Monthly Archives: November 2016

How one woman overcame fetal alcohol syndrome and found art

How one woman overcame fetal alcohol syndrome and found art

By: Sharon Oosthoek


“How are you going to change your part of the world in a positive way for the next seven generations?”

That was the challenge that Jennifer Tourangeau put to her fellow graduates at Grande Prairie Regional College’s two-year visual arts and design program in Alberta this spring. She urged them to take an Indigenous approach to stewardship—that is, to live and work for the benefit of seven generations into the future. As valedictorian, it was her job to send them out into the world with a message of hope. The 36-year-old Dene woman’s very presence at the lectern was likely hope enough for many in the crowd.

“My own change began when I chose Grande Prairie Regional College as my first stop in the journey to my dreams,” she told them. “During this time, I have  had my own struggles, joy, excitement, and at some points wanting to give up. As you can see, I didn’t.”

Tourangeau, who describes her art as a mix of painting, sketches and ink drawings, often inspired by her Indigenous heritage, says she loved the way her instructors built on her strengths as an oral and visual learner. But it’s been a long road to this point.

She was born with fetal alcohol syndrome in the Northwest Territories community of Lutsel K’e, on the shores of Great Slave Lake. When she was 14 months old, her mother gave her up for adoption and she grew up with her adoptive family in Fort Smith, N.W.T. While Tourangeau’s adoptive father, who is Indigenous, and her adoptive mother, who is not, were supportive of her, she struggled with feelings of abandonment and long periods of depression.

When she met her biological mother again at the age of 13, it was an emotional experience that shook her up. “I mean, how do you explain to a 13-year-old who has a disability why you gave them up? It took me a long time to realize the biggest sacrifice a mother can give is to give up her child so she can have a better life.”

At the age of 16, Tourangeau landed a job as a disability and community worker in Fort Smith. She enjoyed it, but was never able to do it full-time, even after graduating from high school. “The heavy lifting”—often part of the job, working with the disabled—“was hard on me,” she says. “I’m only four foot ten.”

After a short-lived attempt at a career as a computer technician, she found another job as a group-home worker. But she pushed herself hard and worked long hours, leading to burnout and a medical leave for stress and anxiety.

It was during this time—as Tourangeau was trying to figure out what to do with her life—that she enrolled in the visual arts and design program at Grande Prairie. “I had no idea what I wanted to do with the diploma. I just needed something to enjoy,” she says. “The art allowed me to release a lot of pain and find out who I was.”

But Tourangeau’s pain was not over. As she began her first semester, she received news that her biological mother had been strangled and her body left in an alleyway in downtown Yellowknife. As Tourangeau began the final year of her program last fall, her mother’s murderer was sentenced to life in prison.

“It may not be enough, but at least I got closure. A lot of Indigenous people don’t get this,” she says. “My mother is the product of the residential school system and so am I. I choose to break the cycle.”

She praises her instructors for supporting her request to complete the two-year diploma over four years and allowing her to ease into the program with studio-based work.

One of those instructors, Native studies teacher Kirsten Mikkelsen, describes her as a “highly focused and determined human being who strived for excellence in spite of the barriers.”

Mikkelsen recognized her student’s potential. This fall, she helped recruit Tourangeau as a peer mentor for Indigenous learners in the college’s department of arts and education.

While Tourangeau loves her new job, she sees it as a stepping stone to a degree in art therapy and a career helping others work through their anguish with art.

Her art history instructor, Edward Bader, says she’ll no doubt get there: “She works very hard. She’s very passionate about her art and follows up on every opportunity.”

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New atlas depicts first two months of human development in 3-D


3D reconstructions of human embryos at (from left to right) 6, 8 and 9.5 pregnancy weeks. Credit: Bernadette de Bakker, MD of the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands has created an updated interactive 3-D atlas that depicts the various stages of human development from conception to two months. In their paper published in the journal Science, the researchers outline the reasons for medical texts being outdated, how they got around the problem, the features of the new atlas and what it might mean for future medical research efforts.

In their paper the researchers note that modern medical textbooks offer prospective doctors imagery of the first months of human conception that are wildly out of date—pictures and diagrams are from work done half a century ago or longer. Some are from the early 1900’s. Some of the illustrations have even been made by artists attempting to apply what can be seen in the early development of other animals, such as mice, to .

This unfortunate state is due to restrictions placed on the study of developing humans, both those that are still living and growing and those that have died. To provide both researchers and physicians a better reference tool the researchers scanned approximately 15,000 images from the Carnegie Collection of embryo imagery and used them create a new updated 3-D atlas.

The work involved analyzing the images and comparing them against one another to form a consensus regarding elements such as organ size and location as they appear over the course of multiple landmark development dates.

