Healthy Returns


And Baby Makes . . . Many

Eleven months after their celebrated births, the Shier quintuplets are thriving, and their parents, Scott and Patty, are surviving.

The Westchester five--Sarah, Joshua, Rachel, Hannah and Jonathan--were born Jan. 23 in Long Beach.

"They are all very healthy, which is amazing for being seven weeks premature," says Patty, who had undergone in vitro fertilization.

Today, the quints range in size from almost 15 pounds to almost 20 pounds. Their tooth range is zero to seven. In many ways, the babies are emerging as distinct individuals, Patty says.

Sarah, the oldest, is the most patient. She is sweet and rarely complains.

Joshua, his mother says, "came into the world feet first and yelling. He continues to cry the most out of the group. But he was the first to crawl. He's very feisty."

Rachel is the "least emotional." She is quiet and likes to study her toys very carefully.

Hannah is the "most dramatic of the group." She is very vocal in both the laughing and crying departments.

Jonathan, the smallest at birth, is now the largest. He is very good-natured and jolly, Mom says.

Although the number of volunteers assisting the family has dropped to about 20 per week, caring for the quints has gotten a bit easier.

"They can hold their own bottles now, and they can feed themselves Cheerios and crackers," Patty says. Still, "we are constantly and eternally grateful to the people who have given of themselves."

The biggest problem on the horizon now is, er, sibling rivalry. The girls, who have already shed their pacifiers, love to taunt the boys, who still cling to theirs.

"It's through the grace of God that I get through every day," Patty says. "As wonderful as they are, it's a challenge. But I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Diet Drugs

Redux, the first new diet drug in 22 years, hit the market with a splash earlier this year. But doubts about the drug's safety have mounted. Redux (dexfenfluramine) is known to raise the risk of a rare disorder called pulmonary hypertension, which can be fatal. The original label put the risk of suffering pulmonary hypertension at ninefold. Now, new medical studies show the incidence to be far higher--about 30 times--in people who use dexfenfluramine for more than three months in a row.

Given the new risk profile, about 46 out of every 1 million people on the drug are likely to develop pulmonary hypertension.

Redux helps people feel full by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. A similar drug, Sibutramine, is likely to become available next year. It works by slowing the dissipation of the brain's existing serotonin.

And an even better approach to weight reduction may lie in the drug Xenical. Its manufacturer recently asked the Food and Drug Administration for marketing approval. Xenical works by blocking intestinal enzymes that absorb fat.

Silicone Breast Implants

Studies continue to find no link between silicone breast implants and serious diseases, evidence that might eventually influence a class-action lawsuit filed by thousands of women who say they have been harmed by the implants.

In 1994, Dow Corning Corp. filed for bankruptcy because of lawsuits filed by women with implants. The company proposed a settlement of up to $2 billion to pay injury claims.

The scientific tables turned this year, however. And now Dow Corning wants to be granted a trial to review the scientific evidence regarding implants. If Dow wins the proposed trial--proving no elevated disease risk from implants--it should have to pay only $600 million toward the claims, officials for the company have argued.


It was an infection seen increasingly in West Coast hospitals and nursing homes that was resistant to all types of antibiotics.

The bug, called vancomycin-resistant enterococcus, poses a problem because even the antibiotic considered the final weapon against resistant bacteria--vancomycin--was ineffective. Fortunately, the infection does not seem to raise death rates. But scientists have warned that more dangerous bacteria may become resistant to all antibiotics.

This month, British doctors reported that not only is VRE a growing problem, but it may be thriving on the antibiotic that is meant to kill it. The doctors, in a letter to the journal Lancet, said two patients with enterococcus became sicker when given vancomycin and became better when the drug was withdrawn.

In further lab tests, the doctors determined that the organism was actually thriving on the drugs. The case is the first evidence, they wrote, of the emergence of "superbugs."

Air Bags

One year after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warned that air bags could kill infants and young children in the front passenger seat, the tragic reality of that danger has finally captured the public's attention.

About 30 children and 20 adults have been killed by air bags. And although the devices are credited with having saved 1,100 lives, the outcry over infant deaths has led transportation officials to go back to the drawing board in search of a safer design.

Hormone Replacement

The third and final research paper resulting from the national PEPI study on hormone replacement therapy has found that women who take hormones also significantly increase their bone mass.

The study, called the Postmenopausal Estrogen / Progestin Interventions trial, has resulted in the most comprehensive assessment to date of the risks and benefits of hormone therapy.

The first paper to emerge from the study showed that women on any one of four hormone regimens enjoyed a lowered risk for heart attack. The second paper, published in February, noted that women who take estrogen alone have a substantial increased risk of uterine cancer. The third paper, published last month, showed that women on any regimen (estrogen alone or a combination estrogen-progestin therapy) gained bone mass.

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