Posts tagged with Health

House-Senate Health Policy Oversight Committee to start vetting Brownback decisions

A host of controversial decisions that have been made recently by Gov. Sam Brownback will be aired before legislators today.

“We need information and we need rationale for some of the decisions that have been made,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, who is a member of the House-Senate Health Policy Oversight Committee.

The committee is scheduled to hear testimony from Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer on why Brownback returned to the federal government a $31.5 million grant that he earlier supported.

Brownback has said there were too many strings attached to the grant that would have helped Kansas implement a health insurance exchange in compliance with the federal health reform law, called the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, and vice chairwoman of the committee, said she agreed with Brownback’s decision. Landwehr said implementation of the exchange “was a moving target.” She added, “Why should we put pressure on ourselves for a piece of legislation that we don’t believe in in the first place?”

Landwehr has led the charge at the state level to oppose the Affordable Care Act. Brownback, a Republican, voted against it when he was in the U.S. Senate and has said it should be repealed. The state of Kansas is a party to a legal challenge to the law.

But Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, also a Republican, has disputed Brownback’s too-many-strings complaint, saying that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had been extremely accommodating to states that had received the “early innovator” grants to work on the exchanges.

Praeger is scheduled to brief the committee on the status of the health insurance exchange, which under the ACA would serve as a one-stop shop for hundreds of thousands of Kansans to purchase insurance and determine eligibility for coverage subsidies.

Since Brownback returned the $31.5 million grant, the administration said work on the exchange will not go forward, but Praeger has said planning continues in her agency because, under the law, the exchanges have to be in place by 2014.

On another front, Brownback is catching heat from some in his own party for signing a contract worth $135 million to overhaul the state Medicaid computer system. Brownback officials said the contract will make it easier to catch Medicaid fraud and determine eligibility for the program that serves more than 300,000 Kansans.

But critics, such as Rep. Charlotte O’Hara, R-Overland Park, said the mostly federally funded contract was just another step toward implementing the ACA. The Brownback administration has denied this charge, but state insurance officials say part of the work under the contract will be making the system compatible with the ACA. In addition, shortly after Kansas announced the contract with Accenture, the technology services company settled a $63.7 million lawsuit with the federal government. The company was accused of fraud, bid-rigging and taking kickbacks. Accenture denied the allegations but said it was settling to avoid more costly litigation.

Colyer is also scheduled to give an update on his effort to reform Medicaid, the $2.8 billion federal-state funded program. Brownback has said the state must find ways to deliver Medicaid services at reduced cuts. Critics fear that Brownback’s plan will result in more needy Kansans not getting assistance.

The committee also is expected to hear from Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. on the effect of SRS office closings on caseloads and Medicaid application processing times.

When announcing on July 1 the closing of nine SRS offices, Siedlecki said those served by the offices could travel to nearby cities or access services online.

The closure announcement caused a public uproar, and local officials in several of the affected cities, including Lawrence, came up with local tax funds to keep the offices open for at least two years.

By Scott Rothschild

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5 Questions: Healthy Choices

Q: How widespread is the problem of high cholesterol?

A: More than 98 million Americans 20 and older have high blood cholesterol — one of the most controllable risk factors for heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: High cholesterol doesn’t always have symptoms. So it’s important to have your doctor check your cholesterol levels starting at least by age 20, and earlier if you have a family history of heart disease.

Q: Isn’t some cholesterol good for you?

A: The two types of cholesterol are high-density lipoprotein, or HDL (“good” cholesterol), and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL (“bad” cholesterol). Too much bad cholesterol or not enough good cholesterol can increase your risk for heart disease or stroke. The ideal cholesterol level for most people is less than 200 mg/dL.

Q: What factors play into cholesterol levels?

A: Your liver and other cells in your body make about 75 percent of blood cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is produced naturally by the body, but many people inherit genes from their mother, father or grandparents that cause them to make too much. The other 25 percent comes from the foods you eat.

Q: Is there anything I can do to control my cholesterol level?

A: The kinds and amounts of foods you eat, weight, physical activity and exposure to tobacco may affect your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. These factors may be controlled by:

• Eating a heart-healthy dietary pattern.