The result is a virtual atlas reminiscent of Zygote Body (originally developed by Google). Users can choose a stage, which indicates an age, e.g. 51 to 53 days after conception and then manipulate the image that is displayed to suit their needs by zooming in, comparing size relative to a grown human hand or peeling back layers to view induvial organs, or the nervous or circulatory system.

The researchers report that their work, which included assistance from approximately 75 students, revealed that some of the images in current textbooks have organs in the wrong place while others have them developing in the wrong time frame.

The new atlas, they claim, should prove to be helpful to researchers looking to better understand birth defects, particularly those that get their start very early on. It should also provide doctors with better information regarding development in pregnant women.

New atlas depicts first two months of human development in 3-D
3D reconstructions of a human embryo at 9.5 pregnancy weeks (15.9 mm in length). On the left the skin, on the right all reconstructed organs. Credit: Bernadette de Bakker, MD of the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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How to attend an office party without drinking


As the days inch toward Christmas, holiday parties are dotting social calendars. These work-related parties constitute a necessary component of our corporate culture. They reward employees, allow for valuable bonding time between colleagues and offer opportunities to socialize with bosses on a more human level.

However, these events can also be the stuff of legends, and not in a good way. Several media outlets frequently run office-party horror stories. For example, NPR did a roundup last year of embarrassing incidents that occurred as a result of alcohol.

In one incident, three co-workers lost their jobs after being found in the restroom – “they weren’t resting.” In another case, one employee confessed to a co-worker that she was in love with him. More frequently, the storiesjust involve falling over, vomiting or merely saying things one shouldn’t.

Horror stories aside, casual and excessive drinking has become normalized. The office of the U.S. Surgeon General recently released its first report on substance abuse and found that in 2015, over 66 million people, or almost a quarter of all youth and adults, admitted to binge drinking in the previous month.

Drinking in an office setting may be worse than in other social settings, since our brain does not compensate for the effects of alcohol in a new setting as it would in a familiar one, such as home or bar.

So how does one attend an office meeting and not drink? According to Tara Cottrell, co-author of Buddha’s Diet: The Ancient Art of Losing Weight Without Losing Your Mind, one way to start is to hold a non-alcoholic beverage in hand until that awkwardness soon dissipates.

“The truth is people generally don’t notice what you are drinking. A club soda with a lime looks exactly the same as a gin and tonic. In fact pretty much any soda in a short glass with a cocktail straw looks like a mixed drink. And most bartenders can whip up a good mocktail. Is it ridiculous to pretend to be drinking when you don’t actually want to drink? Maybe. But as you try this way of socializing, it may help ease the transition,” she said.

Your cover may get blown if someone buys a round of drinks and you need to explain you aren’t drinking. She recommends confidently responding that you are trying something new by not drinking, or simply don’t feel like it.

On occasion, someone at the party may want to probe some more – especially if they are considering not drinking, or if they feel defensive about their own alcohol consumption. That’s a small price to pay to maintain the mental acuity to pick up subtle insights about your colleagues, that you otherwise may not have noticed under the influence of alcohol, Ms. Cottrell argues.

Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Ms. Cottrell co-wrote the book with Dan Zigmond, a writer, data scientist and Zen priest who advises startups and venture-capital firms on data and health. This is relevant since health and business trends sometimes do come out of Silicon Valley first. For example, Bulletproof Coffee, a concoction that includes butter instead of milk, hit it big among the startup crowd in 2014 as a way to “hack” your body into better performance.

According to research sponsored by Heineken, 75 per cent of millennials limit the amount of alcohol they consume on a night out. The research also shows that part of this moderation stems from a shifting perception of what makes for a good night, and good food with friends often takes priority.

Ms. Cottrell said millennials are also more focused on wellness, which isn’t compatible with drinking. She sees more parties encompassing yoga and mindfulness instead. For example, in New York City, there is a trend toward early morning “sober raves,” where the health-minded embark on “juice crawls.”

Rejecting the traditional idea that booze has to be part of a good time means opening up to new, healthier ways to connect with others, she said.

Part of the issue with drinking at work events comes down to a lack of creativity. Often people suggest it simply because they can’t think of anything else to do.

“There’s no law that says drinking with co-workers is the only way to socialize and connect with them. Think about what’s near your office that maybe you haven’t tried as a group. Could you go bowling? Go see a movie together? Check out some live music?”

While all those activities may also lend themselves to drinking, it takes the emphasis off merely standing around and throwing back shots. While it may seem a cop-out to some – or even a reason to feign sickness when the holiday party date arrives – it does prevent you from making one of those lists of “worst office party” stories that may haunt your career.

Leah Eichler (@LeahEichler) writes about workplace trends

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We are looking for Graduate/Masters Students with an interest in FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder)


Graduate/Masters Student with an interest in FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder)

We are looking to expand and we could use your help!

