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Grieving in the Internet Age

Charlie Waller and his mother Abigail.

Charlie Waller and his mother Abigail.

Charlie Waller loved trick-or-treating, pirates, his kindergarten class at Marble Elementary, his sister, Esther, and so much more during his all-too-brief life.

He died last December from an inoperable brain tumor that slowly robbed him of his ability to play, to walk and to see, but never his kindness. His parents, John and Abigail, have turned to the Internet to help them harness Charlie’s spirit and his kindness by launching a new social media campaign, #CouragetobeKind, in Charlie’s honor.

Charlie, a patient in Hospice of Michigan’s pediatric program, battled his illness for two-plus years, all with the help of family, friends, and a supportive care team. Throughout this experience, John and Abigail relied on social media to keep far-flung family and friends informed of their son’s condition. Abigail launched a blog where she shared imaginary letters to her son, chronicling their journey with courage, profundity and poignancy.

With help of Abigail’s father, they launched the nonprofit Art for Charlie Foundation to raise both awareness and funds for pediatric hospice. Facebook and Twitter accounts were opened to amplify the site and promote its annual art show and sale, as well as this year’s statewide conference on pediatric hospice and bereavement support.

“Social media has become a strong outlet for public mourning,” said Karen Monts, director of grief support service at Hospice of Michigan. “It allows people a medium to express their feelings when experiencing a significant loss, and it also provides an opportunity to ensure the memory of a lost loved one isn’t forgotten.””

When counseling the bereaved, Monts often refers to the Six Tasks of Mourning, as defined by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief educator and author of Healing the Bereaved Child. Monts explains that social media can help in achieving each of Wolfelt’s tasks:

Task One: Need to acknowledge the reality of the death. When family members hear word of a loved one’s death, many immediately turn to social media as they process the news. The reality of someone’s passing becomes clear when seeing the details of the death, finality of funeral details, and posts of love and support by family and friends.

Task Two: Need to approach the pain of loss while being supported. Social media not only provides a platform for the bereaved to express pain, but it also gives family and friends the opportunity to offer words of support, which validates and normalizes the grief they feel.

Task Three: Need to remember the person who died. Through blogs, posts and picture sharing, there are countless ways that the bereaved can use social media to share memories of their loved ones. Feedback from family and friends also lets the bereaved know those memories are treasured by others.

Task Four: Develop a new self-identity. This is often one of the more challenging tasks of grief. What role do you play in life now that your loved one is gone? Through open discussion of the deceased life on social media, the bereaved can develop a better understanding of the many roles the deceased played in the lives of others. The bereaved can use that information to determine the new roles they will take on in their own life.

Task Five: Searching for meaning in what has happened: When a loved one dies, it may prompt questions regarding the purpose of life and how such a tragic event could happen. Social Media allows the bereaved to express their questions, concerns and doubts while providing reassurance as one searches for a new sense of purpose or clarity.

Task Six: Experience continued support in future years. Social media provides the perfect medium for the bereaved to share feelings of grief, regardless of how long it’s been since a loved one died. It might be recognition of a birthday or an anniversary of death, or it could be a simple statement like “Really missing my mom today. “Not only does expressing these feelings help the bereaved, but family and friends who see this public expression often respond with encouraging words.

Monts adds that in addition to helping cope with grief, social media can simply provide the bereaved with a needed distraction. However, even with all the benefits, she warns that there can be negatives to using social media in the grieving process.

While publically expressing grief may be helpful to one family member, seeing these reminders on social media may be difficult for a family member who grieves more privately. While Monts advises people to consider others when expressing grief publicly, she believes the benefits of social media in grieving far outweigh the cons.

For the Waller family, social media continues to be a source of solace, education and hope. The launch of their Courage to be Kind social campaign acknowledges Charlie’s gentleness and wisdom in advocating kindness to all.  Wise beyond his years, he argued for tolerance for those who were unkind, explaining that some children (and adults, we would add) have to learn to be kind just as they have to learn their ABCs.