• Engaging in physical activity.

• Controlling your blood pressure.

• Maintaining a healthy weight.

• Not smoking and avoiding being around others who do.

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De Soto Aquatic Center super-chlorinated against disease outbreak

The De Soto Aquatic Center was super-chlorinated by staff on Monday, as a precautionary move hoped to curb the spread of a highly contagious parasite.

In light of elevated levels of Cryptosporidium cases, the Johnson County Health Department on Friday sent out a letter advising pool owners to close early or to super-chlorinate their water per CDC specifications.

The pool has only been open weekends since Aug. 14. This coming weekend is set to be the last before closing for the season, it will be open from 12:30-7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3 and from 12:30-6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 4.

On Friday, 11 area pools had been implicated in the transmission of Cryptosporidium, according to the health department’s letter.

Pools are a primary point of concern because individuals can become infected with the Cryptosporidium parasite, which causes diarrhea, by swallowing or having contact with food, water or objects contaminated by feces.

The disease spreads easily from person to person, often even after the infected person has started to recover, according to the health department. It can continue to spread for two weeks after symptoms have subsided.

The Johnson County Environmental Department is also encouraging private pool owners to shut down to prevent the spread of the disease. Owners should maintain regular chlorination and pH levels for at least 11 days before winterizing the pool. Without any people in the pool, the bacteria will die after 11 days.

“Once introduced into a community, Cryptosporidium can be spread for months if the public is not vigilant about the key hygiene measures needed to stop the spread of the germ,” the health department wrote.

Sara Shepard and Christine Metz contributed to this story.

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Health exchange committee will continue work despite Brownback’s rejection of grant

A committee working on establishing a health insurance exchange in Kansas decided on Wednesday to continue its efforts even though Gov. Sam Brownback rejected a $31.5 million federal grant to set up the exchange, and many in the Legislature want nothing to do with it.

Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger said that under federal health reform, Kansas will have to implement an exchange by 2014. The question is whether Kansas will have one that is developed by the state or the federal government, she said.

Praeger argued that planning should continue despite Brownback's decision. "I still think the best course of action is trying to be ready," she said.

Kansas had received an "early innovator" grant from the federal government to work on putting in place the exchange, which is designed to help consumers access health insurance, and will be key in providing subsidies for people to buy coverage. Most of the work in developing the health exchange, Praeger said, is overhauling the state's Medicaid enrollment system.

The health insurance exchange is major part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Praeger, a Republican, had argued that Kansas could use the federal grant to put in place an exchange better suited to Kansas needs.

Brownback, also a Republican, signed off on Kansas' grant application earlier this year, but two weeks ago he announced that he was rejecting the grant, saying there were too many strings attached and there was too much uncertainty about future federal funding. Critics said Brownback bowed to political pressure from those within his party who want no part of the federal health reform law, which many consider Obama's signature piece of legislation.

In a meeting Wednesday of the health benefit exchange steering committee, Kansas insurers, health care providers and others argued that the committee should continue working on the initiative.

Some expressed frustration with Brownback's actions.

Brenda Sharpe, president and chief executive officer of Merriam-based REACH Healthcare Foundation, said Brownback's refusal of federal funds, was disappointing.

Sharpe rejected the idea that health care foundations may be able to help fund the state's effort to set up an exchange, saying foundations were stretched thin trying to patch budget shortfalls for safety net clinics and mental health centers.

"We are not going to supplant dollars that were accepted and then rejected," she said.

Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, said while the federal reform law comes under constant attack many forget why it was approved. "We have serious problems in our health system," he said. He said critics of the bill seldom come up with a viable alternative.

In Kansas, more than 300,000 people are uninsured. More than 500,000 Kansans are expected to benefit from health insurance exchange to purchase coverage, and nearly half of those will receive premium subsidies, officials said.

Several other committee members said that although it was important to push on with planning for the exchange, they didn't expect Brownback or the Republican-dominated Legislature to budge on the issue.

