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Vitamin D & Covid-19

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Thursday, May 7, 2020

MUSC World-Class Vitamin D Research Team to Study Connection to COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment

Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) College of Medicine scientists and clinicians, led by world-renowned vitamin D research experts Bruce Hollis, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the Department of Pediatrics, and Carol Wagner, M.D., a professor in the Department of Pediatrics and neonatologist, are planning a focused research effort to determine if individuals with sufficient baseline levels of vitamin D have more protection against severe COVID-19 infection.

Recent reports in the medical literature point toward a potential link between vitamin D deficiency and the pathogenesis of COVID-19 in certain patients. This information aligns with what Hollis, Wagner and other national experts have established in their own vitamin D research in at-risk populations – unrelated to COVID-19 – that vitamin D deficiency is more prevalent among African Americans and individuals with more melanin in their skin as well as in some elderly nursing home residents who have very low exposure to sunlight. In addition, effective vitamin D repletion can be accomplished safely and with minimal expense.

“Our team has the ability to determine vitamin D levels for COVID-19-positive patients and track that information to begin this work. This area of study is worthy of their expertise and efforts,” said David J. Cole, M.D., FACS, MUSC president. “This is a great opportunity to raise awareness that this due diligence is needed so we can potentially help particularly vulnerable populations in our community.”

To be clear, neither these studies nor MUSC are suggesting that vitamin D cures or prevents COVID-19 infection. However, the body of prior and emerging scientific evidence would suggest that individuals with low vitamin D levels who contract COVID-19, including African Americans and elderly nursing home residents, might experience worse clinical outcomes than other groups with normal vitamin D levels.

“It is important to study this topic to determine if recommending vitamin D supplementation for vulnerable populations can make a difference in COVID-19 outcomes. If valid,” Cole explained, “we would have an inexpensive, readily available strategy not only to help these groups of individuals but also the general population of South Carolina and beyond.”

MUSC scientists point out that recent COVID-19 and vitamin D studies suggest that at-risk individuals with historically low levels of vitamin D also had increased severity of COVID-19 infection and worse clinical outcomes, especially if the viral infection reached the lower respiratory tract. Certain cells located there are known primary targets of the virus, and if affected, it becomes harder for the lungs to initiate tissue repair and rebound from an infection, thus causing acute respiratory distress and the hospitalization of patients nationwide.

Hollis, Wagner and their team are rapidly pursuing clinical studies to validate or refute the clinical assumption that when patients have sufficient vitamin D levels, their immune responses to the virus’ primary targets are enabled, stronger and more capable of fighting off the most acute form of COVID-19.

“If we know that certain groups of the population are already at high risk for deficiency, and recent, valid studies suggest that increasing vitamin D levels might help prevent or lessen the severity of the disease, it would seem irresponsible to us as health care providers and scientists not to pursue this for our statewide and national community,” Wagner said. “We know vitamin D has a critical role in many functions of our overall health, so we have a responsibility to our families, neighbors, coworkers, friends and community to help answer this question.”

Essentially, the team seeks to replicate recent findings related to COVID-19 and vitamin D deficiency and explore the idea that patients might need to reach sufficient vitamin D levels through the appropriate clinical standard dosing of IV or oral supplements or, in some cases, simply get more exposure to sunlight. As the research effort matures, Hollis and Wagner plan to offer guidance on whether supplementation in certain individuals improves their clinical outcomes following a positive COVID-19 test. In addition, they hope to offer insight into whether vitamin D supplementation for all South Carolinians could improve their vitamin D statuses and mitigate the severity of COVID19 should they become infected.

“Our previous work has demonstrated that African Americans and other vulnerable populations can achieve vitamin D sufficiency through clinically validated supplements, which is a relatively inexpensive therapy that has a large safety profile when given in doses between 4,000 to 6,000 international units a day to adults,” Hollis said. “Some individuals with low levels of melanin in their skin can achieve better vitamin D sufficiency just by standing or sitting for 15 to 20 minutes in the direct sunlight each day that its possible, which is another easy way to address low vitamin D levels.”