The vision of the campaign is that it will create a system to allow people to report acts of kindness anonymously on social media.  To learn more about Charlie’s story and #CouragetobeKind, visit artforcharlie.org.

Hospice of Michigan offers a variety of grief support and educational services. These programs are available to all families involved with Hospice of Michigan, as well as the community at large. For more information, visit www.hom.org.

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MDCH Reminds residents to vaccinate against measles

This is the skin of a patient after 3 days of measles infection. Treated at a New York hospital. Photo from CDC.gov.

This is the skin of a patient after 3 days of measles infection. Treated at a New York hospital. Photo from CDC.gov.

Following the recent confirmation of two measles cases in the Traverse City area, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) is reminding all residents to protect themselves against the disease by making certain they are up to date on their vaccines.

Michigan is now among 23 states that have reported cases of measles in 2014. The Michigan cases were unvaccinated and were exposed to measles during travel in the Philippines. Additional cases are under investigation.

“Although the once common disease is now a rarity in the United States, Measles can spread when it reaches a community where groups of people are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Matthew Davis, Chief Medical Executive with the MDCH. “The progress made here in the U.S. may be threatened by the high incidence of measles elsewhere in the world. To protect against outbreaks and stop the disease from widely spreading in the U.S., we need to succeed in our efforts to keep immunization rates high.”

From 2001-2012, the average number of measles cases reported nationally per year was 60. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been more than 600 cases reported this year in the U.S., and the vast majority of cases have been among persons who had no history of vaccination against measles.

The Philippines is experiencing a very large and ongoing measles outbreak, with more than 50,000 measles cases and more than 100 measles-related deaths reported this year. Many of the cases in the U.S. this year have been traced to travel in or contact with the Philippines. Measles also continues to be common in many other parts of the world including some countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

Measles is a vaccine-preventable disease that can result in hospitalization, pneumonia, encephalitis, and death. Measles illness involves a high fever, conjunctivitis (red, inflamed eyelid membranes), cough, runny nose, photophobia, and a generalized red, raised body rash starting on the head and face and progressing to the rest of the body. Because measles is highly communicable, successful prevention and control requires high levels of immunity in all communities.

The measles vaccine is highly effective and very safe. The first of two routine childhood measles vaccine doses is given at 12 months of age. For international travel, infants as young as 6 months should be vaccinated against measles. The vaccination, or documentation of immunity to measles, is recommended for all persons travelling internationally.

 

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ACA open enrollment under way 

Michiganders newly enrolling or changing their health insurance offered through the Affordable Care Act have more options to choose from this time around, with an expansion of carriers in the state’s federally-run marketplace. Image courtesy of www.healthcare.gov.

Michiganders newly enrolling or changing their health insurance offered through the Affordable Care Act have more options to choose from this time around, with an expansion of carriers in the state’s federally-run marketplace. Image courtesy of www.healthcare.gov.

Mona Shand, Michigan News Connection

When it comes to open enrollment for health-insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act, experts say in many ways, the second time is the charm.

With the kinks worked out of the federal HealthCare.gov website and more options to choose from, the second open-enrollment period is off to a smooth start, said Philip Bergquist, director of health-center operations for the Michigan Primary Care Association. This time around, he said, more Michigan residents are able to use technology to their advantage.

“We’re seeing more mobile use of HealthCare.gov, folks with tablets at events, doing it in local businesses,” he said. “Really wherever the need is.”

From new enrollees looking for first-time coverage to those shopping the new additions to the marketplace, Bergquist said he sees signs that the conversation around health insurance in Michigan is improving.

“More detailed questions, more in-depth conversations,” he said, “and that’s really exciting because it’s showing that the base of enrollees in the marketplace is really learning a lot about the coverage that they’ve selected and how to use it.”

However, federal data suggest about a quarter-million Michigan residents who are eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act have yet to get it. Right now, 17 different carriers—four more than last year and the highest number of any state with a federally run marketplace—are offering policies.