"With the political structure as it is now, I don't think it's realistic they're going to change their minds," said Robert Stephan, who is a former Kansas attorney general. "I'm very pessimistic," he said.

Stephan said when he heard of Brownback's rejection of the grant, "My first reaction was to hell with it, but I don't cuss."

Praeger is scheduled to appear before legislative committees in September and October to brief legislators on the status of health care reform.

By Scott Rothschild

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County reports cases of contagious disease

Johnson County Health Department officials announced on Friday that multiple county residents have been diagnosed with the contagious disease Cryptosporidiosis.

Symptoms of the disease, commonly called Crypto, include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, nausea and vomiting. Crypto is spread by contact with the stool of infected people or animals, by consumption of contaminated food or water, and by person-to-person or animal-to-animal contact.

Symptoms usually develop two to 10 days after exposure and may last from one to two weeks. Crypto can be spread for two weeks after symptoms have subsided, so those with diarrhea should not swim during that time. Crypto can live for days in chlorine treated water.

The best prevention measure is careful handwashing with soap and warm water, according to the health department. Residents with symptoms or questions should contact a healthcare provider.

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5 Questions: Mowing safety, Avoid accidents when cutting grass

As summer temperatures moderate and rain creeps into the forecast, mowing the grass will continue to be a regular chore. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the power lawn mower is one of the most dangerous tools around the home, and safety precautions are necessary.

Safe Kids Kansas answers questions about lawn mower safety.

Q: Is lawn mower safety really an issue?

A: 253,000 people were treated for lawn mower-related injuries in 2010, nearly 17,000 of them children under age 19, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Q: What kind of injuries?

A: Lawn mower injuries include deep cuts, loss of fingers and toes, broken and dislocated bones, burns and eye and other injuries. Some injuries are serious. Both users of mowers and those who are nearby can be hurt.

Q: How old should a child be before he or she can use a lawn mower?

A: Children younger than 16 years should not be allowed to use ride-on mowers. Children younger than 12 should not use walk-behind mowers.

Q: Any general safety tips for mowing or being around mowers?

A: Make sure that sturdy shoes (not sandals or sneakers) are worn while mowing. Prevent injuries from flying objects, such as stones or toys, by picking up objects from the lawn before mowing begins. Use a collection bag for grass clippings or a plate that covers the opening where cut grass is released. Have anyone who uses a mower wear hearing and eye protection. Make sure that children are indoors or at a safe distance well away from the area that you plan to mow.

Q: What about starting and stopping mowers?

A: Start and refuel mowers outdoors, not in a garage or shed. Mowers should be refueled with the motor turned off and cool. Always turn off the mower and wait for the blades to stop completely before removing the grass catcher, unclogging the discharge chute, or crossing gravel paths, roads, or other areas. Make sure that blade settings (to set the wheel height or dislodge debris) are done by an adult, with the mower off and the spark plug removed or disconnected.

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Belmont fourth-grader gets new hairdo, Locks of Love gets donation

Brooke Koehler shows off her new hairstyle with her Locks of Love donations in each hand.

Brooke Koehler shows off her new hairstyle with her Locks of Love donations in each hand. by Contributed Photo by Yvette Koehler

When Brooke Koehler, a fourth-grader at Belmont Elementary School, showed up to her school’s Back to School night earlier this month she caught a few friends and teachers by surprise.

At the beginning of the month her hair finally reached the 10-inch requirement for Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that donates hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under 21 who suffer from long-term medical hair loss.

By Aug. 5 her blonde hair draped below her shoulders. She loved it that way. Soon she had it lopped off.

“I thought it would be fun to see the difference I made,” Brooke said.

It’s a statement that has two meanings, as Brooke said she both wanted to help people in need and also to see what her hair would look like much shorter.

It took about two years to get her hair long enough and much less time to cut it. Already she’s seeing some advantages.

“I can sleep in at least 20 minutes more now,” she said, her shorter hair making for less work on mornings before school.

Brooke said she got the idea after two of her cousins participated in Locks of Love. Her mother, Yvette Koehler, said her daughter’s charitable act didn’t surprise her. When she heard about the May tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo., Brooke wanted to go help out.