The Prevention Conversation: A Shared Responsibility project seeks to raise awareness of the dangers of consuming alcohol when pregnant by promoting a message of abstinence if pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

Supported by the Alberta FASD Cross-Ministry Committee, the project aims to empower medical, health and social service staff to engage in their own FASD prevention conversations with women, partners and communities through the daily work that they do.

This project was developed based on the first and second levels of the Four-Part Model of Prevention (PHAC 2008). The first level utilises community development strategies to raise awareness among women of child-bearing years 18 to 45. The second level supports primary care providers to develop the necessary skills to engage in non-judgmental, empathetic and sensitive conversations about alcohol and pregnancy.

We are now ready to expand the project and the important conversations to adolescents. We are looking for an interdisciplinary team to develop the resources and tools needed to provide the message to an adolescent audience and their supports (teachers, parents, volunteers, etc.)

If you have an interest in the prevention of FASD, this may be an opportunity for you. Disciplines of interest may include but are not limited to, health, education, social sciences and communications.

We believe this would be a time commitment of approximately 6 months and an honorarium will be provided:

Please submit your interest, along with a brief resume of your education and experience.
Independent or group proposals will be accepted. We need to know how you will partner and collaborate with others. Please submit to:
Hazel Mitchell, FASD Prevention Conversation Project Manager at by December 16, 2016.

The Prevention Conversation website ( is a good source of information of what this project is about and the current resources that are available. To support the project, a literature review has been completed.



Australia: ‘A failure as a mother’, drug detox hope for women with children

“How could a mother do that to her kids?”.

During Anne’s* first stint in drug and alcohol rehab she overheard a fellow inpatient (a man) talking about her.

Anne* who found it difficult to overcome her addiction, got her life back on track after a stay in a mother and baby clinic.
Anne* who found it difficult to overcome her addiction, got her life back on track after a stay in a mother and baby clinic.  Photo: Eddie Jim

The shame was overwhelming; “I felt judged as a woman and a failure as a mother.”

The reality was, of course, far from straightforward. Three months after her son was born Anne – the main income earner – returned to work as a corporate travel agent, clocking up 30 hours a week from home.

But she was dogged by crushing perinatal depression, which stemmed from trauma as a child. She began abusing alcohol and tranquillisers like Valium and Xanax to numb her terrifying anxiety and hallucinations.

Her worried husband tried to help. He’d even sniff her breath when she got home to see if she had been drinking. But Anne was scared that if she revealed to anyone how far she’d sunk that her baby would be removed.

It’s a common fear, says Rose McCrohan, the manager of Victoria’s first mother and baby alcohol and drug withdrawal facility. It officially opened this week in Curran Place, a Uniting Care withdrawal centre in Ivanhoe.

Many women are frightened their children will be removed from their care, but the centre’s goal is to keep families together, McCrohan says.

There are seven existing withdrawal centres in Victoria but none have a specific focus on mothers and babies.

This four-bed unit (which sits alongside a 12-bed adult withdrawal service) offers specialist help for women with “poly drug” use. These include ice, heroin, alcohol and prescription medication, and users have often also experienced mental illness and homelessness.

Childcare workers are on hand to look after the babies, aged up to 12 months, as their mothers go through detox. People detoxing from methamphetamine (or ice), often need to sleep for long periods.

McCrohan describes addiction as a “chronic, long-lasting condition”,and says many addicts won’t fully recover in the week or two they spend at the centre and will often have to visit multiple times. But they will always be given a warm reception.

“When they have anxiety or depression they pick up a substance, and then they get stuck,” she says. “Substance use is not a helpful form of therapy for people.”

The state’s Minister for Mental Health, Martin Foley, said about 30 per cent of children of parents with serious mental illness ran the risk of developing mental illness. This unit would offer the earliest intervention, he told the launch.

Anne finally got into a residential rehabilitation unit called Bridgehaven, where she could bring her children. She stayed there for a difficult four months and learned how to look face-on at difficulties in her life instead of blotting them out.

It wasn’t easy. She endured 24-hour panic attacks, and sitting alongside people in group therapy sessions who vomited with distress.

But she also clawed back her sense of self worth and honed her parenting skills. The new mother baby unit showed desperate women were being taken seriously, she said.

By: Miki Perkins

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Honouring Our Strengths: Culture as Intervention in Addictions Treatment

FireShot Screen Capture #473 - 'Honouring Our Strengths_ Culture as Intervention in Addictions Treatment - Culture as Intervention in Addictions Carol Hopkins_pdf' - health_chiefs-of-ontario_org_sites_default_files_n

Drug addiction among Indigenous peoples is a serious health concern in Canada. A group of researchers and addiction treatment service providers through the University of Saskatchewan are involved in a project to evaluate the effectiveness of First Nations culture as a health intervention in alcohol and drug treatment.