The open-enrollment period runs through Feb. 15, but anyone looking for coverage to begin in January must purchase a plan by Dec. 15. Enrollment-assistance information is available online at EnrollMichigan.com.

 

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Indulge in a bite of pie and take a nap 

 

HEA-Indulge-in-a-bite-of-pieIt could keep you healthy this holiday season

 

(BPT) – The holiday season is full of celebrations. From office parties to family events, everyone gathers to spread a little extra cheer. While people may be wary of what all of the holiday treats will mean for their health, avoiding all of the revelry could cause more harm than good. Creating a balance between restraint and indulgence will help sustain physical, mental and emotional well-being. Come out of the holiday season feeling just as good as you did when you went in with these easy tips.

Choose wisely.

During the holidays there are tempting treats everywhere you turn. From cookies at the office to fondue at the holiday party, your favorites can be hard to resist. But if you choose your treats wisely, you can guiltlessly enjoy every bite.

Browse the buffet line for healthy options like veggies or fruit, shrimp cocktails or chicken skewers so you won’t have to skip dessert. You can always share a sweet treat with someone else to keep you accountable. And if you’re worried about not having the will power, it’s a good idea to eat 1.5 ounces of healthy protein before an event to keep you feeling satiated.

Don’t deny yourself.

Food is connected to family, culture, tradition and celebration, and it should be a source of enjoyment. Avoid creating a list of items you cannot have. “When it comes to tempting foods, forbidding them only makes you want them even more,” says Debbie Swanson, registered dietician, and nutrition and healthy-cooking tips instructor at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Colorado. She suggests eating smaller portions of your favorites, such as a bite of pie instead of the whole piece. “My friend makes the best apple pie. I always have two bites,” Swanson says.

Work it off.

The best way to prevent the extra pounds from sneaking up on you is to engage in a regular exercise routine. Doing something as simple as parking farther away from the office or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can help increase the number of steps you take each day.

Individuals typically gain around two pounds during the holidays, according to the Mayo Clinic. “The problem is that we don’t lose the weight,” Swanson says. Rather than adding weight that you have to work off later, maintain a workout regimen or find other ways to burn the calories you consume throughout the busy day.

Make “me” time.

Research over the past two decades has begun to demonstrate the strong connection between mental health and the strength of the immune system, which affects overall physical well-being, according to Jim Wasner, dean for the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University|Schaumburg. Wasner says that the strength and resilience of everyone’s overall immune system, feeling depressed or overly anxious, often correlates with poorer physical health and vulnerability to illnesses. “Relax and schedule time for yourself,” he says.” Go easy on the alcohol and sugar. Catch up on your sleep.” Maintaining this overall balance will keep you physically and mentally healthy during the holiday season.

Allow yourself to enjoy the celebrations, just maintain the balance between health-conscious and indulgent decisions so the holidays don’t get the best of you.

For more information about Argosy University, visit argosy.edu. For more information about The Art Institutes, visit artinstitutes.edu.

 

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Jingle bell run/walk for arthritis 

HEA-Jingle-Bell-run_walk

Arthritis Foundation honors 7-year-old who has arthritis 

 

Named one of the nation’s “Most Incredible Themed Races,” the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis will be held on Saturday, December 13, 2014, at 9 a.m. at the Grand Valley State University Eberhard Center, 301 West Fulton Street, EC210, in Grand Rapids . More than 1,000 participants are expected.

Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis raises funds to fight and cure arthritis, the nation’s leading cause of disability. Participants dress in holiday-themed costumes and tie jingle bells to their shoes creating a fun and festive atmosphere. This family-friendly event includes a competitively timed 5K run with walk option, 1K kids’ Snowman Shuffle, prizes for best costume and top fundraisers, and medals for the best run times in 13 age categories. Entry fees are $30 for the run/walk and $12 for the kid’s Snowman Shuffle. All proceeds support the Arthritis Foundation’s programs, services and research.

Register by going to www.Arthritis.org/Michigan or calling (855) 529-2728.