“I knew there wasn’t anything she could do down there, but it was out of the goodness of her heart,” Yvette said.

Brooke counts Girl Scouts and volleyball among her extracurricular activities. She said friends and teachers met her short hair with compliments and even estimated that she already convinced at least five teammates to part with their locks for charity at some point.

Brooke said she’d like to grow her hair out again so she can donate it again.

Still, she said she might just take awhile to enjoy it first.

“I like my hair long,” she said.

By Stephen Montemayor

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Miniature horse makes big impression at area nursing homes

Cindy is just 4 years old, and for the past several weeks she’s been visiting area nursing homes, entertaining and delighting each establishment’s residents.

Cindy is a miniature horse.

The 182-pound, 27.5-inch tall animal made a planned appearance Thursday afternoon at the Baldwin Healthcare and Rehab Center, received with approval by the majority of the center’s 45 residents.

“It was great; they loved it,” activities director Nicole Murry said. “I have never seen that many people happy at the same time.”

Cindy’s owner, Ottawa resident Rae Warren, said that’s the response she hopes for every time. She said the idea for the visits, five so far this year, were part of a divine plan.

“I don’t know what to say except to say it came from God,” Warren said. “I wanted to do something for the elderly. I always knew if I had an animal with me, that’d be great.”

Warren didn’t want just any animal, though. Noticing the common appearance of dogs at area nursing homes, she wanted to do something a little different. Exposed to horses at a young age, Warren said the animal was the most logical choice. After about a year scouring the Internet for an appropriate miniature, she finally settled on Cindy, who had previous nursing home experience.

Warren said the horse has a knack for entertaining the elderly, walking up to them and resting its head in their laps and on their beds. Residents Thursday were waiting eagerly for the duo’s arrival.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Warren said about engaging the elderly. “It’s all worth it just to see the sparkle in their eyes.”

But that sparkle didn’t come easily. Shortly after acquiring the small animal, Warren noticed it looked a little sickly. Experts at Kansas State University tended to the horse, which made a full recovery following necessary surgery. The ordeal set Warren back six months in her plan to visit area homes but didn’t diminish her determination.

“I’m not going to quit,” she said. “I’m going to keep doing it.”

Warren said she plans to visit as many area homes as she can find within driving distance of her home. She made the call to volunteer her time at the Baldwin center, something she’d like to see become a monthly event. Murry said that was a likely next step, especially after seeing the response from the residents.

“We were very excited all week long,” Murry said. “And they weren’t let down.”

By Joe Preiner

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New DUI law tougher, but loopholes still exist Central database, tougher penalties can’t keep all drunken drivers off streets

In 2008, a Wichita mother and daughter were killed by a drunken driver as they walked to school. The driver, Gary Hammitt, 57, was still on the road despite having four convictions for driving under the influence, or DUI.

The incident spurred two state-sponsored commissions and led to a new DUI law that went into effect July 1.

But Hammitt’s DUI history could be considered paltry compared with some drivers booked into Douglas County Jail last year.

A Lawrence Journal-World investigation identified 18 people booked into Douglas County Jail in 2010 for their fourth or more DUI charge; there are drivers cruising local roads every day despite six and seven DUI arrests.

Then there’s 56-year-old Baldwin City-area resident Randolph Holder.

Since 1977, Holder has been convicted of DUI at least nine times, most recently in March, though that case is being appealed.

Covering a span of 34 years, Holder has been jailed, fined, placed under house arrest and had his license suspended and revoked.

But nothing has kept Holder from driving drunk.

Holder — who, along with his attorney, declined comment for this report — isn’t alone in the state, said Mary Ann Khoury, director of the DUI Victim Center of Kansas in Wichita.

“We’ve seen 18, 19, 20 (DUI convictions),” she said.

Holder’s case highlights some of the problems the new DUI law tries to address.

But will the new law keep drivers like Holder off the road?

No way to know

For starters, Holder’s case highlights the inconsistencies in how the state tracks DUI offenders. A search of Holder’s criminal history through the Kansas Bureau of Investigation shows six DUI convictions. Obtain his driving record from the Kansas Department of Revenue, and only three show up.