Scientists know that vitamin D is present in very few foods, and typically at lower levels than what is needed for sufficiency, but it can be produced by the body when human skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays from sunlight, which triggers vitamin D synthesis. It promotes calcium absorption by the gut and helps strengthen bones. Additionally, vitamin D has been shown to play an important role in a number of other bodily processes like modulation of cell growth and differentiation and enabling proper innate and adaptive immune functions to fight off pathogens. It’s also thought to protect against some chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Hollis and Wagner have more than 60 years of combined vitamin D research experience, with a collective body of work referenced and replicated across the spectrum by institutions such as Harvard University and the National Institutes of Health. They have accrued thousands of citations and have been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals on various subtopics around vitamin D deficiency and sufficiency.

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First Black Female Brigade Commander to Lead Midshipmen

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Commandant of Midshipmen announced the spring semester midshipman leadership positions, Friday, Nov. 6, which includes the selection of the Naval Academy’s first African American female brigade commander, Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber, of Lake Forest, Ill.

The brigade commander is the highest leadership position within the brigade, and is the only “six striper”– a reference to the collar insignia worn on the midshipman uniform, the rank  of midshipman captain. The semester-long position is currently held by Midshipman 1st Class Ryan Chapman and is selected through an application and interview process by senior leadership from the Commandant’s staff. 

The first female brigade commander was then Midshipman 1st Class Juliane Gallina from the class of 1992, who served in the position during the fall of 1991. Barber will be the sixteenth woman selected for brigade commander in the 44 years women have been attending the  Naval Academy. 

Barber, a graduate of Lake Forest High School in Illinois, is a mechanical engineering major and aspires to commission as a Marine Corps ground officer. As a walk-on sprinter and hurdler of the Navy Women’s Varsity Track and Field team, she has lettered all three years of competing and is a USNA record holder for the outdoor 4x400m relay. She is the co-president of the Navy Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club, secretary for the National Society of Black  Engineers, and a member of the USNA Gospel Choir and Midshipman Black Studies Club. Barber served as the 13th company’s executive officer this past Plebe Summer and currently serves as the brigade’s 1st regiment executive officer. 

“Earning the title of brigade commander speaks volumes, but the title itself is not nearly as significant as the opportunity it brings to lead a team in doing something I believe will be truly  special,” said Barber. “I am humbled to play a small role in this momentous season of American history.” 

The brigade striper selection board receives records of the top ranked first class (senior) midshipmen across the brigade for consideration for the most senior midshipman leadership positions each semester. The board’s composition is made up of the deputy commandant of midshipmen, the six battalion officers, the brigade master chief and the current brigade commander. 

Records are reviewed in detail and 30 midshipmen are selected for board interviews. Each member of the board utilizes an objective assessment tool to assess each midshipman and then rank them in order. Individual board member scores are combined and a resultant  consolidated ranking is generated; Barber was the top-ranked midshipman out of this semester’s  board process. 

“She is a catalyst for action, a visionary, a listener, a doer, and a person driven by compassion, by faith, by a fierce sense of passion and heart full of love,” said Chapman. “Sydney is the perfect person to lead the brigade.” 

Barber completed a 7-week internship with the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory two summers ago, where she was instrumental in doing  breakthrough research on bio-electrochemical uses for carbon nanotubes. Her research in developing legislative strategies to address education disparities in minority communities earned her selection as a 2020 Truman Scholar national finalist.  

“Sydney stands out amongst her peers, for not only her exemplary record, but for her clear vision of how she intends to make the world a better place and her accompanying bias for action. We were incredibly proud to have Sydney represent the Naval Academy in her Truman Scholarship interview this year,” said Lt. Cmdr. Darby Yeager, a member of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Truman Scholarship selection committee. 

Barber also initiated a STEM outreach program that leverages mentoring, literature, and service lessons to serve middle school-aged girls of color, and led a team to organize the  inaugural USNA Black Female Network Breakfast to bridge the generational gap between current black midshipmen and alumni. She most recently mobilized a team of more than 180 midshipmen, faculty, and alumni to develop the Midshipman Diversity Team to promote greater diversity, inclusivity, and equity within the Brigade. 

She was recently invited to speak at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Visitors, the academy’s congressional oversight committee. Barber discussed how she has negotiated her time as a midshipman in the COVID-19 environment, her activities as a midshipmen striper, leadership in Bancroft Hall, balancing activities over the summer and her experience at Leatherneck, the Marine Corps’ summer training in Quantico, Va. 

