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

St. Louis College of Pharmacy professor Amy Tiemeier demonstrates how to use a medication disposal pouch to promote National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. (Oct. 20, 2016)
Durrie Bouscaren| St. Louis Public Radio

Police departments, recreation centers and a handful of grocery stores will accept and dispose of unused medications in the St. Louis region as part of a semi-annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday.

Public health officials recommend that people dispose of unused medications to prevent accidental poisoning or addiction. While flushing pills down the toilet may be effective, it can contaminate the water system. With that in mind, a growing fixture at the take-back days are plastic disposal pouches, filled with a carbon compound. They can hold up to 45 pills, and a once cup of water is added, the mixture breaks down into a substance that is safe for a landfill.

The chlamydia bacteria, stained and viewed at 500 times.
National Cancer Institute | Dr. Lance Liotta Laboratory

Rates of three common sexually transmitted diseases have risen to a record high level nationwide, and St. Louis continues to rank high among cities, according to federal data released Wednesday.

The St. Louis region recorded 14,961 cases of chlamydia in 2015, the 17th highest per-capita rate in the country. Rates of syphyllis stayed relatively steady at just over 400 cases in the metro area. The city of St. Louis, however, measured the highest rate of both chlamydia and gonorrhea among counties and independent cities. 

“We’ve seen closures of publicly funded STD clinics around the country, and St. Louis is similar in that we have very few options for people to get tested and treated,” said Dr. Brad Stoner, medical director of the St. Louis STD/HIV Prevention Training Center.

A mouse runs on a "rotarod" wearing the implantable device. The experiment is designed to test the mouse's motor skills.
Washington University | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | Cell Press

A federal initiative to find cures for brain disorders is granting $3.8 million to Washington University researchers and their collaborators.

The group is studying how neurons respond to light by implanting fiber-optic threads the width of a human hair into the brains of lab mice.

“We’re able to get animals to do particular behaviors while this light is dialing up or dialing down particular activities,” said Dr. Michael Bruchas, a Washington University neuroscientist. “We can actually affect how they approach one another, how they interact.”

Toya Williams of St. Louis picked up a gun lock at the National Council of Jewish Women's Back-to-School Store Sunday, July 24, 2016. She said she liked the suggestion to wear the key around her neck.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

A Missouri state representative from St. Louis County is launching a coalition to prevent the shooting deaths of children who find a loaded weapon in the home. The Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance will work with Washington University researchers to build a database tracking accidental shootings nationwide.

“First of all, you need to know what the numbers are. You need to know what the incidents are. We also need to know if adults are charged with anything in their states,” said Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights.

At least 95 children in the United States have been shot and killed accidentally so far this year, according to the database.

Police cars park outside of the Bel-Ridge Municipal Complex, which includes spaces for Village Hall, its municipal court, and the police department.  11/8/14, Durrie Bouscaren
Durrie Bouscaren/St. Louis Public Radio / St. Louis Public Radio

Update 12:31 PM on 10/14/16: The hearing for Chief Brock has been postponed, and has not yet been rescheduled, according to Mayor Rachel White. 

The longtime police chief Bel-Ridge, of a town of about 2,700 people in St. Louis County, is facing a termination hearing Saturday, following accusations of mismanagement.

Chief Gordon Brock has worked for the Bel-Ridge Police Department since the early 1990s, and was promoted to chief in 2000.

Christine Anyeko, a laborer in Uganda's northern Amuru district, weeds a field of cassava, banana and beans by hand.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

NAMULONGE, Uganda — Before rows of tall, green bushes, Jude Aleu picks a cassava tuber off the ground and cracks it in half.

That shouldn’t be so easy. Healthy cassava tubers — a staple food crop in the region — can grow as thick as your upper arm. But the root in Aleu’s hands is stunted and gnarled because of a plant virus called brown streak disease. When he breaks it open, the flesh is streaked with brown and yellow, a necrosis that will render the harvest inedible.

“It’s corky,” said Aleu, a cassava safety manager for Uganda’s National Crops Resources Research Institute. “This root you cannot eat. Even animals cannot eat it.” 

Students make signs on campus at Washington University before the start of the presidential debate on Sunday.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

It took just a few minutes for the Affordable Care Act to feature in Sunday’s presidential debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump as Trump quickly blamed the legislation for the rising cost of health care.

“When I watch what’s happening with some horrible things like Obamacare where your health insurance and health care is going up by numbers that are astronomical,” Trump said, adding that costs have gone up as much as 71 percent.

The Trump campaign has not said where he obtained his figures. But even though premiums are rising, the effect is concentrated on plans sold on the individual market not those that are provided through an employer. 

provided by the CDC

Federal officials have tied eight cases of salmonella over the summer to a family-run egg company an hour south of St. Louis.

The Good Earth Egg Company in Bonne Terre, Missouri has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the likely source of the infections, although investigations are ongoing. The company has recalled all of its shell eggs with sell-by dates before Oct. 8, 2016.

A Ugandan farmer holds a cassava root for sale in his stall
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

At the Gulu Main Market in northern Uganda, there’s an entire aisle devoted to cassava vendors.

For Ugandans, the starchy tuber is more than a staple food crop. It helped people survive many years of war. A project led by the Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur to develop genetically modified cassava is undergoing field trials in East Africa.

South Sudanese refugees wait to receive food rations in northen Uganda.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 3 p.m., Sept. 28 with Durrie Bouscaren's interview on St. Louis on the Air from Uganda.

Heavy fighting in South Sudan has pushed about 150,000 refugees across the border into Uganda over the past two months. In July, the World Food Programme cut food rations in half for residents of settlement camps who have been in the country for more than a year. 

The toll of the conflict is clear in refugee camps in the Adjumani District, near Uganda's northern border.

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.