Holder, however, has nine total convictions, according to Douglas County Assistant District Attorney Greg Benefiel. Benefiel prosecutes most of the county’s DUI cases and has access to Holder’s pre-sentence investigation report, which isn’t open to the public under Kansas open records laws.

“One of the issues is the fuzziness of the records,” said Benefiel, explaining that not all Kansas municipalities have consistently submitted such cases to state databases.

As part of their investigation, prosecutors must call each municipality where they think someone may have been convicted of a DUI. Benefiel said that if he suspects the accused has been convicted somewhere in Johnson County, for instance, staff would need to check all 18 municipalities in the county.

“It’s a very time-consuming process,” he said.

But that’s not the end of it. A prosecutor must get the records to prove the case, and also prove that the offender was represented by an attorney. But sometimes those records aren’t kept.

So is there any way to know how many DUI convictions a person in Kansas has? Probably not, Benefiel said.

Is it possible someone in Kansas has 100 DUIs and is still driving around?

Unlikely, but it’s possible, he said.

That’s one of the issues the new DUI law addresses, in the form of a central DUI repository, or database, to track the state’s DUI offenders. In essence, law enforcement and prosecutors will need to search only one database to find out how often someone has been convicted or arrested for a DUI, and all municipalities are required to participate.

Clean slate provision

But the repository comes with a caveat, one that wipes the slate clean for some offenders. Any DUIs committed prior to July 1, 2001, cannot be included in an offender’s total. In Holder’s case, that would mean that if he is convicted of another DUI — which would be his 10th — it would be counted as only his third offense, which carries fewer penalties.

Khoury, of the DUI Victim Center, is fuming about that stipulation, as well as other aspects, that she says don’t make Kansas roads any safer.

Kansas roads are among the most dangerous in the country when it comes to alcohol-related fatalities. Several years ago, Kansas ranked well below the national average in alcohol-related fatalities per million miles driven. In 2010, the state’s rate was 40 percent higher than the national average. In addition, the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Kansas increased more than 50 percent between 2005 and 2009.

The law simply didn’t go far enough to make a significant impact, Khoury said.

“We failed victims in what the Legislature put forth from our recommendations. We failed,” she said.

Khoury favored a “lifetime look back” for DUIs, so someone like Holder would receive the most severe punishment for his crime — up to a year in jail and lifetime use of an ignition interlock that prevents him from driving if he has been drinking. But if someone committed all their DUIs before 2001, regardless of how many they had, they’d avoid serious jail time.

Restricting the look back to 10 years “was putting us back in the dark ages,” Khoury said.

Ignition interlock

Over at one of the local businesses that installs ignition interlock devices — Garber Automotive, 2216 W. Sixth St. — business is booming, said owner Micah Garber. Businesses like Garber’s are seeing a spike in ignition interlock installations thanks to the new DUI law, which requires even first-time offenders to use the devices. How long DUI offenders must use an ignition interlock varies, but in some cases it can be for up to 10 years.

Garber explained how the ignition interlocks work. Offenders pay a $45 installation fee, and Garber’s crew installs the devices in about 30 minutes. The device is connected to a vehicle’s ignition, and to start the car, someone needs to blow into a hand-held device, which records the Blood Alcohol Content, or BAC. While the legal limit in Kansas is a BAC of .08, the ignition interlock won’t allow the vehicle to start if someone blows over a .04. If someone registers over the limit, they get two retests within the next 15 minutes. Fail those, and the car locks up. Offenders must also pay a $75 monthly fee, and data from the devices is downloaded and sent to probation officers.

The device has provisions to prevent ways of skirting the system, said Jamie Krumsick, who coordinates distribution of interlock devices for Kansas Guardian Interlock.

“The device is a lot smarter than people give it credit for,” Krumsick said.

What if someone else, who’s sober, blows into the device to get it started for a drunken person?

They won’t get too far, as the device will ask for occasional rolling retests, beginning after about five minutes. If the device requests a retest, drivers have 300 seconds to blow into the device before locking up.