Barber was also featured in a Naval Academy Founder’s Day video recently produced by the Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation, and discussed how the legacy of midshipmen who came before her is one of her motivations. [Barber can be found in video at minute marks 2:50-3:24 and 4:39-4:56.] 

The announcement of next semester’s leadership team was made to the Brigade of Midshipmen during the noon meal “anchor announcement,” which is currently being held  virtually due to the COVD-19 environment. Other brigade-level striper position billets announced Friday include Midshipman 1st Class Ashley Boddiford, of Oviedo, Florida., as the  brigade executive officer; Midshipman 1st Class Tristan Anderson, of Ventura, California, as the  brigade operations officer; Midshipman 1st Class Evelyn Berecz, of Downingtown, Pennsylvania., as the brigade training officer; Midshipman 2nd Class Taylor Forrester, of York,  Pennsylvania., as the brigade sergeant major; and Midshipman 2nd Class Quin Ramos, of Lafayette, Colorado, as the brigade training sergeant. 

“We are the architects of our future, and every day we earn the right to carry the torch that was once lit by the heroes, pioneers, and giants who came before us,” said Barber. “I owe everything to every person who paved the way for me, so I now pour my heart and soul into blazing the trail for the generations to come.” 

Word of Friday’s announcement spread quickly this past weekend after a social media post by the first Black female to graduate from USNA, Janie Mines. Mines shared a photo of Barber and commented, “This brought me to tears. This young woman, Midshipman Sydney Barber, will be the first Black Female Brigade Commander at the U.S. Naval Academy. 40 years later. Thank you, Sydney! Love you!” Mines graduated from the academy in 1980 with the first class of women, who were inducted in 1976. 

For more information about the Naval Academy, please visit: www.usna.edu or our Facebook page. 

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WestCare Texas hosts another great community event on the Eastside

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San Antonio, Texas – November 18, 2020 – WestCare Texas hosts “COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Drive, Flu Shot Clinic, and Pre-Thanksgiving Hot Meal Distribution” to fight health disparities on the Eastside.  This event will be held on Wednesday, November 18, 2020 from 9a-5pm at Ella Austin Community Center, located at 1023 N. Pine Street.

This event is the first of its kind in our community to offer a Mobile Blood and Plasma Donation Center by the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, a Drive-Thru Pop-Up Flu Vaccination Clinic by Amerigroup, Pre-Thanksgiving Meals by Ella Austin Community Center and HEB, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) by a Alamo Distilling Company and MEDwheels, and other health related resources by various community organizations all designed to save lives, prevent the Flu, and assist families experiencing food insecurity and other health disparities.

In order to expand their efforts to recruit qualified CCP donors, the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center will bring blood and plasma donation busses out to the community to engage community members at a grass-roots level in a life-saving plea for community members, who have recovered from COVID-19, to donate COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma (CCP). 

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is the only facility in our community that directly helps critically ill COVID-19 patients in local hospitals, by collecting CCP for COVID-19 treatment.  Currently, blood and convalescent plasma are in critically short supply locally, and what has been collected, is not enough to adequately serve patients throughout the region.

With flu season beginning this month, overlapping with an increase of COVID-19 cases in the United States, getting a flu shot this year may be more important ever.  It’s likely that flu viruses will increase the burden on our U.S. health care system already overwhelmed by COVID-19.  Getting a flu shot can help prevent those visits — and thereby prevent the co-mingling of flu patients and COVID-19 patients, who can infect each other and spread their viruses to other emergency room  patients.

WestCare Texas has also partnered with Amerigroup, to provide a Drive-Thru Pop-Up Flu Vaccination Clinic to provide no-cost Flu shots to anyone in the community, age 7 or older. 

The Eastside community has long struggled with socioeconomic hardships, health disparities, and a lack of access to quality healthcare.  Much like other communities of color, it’s the Hispanic/Latino and African American populations that have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic.  According to the City of San Antonio COVID-19 data on the percentage of Deaths by Race/ethnicity, 71.2% of all COVID-19 deaths are among Hispanic/Latinos and African Americans.

