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

Michael Velardo | Flickr

The nation’s opioid crisis is threatening to undo decades of HIV prevention work, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

In response to a national survey of intravenous drug users in 22 cities, they’re calling for wider distribution of clean needles.  

“The science shows that syringe services programs work,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said. "They save lives, and they save money." 

An example of a safe sleeping practice for infants, without a crib bumper.
National Institutes for Health

A local initiative to prevent infant deaths in St. Louis is recruiting volunteers at a launch event this week.

After holding listening sessions with parents throughout the region, Flourish St. Louis has decided that transportation, mental health, and access to prenatal care are some of the main ways they can help prevent infant deaths.

“We really need moms, dads, grandparents, people from healthcare but also business, faith communities, funders, government. Anyone who feels that they want to work on any of these issues,” said Kendra Copanas, executive director of Generate Health, formerly the Maternal, Child and Family Health Coalition.

In some St. Louis zip codes, the infant mortality rate is more than twice the national average of 5.8 deaths per 1,000. The leading causes of death are congenital malformations, pregnancy complications and disorders related to prematurity or low birth weight,  according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mioshi Ferrill holds a little girl named Arianna at the University City Children's Center. 11/21/16
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

In one of the baby rooms at University City Children’s Center, half a dozen infants are taking naps, drinking out of sippy cups, and trying to figure out how to roll over.

Mioshi Ferrill of St. Louis picks up a little girl with big brown eyes and plastic barrettes in her hair, and coos at her while she takes a bottle. Ferrill, 24, is halfway through her “on the job training” for a new apprentice program run by a local nonprofit, the LUME Institute. After 135 hours of classwork, 480 hours of training, and a year and a half of mentored work, she will be a credentialed provider of early childhood education. But the real payoff comes in moments, like the time she finally got a baby with stranger anxiety to go down for a nap.   

Kirk Mathews
Jason Rosenbaum 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 state Rep. Kirk Mathews to the program for the first time.

The Pacific Republican was first elected to the Missouri House in 2014, winning the open House seat that was once held by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka. He recently won re-election without any significant opposition.

Calvin Payne, 44, stands in his newly leased space for CQ Custom Designs in the Grove neighborhood.  11/18/16
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Weaving between an ensemble of printers and T-shirt presses kept in the back of a tattoo parlor, Calvin Payne fills custom orders from all over the country.

“These shirts are going to Tupelo, Mississippi. And those other shirts are going to Millington, Tennessee,” Payne said, pointing to packages sitting on the counter. “I do a lot of breast cancer awareness shirts… and these are my favorite, because I know that they go for a good cause.”

Payne started his printing business while working as a server at Sweetie Pie’s restaurant in the Grove neighborhood, buying equipment with his savings and learning how to use it with tutorials on YouTube. This month, the 44-year-old entrepreneur is moving CQ Custom Designs into his own storefront for the first time.

Karen Wheat, second from left, stands with fellow volunteers at the Immune Deficiency Foundation's Walk for PI (Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases) on 10/09/16.
provided by Karen Wheat.

Sometimes we swap more than stories when we gather around the Thanksgiving table.

Flu season generally runs from late fall into early spring, but the number of cases starts to increase when people come into contact with others around the holidays.  By getting a flu shot, people can protect themselves and those around them who may be unable to get vaccinated.

“For an immune compromised patient, this is a really hard time … we can’t fight the flu,” said Karen Wheat, 53, a Belleville resident who lives with common variable immune deficiency. The disorder affects more than 1 in 50,000 people worldwide.

A map shows locations of retail pharmacies included in Dr. Paul Hauptman's study of heart failure drug pricing in St. Louis. Color coding corresponds to retail prices of a combination of digoxin, lisinopril, and carvedilol.
Paul J. Hauptman, MD, Zackary D. Goff, Andrija Vidic, et al

When St. Louis cardiologist Paul Hauptman got a call from a 25-year-old patient who couldn’t afford to buy his prescription for a generic drug to treat heart problems, he knew something was wrong.

