Stories like these make me proud to be an expressive arts therapist. Even in super discouraging situations, like prison, the arts can swoop in and offer hope again. My heart gets all warm and mushy when I think about it.
It takes a special type of person to become a nurse. The job requires a combination of energy, empathy, clear mind, oftentimes a strong stomach, and a cheerful attitude. And while people typically think of nursing in a clinical setting, some nurses are driven to work with the people that feel forgotten by society.
Michelle Santizo is a street medicine nurse working in Los Angeles, California. For her, the field of street medicine requires providing lifesaving health services in unpredictable and sometimes uncomfortable environments, but is where she is most passionate about her work.
Nurse Santizo credits her parents for teaching her resilience, a necessary trait when providing care in places like tents, under bridges, in alleys, vehicles, at libraries, on the side of the freeway or even at a bus stop.
“Every corner of Los Angeles needs our services,” said Nurse Santizo. “It can be in a pristine, abandoned, trashed, or graffiti-filled neighborhood.”
Michelle | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com
Santizo prepares for the workday by loading her backpack with supplies before heading to a section of downtown L.A. known as “skid row” to care for her clients, who are typically people experiencing homelessness and living on the fringes of society without regular access to healthcare. As the child of immigrant parents, she experienced firsthand a lack of healthcare and basic necessities. Her mother fled from El Salvador as a young woman, arriving in the United States alone and without shelter.
“My mother told me that the only people that acknowledged her while sleeping outside on a bench [were the people going in and out of] the church that was across the street,” said Nurse Santizo. She said her mother instilled in her that there are many reasons why people are homeless and that each individual has their own story. “[She] taught me to never judge someone’s struggle … my mother’s inspiring upbringing taught me if you have the time to help the broken or disadvantaged, then take a moment to acknowledge or help in some positive way.”
Michelle and her mother on a beachCourtesy of Michelle Santizo
Growing up, Nurse Santizo watched her parents struggle to earn a living wage to keep up with the family’s needs. “My father worked nearly seven days of the week and my mother worked as much as she could in jobs like babysitting, cleaning homes or caregiving. Feeding our family was my parent’s main concern…healthcare and all the other important aspects of life became secondary or non-existent. My parents could barely make enough income to buy fresh fruit or vegetables,” she said.
The Santizo familyCourtesy of Michelle Santizo
That upbringing is what drove her to pursue a career in medicine, with the goal of giving back to underserved communities. “[Access to] medicine should not be determined based on your socioeconomic status. It should be a right for someone to seek healthcare when it is needed and important, especially for children and adolescents who will be the future of our generation,” said Nurse Santizo. She credits her lack of access to healthcare as a child for empowering her to keep pushing for change.
When the opportunity to practice street nursing arose, Santizo knew instinctively that it was the right fit. Every workday she has meaningful interactions, but one experience in particular had a lasting impression on her. She encountered a middle-aged man who had lost his job during the pandemic and was forced to live on the streets. Nurse Santizo approached, and he asked if she wouldn’t mind examining his feet. As she gently inspected the condition of his skin, she explained that he needed a thorough cleaning and a special ointment and offered to wash his feet and patch them up.
Courtesy of CeraVe
“This kind man stared right into my eyes and nearly cried, as he shared ‘no one has ever cared for me like this ever since I’ve been forced to live on the streets, nor has anyone ever acknowledged my existence,’” recalled Nurse Santizo. “I remember squatting on the side of the street while cars were driving by … my only mission was to devote that moment in time to servicing a person who needed my attention and love. As you can tell, I love what I do, and I could scrub feet for days when servicing the most vulnerable populations.”
According to the most recent report, approximately 580,466 people were experiencing homelessness in America in January 2020. Most were individuals (70%) and the rest were people living in families with children. The full effect of the pandemic on the homeless populations across the country have yet to become clear, and hard data will not be fully known until late 2022 or early 2023.
“Bringing medicine to people who are not able to seek medical assistance due to their inabilities whether it be homelessness, chronic illness, or mental health has always been my true calling … to serve the broken, the sick, the vulnerable and the ones who really need a second chance at life,” said Nurse Santizo, a reminder that no one knows what another human is battling.
To recognize the healthcare professionals that are so often giving to others before themselves, CeraVe seeks to spotlight those that go beyond the call of duty for their patients and communities. The brand is honoring nurses such as Santizo in the second iteration of a docuseries titled Heroes Behind the Masks Chapter 2: A Walk In Our Shoes.