“We really want to help the people who have been hurt the most by this pandemic,” said Beverly Watts Davis, Vice President West Care Texas.  “It isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the most effective way to protect those whose lives are most at risk and to treat those who contract the coronavirus.”

Visa Gift card incentives will be provided to anyone donating convalescent plasma at the event on November 18.   Anyone wanting to sign up for blood and plasma donations, must do so by appointment only.  You must contact the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center in advance to complete the pre-screening and registration process at: COVID19@southtexasblood.org or by calling them at (210) 731-2719.

For further details please contact:

Beverly Watts Davis
Chief Officer for Program Support and Resource Development
WestCare/WestCare Texas
Tel: 210-224-2351 ext. 160
Beverly.watts@westcare.com

About WestCare
WestCare, whose mission is “Uplifting of the Human Spirit,” was founded 40 years ago.  Since its inception, it has grown to more than 100 locations in 16 U.S. states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Pacific Islands headquartered in Guam.  The non-profit organization has a variety of health, human service, and capacity-building programs in the communities it serves that address the unique needs of that community.  

For more information on the WestCare Foundation and its mission, visit www.WestCare.com.

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80 Years And Counting

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Alamo City Ques at 80: Our Story

Written By: Jeremy Neal & Scott L. Earle, Sr.

November 1, 2020, will mark 80 years of service to the Alamo City by Psi Alpha Chapter.  In 1940, eight professional men from varied careers ranging from four educators, a dentist, a civil servant, a physician, and a businessman who had become members of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated during their college years, decided that the time was right to form a Graduate Chapter here in the City of San Antonio. They were as young as 24 years of age to 49 years of age.  They all had attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) due to segregation in the United States at that time in history.  Some were raised in the city, some from the state of Texas, one from Georgia, and one from Virginia. After compiling all of the necessary information and paperwork and complying with the National Body’s Guidelines, the Local Chapter was chartered by the Supreme Council of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated on November 1, 1940, and given the name Psi Alpha. The Charter members were: Brothers Dr. W. V. Hurd DDS, S. D. Kane, Dr. M. L. Preacher, Joseph Paul Chretien, Ernest M. Foxx, Valmo Charles Bellinger, Dr. Richard Kidd, and G. P. Inge, Jr. Brother S.D. Kane was our first Basileus (president). 

These men were influential in the community and were known more for just bringing Omega Psi Phi to the Alamo City.  All eight men did a great deal in the City but three had a substantial impact. Brother Dr. Hurd, a WWI veteran, was much respected in his field and at the time as the only individual to serve as President of the Gulf State Dental Association of Texas twice, once in the 1940s and again in the late 1950s. He served as the past president of the Lone Star State Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association, and a former board member of the National Dentist Association. He also, chaired and was a member of various boards at the National Dentist Association. 

Brother G.P. Inge, Jr., a WWI veteran, was a believer in the philosophy of progressive education and served as principal of Phillis Wheatley High School from 1941 to 1963. During the 22 years as the leader of one of the largest segregated schools in the state, he graduated record numbers of students, and their sports teams dominated the states segregated schools in the Prairie View Interscholastic League, and they all knew they could compete with predominantly Anglo institutions. Brother Inge Jr. instituted the “No Pass No Play” rule for athletes during his tenure at the school before it was passed at the state level. 

Brother Valmo Charles Bellinger was a prominent businessman and political party boss who also was the editor of the San Antonio Register.  Founded by Valmo, the paper began printing in 1931, running without interruption for 47 years. Though its initial goal was preserving the political influence of Bellinger’s father, the paper later focused on local, state, and national news of specific concern to San Antonio’s African-American community. Valmo hired his future wife Josephine who assisted him in making the newspaper a success. Valmo donated an archive of the San Antonio Register to the University of Texas at San Antonio’s John Peace Library in 1979. The archive consisted of 22,000 issues and offered an almost complete run of issues from 1945 to 1978. If you ever have a chance to look over these archives, the Psi Alpha History coupled with the Black History of South Texas is remarkable. There are virtually no complete collections of black newspapers in the southwest and only two or three in the entire United States. Many of the articles written were published in Jet and Ebony magazines along with major newspapers reprinting the stories originating in the Register.