Arthritis is a serious disease that causes slow and painful deterioration of the body’s joints. Often mischaracterized as an “old person’s” disease, arthritis affects more than 50 million Americans, including 300,000 kids. In Michigan, more than 2.3 million adults and 10,300 children have arthritis—that’s 31 percent of the population!

Owen Barrett is a 7-year-old from Walker. When he was 3-years-old, he developed a recurring rash that was misdiagnosed several times. Owen was referred to a pediatric rheumatologist who accurately diagnosed him with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. The doctor said he had active inflammation in every joint he checked and that he probably had arthritis since birth.

“My husband and I were shocked,” said Aimee Barrett, Owen’s mom. “Owen never complained of pain. Not once. The doctor explained that most kids who have arthritis don’t know a life without pain, so they don’t know to complain about it. Pain is their norm. It broke my heart.”

“We hope for Owen, when he has his own children, that he can tell them, ‘I had arthritis as a child, but they found a cure,’” said Aimee. “And we hope to make so much noise about this disease that people aren’t shocked when I tell them, ‘My son has arthritis. He’s only 7-years-old.’”

For more info on the Jingle Bell Run/Walk or to register you can visit jinglebellrungrandrapids.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=1121965

 

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Shattering the myths of hospice

 

Thanks to arrangements made by Melody Walker, Hospice of Michigan caregiver, Matt Magee had the experience of a lifetime when the rock-and-roll fan was able to meet members of his favorite band, Alice in Chains.

Thanks to arrangements made by Melody Walker, Hospice of Michigan caregiver, Matt Magee had the experience of a lifetime when the rock-and-roll fan was able to meet members of his favorite band, Alice in Chains.

Matt Magee recently had the experience of a lifetime.

A diehard rock-and-roll fan, the 56-year-old was able to attend a concert featuring his favorite band, Alice in Chains, in Mt. Pleasant. As a bonus, he was able to meet band members outside their tour bus for autographs, photos and conversations after the show.

Magee made the hour-long trip from his home, an adult foster care center in Big Rapids, while suffering from advanced multiple sclerosis, thanks to connections made by his caregiver, Hospice of Michigan.

“When most people think about hospice, they expect it means being confined to a bed, barely clinging to life,” said Robert Cahill, president and CEO of HOM. “Because of this misconception, many only consider hospice in the final days of life, but hospice care is most suited to support patients during the final months of life.”

November, National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, is a time when hospices and palliative care providers across the nation help raise awareness about this special kind of care. It is also a good time to help deepen the understanding of hospice and explain the many myths.

Cahill notes the following common misconceptions of hospice care and offers a deeper understanding:

Myth: All hospice organizations are connected.

More than 100 hospices provide end-of-life care in Michigan. Some are run by national chains and some, such as HOM, are community-based and grow from a mission to provide compassionate care. Some programs are affiliated directly with a hospital or nursing home, while others are free standing. Patients and their families have the right to choose the hospice organization they feel will provide the best care.

Myth: All hospice organizations are the same.

Hospice programs can differ widely in the services they provide, their philosophy of care, etc.  One of the most important distinctions is those that are for-profit and those that are non-profits. As a non-profit organization, HOM has a mission of providing service to anyone who needs or seeks its care, regardless of their age, diagnosis or ability to pay. HOM will never turn a patient away, no matter how medically complex or how medically fragile the condition. For patients without Medicare or insurance, HOM provides free care, raising more than $4 million every year to cover the cost of services for those unable to pay.

Myth: To be eligible for hospice, I have to be in the final stages of dying.

In general, hospice programs are open to people in the last six months of life, as certified by a physician. However, there is no fixed limit on the amount of time a patient may continue to receive services.

Myth: Hospice is expensive.

