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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • Students Learn and Teach Others about Health

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  • Sophomores in Steve Chapin's health class put on their annual Health Fair Friday in the St. James High School gym, and they tackled an impressive array of subjects, from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and brain tumors, to food allergies and multiple sclerosis. “I had done this at previous schools, and I wanted to keep doing it here,” Chapin explained. “I tell the kids to pick a topic they don't know much about but have a connection to; they'll care about it, and they'll learn something.” He also has evaluators from the health community look over the projects and ask the students probing questions, he said. “Having these experts question them brings more out of the kids, and it forces them to a higher level.” Jane Wolle, formerly the school nurse, said she enjoys returning to school to judge the projects, and she had high praise this year for projects on video game addiction and intestinal parasites. Brady Firchau was responsible for the video game project, and he said he chose the topic because he's passionate about that medium. The most interesting thing he learned during the course of his research was that video game addicts go to rehab and experience withdrawals just like people with drug or alcohol addictions. He added that people who become embroiled in role-playing games are most susceptible to becoming addicted. “It becomes their life,” he explained. “Without the games, they no longer have a life.” Wolle cited the way Firchau was able to bridge the age gap between herself and Firchau as worthy of acclaim. “I know about video games, but I've never played them,” she said. “I'm in that over 60 crowd, but he knew the stats and did his research, and I learned.” Karen Castaneda said she wanted to do her project on something “hidden, something nobody knows well.” Of the project on intestinal parasites, Wolle said, “Karen could spout facts, and she knew a lot about the subject.” Castaneda said South Sudan is the top country for guinea worm, because fresh water is a luxury, and environmental conditions are basically deplorable. While intestinal parasites are exceedingly rare in the U.S.--because clean water is easily attainable--people traveling to foreign countries can return with the worms. In third world countries where it's common, the method for removing guinea worms is disconcerting, she said. The parasites begin in the intestines, but eventually work their way into the foot. “The guinea worm lifts his head out (of the foot) during changes in water temperature, so you grab the head, then,” she explained. “You slowly twist the worm around a stick until it's totally out of the body.” Undoubtedly, someone with OCD would be quite aggrieved to be afflicted with an intestinal parasite, because--for them--everything must be perfectly in sync. Katie Anderson said she chose OCD because, “I'm a perfectionist, and people say I'm OCD.” “But, doing this project, I realize I'm not (obsessive-compulsive),” she said. “There's a whole list of criteria you need to meet to have OCD.” As part of their projects, which students must complete in order to pass the course, they need to interview experts in the field, she said. For her part, she sent letters to the OCD foundation and interviewed a specialist. They also must do 40 note cards, make their own pamphlets, and do a “hands-on presentation to make people feel like they have the disease,” she said. In order to accomplish that last part, she would speak her audience, and then randomly interject leading phrases like, “Did you lock your doors?” “Do you have your keys?” “Do you think your hands are clean?” etc. “(The disease) will really attack you,” she explained. “If you don't do the things you feel like you need to do--like avoiding stepping on lines and cracks, counting windows, or washing your hands--you feel like something really bad is going to happen to you.” Bailey Trickel said she wanted a topic relating to physical fitness, because she's sporty and comes from an athletic family. She plays sports year-round--volleyball, basketball, softball, and track--and her topic, oxygen, is vitally important to performance. She comes from a “driven” family--where her father, Brent, served in the Marines and her mother, Abbey, is a nurse--and she said she learned a great deal from her research. “I learned how oxygen goes through your body, and the effect is really has on your body, and I also learned about blood doping (which has become pervasive in sports like cycling), which I knew nothing about.” For her hands-on portion of the project, she had people run breathing only through a straw to simulate the effect of lacking oxygen--a feeling she knows well from distance running with her father in the thin air and altitude of Colorado. With head trauma becoming perhaps the most discussed topic in football over the past few years, Christopher Jones, a center for St. James, selected concussions for his topic. “I really like sports, I play football, and I follow the NFL news, so it's important.” “You've got to be safe with football, keeping your head up,” he said. Despite the fact it's professional football, much of the tackling in the NFL is improper. He added that the high school has a trainer on the sidelines who can administer concussion tests, but learning about head trauma has nonetheless changed the way he plays the game. “I was always getting hit in the head and constantly getting headaches,” he said. “Now, I'll make sure to always keep my head up.” Macy Lorenz and Ethan Stick both followed Chapin's advice to select a topic with which they had a personal connection. Lorenz chose Hemochromatosis, because her grandfather is afflicted with the ailment, and Stick selected post traumatic stress disorder, because he plans to enlist in the military, and knows it's a very real possibility he could one day be afflicted with P.T.S.D. Lorenz said, “Hemochromatosis is an inherited disease where blood grabs too much iron from the food you eat, leading to iron overload.” Excess iron can lead to an enlarged and failing liver, as well as heart failure. It's most prevalent in caucasian men, and it's not curable, she said. It is controllable, however, with medication or removal of blood. Interestingly enough, men usually aren't diagnosed until they're in their 40s or older, she said. Those with the disease should avoid alcohol, red meat, and iron supplements/vitamins. Her grandfather, Wayne Thomas, has his blood removed to treat his Hemochromatosis, she said. “At first, it was once per week, but now it's every two months, because it's managed better.” Stick said he wants to be a Marine, “because they'll really push me, and I want to push myself.” The military runs in his family; his mother, Michelle Spieth, was in the United States Navy, and his grandfather, Bill Stick, served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. What he found most fascinating during his research was the number of unique treatments for P.T.S.D., he said. For example, veterans are often encouraged to acquire dog for their calming influence. They're also often pointed toward airsoft games, which are similar to paintball games, he said. These activities simulate combat, but in a non-lethal environment, and they can be an outlet for stress, tension, and rage. Finally, he said putting combat veterans into video game simulations can be very beneficial. According to numerous studies, Virtual Reality Exposure (VRE) can help veterans process traumatic events so those tragic memories no longer adversely affect their lives.

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