“It was $100 at a local pharmacy. I thought surely, it was a mistake,” Hauptman said. “Most of the medications, we’re presuming at most pharmacies will be something like $4, $5, $6.”

Mike Cluck stands with his wife Nancy in the front hallway of their home in Edwardsville.  (Nov. 10, 2016)
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

An estimated 20 million people have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but dissatisfaction with the law helped propel Donald Trump the presidency. 

One criticism is a lack of choice for insurance plans bought on Healthcare.gov, an online marketplace established for uninsured individuals to shop for coverage. In three Illinois counties east of St. Louis, residents have just one insurance provider to choose from on the exchange for 2017, and enrollees say the coverage appears to have some serious gaps.

Charles and Doris Lehman, of Sparta, Illinois,  at the Pour House bar in Marissa, Illinois. (Nov. 1, 2916)
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Thousands of former coal workers and dependents who worked for now-bankrupt coal companies could lose their health insurance at the end of the year if Congress does not pass legislation to fund it.

Retirees in southern Illinois say losing their health insurance would amount to a broken promise from the coal companies that would have devastating effects to their well-being. Without Congressional action, Republican president-elect Donald Trump’s promise to repeal of the Affordable Care Act makes the retirees’ coverage alternatives uncertain.

WashU biomedical scientist G.S.M Sundaram, PhD., holds a model of the molecule fluselenamyl, which may improve PET scans for patients with Alzheimer's disease. Senior author Vijay Sharma, PhD, sits to his right.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Think of the night sky when you look up through the smog of the city. Then, think of that same sky on a clear night in a rural area.

That’s the difference between two images of a 90-year-old man’s brain, after he passed away and donated his body to Alzheimer’s disease research. Both scans are dark blue, with points of light showing plaques consistent with the disease. But the sharper image uses a new compound developed by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis. 

Tara Hegger, right, looks through pictures with her cousin, Lisa Pepper. Hegger has stayed in Mercy Hospital's intensive care unit for three months, because she can't find a nursing home in the state of Missouri that will accept her.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

For three months, 32-year-old Tara Hegger has lived in the intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital.

She passes the time listening to music, visiting with family members and watching TV, mostly comedies. They keep her mind off of a painful decision that inches closer every day.

“The social worker came to me and basically told me I had to leave, because my days ran out," Hegger said, pausing between the pumps of oxygen provided by a ventilator next to her. "I had to make a choice.”

Like other Missouri patients in her situation, she will have to leave the state to find a nursing home that accepts her insurance — a dilemma tied to the state's low Medicaid reimbursement rate for long term care.

Van Tyler checks a list of names and addresses while delivering meals in Jennings for the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Since the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging saw its funding slashed by about $2 million during the recession, the agency has had to piece together grants for major projects.

“We’ve had to close senior centers over the years because we can’t support the number that were originally being utilized. And yet at the same time the population is growing,” Director Mary Schaefer said.

That could soon change. On Nov. 8, voters in St. Charles County, St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis will see a box for “Proposition S” on the ballot. The initiative would increase property taxes to pay for programs for seniors, to help them continue living at home.

Angela Merten is an in-person assister for the federal online marketplace at Touchette Regional Hospital. But she says most of the people she'll help sign up for health insurance will qualify for Medicaid under Illinois' expanded program.
File photo |St. Louis Public Radio

The eastern St. Louis metro area has been particularly hard hit by health insurance companies exiting the Affordable Care Act exchange. This week, the federal government released prices for 2017, which include substantial increases in western Illinois.

Insurance brokers in Belleville say three Metro East counties — St. Clair, Madison and Monroe — will have just one insurer to choose from this year: Blue Cross Blue Shield.

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.

Botanist Nigel Taylor checks the stems of cassava plants at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur.
File photo | 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.

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