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Archive for ‘November, 2011’

Muscular Dystrophy Association Salutes Saratoga Springs Wife and Mother

Muscular Dystrophy Association salutes Saratoga Springs wife and mother devoted to caring for her husband as he battles a neuromuscular disease

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper, Print Edition. Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011. Click Here to Read Online. 

By SUZANNA LOURIE
slourie@saratogian.com

Ragan Family

Andrew Ragan sits with his wife, Kelly, and two sons, 8-year-old Quinn, left, and 10-year-old Briggs in their living room. Andrew was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2006 and Kelly was recently recognized by the Muscular Dystrophy Association for her devotion as his full-time caregiver. (ERICA MILLER photos/emiller@saratogian.com)

SARATOGA SPRINGS — When her husband was diagnosed in 2006 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Kelly Ragan’s life changed forever.

Ragan soon found herself a full-time caregiver for her husband, Andrew, in addition to being a full-time wife and mother, as the neuromuscular disease claimed Andrew’s speech, motor skills and mobility.

“We’ve been fortunate in so many ways, and I’m lucky because I’m able to stay home with Andrew, but being a caregiver is honestly the hardest job I’ve ever done,” Ragan said. “It’s not easy; there are no vacations. You’re on all the time, and you’re watching someone you love deteriorate in front of your eyes, but you also have to stay strong for your family.”

Earlier this month, Ragan received a call from a staff member at St. Peter’s ALS Regional Center in Albany informing her that the national Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) had chosen her as one of 12 caregivers it planned to recognize as part of its MDA Salutes Caregivers campaign held each November.

“I’m honored to be a representative of the thousands of caregivers who are doing this for their loved ones who are battling ALS,” Ragan said. “I’m really thankful for the support we’ve had because it makes the dark days not so dark, and we do have lots of happy days.”

St. Peter’s ALS Regional Center recently became affiliated with the Albany chapter of the MDA, which has more than 200 offices nationwide.

Muscular dystrophy disorders are muscle diseases — ALS being just one of many — that cause the progressive weakening of the musculoskeletal system.

When Kelly first met her future husband in college, she never imagined someone as athletic and healthy as Andrew would be diagnosed with a disease as physically crippling as ALS. The pair dated for seven years before getting married, and they eventually moved to Saratoga Springs to be close to Andrew’s job with General Electric Co.

“He was involved in every sport,” Ragan said. “We did a lot of tandem bike-riding fundraisers. That was kind of our thing.”

While traveling for work in 2006, Andrew noticed something wasn’t right.

 

“He would call me and his voice was slurred. I thought maybe he had a couple of cocktails, but he said, ‘No, Kelly, this is getting worse,’ ” Ragan recalled.

When he returned home, the couple thought Andrew’s voice problem was the result of a bad sinus infection until they were referred to a neurologist after seeing countless doctors in the area.

“You always kind of think it’s something small or not a big deal. We were both healthy, happy, vibrant and working young people with two little boys,” Ragan said. “I guess you could say we were in denial until 2006 when he received the diagnosis of ALS from a doctor in New York City. (The doctor) told us to get our affairs in order because you’re basically handed a death sentence when diagnosed with ALS,” she said.

Currently, there is no cure for the disease and the one medication on the market can, at best, give a patient several more months to live. Despite the fatal diagnosis, Ragan sought out every option and alternative treatment.

Still, the disease progressed. Today, Andrew requires a special wheelchair, feeding tube and computerized communication system that he can control with eye movements.

“Within six months he went from a cane to a walker to a wheelchair and had to retire from his job, which was frightening having the kids and a mortgage to pay for,” Ragan said.

Five years ago, doctors said Andrew had three to five years left to live.

Ragan has adjusted to being his full-time care-giver, acting as her husband’s arms, legs and voice. A hospice worker helps for 90 minutes each day, giving Ragan time to run errands, clean or just sit down.

Although Ragan doesn’t know who nominated her, MDA Supports Caregivers coordinator Ali Santander and a team of staff members at the MDA national headquarters in Arizona felt Ragan’s story of courage and dedication deserved national recognition.

“Kelly was chosen because she’s been so strong and has dedicated her life to giving (Andrew) the quality of life he deserves,” Santander said. “It’s our way of saying thank you to the caregivers, and for the MDA community it’s a nice way for us to recognize their hard work because it’s truly remarkable what they do for family members and loved ones.”

 

Ragan is one of 12 finalists chosen from the hundreds nominated by a local ALS center staff member who works with the caregiver and the area MDA branch.