Currently, Psi Alpha Chapter has a total of 170 members. Psi Alpha Chapter’s Basileus, Brother Jimmie E. McMillion, has held this role for the past three years. “The Psi Alpha Chapter has been a pillar in the San Antonio community for 80 years. The Omega Men of Psi Alpha in San Antonio have been leaders in various occupations such as business, engineering, education, law, and medicine for many years,” McMillon stated. Our Psi Alpha Chapter historical note to mention is that in the late 1960s, Bro. Warren Eusan, WWII Army Air Corp and Tuskegee Airman Veteran, Theta Chapter ’39, was the driving force that brought the IHQ 47th Conclave to San Antonio which was the key focal point to break down discrimination in the San Antonio Area, becoming the first southern city to fully integrate. In the past years, the Psi Alpha Chapter has brought back a lot of IHQ recognition:

Brother Greg Thompson (Chairman of the Alamo City Black Chamber of Commerce): International Omega Man of the Year in the early 2000s

Brother Brandon Logan (Former President of the Rotary Club of San Antonio): IHQ Citizen of the Year in 2015

Brother Lionel Lyde: IHQ Colonel Charles Young Award Winner in 2017

Ms. Breanna Toney (Represented by Psi Alpha): Winner of the IHQ International Essay Contest in 2016

The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated has 10 International Mandated Programs: Achievement Week, Scholarship, Social Action, Talent Hunt Program, Memorial Service, Reclamation and Retention, College Endowment Fund, Health Initiatives, Voter Registration Education & Mobilization, and NAACP. In the Omega Year, which runs from November-October; several of these programs have been key highlights in Psi Alpha Chapter for the 2019-2020 year.

Scholarship: The Psi Alpha Scholarship Foundation awarded a total of $32,300 in scholarships and grants. A total of 20 seniors in the San Antonio Area were awarded scholarships totaling $30,000.

Talent Hunt Program: Psi Alpha Chapter awarded $1500 in scholarships as Ms. Zora Dickson, a junior and Bexar County Home School Student with a 4.0 GPA, walked away with winning honors.

Reclamation and Retention: Psi Alpha Chapter was awarded the Mighty 9th District Reclamation Large Graduate Chapter of the Year.

Fatherhood Initiative: Psi Alpha Chapter was announced as the winner of the best Fatherhood Initiative in the Mighty 9th District. For this mention, President Dr. David Marion awarded the chapter a $5000 award.

These programs were led by our Vice President, Brother George Mayers, who will transition into the role of President on November 5th as Brother McMillion’s award-winning 3-year term is up.

Psi Alpha Chapter will celebrate their 80th year serving the city on Sunday, November 1st. The day will begin with Brothers visiting the gravesites of the Charter Members who are laid to the rest in the city from 12 PM – 3 PM. The effort will be split into teams of 3 to maintain social distancing. From 5 PM – 7 PM, a Virtual Celebration over Zoom will be held where Brothers will be able to have a meal and socialize as we go through the program. During the program, Brothers from the 40s to the present will discuss the Charter members’ influence on them and any experiences they may have had with the Charter line.

Psi Alpha Chapter recently celebrated our beloved Godfather, Brother Earl Campbell, on October 25th with a drive-by celebration where over 45 vehicles lined up beeping our horns and watching him smile and wave to us as he celebrated 95 years of life. Brother Campbell, a 1944 initiate of the Epsilon Sigma Chapter at Tillotson College which is now Huston-Tillotson University, also celebrated 76 years of serving Omega on October 17, 2020. He was recently interviewed by the Psi Alpha Fatherhood Initiative Committee, where he provided a toolbox of knowledge in speaking on the importance of fatherhood. A point in the interview was when Brother Campbell was asked, “Out of the 4 F’s Faith, Family, Fellowship, and Friendship, which was most important and why? Brother Campbell replied, “Faith is the most important. All of us must have faith in God. He is our creator, having that faith means that fellowship, friendship, and loyalty will follow. In life, whatever we encounter, our faith is the most important thing that we have. Love your neighbor as yourself! (Mark 12:31) If you live by that creed alone…you will certainly live a great life and our lives will be so much better.”

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