Follow along in the coming days for more stories of heroism, kindness and love.
It only costs them a little more than $30,000 a year.
Imagine retiring early and spending the rest of your life on a cruise ship visiting exotic locations, meeting interesting people and eating delectable food. It sounds fantastic, but surely it’s a billionaire’s fantasy, right?
Not according to Angelyn Burk, 53, and her husband Richard. They’re living their best life hopping from ship to ship for around $44 a night each. The Burks have called cruise ships their home since May 2021 and have no plans to go back to their lives as landlubbers. Angelyn took her first cruise in 1992 and it changed her goals in life forever.
“Our original plan was to stay in different countries for a month at a time and eventually retire to cruise ships as we got older,” Angelyn told 7 News. But a few years back, Angelyn crunched the numbers and realized they could start much sooner than expected.
“We love to travel and we were searching for a way to continuously travel in our retirement that made financial sense,” she said. They looked into deals they could find through loyalty memberships and then factored in the potential sale price of their home and realized their dream was totally affordable.
The rough math makes sense. If it costs the couple $88 per night to live on a cruise ship, that’s $32,120 a year. Currently, the average price of a home in Seattle, Washington—where the couple lived—is $958,027 which would come with a mortgage that costs around $50,000 a year.
Plus, on a cruise ship, the couple doesn’t have to pay for groceries.
The Burks are able to live their dream because they’ve spent a lifetime being responsible. “We have been frugal all our lives to save and invest in order to achieve our goal,” she says. “We are not into materialistic things but experiences.”
Angelyn says that cruising takes the stress out of travel. “It is leisurely travel without the complications of booking hotels, restaurants, and transportation while staying within our budget,” she told 7 News. The couple travels lightly with just two suitcases between them and if they need anything, they just buy it on the ship or in the next port.
One thing the carefree couple should be concerned about on their never-ending cruise is COVID-19. The coronavirus is easily spread in close quarters and a cruise ship that recently docked in Seattle had 100 people on board who tested positive for the virus. The CDC recommends that people get vaccinated before going on a cruise and that immunocompromised people should consult with their physicians before traveling.
Since leaving their jobs and the mainland behind, the Burks have been on a 50-day cruise around the Adriatic Sea, taking in the sights of Europe as well as a 51-day cruise from Seattle to Sydney, Australia.
The Burks really love cruising to Italy, Canada, Iceland and the Bahamas but their favorite is Singapore.
Looking to give it all up and go on a permanent vacation just like the Burks? Angelyn has some advice for those wanting to get started.
The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.
Nurse Ahn felt drawn to a career in healthcare partially because she grew up watching medical dramas on TV with her mother. While the fast-paced level of excitement seen on TV is what initially caught her interest, she quickly found out that real-life nursing is quite different from how it was portrayed on her favorite shows.
Courtesy of Elaine Ahn
The most striking difference, according to Ahn, is the level of involvement that nurses have with their patients during each 12-hour shift. Nurses are often the first to catch subtle signs and symptoms that provide insight into how a patient is doing emotionally as well as physically. Science tells us that emotional health and our overall attitudes have a direct impact on physical health and healing, and Nurse Ahn noticed early on that she could make a huge difference in her patient’s recovery, just by taking the time to sit down for a chat.
California is the only state in the country to require by law a specific number of nurses to patients in every hospital unit. It requires hospitals to provide one nurse for every two patients in intensive care and one nurse for every four patients in emergency rooms, for example. This regulation was created to increase positive outcomes for patients and prevent employee burnout. Even though she never has more than five patients to care for during a shift, Nurse Ahn, like many nurses,still feels stretched thin coping with the needs and demands of the day.
“Sometimes people just need to be heard. In the busy world of acute care, time can really be a luxury. With the number of tasks to perform and numerous alarms pulling nurses and aides in various directions, stretching us thin like pizza dough, it’s upsetting because it can get difficult to be able to spend as much time as we would like with our patients,” said Ahn.
“I remember one day having a patient and his family member being anxious and frustrated. In that moment, I found that drawing up a chair to sit at their eye level and giving them my full, undivided attention for however long I could truly went a long way. They later told me that it was the first time during their hospital stay that they felt heard without being rushed, and this experience led me to adopt this as a part of my practice,” said Ahn.