Hospice care is available as a benefit for those who receive Medicare. It covers all medicines, medical supplies and equipment that are related to the illness or condition and provides such support as home health aides, physicians and nurses, chaplains, counseling, practical and financial assistance, grief assistance and volunteers to help with day-to-day chores, errands and companionship. For those ineligible for Medicare, most insurance plans, HMOs, and managed care plans cover hospice care. As a non-profit hospice provider, HOM does not charge for its services.

Myth: Hospice care means leaving home.

Hospice is not necessarily a place; it’s a form of palliative care that seeks to comfort rather than cure. HOM provides services wherever the patient is living or receiving care. It may be in an apartment, condo or home or a hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility. HOM travels to wherever the patient considers home, allowing them to continue to receive support from their family and friends while under hospice care.

Myth: Hospice means forgoing all medical treatment.

Palliative care becomes appropriate when treatments are no longer effective and the burden of the disease becomes too much to bear for the patient and family. While hospice does focus on comfort rather than cure, hospice nurses and physicians are experts in the latest medications and devices for pain and symptom relief.

Myth: Hospice care ends when someone dies.

Hospice is not only about helping patients die a good death, but it is also committed to helping their loved ones learn to live with grief. HOM offers a variety of free grief support groups throughout Michigan that are open to all in need.

“Whether you are facing a terminal illness or you are supporting a loved one in their end-of-life transition, Hospice of Michigan is there to make life better,”” Cahill adds. “We’re fond of saying that we help ensure quality of life at the end of life. We will continue in our compassion mission, knowing that we’re helping patients and their caregivers when it it’s needed most.””

For more information on hospice care or to determine eligibility, contact Hospice of Michigan at 888.247.5701 or visit www.hom.org.

 

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November is National Diabetes Month 

 

Managing Diabetes ABCs 

 

More than 29 million Americans—or about 9 percent of the U.S. population—have diabetes, and it is estimated that one in every four people with diabetes does not even know they have the disease. In the state of Michigan, it is estimated that 10 percent—or 758,300—of adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, while an additional 250,200 adults are currently undiagnosed. If left undiagnosed or untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health problems, including kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke.

This November, the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (NKFM) is encouraging people with diabetes to “Control the ABCs of Diabetes” in order to prevent diabetes-related health complications down the road. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, causing more than 40 percent of all kidney failure cases. The good news is that people with diabetes can lower their chance of having diabetes-related health problems by managing their Diabetes ABCs:

A is for the A1C test (A-one-C).  This is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar (glucose) level over the past three months.

B is for Blood pressure.

C is for Cholesterol.

S is for stopping smoking.

“Many people do not understand that having diabetes can affect many parts of the body and is associated with serious complications such as kidney failure, heart disease and stroke, blindness, and more,” said Art Franke, Senior Vice President of Programs at the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan. “Managing the ABCs of diabetes can help prevent diabetes-related health complications.”

If you have diabetes, ask your health care team what your A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol numbers are, and what they should be. Your ABC goals will depend on how long you have had diabetes and other health problems. For additional diabetes resources, community events and programs, and more, visit www.nkfm.org/DiabetesMonth or call the NKFM at 800-482-1455. You can also check out the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) for great diabetes management tools and information at www.YourDiabetesInfo.org/DiabetesMonth2014.

 

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Spectrum Health providing Telehealth services 

 

HEA-TelehealthNew service provides interactive specialist appointments and education

Spectrum Health United and Kelsey Hospitals have added telehealth services—which uses interactive video-conferencing to connect providers and patients to clinical services and education programs at distant sites. Patients can now avoid travel times and reduce travel expenses and still access the care they need.

Telehealth patients have a live, real-time interaction with a physician who provides specialized care, follow-up appointments and education that may not be offered locally. This technology gives physicians the ability to obtain sufficient examinations of patients by questioning them about their past health history and current symptoms, and by using electronic diagnostic equipment and peripheral cameras.

The telehealth program at United and Kelsey Hospitals began with virtual cardiology services. The program has grown to provide specialist consults in cardiology and oncology between United Hospital, Kelsey Hospital and Spectrum Health medical facilities in Grand Rapids. The program will soon include diabetes education, stroke specialist access, a virtual wound clinic and primary care provider e-visits to local communities.

