Kara Leigh Lofton

Kara Leigh Lofton is the Appalachia Health News Coordinator at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Previously Kara was a freelance reporter for WMRA, an affiliate of NPR serving the Shenandoah Valley and Charlottesville in Virginia. There she produced 70 radio reports in her first year of reporting, most often on health or environmental topics. One of her reports, “Trauma Workers Find Solace in a Pause That Honors Life After a Death,” circulated nationally after proving to be an all-time favorite among WMRA’s audience.

Kara is also a photographer and writer, whose work has been published by Kaiser Health News, The Hill (the news outlet and blog serving Congress), Virginia Living, the Augusta Free Press, and Sojourners, among other outlets. A large body of her work has appeared on the news website and in the magazines of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from which she graduated in 2014.

Prior to and during her university years, Kara had stints living internationally, spending months in Morocco, Spain, Turkey, and England, with shorter visits to Zambia, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and a half-dozen countries in western and central Europe. In the fall of 2015, she toured Guatemala (using her conversational Spanish), where she reported on its woefully underfunded health system. In her spare time Kara Leigh enjoys reading, practicing yoga and hiking with her two loyal dogs.

A group of West Virginia agencies launched their year-long campaign, “Year of the Child” at a kickstart event at the WV culture center yesterday. The initiative is designed to address the impact of the opioid crisis on West Virginia’s children.

Speakers represented groups such as the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network, Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central West Virginia and the National Association of Social Workers.

West Virginia will be the first state in the nation to allow Medicaid to fund treatment for newborns exposed to opioids in the womb.

When their exposure to opioids ends at birth, infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome experience withdrawal symptoms. They include tremors, vomiting, seizures, excessive crying and sensitivity to loud noises, lights and colors. Infants are weaned from opioid dependence by using small doses of morphine or methadone.

New research by the Chartis Center for Rural Health has found that current and pending federal health policies are putting a bigger financial strain on already struggling rural hospitals. 

The report found the percentage of rural and critical access hospitals working at a negative operating margin has increased from 40 to 44 percent. 

A new study of more than 6,000 first graders across the U.S. has found that the number of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders is larger than previously thought. 

Over a six-year period, researchers collected data from more than 6,000 children in four communities in the Midwest, Rocky Mountain, Southeast and Pacific Southwest that were thought to represent an accurate sampling of the United States. There is no state-by-state specific data available.

West Virginia passed the Medical Cannabis Act in April 2017, qualifying patients with a written doctor’s certification to use medical cannabis and to buy it from registered dispensaries. The bill was a big shock – no one thought it would actually pass.

A new study published this month in The Journal of Pain found that as little as a 10 percent reduction in body weight helps obese pain patients reduce chronic pain.

Several previous studies have shown that people who are obese tend to have higher levels of pain.

But pain related to obesity is usually associated with joint and weight-bearing body parts such as knees, hips and lower back.

The new study found that reducing body weight in obese patients can help improve not only joint pain but also abdominal, arm, chest and jaw pain.

Kristin Phillips is one of two physical therapists in West Virginia specializing in women’s health. In this episode of our occasional series, Windows into Health Care, health reporter Kara Lofton talks with Phillips about the main issues she sees in her practice. A warning to listeners, this episode includes detailed descriptions of women’s health issues and may not be appropriate for all listeners. The interview runs about eight minutes.

West Virginia’s drug epidemic may be leading to increases in what’s called “familial sex trafficking.” Family members trading sex with a child in their family for drugs or money. But spotting the problem and prosecuting the offenders is very difficult.

A new study has found that moderate exercise can reverse heart damage caused by age and a sedentary lifestyle – if it’s begun early enough and performed with enough frequency. 

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern studied a group of about 50 participants over the course of two years.

The study found that in order for exercise to help reverse heart damage, the exercise regimen needs to start before the age of 65 when the heart retains some plasticity – meaning it is still able to remodel itself.

If you look at the data, West Virginia has enough pediatricians to cover the number of children here. What there aren’t enough of is many pediatric specialties such as pediatric allergists, neurologists or rheumatologists. And that’s forcing many families like the Laxtons to seek care out of state.

At the St. Joseph’s Hospital women’s health clinic in Buckhannon, midwife Kathy Robinson is using a doppler to look for a heartbeat during a prenatal visit.

Millennials may be less likely to use opioids to manage chronic pain than older generations, a new nationwide survey has found.

One in five millennials who used opioids to manage pain say they regretted it.

Instead, millennials report preferring lifestyle changes to improve pain management such as exercising, eating right, quitting smoking and losing weight.

