Durrie Bouscaren

Health and Science Reporter

Durrie Bouscaren covers healthcare and medical research throughout the St. Louis metro area. She comes most recently from Iowa Public Radio’s newsroom in Des Moines, where she reported on floods, a propane shortage, and small-town defense contractors. Since catching the radio bug in college, Bouscaren has freelanced and interned at NPR member stations WRVO, WAER and KQED. Her work has aired on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Harvest Public Media, a regional reporting collaborative. 

Ways to Connect

Nigel Taylor, the principal investigator for the VIRCA project, checks the stems of cassava plants at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

As botanist Nigel Taylor moves through a greenhouse kept to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 percent humidity, he checks the stems of young, potted cassava plants.

“You can see it there, OK?” Taylor said, pulling one forward. “We’re getting lesions on the stem, this plant’s quite badly infected.”

Call it manioc, tapioca or cassava — this starchy, tropical tuber feeds millions of people around the world. In many parts of East and Central Africa, farmers are experiencing declining yields of cassava due to brown streak virus, a plant disease that can render a crop inedible.

For the past decade, scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur have led a project that tries another tack: genetically modifying cassava plants for disease resistance.

Kevin Dietl, left, poses with his mother in a family photograph.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

John Dietl knew that his son, Kevin, was experiencing depression. He pleaded with him to get help.

"He did. But he said under one condition; we’ve got to pay cash, and 'I’ve got to go out of town,'" Dietl recalled recently, as he sat at his kitchen table with his wife in Chesterfield. "[He said] 'I can’t let anybody know I’m struggling with this, because it’ll be detrimental to my career.''"

Kevin Dietl, a bright medical student with brown eyes and a passion for water sports, took his life last year, just weeks before he would have graduated from A.T. Still University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville. He was 26.

Dentists write 10 percent of prescriptions for antibiotic courses in the U.S., according to research by the CDC.
Flickr, via Aiko, Thomas & Juliette+Isaac

Research underway at Washington University seeks to reduce antibiotic use by focusing on a prescriber who doesn’t get too much attention: your local dentist.

Maureen Walkenbach photographed the receipt after filling her son's prescription for EpiPen Jr. Because her family's health insurance has a high deductible, she must pay nearly the full price.
provided by Maureen Walkenbach

Ever since her 6-year-old son was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy, Oakville resident Maureen Walkenbach has kept EpiPens around at all times. One set stays at home in a cabinet, one goes with her kid to school, and one stays in her purse when they’re out and about.

“If [he’s] having trouble breathing, you have about four minutes,” she said. “These EpiPens, I can’t drive that home enough. We have to have them.”

Like thousands of other parents, Walkenbach is amazed by the rising cost of the device. Mylan, the maker of EpiPen, has pushed the cost from about $100 in 2008 to more than $600 today. The most recent cost increase has fueled accusations of price gouging as Mylan enjoys its last months of a near-monopoly before new competitors are set to enter the market.

An "out of order" sign hangs from the pipes of a water fountain at Patrick Henry Elementary School in St. Louis.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When preliminary tests by St. Louis Public Schools found that dozens of faucets and water fountains contained traces of lead, the district shut them off before the school year began.

District spokesperson Patrick Wallace said that to his knowledge, the schools’ water had not been tested for lead within the past 10 years.

A full survey released Thursday found elevated lead levels in 88 district water fountains and sinks.

Before it was banned in 1978, lead paint was commonly used in homes. In St. Louis, which is dominated by older housing stock, lead contamination is still prevalent.
Abby Lanes | Flickr

Four employees who work in a Veterans Affairs records office in north St. Louis have tested positive for higher than average levels of lead in their blood, though officials stressed that the measurements still fall within the range that is normal for U.S. adults.  

The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Veterans Affairs officials say they’re making progress towards shorter wait times at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, but the numbers show that challenges remain. 

At a meeting Friday with the leaders of veteran’s service organizations, Keith Repko, interim medical director, cited the latest report: In St. Louis, patients are waiting an average of five days for mental health appointments, 12 days for primary care and about eight days to see a specialist.

Gabe Weil, in red, on a visit to San Francisco.
provided by Robert Herrera

Careening through the streets of Manhattan, Gabe Weil and Bobby Herrera realized they weren’t sure just how they would park a van and trailer full of medical equipment at rush hour.

“He’s laughing, we’re yelling at people in the street … It felt like this very sitcom, New York City moment,” Herrera recalled. “We’re stopping traffic on 44th Street, and everyone waiting in a taxi is losing their mind, and little old Gabe comes wheeling out of this van.”

Although Weil had muscular dystrophy, that didn't stop him from traveling. But on Monday, his journeys came to an end when he died at his family’s Clayton home. He was 28.

