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20 People Who Make Healthcare Better—2011

HealthLeaders Media Staff, December 13, 2011
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Reducing the Disease Load

Patrick J. Quinlan, MD
Back in 2001 after he looked at some staggering state health statistics, Patrick J. Quinlan, MD, CEO at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, and his executive team set out to improve the health and wellness of the entire community—starting with the children. Change the Kids, Change the Future is a program created and championed by his organization.

“I’m very concerned about the wrong turn healthcare reform has taken. It’s put our focus on expenditures,” he says. “We need to focus on reducing the disease load. If we look at those individuals who have particular risks, we recognize that the major driver for these problems is lifestyle. It’s a set of behaviors learned early on and is a part of the family history—the behaviors are contagious.”

Quinlan and his team decided to focus on obesity, which often leads to hypertension and diabetes, because it is a lifestyle issue, and the habits are formed in childhood. “This is an epidemic,” says Quinlan.
The system puts $250,000 in annual direct costs toward creating its school-based program designed to educate children and their families about the long-term impact of nutrition and exercise choices on their health. The money funds on-site nurse practitioners at schools and a mobile fitness unit that travels the region to teach parents and kids to incorporate healthier foods and behaviors into their lifestyle. The mobile fitness unit reached more than 2,500 students this year.

“We’re not in banking or manufacturing; we take care of people. It’s my hope that if we lead by example we can change the understanding of health in our community,” says Quinlan.

—Karen Minich-Pourshadi


Collecting Brains, Combating Concussions

Chris Nowinski collects brains—specifically, the brains of deceased athletes.

Nowinski is the president, CEO, and cofounder of the Sports Legacy Institute, a Boston-based nonprofit that works to raise awareness about concussions and their long-term effects on athletes.

His career as a professional wrestler with World Wrestling Entertainment ended in 2003 when he caught a boot to the chin during a tag-team match. He struggled with that particular concussion for several years, visiting doctor after doctor in search of relief. Nowinski credits Robert Cantu, MD—the eighth doctor he saw for his concussion problems—with his turnaround.

Nowinski began his own research and concluded that athletes were “all just being lied to about the consequences of playing some sports.” He wrote Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis  to educate parents, coaches, medical professionals, and others about the long-term effects of brain trauma.
He realized that people needed physical evidence to change their minds and started actively pursuing brains for study. He began calling families of deceased athletes and asking for brain donations
for research.

His first brain—or rather brain tissue—came from Andre Waters, a former NFL defensive back who committed suicide in 2006. Examination of Waters’ brain tissue produced evidence that the 44-year-old suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a progressive degenerative disease related to repetitive brain trauma.

Nowinski’s campaign to publicize those results is credited with driving the national discussion about the effect of repetitive brain trauma
on athletes.   
  —Margaret Dick Tocknell

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