Liam Rusmisel is a different kid this year. On the first day of kindergarten he walked into the classroom, head held high, according to his teachers. This is no small feat for a kid who had a bit of a rough start to last year.



A new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month found a 264 percent increase in overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, tramadol, and Demerol between 2012 and 2015.

Experts think the spike is likely related to illicitly manufactured drugs, particularly fentanyl, which is often cut with heroin or cocaine, rather than pharmaceutically manufactured synthetic opioids. Illegally manufactured fentanyl is often mixed with or sold as heroin. Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.

Invasive pneumonia may impact life expectancy by up to ten years, according to a study from Marshall University school of medicine.

The study found that patients who recover from the most severe form of invasive pneumonia, called pneumococcal pneumonia, live on average ten years less than those who didn’t get the disease.

Pneumococcal disease is caused by a type of bacteria that infects the lungs and can potentially spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.

West Virginia University Medicine is taking a closer look at a little-known approach to cancer treatment called narrative medicine with the aim of improving the treatment experience for doctors and patients alike.

The idea with narrative medicine is that if doctors get to know patients through their life stories, the physicians will be able to improve their ability to care for their patients, beyond simply managing symptoms.

West Virginia Health Right launched a new mobile dental health clinic today at a Charleston ribbon cutting ceremony.

The unit will travel to six underserved West Virginia counties – McDowell, Logan, Boone, Clay, Roane and Harrison, offering services primarily for free. West Virginia Medicaid – the largest provider in these counties –  does not cover preventative dental services for adults.

A new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report analyzed health across West Virginia, categorizing each county as “most healthy” (Jefferson County) or “least healthy” (McDowell). A variety of factors contributed to a county’s health status, such as environment, access to resources, education and youth disconnection.

The number of coal mining jobs in Boone County has halved during the past two years. Drive through the county now, and signs of depression are becoming evident in shuttered storefronts and homes in increasing need of repair.

If lawmakers don't approve Gov. Jim Justice’s proposal to increase taxes, representatives of the state's Department of Health and Human Resources says they will be forced to cut funding to programs. Bill Crouch is the new Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary, says some programs, like the Aged and Disabled Waiver Program, might be eliminated entirely.

New research out of Johns Hopkins University has found that more than forty percent of people receiving medication for opioid addiction were also given prescriptions for other opioid painkillers during the time of treatment.

The researchers looked at pharmacy claims for more than 38,000 new buprenorphine users who filled prescriptions between 2006 and 2013 in 11 states. Buprenorphine is a drug used to treat opioid addiction.

If you are overweight and struggling with pain, eating a Mediterranean diet could help, a new study suggests. 

Researchers at Ohio State University looked at the relationship between weight, inflammation and pain. They found that eating anti-inflammatory foods, including seafood, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, helped relieve pain, regardless of how heavy someone was. 

A new study has found that couples in which both partners are obese may take more than 50 percent longer to become pregnant than couples who aren't obese.

At the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Clinic in Scarbro, oxygen tubes dangle from the noses of three miners slowly pedaling on stationary bikes.  All of these men have black lung – a disease caused by breathing in coal dust. Over time, the dust coats the lungs and causes them to harden. Hard lungs don’t easily expand and contract, and that makes it difficult to breath.

A recent study published in the international pain journal PAIN has found that patients with pre-existing psychiatric and behavioral conditions may be more likely to use opioids later in life.

Researchers used a national insurance database to identify 10.3 million patents who filed insurance claims for opioid prescriptions over a nine-year period. Researchers wanted to see if pre-existing psychiatric conditions and use of psychoactive medications were predictors of later opioid use.

Penny Hart is a single mother of two. She works full-time as a receptionist and hygienist in a small, rural dental practice.


On a recent Friday night in Beckley, the Riverside Warriors battled the Woodrow Wilson Flying Eagles in the first football game of the season.

Elizabeth Brown, M.D., operates a small, thriving private practice in South Charleston. “Most doctors want to practice, that’s why we went into medicine,” she said in a recent interview.

Instead of relying entirely on prescription medicine to solve medical problems, healthcare providers at a free clinic in Wheeling, W.Va., are prescribing healthy, fresh foods to a pilot group of patients. It’s a grant-funded initiative called Farmacy, offered through the clinic, Health Right Wheeling, and a food advocacy organization, Grow Ohio Valley.

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement announced  it will fund a million dollar review of current research on  links between surface coal mining and human health risks. The announcement came more than a year after the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection formally requested the review.