Nurse Ahn was assigned to a patient with terminal lung cancer, referred to in this series as “Grumpy Man.” Grumpy Man was dying, in constant pain and didn’t have any visitors. He was lonely and without hope, and it tugged at the nurse’s heartstrings.
Elaine | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com
She credits two of her mentors, Josh and Jess, with the idea of providing this patient with more TLC and this inspired her to implement the routine of having daily 15-minute chats with him.
“Especially upon learning that he had no friends or family members to visit or call him, I really wanted to be someone who was present with him in this very difficult time of his life. I wanted him to be able to have another human present and be engaged with him and for him to feel heard and cared for,” said Ahn.
Courtesy of Elaine Ahn
It’s no secret that nurses often put their own patients well-being above their own. That level of caring is what makes them so good at what they do, but it can also lead to exhaustion. Even though she thrives on the rush of being busy, caring for patients like Grumpy Man taught Nurse Ahn the importance of taking a moment to pause, center herself and prioritize taking care of herself first, so she has the energy to devote her undivided care and attention to her patients.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the momentum of busy-ness, but I make the point to not rush myself and take things one thing at a time. To my delight, taking things one step at a time helped me complete things faster than rushing,” said Ahn.
To help care for the healthcare professionals that are so often giving to others before themselves, CeraVe seeks to spotlight those that go beyond the call of duty for their patients and communities in the Heroes Behind the Masks Chapter 2: A Walk In Our Shoes campaign. The goal of this year’s campaign is to showcase incredible nurses such as Nurse Ahn and celebrate the nursing community as a whole, recognizing the trials, emotional and physical toll the profession has while aiming to inspire and encourage them.
Follow along in the next few days for more stories of heroism here.
Not everyone breastfed before formula was invented.
As if the past handful of years weren't challenging enough, the U.S. is currently dealing with a baby formula crisis.
Due to a perfect storm of supply chain issues, product recalls, labor shortages and inflation, manufacturers are struggling to keep up with formula demand and retailers are rationing supplies. As a result, families that rely on formula are scrambling to ensure that their babies get the food they need.
Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"
That might seem logical, unless you understand how breastfeeding works and know a bit about infant mortality throughout human history.
Rutgers University historian Carla Cevasco, Ph.D. shared some of the history of infant feeding in a viral Twitter thread to set the record straight. (Note: Cevasco provided sources for her facts, which can be viewed at the end of her thread on Twitter.)
"You may be hearing the argument that before the rise of modern commercial infant formula, babies all ate breastmilk and everything was great," she wrote. "As a historian of infant feeding, let me tell you why that’s not true."
First of all, throughout history, people have at times needed to feed infants using foods other than breastmilk. For many reasons:— Carla Cevasco, PhD (@Carla Cevasco, PhD) 1652312444
Cevasco explained that, throughout history, people have had to feed infants food other than breastmilk for a variety of reasons.
"Sometimes the birthing parent was unable to breastfeed," she wrote, "Because: death in childbirth, or physical/mental health concerns, or need to return to work outside the home right after childbirth, OR their partner or enslaver forced them not to breastfeed so that they could return to fertility ASAP after giving birth.
"Sometimes baby was unable to breastfeed. Because: poor latch, prematurity, cleft palate, other health or disability reasons, etc.
"Sometimes baby was being cared for by carers other than birthing parent, including adoptive parents."
So, feeding baby other people\u2019s breastmilk wasn\u2019t necessarily an ideal situation either, given the power dynamics of race, class, and gender in the past.— Carla Cevasco, PhD (@Carla Cevasco, PhD) 1652312706
Cevasco went on to explain what babies ate instead of a parent's breast milk in those situations.
"Sometimes someone else would breastfeed the child," she wrote. "This might have been a relative or neighbor doing it for free. Or it might have been a paid or unpaid servant or enslaved person doing it at the expense of their own nursing infant, who might starve to death as a result."
She also explained that some babies thrived on alternative diets, which are not recommended today due to concerns about safety and nutrition.
"Wabanaki women in the 18th century sometimes fed infants a mixture of boiled walnuts, cornmeal, and water; an English colonist, Elizabeth Hanson, reported that her baby thrived on this diet," she wrote. "In early modern Europe, babies often ate pap or panada, mixtures of animal milk or water, bread crumbs or flour. Sometimes these were boiled, sometimes they weren’t."
