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.

The first case of Zika virus in a pregnant woman has been reported in West Virginia. The diagnosis brings the state’s total confirmed cases to eight.

State commissioner for public health Rahul Gupta says all eight cases of Zika reported in West Virginia were contracted during travel to countries where the virus is active.  Gupta says the risk of contracting Zika in West Virginia remains low, but residents should be cautious about mosquito bites.

Natural disasters such as the historic floods West Virginia experienced in late June can be particularly frightening for children.

West Virginia University Medicine rural kidney clinics have provided services to more than 50,000 people since 2003.

The rural outreach program offers prevention services and treatment for kidney disease at 11 outreach clinics around the state and one in western Maryland.

At the emergency room at Preston Memorial Hospital, nurses are wheeling 47-year-old John Shaffer to an imaging room. He’s been having chest pains and trouble breathing.

“I went to my family doctor first and they did an EKG and then I came here,” he said. The distance between his doctor’s office and the hospital is about ten miles. The next closest hospital is close to an hour away – a distance not unheard of in rural Appalachia.

Recent research shows almost a third of Appalachia’s rural hospitals are vulnerable to closure, though.

Thousands of autistic children in West Virginia find themselves stuck on treatment wait lists for years, missing their best chances for improvement as 2- and 3-year-olds.

President Obama’s administration is doubling down on efforts to reduce prescription opioid and heroin abuse across the nation after two major announcements in the past week.

Human Papillomavirus – more commonly known as HPV -- is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It is so common that almost all sexually active individuals will get it at some point, which puts them at risk for developing various cancers. The good news: HPV is preventable. The bad news: vaccination rates are low nationwide, with particularly troubling statistics coming out of West Virginia.

Children in the West Virginia welfare system are nearly three times as likely as those in other states to be placed in group-care facilities. But a new program, called Safe at Home West Virginia, is beginning to change this pattern.

People who have a terminal illness often prefer to spend their last days at home, rather than a hospital. WVU published research this month showing there’s a way to make it easier for those people to do so. In reality, it all comes down to paperwork.  

Janet Black looks up from her bed. She is terminally ill with end-stage lung disease and is due to be discharged into hospice care any day.

School-based fluoride rinse programs have been available to West Virginia schools for decades. Advocates argue they are still one of the cheapest and most effective tools schools have for preventing tooth decay. However, they are not well utilized. Recently, the Bureau for Public Health, which funds these programs, has begun a push to get more schools to take advantage of them.

West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina have issued advisories for the Zika virus, urging caution, particularly for pregnant women traveling to areas where the disease is circulating.

The most common way children are exposed to lead these days is from the lead-based paint almost universally found in homes built before 1980. (Lead-based paint was outlawed in the late ’70s.)

When the paint deteriorates and chips, it causes dust particles that can be inhaled or even eaten (think slobbery teething toy belonging to a 10-month-old on the floor next to an old baseboard covered in lead-based paint).