November 27, 2015

Spencer doctor’s ‘LOVE Takes Root’ charity raising money to open Haiti school

Dr. Wilkerson and Jean Junior in 2010 in Haiti.

Dr. Wilkerson and Jean Junior in 2010 in Haiti.

An Iowa doctor’s medical mission trip four-and-a-half years ago has led to an expansion of his family and the rebuilding of an orphanage in Haiti.

Dr. Rick Wilkerson, an orthopadic surgeon from Spencer, went to Haiti in June of 2010 after an earthquake devastated the country.

“Shortly after arriving there I was almost run over by an eight-year-old child on a razor scooter by the name of Junior, who at the age of four had the misfortune of losing his mother and then just three days before I arrived lost his father,” Wilkerson says. “Junior had no remaining family members to provide care, so he’d basically been living in the hospital hallway.”

Wilkerson says he formed a “strong bond” with the boy. Wilkerson and his wife, Barb, ultimately adopted Jean Junior, but it took two years. The Wilkersons created a non-profit group called “LOVE Takes Root” to raise money to rebuild the orphanage school where Jean Junior lived until the adoption was final.

“We moved the project to the rural area of the southern part of Haiti and have built an orphanage with two cottages for 65 children, a dining room and kitchen,” Wilkerson says. “We’ve completed our primary school and medical clinic which we staff one week per month and then also staff the rest of the time with a Haitian physician and nurse.”

When Wilkerson was on his medical mission in Haiti after the earthquake, he found a 70-year-old woman trying to care for 50 orphaned children in a tent. Many were suffering from scabies, a highly-contagious skin disease. Wilkerson says that’s when the idea for “LOVE Takes Root” was born. Next summer, the organization hopes to open a secondary school in Haiti, next door to the elementary school for orphans it has already built.

“We have not only our 65 Haitian children in the school, but also 100 kids from the neighborhood who have also taken advantage of the school being there,” Wilkerson says.

Wilkerson talked about his experience last week during testimony before a U.S. Senate committee.

Wilkerson and his wife are the parents of nine children, five of whom are adopted. That includes the boy Wilkerson met in Haiti, who is now an 8th grader in Spencer. Wilkerson aims for the “LOVE Takes Root” charity to expand its reach beyond Haiti, to help needy children in other countries.

Iowa Medicaid costs projected to skyrocket for Alzheimer’s patients

Alzheimer's diseaseA new report projects the expense to Medicaid for people afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease in Iowa and nationwide will increase dramatically over the next decade.

Melissa Kramer, spokeswoman for the Greater Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, says the costs will have a tremendous impact on the thousands of patients in Iowa who are living with the memory-robbing disease.

“The current budget for Medicaid here in Iowa, we spend about $576-million on Medicaid and 14% of that is actually spent on people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.”

Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60- to 80% of dementia cases. A majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 years old and older, but early onset can strike someone in their 40s or 50s.

“Alzheimer’s is a triple threat,” she says. “It’s soaring in prevalence, it’s lack of treatment and it has enormous costs associated that really no one can afford. This is an expensive disease and if we don’t do something now, down the road, it will bankrupt America.”

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Last year in Iowa, it was estimated there were 62,000 people statewide who’d been diagnosed with the disease.

By Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City


BBB urges Iowans to beware of ‘computer doctor’ phone scam

ComputerIowans may be sitting down to a turkey dinner soon, but don’t be surprised if, even today, the phone rings and it’s someone offering to help you and your “ailing” computer.

Jim Hegarty, with the Better Business Bureau, is warning Iowans to beware as it’s a scam, often involving con artists claiming to be with a company called Team Viewer.

“Somebody that claims to be representing Microsoft, they’ve detected malware on your computer, they need to log on remotely so you give them access to your system so they can analyze the situation,” Hegarty says. “People will give them this access, which is mistake number one.”

The next mistake, he says, is giving them permission to fix something on your computer that’s not really broken.

“Once they’re in your system, they’ll say they’ve identified the problem and it’ll be like $399 to get it cleaned up,” Hegarty says. “Of course, you’re always able to put that on a major credit card.”

No matter how good the story may sound, he says not to believe it and certainly don’t give them any personal financial information or computer passwords.

“Not only have you allowed them remote access into your system and Lord knows what they’ve done when they’re in there, you’ve also given them access to your credit card information,” Hegarty says. “Very typically, we’ll almost immediately begin to see unauthorized charges being made with those cards that people have given to them.”

Hegarty says if you get one of these calls, the BBB wants to hear about it. You can log on to to report the scam or call it in. He says they have “first responders” ready to help.



Campaign works to reduce ‘elective’ labor before 39th week of pregnancy

Nearly one out of 10 babies born in Iowa are born prematurely and the March of Dimes is among the groups working to reduce the number of “elective” births that occur when a pregnancy reaches 37 or 38 weeks.

“It very much happens, more often I would like to say it happens for such things as convenience or the mother’s uncomfortable,” says Michelle Gogerty, state director for programs and advocacy for the March of Dimes.

Gogerty says for many years women were told it was fine to induce labor once their pregnancy reached 37 weeks.

“What we have learned is that would be a late pre-term and so those infants, they have additional growing that needs to occur, specifically with their brains and their lungs and their nervous systems,” Gogerty says, “so the longer the pregnancy is without risk and there’s no medical reason for an induction, we most definitely should not be getting induced.”

In 2013, national groups that represent obstetricians and gynecologists launched a “just say no” campaign to any delivery before 39 weeks, unless there is a valid medical reason for an early birth. The state director for the March of Dimes says Iowa hospitals and doctors “have been great” about this.

“But we do still see some that will deliver a woman early, for convenience sake,” Gogery says. “…But the hospitals, with the policies that are in place, are stopping that practice and so we’ve seen a drastic, drastic reduction in early elective deliveries in the state of Iowa.”

