer actually comes from the fallopian tubes, surgeons in the future might only have to remove the tubes and not the ovaries, thus sparing patients forced menopause and infertility.

13. Kim Kardashian gets pregnant, has problems with her placenta, then eats that placenta after her baby is born.


In June, Kim Kardashian and husband Kanye West announced that they were pregnant for the second time. Kim and Kanye have struggled with infertility, and this pregnancy was made possible with in vitro fertilization (IVF).

In August, the FDA sent Kim a letter requesting the removal of endorsements she posted on Facebook and Instagram regarding a drug named Diclegis, which she used for morning sickness. According to the  FDA the post was “false or misleading in that it presents efficacy claims for Diclegis, but fails to communicate any risk information associated with its use.” The posts were quickly deleted.

In September, in a  C Magazine interview, Kim revealed that she’s been dealing with a potentially life threatening condition called placenta accreta.

Placenta accreta is a general term used to describe when part of the placenta invades and becomes inseparable from the wall of the uterus. Placenta accreta can becomes a problem during delivery when the placenta does not completely separate from the uterus. The uterus is not able to completely contact, and can cause massive blood loss by the mother. This is a potentially life-threatening situation, and may necessitate the removal of the uterus to stem the blood loss.

Abnormal placentationsm

Kimye’s son, named Saint West, was born on December 5th. Although the birth was reportedly “really tough birth because of the issues with her placenta” Kim was able to deliver vaginally.

But the story doesn’t end there. It shouldn’t surprise us when Kim announced on her app that she is eating her placentain the hope of preventing postpartum depression and to give herself more energy.

kim's placenta pillsPlacentophagy is the act of eating a placenta, either in raw or altered (e.g., cooked, dried, steeped in liquid) form, after birth. Placental encapsulation is a procedure where the placenta is freeze-dried, powdered and put into capsular form, by a placenta encapsulation specialist.

Proponents assert that the placenta retains nutrients and hormones and that placentophagy may have the following benefits:

  • Increased release of the hormone oxytocin, which helps the uterus return to normal size and encourages bonding with the infant
  • Increase in CRH, Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone, a stress-reducing hormone
  • Decrease in post-partum depression
  • Restoration of iron levels in the blood
  • Increase in milk production

Most of the perceived benefits of placentophagy are based on anecdotal stories, not science, and therefore may be due, at least in part, to a placebo effect. The most recent published review  on the topic concluded that there is not enough evidence to support the claims that “placentophagia in humans helps to enhance lactation, reduce pain, facilitate uterine contraction, or replenish hormones.” They did, however, recommend further studies.

Placental encapsulation appears to carry little inherent risk if ingested solely by the mother. However, one potential risk is the spread of infection, especially if served raw. The FDA is now looking into the safety of the practice.

14. 2015’s  Diet Fad of the Year – The Alkaline Diet

"Cadillac Records" New York Premiere - Arrivals

Live with Kelly and Michael co-host Kelly Ripa got back to “basics.” At least as it refers to the acid-base (acid-alkali) composition of her body!

In June, Ripa told Live viewers that she has been on an alkaline cleanse, and that it  “changed my life and the whole way I think about food.” The seven-day regimen, called the Alkamind Cleanse was created by chiropractor/nutritionist Daryl Gioffre. Gioffre says that an alkaline diet will decrease body acidity which can cause inflammation, weight gain and digestive and skin issues.

Other celebrities who are proponents of the Alkaline Diet include Victoria Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alicia Silverstone, Jennifer Aniston, Kirsten Dunst and Jared Leto.

An alkaline diet, such as that written about by Dr. Stephan Domenig in his book, The Alkaline Cure: Lose Weight, Gain Energy and Feel Young, aims to increase the intake of what they consider “alkaline foods,” while decreasing the amount of “acidic foods.”

Food is considered “alkaline” if it is low in sugar, and high in water and minerals (such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and phosphorous). Some fruits (specifically avocados, tomatoes, lemons, limes, grapefruits, coconuts, and pomegranates)  and vegetables, soybeans and tofu, and some nuts, seeds, and legumes are considered alkaline.

Food is considered “acidic” if it is high in sugar or yeast, is fermented, contains fungi (like mushrooms), is processed or refined. Dairy, eggs, meat, most grains, and processed foods, like canned and packaged snacks and convenience food are considered acidic.   Alcohol or caffeine is usually discouraged as well.

Proponents claim that acid foods can lead to inflammation, fatigue, obesity, digestive issues and even cancer but there is little to no scientific evidence to support this.