“The MDA/ALS center has been an absolute lifeline to our family,” Ragan said. “ALS can be devastating financially and emotionally, and they have provided us with a high-tech wheelchair that makes my husband more comfortable and my caregiving responsibilities manageable.

“I’m in awe of my husband every day — he has battled this disease with determination and integrity and he gives me strength every day. ALS is still a life sentence, but I’m determined to carry on the fight no matter what.”

Where There’s Smoke … Synthetic Marijuana Use on the Rise in Area

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper, Print Edition. Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011. Click Here to Read Online.

By SUZANNA LOURIE, slourie@saratogian.com

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Officials say a dangerous national trend is catching on in and around Saratoga County: synthetic marijuana. It’s perfectly legal, but its dangers are very real

Synthetic Marijuana

Owner of Smoke & Fire on Caroline Street Theresa Sheffer has stopped selling synthetic marijuana, despite the fact it’s legal. She says she doesn’t feel comfortable selling such a dangerous and unnatural product. (ERICA MILLER, emiller@saratogian.com)

About three weeks ago, Saratoga Springs High School Resource Officer Lloyd Davis caught several students skipping school. He brought the students back to school and while searching one student Davis discovered the student had a small green package of “herbal incense” called Supernova.

It was herbal incense, Davis discovered, a synthetic mixture of plant materials and unregulated chemical compounds that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

“That’s when it first came to my attention,” Davis said at a Saratoga Partnership for Prevention meeting Wednesday. “We asked — what is this? And he explained it’s something he gets high off and it’s completely legal and that he bought it at a shop in Saratoga.”

Marketed as herbal incense or herbal smoking blends, synthetic marijuana is called by a variety of street names including Wicked X, Posh, K2 and Thunder. These artificial marijuana products actually have 4 to 5 times the potency of marijuana, causing intense and dangerous side effects including hallucinations, anxiety, vomiting, heart failure and even death.

Synthetic Marijuana

Packages of herbal incense don’t come cheap. Three-gram packages can sell for up to $25. (ERICA MILLER, emiller@saratogian.com)

On Wednesday, Davis shared his concerns about synthetic marijuana with Partnership members including representatives from the Saratoga Springs High School, the Saratoga Springs Recreation Center, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Four Winds Hospital.

“This is just like kids sucking chemicals into their body and possibly having hallucinations or seizures — there’s no gray area on this,” Maureen Cary, of the Prevention Council, said.

Smoking herbal incense can cause harmful health effects and erratic, even dangerous behavior, and those side-effects have been seen in communities across the Capital District recently.

Several weeks ago, a 15-year-old Whitehall girl was treated at Glens Falls Hospital after having an adverse reaction to smoking herbal incense. Police also say a man was high on synthetic marijuana when he beat a 7-week-old child, landing the infant in Albany Medical Center.

 

Police in Glens Falls, Queensbury and Fort Edward are investigating a series of burglaries and break-ins at stores that carry herbal incense.

In Saratoga Springs, one local shop owner chose to remove synthetic marijuana from her store altogether.

Theresa Sheffer, owner of Smoke & Fire, a tobacco accessories shop on Caroline Street, noticed strange addictive behavior in her herbal incense customers — just one of the reasons she stopped selling “fake weed” in October 2010.

“Every time I would show up for work there were people waiting for herbal incense and it made me feel uncomfortable — it was an addiction almost like crack or cocaine — they were obsessed,” Sheffer said. It was a costly decision. Packages of herbal incense don’t come cheap — 3-gram packages can sell for up to $25.

“We started learning about it and what they were finding in the products. We made a lot of money off it, but at what expense? Do we need to make money if it’s hurting our customers?” Sheffer said.

Some other local head shops still carry brands of herbal incense, though.

Before Wednesday’s Partnership for Prevention meeting, Cary visited several of these shops to find out where the product was being sold and discuss with the owners the possibility of not selling herbal incense if there were a community-wide agreement.

Synthetic marijuana is currently available in Saratoga Springs at the Getty station on Church Street and Smoke n’ Save in Congress Plaza. But, Cary says at least one shop owner seemed agreeable to pulling the product if other local stores do the same.

Though they don’t have a solid plan as to how they would approach local government, the Partnership agreed something needs to be done in the community to help make parents — and kids — aware of herbal incense and its dangers.

“This looks like a package of candy or gum. If I saw this on my son’s desk I wouldn’t think twice,” a concerned parent said at Wednesday’s meeting.

 

In addition to being legal — even for kids younger than 18 — herbal incense is fruity and sweet-smelling. It has been popular among people on probation because it does not show up in drug screening.