A full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. The March of Dimes was formed in 1938 in response to the polio epidemic, but after the polio vaccine became available in the 1950s, the organization turned its focus on finding ways to prevent premature births and infant deaths.

Judge issues ruling on Medicaid management

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

A ruling from an administrative law judge issued late Wednesday afternoon recommends Iowa dismiss one of the four contracts awarded to companies that were chosen to manage Iowa’s Medicaid program.

The Branstad administration wants to implement the managed care plan on January 1. It would privatize the state’s $4.2 billion health care program for the poor and disabled. The unsuccessful bidders for the contracts filed the legal challenge.

The judge’s ruling questions the contract awarded to WellCare, a company that had three former executives sent to prison last year on fraud convictions. A statement released by Governor Branstad’s office expressed confidence that the plan to transfer management of the Medicaid program would “remain on schedule.”

Health care providers and patients have complained that the January 1 target date for privatization is unrealistic.

Gov. Branstad’s office issues statement on Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decision on Medicaid Modernization

(DES MOINES)  – Gov. Terry Branstad’s Communications Director, Ben Hammes, issued a statement on the ALJ’s decision on Medicaid Modernization that was released late Wednesday afternoon.

The ALJ’s decision allows Medicaid Modernization to move forward.  The decision emphasizes that the process was both “thorough and methodical.”  We continue to evaluate the next steps in the administrative review of the procurement process and remain on schedule to implement our plan on January 1, 2016.

Unique I-80 interchange to open next week (video)

A new interchange set to open next week on Interstate 80 features something new to the state.

Iowa Department of Transportation district four engineer Troy Jerman says the “diverging diamond” interchange will provide access to western areas of Waukee and West Des Moines. “This interchange is the first-of-its-kind in the state. Other states have had them for years, but this is the first one in Iowa,” Jerman said.

The new interchange, located about 3 miles west of the Jordan Creek Parkway interchange, is scheduled to open Tuesday (December 1) at noon.

The diverging diamond design has at least a few benefits, including less landuse, increased vehicle capacity, and improved safety. “It takes some of the left turn conflicts out of play, which is where many crashes happen,” Jerman said.

The new interchange allows for “free-flowing” turns, instead of left turns, for drivers entering or exiting the interstate. Drivers crossing I-80 are directed to the opposite side of the road, then directed back to the original driving pattern.

Jerman isn’t worried about the “new-to-Iowa” design confusing motorists. “They’re pretty self-explanatory, just don’t try to over think it,” Jerman suggests. “As people drive through them, they get through and then realize ‘hey, I just went through that new diverging diamond.’ It’s not terribly complicated to drive through.”

Construction work on the interchange began around one year ago with a total cost of $50 million. It’s designed to relieve congestion at major interchanges in West Des Moines and Waukee, two of the fastest growing cities in the state.


Iowa native returns home to star in national ‘Bridges’ premiere (AUDIO)

Iowa native Elizabeth Stanley and co-star Andrew Samonsky. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Iowa native Elizabeth Stanley and co-star Andrew Samonsky. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The Broadway production of “The Bridges of Madison County” is opening its national tour in central Iowa this weekend and one of the musical’s main stars is an Iowa native.

Elizabeth Stanley plays Francesca, the Iowa housewife who has a whirlwind four-day romance with a traveling photographer. Stanley was born in Cedar Rapids, grew up in Denison and has a host of relatives across the state, from Creston to Stanton to Gilbert.

She says it was natural for the tour to debut in Des Moines and it’ll be a tremendous holiday homecoming.

“Oh my gosh, it absolutely is,” Stanley says. “It’s really special for me. Even though I lived there about half my childhood, it so really feels like the state that I’m from and where my roots are and generations of my family have been from, so it’s really, really special for me to be there again.”

Based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, the story is set in rural Madison County, famous for its decades-old covered bridges. Since the real bridges of Madison County are a matter of 35 miles from Des Moines, Stanley says she and the entire cast know how necessary it is to start their nine-month national tour here and to give a stellar performance for Iowa.

“Probably no other place we go will people know the story so well and be familiar with it, and in addition to that, really know about the place in which it’s set,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of care and thought that’s put into making it be as authentic as possible.”

Her father’s job with the Rural Electric Cooperative forced the family to move several times, and the Stanleys left Iowa for Illinois when she was in junior high. She’s planning to have Thanksgiving dinner with family members at her uncle’s farm in Stanton and Stanley says she’ll likely need to borrow a car.

“It will be imperative that, at some point, I just take a drive and I get lost on some country roads and just spend some ‘alone time’ amongst the fields,” Stanley says, laughing. “It feels kind of right. It’s very similar to where I grew up, even in Illinois, just the rural life and that’s very much what my character is doing also but I happen to like that myself so I’m sure that’ll be happening.”

The character Stanley is playing onstage was first portrayed by Meryl Streep in the popular 1995 film, a role for which Streep was nominated for Best Actress. Streep has won three Oscars and is considered one of the world’s greatest actresses, so Stanley realizes many people will compare her Francesca to Streep’s version. At first, she says, that was “terrifying.”

“Usually I don’t watch a film if I know I’m going to be playing that role in some other capacity because I don’t want to confine my creative ideas to what that person has done,” Stanley says. “Sometimes, when you watch a performance, it’s hard to get that version of it out of your head, even subconsciously, but with Meryl Streep I felt -not- scared about that. I thought, you know, fine, I’ll watch the movie and if some of that sticks in my brain, I would be so lucky!”

The show opens Saturday and will run through December 5th at the Des Moines Civic Center.

AUDIO: Hear Matt Kelley’s full interview with Elizabeth Stanley.