But what if a sober passenger blows into the device for a drunken driver whenever the retests are requested?

Krumsick answers that with a question of his own.

“Why is the sober person not driving?” he said.

Good point, but Khoury, from the DUI Victim Center, said she’s heard cases of drunken parents making their children blow into the device for them.

For someone determined to drive drunk, there are other ways around the interlock.

The new law doesn’t require someone to install an ignition interlock. But if they drive then they must legally use one. So you could simply not install one and roll the dice that you won’t be pulled over. Or have one installed, use it when sober, but use a second vehicle — without an interlock — when drinking.

Refusal

One of the drawbacks of the new DUI law, said State Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, is the failure to close a loophole for drivers who refuse to take a Breathalyzer when pulled over. Owens served on the DUI Commission and has spent five years trying to reform Kansas DUI laws.

Here’s the choice offenders can make when they’re pulled over for drunken driving:

• Take the Breathalyzer, fail, and then be subjected to jail time, be fined and use of an ignition interlock for a year.

• Refuse the Breathalyzer, which will trigger an automatic one-year license suspension, then be required to use an interlock for one year. While you could still be prosecuted for DUI under the second option, it’s much more difficult to prove without the Breathalyzer. Prosecutors are left with field sobriety tests administered by the on-scene officer, said Owens, who has been a prosecutor, defense attorney and judge in his career. He’s seen cases in which someone refuses a test and evades a conviction for DUI.

An offender like Holder could simply refuse next time and have his license suspended, while taking his chances in court on the DUI charge. In the past, that doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect. Since 2009, Holder’s license has been revoked or suspended at least five times.

Consequences?

More jail time, ignition interlocks, increased fines — no matter what the law requires, those most addicted to alcohol or drugs don’t fear the consequences, said Lisa Carter, an addictions counselor with DCCCA.

That’s one of the lessons she’s learned in more than 15 years in the addictions field.

“They start losing things — jobs, homes, relationships,” she said. “Everything crumbles.”

It comes down to a choice, and if an addicted person isn’t ready for that, “It’s not going to change,” Carter said.

The only foolproof way to keep the most habitual drunken drivers off the road would be incarceration. The new law sets one year as the maximum sentence a judge could give, even if someone has 10 DUIs.

Owens, however, said the state’s sentencing guidelines allow for a judge to impose a prison sentence for felony DUI convictions, if someone has an additional criminal history. At what point that would happen, and how it would be applied by the legal system, is not clear.

The Kansas Department of Corrections, in its 2010 population report, showed that 27 offenders were in Kansas prisons for DUI, while 42 were imprisoned for vehicular manslaughter DUI.

Other aspects of the new law will have to play out over time. The 54-page law is complex, and some defense attorneys interviewed for this report admitted to not understanding all of the provisions.

“This is so new,” said John Frydman, a Lawrence attorney who handles several DUI cases. “We’re all just feeling our way through this.”

Even at its strongest, the law will probably not keep the most habitual drunken drivers off the roads for long.

For some, like Hammitt, who had four previous DUIs when he killed the mother and daughter, it takes a death to remove them from the roads. For his crimes, Hammitt was sentenced to 39 years in prison and won’t be eligible for parole until he’s 87.

“You have people who aren’t going to get any better,” Owens said. “They’re not going to stop (driving drunk).”

By Shaun HIttle

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Party scores with youngsters battling cancer

Hope Corwin (middle), Kansas City, Mo., is surrounded by members of the Sporting Kansas City soccer team during the 2011 Cattle Baron’s Ball Children’s Party at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. The event Tuesday gave youths battling cancer a chance to take part in a soccer clinic and tour the stadium. Pictured from left are Graham Zusi, midfielder; Chance Myers, defender; Teal Bunbury, striker; and Luke Sassano, midfielder.

Hope Corwin (middle), Kansas City, Mo., is surrounded by members of the Sporting Kansas City soccer team during the 2011 Cattle Baron’s Ball Children’s Party at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. The event Tuesday gave youths battling cancer a chance to take part in a soccer clinic and tour the stadium. Pictured from left are Graham Zusi, midfielder; Chance Myers, defender; Teal Bunbury, striker; and Luke Sassano, midfielder. by Melissa Treolo

Despite meeting five Sporting Kansas City soccer players Tuesday, 10-year-old Wilson Bledsoe, Tonganoxie, says he’s only “a little bit” considering a future career as a professional soccer player.