During a training for new volunteers, Provident clinician Adrianne Martin (standing) leads an exercise in active listening.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

A St. Louis-based crisis hotline is preparing to receive nearly twice as many calls as usual after being selected to serve as a backup center for the national network.

 

In October, Provident will be one of 10 call centers around the country taking calls from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline when local crisis lines are overwhelmed. They’re expecting 150 to 200 calls a day from all over the country.

Peter Merideth
Durrie Bouscaren I St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Durrie Bouscaren welcome Peter Merideth (and his daughter, Piper) to the program.

A doctor walks into the operating room in a screenshot from "Abortion: The Stories Women Tell."
provided by HBO

After the Missouri legislature passed a law in 2014 requiring women to wait 72 hours before terminating a pregnancy, a team of filmmakers started collecting their stories.

They interviewed dozens of women over several months, many of whom had crossed the Mississippi River to go to a clinic in Illinois, where the rules governing abortions are more relaxed.

Their stories appear in Abortion: Stories Women Tellwhich opens in limited theaters Friday and will air later on HBO.

Protesters are greeted by lines of state and county police during a demonstration march on the Ferguson police station on August 11, 2014.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Listening is a two-way street. As part of a new project here at St. Louis Public Radio, we’re visiting communities throughout the region to ask about the issues that matter most. We’re calling it St. Louis Public Radio Listens.

Last week, we visited the Ferguson Municipal Public Library with an open invitation. We asked residents to share their thoughts about what has changed, and what hasn’t, in the past two years. Here is a sample of their responses. 

Members of "The Palpations," a band started by second-year medical students, try to fix a broken guitar string during practice.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

During her first year of medical school, Katherine Hu struggled with the feeling that she didn’t measure up.

“You end up becoming, actually, pretty cynical. I’d be sitting in class, the professor’s speaking a million miles an hour, and I don’t know what’s going on,” Hu said. “It just becomes heavier and heavier … kind of hopeless sometimes.” 

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri attorney Lauren Hamvas, left, chats with project director Amanda Schneider at Family Care Health Centers in the Carondelet neighborhood of St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Your doctor can refer you to a specialist … but what if she could refer you to free legal help, too?

In St. Louis, attorneys for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri are making the rounds at community health clinics to help patients whose health issues may need a legal remedy.

Virginia Commonwealth University mapped severe health disparities in north St. Louis County by comparing census tract-level data for life expectancy.
provided by Virginia Commonwealth University

People who live in different parts of north St. Louis County may have a 12-year difference in how long they can expect to live, according to an analysis of census tracts by Virginia Commonwealth University.

The school’s Center on Society and Health has released two dozen maps of life expectancy gaps in selected metro areas over the past three years. The findings in St. Louis closely mirror the results of the For the Sake of All study in 2014, which used zip code-level data to reach its conclusions.

The FDA must first approve updates to donor history questionnaires and donor education materials before blood centers can start taking donations from gay and bisexual men.
Canadian Blood Services | Flickr

Blood supplies are low again this year, and the American Red Cross is extending an urgent call for donations that began two weeks ago.

Shortages are common in the summer. Many potential donors are on vacation, and blood drives at high schools have to be put on hold. But this year, blood suppliers are feeling the crunch several weeks earlier than expected.

The Witherspoon family

Most of us, at some point, will know someone who is struggling with a life-threatening illness. More than one in three U.S. residents are diagnosed with a form of cancer in their lifetime, and one in nine adults over the age of 65 are living with Alzheimer’s disease.

But when a close friend or loved one shares that they have a serious health issue, we’re often left not knowing what to do or what to say.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, speaks during a visit to NCADA's offices in St. Louis County. He leads a government task force to curb opioid abuse.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County could receive federal funds to establish a regional prescription drug monitoring database, under a new law passed by Congress that President Barack Obama has said he will sign.

The measure allows for local governments, not just states, to apply for federal grants to set up a database to alert physicians when a patient may be receiving too many opioid prescriptions. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said she submitted the language in a motion because Missouri is the only state in the country without a statewide system.

Washington University biomedical engineering PhD student Ali Ross and Farshid Guilak, PhD, a professor of orthopedic surgery, show a container with a prototype of a living hip replacement.
Robert Boston | Washington University in St. Louis

A St. Louis orthopedic researcher has developed a way to grow a hip replacement out of stem cells found in a patient’s fat reserves, and is now testing it in animals.

The discovery that made it possible happened by accident, said Farshid Guilak, who directs regenerative medicine research for St. Louis Shriner’s Hospital and Washington University.

Katie Rhoades is the founder and executive director of Healing Action. At 18, Rhoades began working in the sex industry, and experienced episodes of trafficking and abuse until she left age 21.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

When Katie Rhoades founded Healing Action, she made a commitment: every peer counselor she hires has worked in the commercial sex trade, and gotten out. Including herself.