Feedback from local telehealth patients has been overwhelmingly positive. Gregory Baker of Coral drove 10 miles to the Kelsey Hospital Emergency Department in Lakeview after experiencing chest pain. Upon being evaluated by the emergency department physician, it was clear he needed to be seen by a cardiologist. A cardiologist was not available in Lakeview at the time, so the Kelsey Hospital staff took advantage of the new telehealth technology and consulted with a provider from the Heart and Vascular Center at United Hospital. “The experience was wonderful; it felt like the doctor was in the room with me,” explained Gregory. “It was nice to see a specialist when I really needed him and not have to travel and spend money on gas.” Gregory appreciated that the off-site physician was able to read his tests and explain his health situation. “This is a huge benefit to our rural community.”

“With this new technology, a consultation can be done in the emergency room right when we need it, which benefits both patients and care providers,” states Steven Fahlen, DO, Kelsey Hospital Emergency Department. “This is just the beginning; we will see more services being offered through telehealth to benefit the patients in our community.”

 

 

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National Radon action week

 

National Radon Action Week is October 20-26, 2014, and occurs the 3rd week of October every year. Radon gas is becoming more of a widespread problem in the United States. In the U.S., one in fifteen homes are affected by elevated radon levels. Radon cannot be seen, it has no scent, and is colorless. Radon invades homes and buildings through foundation cracks and openings and even directly through concrete.

Radon gas is considered a carcinogen that comes from decayed radium and uranium in the soil. It is the #1 cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and causes people that do smoke greater chance of being diagnosed with lung cancer when exposed to this deadly gas. The EPA suggests levels of 4 (pCi/L) picocuries and above be addressed. Levels of 4 pCi/L is equivalent to 8 cigarettes a day or 250 chest x-rays per year. World Health Organization (WHO) states that 3% and 14% of lung cancer cases are caused by Radon, and suggests people take action against levels higher than 2.7 pCi/L.

The purpose of National Radon Action Week is to educate people about the health risks of radon, learning about radon gas itself, and also inform everyone how to test their homes for radon and what actions need to be taken if there are high levels of radon present. Radon is a problem that affects millions of homes, daycares, schools, and buildings across the country. This is the time to get informed in order to stay safe and healthy in the place you spend most of your time. Check with your local health department and home improvement store for radon test kits. Visit www.RadonWeek.org for more information.

 

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Protect against carbon monoxide poisoning 

Last week was Carbon Monoxide Safety and Awareness Week in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) is reminding everyone to keep their families safe from being poisoned by carbon monoxide this winter.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that kills more than 500 Americans each year and up to 50 a year in Michigan. It is produced by all forms of combustion. Warning signs include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion. The good news is carbon monoxide poisoning is completely preventable.

“Now is the time to ensure that gas-fired furnaces, hot water heaters and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly,” said Dr. Matthew Davis, Chief Medical Executive at the MDCH. “Carbon monoxide is difficult to detect so it’s important to evacuate the area of contamination immediately and seek medical attention if you suspect you have been exposed to carbon monoxide.”

Never use generators, grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage or near a window because these appliances give off carbon monoxide. Running a car in an enclosed garage can create lethal levels of carbon monoxide in minutes.

Michigan’s carbon monoxide poisoning tracking system counted 22 unintentional deaths and 765 non-fatal unintentional carbon monoxide poisonings in Michigan in 2012 alone, the most recent year of complete data. More than 60 percent occurred during the winter months and happened most frequently at home.

Michigan’s December 2013 ice storm, which caused power outages in about 400,000 Michigan households, resulted in one carbon monoxide death and 300 percent increase in emergency department visits for carbon monoxide poisoning. Proper use and placement of alternate power sources would have prevented many of these poisonings.

For more information about carbon monoxide poisoning and poisoning prevention, visit www.michigan.gov/carbonmonoxide.

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