For now, playing soccer —which he has been doing for the past four years with the Edwardsville Parks and Recreation Department — is more just for fun, he says.

His mother, Clara Sybrant, however, has bigger dreams for her son.

“Hopefully in the future, Wilson will be playing up there on the (LIVESTRONG Sporting Park) stadium. I’d like to see him play out there, actually maybe even be on Sporting KC and actually see him play an actual game,” Sybrant said with a laugh.

Seeing Wilson as a featured team member of Sporting KC might have been somewhat inspired by the 2011 Cattle Baron’s Ball Children’s Party that Sybrant attended with her son, a cancer survivor, Tuesday at LIVESTRONG.

The second annual party, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, KCP&L and Sporting KC, was given to area children who have battled or still are battling cancer and their siblings. Last year’s party took place at Kaleidoscope in Crown Center, said Kendra Garwood, the program’s chair.

The party is “just as a way to say we’re thinking of you, we want to give you a chance to get out and enjoy yourself for a couple of hours,” she said. “So just kind of like a thank you party to kids for all they’ve gone through.”

The 35 youths who attended the party were first greeted by Ronald McDonald and then given a few minutes to enjoy refreshments. Then the party got under way, with the youths divided into two groups. One group took part in a soccer clinic on the LIVESTRONG field conducted by students from Notre Dame de Sion Catholic School in Kansas City, Mo. The other group toured the stadium, including the Sporting KC lockerroom, training room and the various suites and VIP rooms.

Then the groups switched.

Toward the end of the party, five members of the Sporting KC team, Luke Sassano, Chance Myers, Teal Bunbury, Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, showed up to play with the youths on the soccer field and sign cards, T-shirts and Sporting KC bobble heads.

Of meeting the players Wilson said, “That was cool.”

At the end of this year, Wilson will celebrate his 10th anniversary of being cancer-free — he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, which was presented as a tumor in the adrenal gland of his right kidney, when he was only 8 months old.

A week after the diagnosis, Wilson had his kidney removed. He then underwent four months of chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free in December of that year. He has had annual checkups every year since then, with no indication the cancer has returned.

Sybrant said she and Wilson have Wilson’s grandmother, Sandy, to thank for his life. Sybrant said Wilson’s symptoms were originally misdiagnosed as constipation and a hernia. But Sandy wasn’t convinced and so demanded a second opinion, after which the cancer was found.

Sybrant said she thought of her mother, who died of stage four lung cancer in 2008, all the time, but especially at Wilson’s cancer-free anniversary.

“I’m just very thankful for … that he’s here with me, very thankful for my mom because if it wasn’t for her … I can’t say what if or what would have happened. I know his story would have been different because I’ve just now started learning how serious his type of cancer is,” she said.

Tuesday’s party brought memories of Wilson’s grandmother to his mind, as well. The two were close, Sybrant says, and it’s clear Wilson still misses her terribly.

“It’s just so sad,” Wilson said simply of his grandmother.

The day wasn’t about being sad, though. Wilson said, being as advanced a soccer player as he is, he didn’t really learn too much at the clinic. His favorite part of the day, however, was being out on the field.

“Well, I liked the soccer field and how big it is,” he said, noting Tuesday was his first trip to the stadium.

But Wilson and the other youths at the party will get a chance to see LIVESTRONG again. Each of them were given goodie bags that included tickets to a Sporting KC game, as well as passes to the Kansas City Zoo and Powell Gardens.

Asked what she hoped the youths would come away with from the party, Garwood said she hoped something fun and positive to remember as they continue to deal with the not-so-fun or positive aspects of cancer.

“Just the memories that they’re going to have and, hopefully friendships,” Garwood said. “Hopefully (they met and formed connections with) … other kids going through similar situations.”

By Melissa Treolo

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