However, she explained, those milk substitutes weren't always safe or nutritionally complete.
"So before the advent of modern commercial formula (in the 1950s), a lot of babies died of illness or starvation because they couldn’t breastfeed and the alternative foods were not safe or adequate," she wrote. "Let me repeat that: in the absence of modern formula, A LOT OF BABIES DIED OF ILLNESS OR STARVATION DUE TO LACK OF SAFE OR ADEQUATE FOOD."
As Cevasco illustrates, the idea that the pre-formula days were a bastion of infant health due to widespread breastfeeding is simply incorrect. Cevasco explained that better supports such as paid parental leave, free lactation consultation and education, better access to places to pump and so on, would go a long way toward increasing breastfeeding rates. She also pointed out that the greed of the corporate formula industry created the formula shortage crisis.
"But! Let’s not demonize formula because of an imagined past in which everyone breastfed," she wrote. "In the ACTUAL past, babies fucking starved and died of disease. Babies who would have survived today, because they would have had access to safe, nutritionally complete formula. Access that is now, horrifyingly and unjustly, under threat for many babies and their caregivers."
There will ALWAYS be people who need formula for a whole hosts of reasons.— Carla Cevasco, PhD (@Carla Cevasco, PhD) 1652313204
Cevasco pointed out that there are multiple safe and nutritionally complete ways to feed a baby, and making sure babies don't go hungry should be our main goal.
So many misinformed comments could be avoided with a basic understanding of what infant feeding looked like in the past, as well as a basic understanding of how breastfeeding works both physically and logistically. Let's spend more time informing ourselves and sharing facts from experts rather than continuing to perpetuate unhelpful and harmful myths about both breastfeeding and formula feeding.
This discovery is groundbreaking for parents, doctors and scientists worldwide.
Worrying over a sleeping baby comes with the territory of being a new parent. There are so many rules about safe sleep that it can be hard for parents to keep it all straight. Never let the baby sleep on their tummies. Don’t put soft things in the crib. That crib bumper is super cute but you can’t keep it on there when the baby comes. Don’t ever co-sleep. Never cover a baby with a blanket. The list of infant sleep rules designed to avoid Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is endless.
SIDS is described as an unexplained death of an infant under the age of 1 year old. There is no determined cause and no warning signs, which is what makes it so terribly tragic when it happens. The worry over a sleeping baby stays with some parents far longer than it should. I recall my own mother coming to check in on me as a teenager, and I sometimes do the same to my own children, even though they’re well over the age of being at risk for SIDS. The fact that there is no cause, no explanation, no warning and nothing to reassure parents that their children will fare just fine means worrying about a sleeping child becomes second nature to most parents. It’s just what you do.
Well, maybe not anymore. Researchers from The Children’s Hospital Westmead in Sydney, Australia, have found a link to SIDS. The study released by the hospital explains not only how the babies succumb to SIDS, it also details why. For years, the medical community speculated that SIDS was caused by an unknown defect in the part of the brain that's responsible for breathing and arousal from sleep. The theory was that the normal startle response to arouse a sleeping baby when breathing stopped or was obstructed didn’t work when the supposed defect was present.
Researchers in Australia analyzed dried blood from babies that had passed away from SIDS and compared it to infants who died of other causes and to healthy living infants. Through their research they were able to identify that the enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) was significantly lower in babies who died of SIDS in comparison to the other samples collected. BChE is a major factor in the brain’s arousal pathway, which explains why SIDS occurs during sleep.
If an enzyme that informs scientists of low BChE levels can be found in simple blood samples, this could be a game changer and a lifesaver. The hope is that doctors will eventually be able to devise a way to keep babies safe during sleeping hours, helping parents rest and reassuring those who have experienced the tragedy of losing a child to SIDS with answers.
Dr. Carmel Harrington, the lead researcher who helped make this discovery, lost her son to SIDS 29 years ago. She told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, "Nobody could tell me. They just said it's a tragedy. But it was a tragedy that didn't sit well with my scientific brain.” So she set out to solve the puzzle and provide some solace to grieving parents like her. "These families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault," she said.
This discovery is groundbreaking for parents, doctors and scientists worldwide. The knowledge of what causes SIDS will inform research into a plan on how to proceed when low BChE levels are detected. Hopefully, when that's achieved, everyone will sleep a little easier.