Does an “alkaline diet” really have any health benefits? Compared to many other fad diets, an alkaline diet is not a bad choice. It is primarily a vegan diet which encourages lots of fruit and vegetables and discourages processed food. As long as you are getting all the proper vitamins (especially supplemental B12) and adequate protein you should be fine. My biggest problem with the diet is the underlying rhetoric that (1) “ACID IS BAD” and (2) that you can change your body pH by eating different foods. According to dietician Joe Leech: “The glaring problem with this theory, is that the function of the kidneys is completely ignored. Our kidneys are fundamental to removing acids and regulating body pH.”

15. Hayden Panettiere Gets Help for Postpartum Depression


In October, Nashville star Hayden Panettiere checked herself into a treatment facility to deal with postpartum depression. Her representative wrote:

“Hayden Panettiere is voluntarily seeking professional help at a treatment center as she is currently battling postpartum depression. She asks that the media respect her privacy during this time.”

The 26-year-old actress has been batting with postpartum depression since the birth of her daughter Kaya, who was born in December 2014 to Panettiere and fiancé Wladimir Klitschko. Coincidentally, Panettiere’s character, Juliette Barnes, on Nashville is also suffering from extreme postpartum depression.

Many women suffer from what is called “baby blues” after the birth of a child. The new mom may feel sad, anxious, or overwhelmed and have crying spells and mood swings. This may be accompanied by loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. The symptoms are relatively mild, and resolve with the first two weeks after birth.

Approximately 10% of new moms will go on to have postpartum depression. The symptoms are more severe, do not resolve in a short period of time, and may occur any time within the first year after birth. In addition, there may be more troubling symptoms such as thoughts of hurting the baby or oneself, as well as not having any interest in the baby.

A small number of new mothers experience a more serious condition known as postpartum psychosis that includes symptoms of confusion, hallucinations and even attempts to harm herself or her child.

Postpartum depression is a serious condition and must be treated by a physician. Treatment can consist of talk therapy, medication or both.

16.Bobbi Kristina Brown died in a way eerily similar to her mother Whitney Houston.


Bobbi Kristina Brown, the 22-year-old daughter of the late Whitney Houston, died in July .

Under eerily similar circumstances to her mother’s death, Brown was found unresponsive in a bathtub at her Roswell, GA home on Jan. 31. Although CPR was performed by her friend Maxwell Lomas and her financé, Nick Gordon, Brown had to be put in a medically induced coma at the hospital. An unsuccessful attempt to reverse the coma at the end of February lead to severe seizures.

Bobbi Kristina was ultimately transferred to a long-term care facility and then to a hospice facility June 24. Despite conflicting reports, Brown never regained consciousness.

The cause of her death is still somewhat of a mystery.  Although the Fulton County Medical Examiner has classified the cause and manner of Brown’s death, a Fulton County Superior Court ordered the Medical Examiner to not release any further information to the public. It is not known whether any criminal charges will be filed in the case.

17. Former President Jimmy Carter is diagnosed and cured of melanoma.


In August, former President Jimmy Carter announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Carter, who has since turned 91, underwent an elective surgery “to remove a small mass from his liver.”  Carter surprised many by revealing that the cancer in his liver was actually malignant melanoma, and that he had four small lesions in his brain as well.

Carter received one round of radiation therapy, followed by four rounds of a new immune system-boosting drug. The infusion of pembrolizumab (KEYTRUDA®), was administered at three-week intervals.

In December Carter announced that his latest brain scan showed no sign of cancer.

Melanoma has become the paradigm for precision medicine and personalized cancer treatment. Since 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved no fewer than six new drug treatments for melanoma.  These treatments fall into two categories:

  • “Targeted” therapies are drugs that directly counteract the effects of mutations in genes that “drive” tumor cells.  These drugs drugs are pills or capsules that are taken by mouth and include vemurafenib (ZELBORAF®), dabrafenib (TAFINLAR®) and trametinib (MEKINIST®).
  • Immunotherapies are drugs that help the body’s own immune system to eliminate cancer cells. Ipilimumab (YERVOY®), pembrolizumab (KEYTRUDA®) and nivolumab (OPDIVO®) are in this category and are given by injection.

Look for these immunotherapies to be available for other types of cancer in 2016.

18. Frank Gifford died and had brain disorder CTE


NFL legend and sportscaster Frank Gifford may have died from natural causes in August, but his family wants you to know that his brain showed signs of chronic injury caused by the game he loved. A statement from the Gifford family revealed that:

“While Frank passed away from natural causes this past August at the age of 84, our suspicions that he was suffering from the debilitating effects of head trauma were confirmed when a team of pathologists recently diagnosed his condition as that of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) — a progressive degenerative brain disease.”

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a form of brain damage which is believed to be caused by repeated concussions. Originally described in boxers, and called dementia pugilistica (DP) (commonly called “punch drunk”), symptoms include memory impairment, speech and gait problems, Parkinsonism, tremors and lack of coordination.