The research team is working with 12 National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program (NNADAP) and Youth Solvent Addiction Program (YSAP) treatment centres across the country.

The research questions are:

1. What are the indicators of healthy client wellness as an outcome of participation in traditional Indigenous cultural interventions while in treatment for problematic substance use?
2. Drawing on this understanding, what is the validity of a culturally competent instrument developed to measure change in wellness among clients in treatment for problematic substance use?

Take a look at a brief video clip introducing the project here.

The project team is using a ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’ lens to guide the course of evidence gathering and assessment. The use of Two-Eyed Seeing originated with Mi’kmaq Elders Murdena and Albert Marshall. Two-Eyed Seeing involves a weaving back and forth to integrate and connect the best of Indigenous and Western knowledge systems with the purpose of co-learning, generating, understanding, and finding solutions to urgent problems (see an article on this topic here).

You can take a look at a powerpoint presentation called “Culture as Intervention in Addictions  Treatment: Appreciating the Evidence within Indigenous Knowledge” that the team did recently at the Chiefs of Ontario Health forum here (the list of cultural interventions below is from this presentation).

Pages from NAT CasI 2014

Another (fun) outcome from the project is a series of 12 recipe cards. Traditional foods are an important way to connect with culture and the team wanted to showcase some of the food knowledge that has been shared with them across the country.


Visit the project website here.

For more on culture and healing from addiction, see earlier posts:

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Berkowitz: Your doctor’s going to ask about your drinking. Don’t be offended



As the smoke clears from the debate over the decriminalization of marijuana use, Canadians will soon find ourselves talking about the pros and cons of another widely used drug that’s been here with us, legal, celebrated and toasted, all along: alcohol.

Because there’s a building movement among public health organizations, including Ottawa Public Health, to dramatically change the discussion on booze and its social and health impacts.

It’s needed. I love craft beers, savour Californian merlots, and consider nursing a negroni a religious experience. This doesn’t change the fact that while other drugs are demonized, it’s alcohol in its many forms that’s causing the most personal, familial and societal damage across Canada.

The first place many of us will experience this new discussion is in our doctor’s office. New best-practice guidelines for GPs reframe the doctor-patient conversation on alcohol.

The old approach to booze and health was black and white: there were alcoholics and those who weren’t. It was insulting for your GP to raise the topic of your drinking – unless perhaps your liver was failing.

Now, the singular term “alcoholic” has been replaced by alcohol use disorders, ranging from teenage binge drinking to the parents’ nightly use of alcohol as “liquid therapy.”

And based on extensive medical research on the positive health benefits, physicians are counselled to use a simple questionnaire as a screening tool to talk to every patient about his or her drinking.

The guiding principle is similar to that with smoking: any amount of drinking is reason for thoughtful reflection and discussion. Based on Statistics Canada figures, this means four-in-five Canadians will be having the conversation.

There’s good reason for this shift.

It’s difficult to overstate the damage caused by alcohol. As a society, we are collectively like a functioning alcoholic.

The statistic that really jolts me is that in North America about one-third of all emergency room visits are alcohol-related. Emergency departments are filled with alcohol-related injuries from falls, vehicle collisions and violence.

While many people might still think of cirrhosis of the liver as alcohol’s central damaging health affect, this is missing the forest for a single tree

Alcohol is a major – and often the primary – contributor to a catalogue of chronic health problems including type II diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, alcohol-induced dementia, cerebral hemorrhages and digestive disorders. Not to mention sleep problems and depression.

In the litany of alcohol-related health damage, there’s none more tragic than Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD).

Prenatal alcohol exposure is the number one cause of preventable developmental disability in the world. In Canada, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, with one of the best health care systems, FASD affects at least one per cent of children. This is a brutal tragedy.

The societal damage caused by alcohol is a huge economic issue. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, alcohol-related problems cost the Canadian economy about $15 billion a year in lost productivity, direct health costs and  “enforcement costs.”

Demonizing dope has provided an easy cover in our individual and political discussions about the health and social effects of alcohol use. It’s socially fine to debate the merits of legalizing dope while downing a bottle of pinot noir.

The heart of the challenge in dealing with alcohol is that it’s about moderation, nuance and the public recognition of a topic we’d still rather keep behind closed doors. It’s a topic that’s notoriously difficult to navigate in family conversations and this is magnified in public health and political ones, and probably in the doctor’s office.

But it’s a topic that needs attention. Our current situation is summed up by the title of a 2015 commentary in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on the state of public policy, alcohol and health titled: “A systematic failure to address at-risk drinking and alcohol use disorders.”

So, if your doctor asks about your drinking, don’t be offended. It could be a rare opportunity to improve your health, and that of your family, community and country.

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