Journalism failure? Autism-vaccine story represents a triumph of journalism.

January 12, 2011

By Kate Johnson

How ironic that people like Neil Cameron blame the vaccine-autism mess on journalism, when it was actually a journalist who first blew the whistle on Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent study.

At a time when science journalists are struggling to retain their foothold let’s not forget the conclusion of the autism-vaccine debacle.

Medicine is a highly specialized field that calls for specialized journalists who can critically assess and examine scientific studies. Such journalists are a dying breed as media outlets downsize and health sections dwindle. New York Times science reporter Natalie Angier recently said science coverage is “basically going out of business” – which means the public must rely on non-specialized journalists to navigate the medical literature. While they do their best, how can such journalists know the intricacies of a field that science journalists spend an entire career learning? Read More »

Teenage Wisdom. Eleven years with Celiac Disease: The blessings and the burden

Guest blog by my daughter Melanie, age 13. Written for her public speaking assignment at school.

I’d like to tell you a story about a little girl who had her heart broken when she was only two years old.  This is a story about me, and don’t worry, it has a happy ending.

Ever since I knew how to walk, I had a tradition with my dad. We would walk up our street to the neighborhood patisserie, and sit in the sun to eat croissants.  It was my absolute favorite thing to do. I even had a nickname for the owner of the patisserie, I called her the “con-con lady”, because I didn’t know how to say croissant.

One day , my mum told me that, from now on, I couldn’t go to the patisserie anymore. I cried, and cried, and my mum even started crying with me.

About 6 months before this happened, I was getting very sick. I was throwing up a lot, and was crying much more than usual. And I was tired all the time. In fact, some of the first words I ever spoke were “sick”, “tired”, and “bed”.Read More »

Swine Flu – Getting a Grassroots Grip

By Kate Johnson

As headlines flicker and experts bicker over the science, politics and economics of swine flu policies, let’s not forget that we, the populus are not helpless and defenseless against this threat.

While we wait for national and international action, perhaps the most significant weapon against swine flu is already in our hands. But using it effectively will require a group effort – a grassroots mentality that reaches beyond our normal comfort zone.

With back-to-school and the second wave of the swine flu both looming – on a collision course ahead of us – as a mother and a medical reporter, I am worried.Read More »

The War on Drugs: Give Peace a Chance

The War on Drugs: Give Peace a Chance

June 15, 2009

By Kate Johnson

Dr. Gabor Maté wraps a tourniquet around a patient’s arm and instructs him to pump his hand until a vein bulges below his elbow crease. Then he instructs the addict to inject himself with heroin. “I had never imagined that my  medical career would lead me to assist an addict’s self-administration of an illicit psychoactive substance in a musty Downtown Eastside hotel,”  he writes in his book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts”. But “under the circumstances it was the best I could do for him”.

As a staff physician at the Portland Hotel and Insite, a residence and safe-injection site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Dr. Maté has dedicated his work to treating drug abuse and addiction. But unlike the soldiers in the War on Drugs, this soft-spoken crusader has rejected all “weapons”, preferring instead the tools of acceptance and caring. It is Peace, not War that will make a difference, he insists. “The pertinent question is not why the War on Drugs is being lost, but why it continues to be waged in the face of all the evidence against it,” he writes.

“Addictions are a response to a sense of emptiness,” Dr. Maté declared at a recent seminar in Toronto for people who work with addicts. Read More »

Teenage Addiction: It’s All About Love

Teenage Addiction: It’s all about Love

June 13, 2009

By Kate Johnson

“Addiction is not a response to the availability of a substance, it is a response to pain.” Best-selling author, addiction treatment expert and parenting guru Dr. Gabor Maté literally brings tears to my eyes as I sit in a room full of people who care for addicted teens – and adults – every day.

Although I am a medical journalist, accustomed to hearing presentations about addiction and its treatment, Dr. Maté’s words touch a raw nerve. For Dr. Maté, the root of all addiction, whether to drugs, or tobacco, or shopping or eating, lies in emptiness – and an attempt to fill the void. Dr. Maté believes all humans feel some degree of emptiness that they attempt to fill. He has not said it, but perhaps the emptiness begins when the umbilical cord is severed, and grows with every step we take away from the womb.Read More »