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How a trip across the border inspired a doctor to fight for health care equality.

Disparities of patient treatment are real. It's time all doctors join efforts to help change that.

How a trip across the border inspired a doctor to fight for health care equality.
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Northwestern Mutual

When Dr. Paula Aristizabal first started working in pediatric oncology, she was a little uneasy.

"I was scared because I didn’t know what to expect," Aristizabal explains. Even though cancer specialists have to assume they'll be treating people with a lower than average survival rate, knowing that all her patients would be children made it somewhat more daunting.

Fortunately, however, that was far from the experience Aristizabal ended up having.


Aristizabal. Photo via Northwestern Mutual.

"I learned pediatric cancer is highly curable, so it was very rewarding because I would be able to make a difference in [my patients'] lives," Aristizabal says.

Little did she know treating cancer in children wouldn't be the only way she'd make a positive impact on health care.

After completing her pediatric oncology training, which is the study of childhood cancer, in her home country of Colombia and her fellowship at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, Aristizabal joined the medical staff at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California. She, soon after began collaborating with St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital on a project to improve pediatric cancer care in the U.S- Mexican border region.

On an initial visit to a city hospital in Mexico, she learned they didn't have anything like a pediatric oncology ward.

"I thought, 'Oh, goodness, it’s so different from the U.S.,'" Aristizabal shares. "I saw the disparity right there."

Since 2008, she's improved care in several Mexican hospitals, including two in Tijuana and La Paz.

Image via iStock.

But that was just the beginning.

It became Aristizabal's mission to address the racial and ethnic disparity occurring in hospitals in the United States as well.

When she began to notice disparities in how the treatment worked for Hispanic patients where she practiced in San Diego, she decided to do some research to better understand barriers to response to treatment.

Aristizabal learned that while it's likely there are biological differences that can contribute to disparities in the survival rate of Hispanic children with cancer, she also found a disparity in access to health care due to language and cultural barriers.

Thanks to funding assistance from Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation and Northwestern Mutual, whose Childhood Cancer Program has generated more than $15 million for research and family support nationwide, Aristizabal was able to conduct her own research on that disparity. This was an important research focus for Northwestern Mutual in their mission to ensure that all kids have a chance to grow up.

Photo via Selmaemiliano/Flickr.

She took an in-depth look at her own specialty in particular. She learned a large percentage of parents of kids with cancer have a low level of health literacy, meaning they have trouble navigating America's complex health care system due to their cultural background. For example, Hispanic families are less likely to participate in clinical trials, which, in pediatric cancer, often offer the best chance of survival.

Image via iStock.

Since her first language is Spanish, Aristizabal knew she could do her part to help close that cultural and linguistic gap.

At the Peckam Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children's Hospital, where she practices pediatric oncology, 50% of the children who receive treatment  are Hispanic. At her clinic, 95% of her patients are Hispanic, and 65% of their parents speak Spanish as their first language. Aristizabal knew her cultural background was key to providing them the best care possible.

"Since I’m Hispanic, and I know the culture and speak Spanish, I try to provide cultural concordant care and language concordant care," Aristizabal says.

Research shows that when individuals receive care from someone in their own language and culture, the treatment results are much better.

Image via iStock.

When a doctor can fully communicate with patients, they can be sure they're getting all the necessary details about a medical condition. In turn, patients feel more at ease knowing their doctor fully understands their condition and can clearly communicate a treatment plan. All this adds up to better results.

But Aristizabal can only do so much as one doctor. That's why she's inviting others to contribute to lessen this country-wide disparity.

"We need to prepare because the Hispanic population in the U.S. will comprise more than 30% of all Americans by 2050. There’s something we can really do in our own institutions."

Image via iStock.

One simple step is to access a free bilingual treatment journal from the ALSF website to help families track their care plan.  The journal is funded by Northwestern Mutual as another way to address disparities.  

If pediatric cancer centers don't have bilingual doctors on staff, they can improve access to interpreter services. Another strategy is that their doctors pursue cultural awareness training. Institutions can also offer medical Spanish lessons to their staff or any other language that might help their patients.

It requires a bit of effort, but it will make a world of difference.  

Just imagine a scared child who doesn't speak English in a hospital. A doctor who can speak their language could be the only thing that puts them at ease.

"It’s so rewarding when you learn about other cultures," Aristizabal says. "It facilitates the care that you provide because when you learn about another culture, you’re able to better understand where [patients] are coming from."

And any doctor knows that's more than half the battle.

Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and its subsidiaries. Learn more at northwesternmutual.com

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Anderson Cooper has interviewed hundreds of people, from top celebrities to heads of state to people on the street. He is fairly unflappable when it comes to chatting with a guest, which is what makes his reaction while interviewing inaugural poet Amanda Gorman all the more delightful.

Gorman stole the show at President Biden's Inauguration with a powerful performance of her original poem, "The Hill We Climb." People were blown away by both her words and her poise in delivering them, especially considering the fact that she's only 22 years old. But it's one thing to be able to write and recite well, and another to be able to impress in an off-the-cuff conversation—and Gorman proved in her interview on Anderson Cooper 360 that she can do both at a level most of us can only dream of.

In the interview, Gorman explained how she dove into research to prepare her poem to fit the occasion, and then how that work was disrupted by the attack on the Capitol.

"I'm not going to say that that completely derailed the poem, because I was not surprised at what had happened," she said. "I had seen the signs and the symptoms for a while, and I was not trying to turn a blind eye to that. But what it did is it energized me even more, to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope and unity and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear."

After explaining how she used tweets and articles and messages about the Capitol insurrection to hone parts of her poem, she shared thoughts on reclaiming the power of words.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.