Early on there may be emotional instability, erratic behavior, depression and problems with impulse control. Eventually it leads to full-blown dementia. Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Muhammad Ali are all suspected to be victims of DP.

In 2002, Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania examined the brains of four professional football players who had histories of repeated concussions. Microscopic findings were identical to those found in DP, and he renamed the condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Dr. Omalu is currently the subject of a new movie, starring Will Smith, entitled Concussion.

Unfortunately, CTE can only be diagnosed at autopsy using special tests that are not routinely performed.

Boston University, at its Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy(CSTE), has thus far studied the brains of 14 former NFL players,  and has found CTE in 13 of those players. They have even found evidence of CTE in younger football players- the youngest being 18 years old.

19.  Pamela Anderson was cured of Hepatitis C


In an August interview in People magazine,  Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson announced that she was to begin treatment for Hepatitis C. Diagnosed with the viral infection almost 16 years ago, she contracted the potentially fatal liver disease by sharing a tattoo needle with rocker/ex-husband Tommy Lee. The 48-year-old made her diagnosis public in 2002. After experimenting with some alternative medications, Anderson is now ready to try a newly FDA-approved drug, sofosbuvir (Harvoni®) in the hope that “I could be Hep C free within the month.”

On November 7th, Anderson took to Instagram to give her fans the big news:

“I am CURED!!! – I just found out #nomorehepc #thankyou #blessing #family #prayer #live. I pray anyone living with Hep C can qualify or afford treatment. It will be more available soon. I know treatment is hard to get still…#dontlosehope.”

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person.

The treatment for Hepatitis C has changed dramatically over the past few years. In the past, patients have been treated with the antiviral medications interferon and ribavirin. Interferon is a medicine that helps your body’s immune system to attack infected liver cells and to protect healthy liver cells from new infection. Pegylated interferon is taken by injection once a week. Ribavirin is a medicine that can fight certain viruses, though, by itself, it does not work against hepatitis C.

More recently, additional testing is done to determine the Hepatitis C’s genotype, a classification of a virus based on the genetic material in the RNA (Ribonucleic acid) strands of the virus. Patients with Hepatitis C are divided into one of six genotypes (1-6). Genotype 1 is the most common type in the US.

This lead to the development of Sofosbuvir, which was approved by the FDA in 2013.  It works directly on the hepatitis C virus itself to stop it from replicating. In 2014, Harvoni, a combination of sofobuvir and ledipasvir,  a once-a-day oral medication, was approved for the treatment of patients with genotype 1 Hepatitis C. In clinical studies, 96-99% of patients who had no prior treatment were cured with just 12 weeks of therapy with Harvoni. Being cured is defined as the Hep C virus not being detected in the blood when measured three months after treatment is completed.

20.  Celebrity Year in Cancer

In Treatment

René Angélil Music producer, Spouse of Celine Dion Throat Cancer
Phil Lesh Bassist, Grateful Dead Bladder Cancer
Tommy Chong Performer Rectal Cancer
Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka WWF Wrestler Cancer of the Stomach

In Remission

Sir John Hurt Actor Pancreatic Cancer
Joan Lunden Former GMA Host Breast Cancer
Leah Still Daughter of NFL Devon Still Neuroblastoma
Tom Brokaw NBC News Anchor Multiple Myeloma
Rita Wilson Actress Breast Cancer
Nate Solder New England Patriots Testicular Cancer
Bruce Dickinson Iron Maiden Cancer of the Tongue
Jesse Williams Seattle Seahawks Papillary Kidney Cancer
John Farrell Manager Boston Red Sox Non- Hodgkins Lymphoma
Jimmy Carter Former President Melanoma
Sandra Lee Celebrity Chef Breast Cancer
Rikki Rockett Drummer for Poison Cancer of the Tongue
Clare Bowen Nashville actress/singer Wilms Tumor

In Memorium:

Stuart Scott ESPN Sportscaster Cancer of the Appendix
Oliver Sachs Neurologist, Author Melanoma
Ahmad “Real” Givens MTV Reality Star Colon Cancer
Sam Simon Co-creator of The Simpsons Colon Cancer
Jimmy Greenspoon Keyboardist for Three Dog Night Melanoma
Alberta Watson Actress Lymphoma
Beau Biden State Attorney General of DE, son of VP Brain Cancer
E.L. Doctorow Author of Ragtime Lung Cancer
Wes Craven Director Brain Cancer
Fred Thompson Actor, Senator Lung Cancer
Jackie Collins Author Breast Cancer
Taylor Negron Comedian, Actor Liver Cancer
Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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