“They have walked that path," Rhoades said. "They have, through help, and sometimes not so much help, have been able to come out and do something different with their lives. And that creates a sense of hope and possibility for the women that we serve.”

Healing Action is the latest addition to a regional effort to stop sex trafficking and exploitation in St. Louis.

Planned Parenthood supporters rally in 2015 outside the agency's clinic in St. Louis after a mass shooting at a clinic in Colorado Springs.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Three Democrats in the Missouri legislature plan to file bills repealing two of the state’s laws restricting abortion facilities, following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that threw out similar measures in Texas.

Marchelle Vernell-Bettis, a trauma ICU nurse, wears a button during an informational picket for St. Louis University Hospital's nurses union.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Dozens of nurses gathered for a picket Monday morning to protest what they say are unsafe staffing levels at St. Louis University Hospital.

In advance of contract negotiations, the hospital’s chapter of National Nurses United conducted a staffing survey in 2015 and compared the data collected to staffing guidelines set by the hospital’s management. Overall, optimal staffing levels were not met on 58 percent of shifts in a 21-day period.

A crowd gathered at Ferguson police headquarters Wednesday night to stand in solidarity with Alton Sterling's community in Baton Rouge and continue to demand racial equality and police reform.
Lawrence Bryant | The St. Louis American

Near a Save-A-Lot in south St. Louis, two young men stood on Jefferson Avenue on Thursday, selling DVD’s and discussing two other men who died many miles away.

Ikane Smith, a wiry man who wore a large blue T-shirt and jeans, bounced from foot to foot. Derrek Haggins wore a white button down shirt and a black bowtie.  Both were painfully aware of the thin line separating their lives from the lives of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Zika virus, here shown as a digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph, can be transmitted by mosquitoes or sexually.
Cynthia Goldsmith | Centers for Disease Control

From bioengineered mosquitoes to a $5,000 seed grant, researchers in Missouri and southern Illinois are joining an international effort to stop the Zika virus. 

Scientists say Zika research has been hampered by a lack of funding. Efforts were further stalled last week when the U.S. Senate split along party lines and failed to pass a $1.1 billion spending bill that included a significant boost in money for researchers around the country — many of whom have dropped other work to focus on Zika.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Residents near the Bridgeton Landfill did not report significantly higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses on a recent health survey conducted by the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

“There are some concerns, but for the most part, as related to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it is reassuring,” said Faisal Khan, the agency’s director.

A promotional photo for Wing, used during the startup's IndieGoGo campaign in 2015.
Sparo Labs

A St. Louis-based startup has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to market a device that helps patients monitor their asthma and other lung conditions.

A marketing campaign will start in the fall for patients to buy the device  — called Wing — from the Sparo Labs website, co-founder Andrew Brimer said. Pilot programs to get the devices to local doctors and study patient reactions also are underway.

Tom, via Flickr

Local health departments are using their own resources to boost mosquito prevention efforts, as Congress remains split over a funding bill to boost preparation and research for the Zika virus.

Most preparations are well practiced after years of dealing with West Nile: health departments set traps, spray for mosquitoes, and encourage residents to wear long-sleeves and insect repellent.

There have been no cases of Zika transmitted by local mosquitoes so far in the continental United States, but the northernmost ranges of the two mosquito species that carry Zika do cross through Missouri. Seven Missourians have been diagnosed with the virus after traveling to affected areas, including two pregnant women.

A file photo of North City Urgent Care, at 6113 Ridge Avenue in north St. Louis City.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Violence in north St. Louis is prompting one of the few urgent care clinics in the area to close on the weekends.

A gun battle outside the doors of North City Urgent Care on a Saturday last month was the last straw, said Dr. Sonny Sagar, its medical director. The clinic, at 6113 Ridge Ave., sits in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood and is one of just a few urgent care facilities in the area.

Third-generation crane operator Tim Miller, 41, prepares to climb up a crane helping to build a new Barnes Hospital building.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s no shortage of tall yellow cranes helping build the largest construction projects in St. Louis this summer. One listener asked the Curious Louis project how the men and women who operate those cranes get to the top, and we answered.

Keith Carter, 53, waits to pick up a prescription for diabetes at Affinia Healthcare in St. Louis. Though he falls in the income gap, he's able to get his preventive care covered through Gateway to Better Health.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

At any given time, a half dozen people sit in the waiting room at Affinia Healthcare in south St. Louis. Two parents coo over a new baby, while a group of older patients chat along the back wall.

53-year-old Keith Carter sits alone. An embroidered polo shirt and badge show he’s just come from work.

“I seem fit. Inside, it’s just breaking down like sawdust. I just keep it in motion,” he said, as he waited to pick up a prescription to manage his diabetes.

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