Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Rocky Point Fire District’s North Beach Company 2 station is located at 90 Kings Road. File photo by Kevin Redding

Sounding all alarms. Big changes within the Rocky Point Fire District will be left up to voters next month.

On Aug. 8, between 3 and 9 p.m., qualified residents in the district are encouraged to take to the North Beach Company 2 firehouse on 90 King Road to decide the fate of the decades-old building.

Following a resolution adopted by the Board of Fire Commissioners in June, voters will decide on two propositions: an authorization to completely demolish the existing firehouse and construct a new one on its footprint with updated infrastructure with a maximum, an estimated cost of $7,250,000; and the purchasing of a new aerial ladder truck with a maximum estimated cost of $1,250,000.

“It needs a lot of renovations and it’s not cost-effective to renovate. It’s cost-effective to look to the future to make it better.”

— Edwin Brooks

According to the fire district, if the propositions are approved, residents will see an increase in taxes, but will gather interest on each proposition in no more than 30 years and 20 years, respectively.

Built in the early 1950s, the current building has been in need of repair and renovation for decades, to accommodate for more modern requirements of firefighters — from new safety regulations to larger updates to equipment and apparatuses as well as mandatory handicap-accessibility.

A new firehouse will make for better safety to the community as well, according to fire district commissioners.

“This enables us to continue the service we’re already providing well into the future,” District Vice Chairman Kirk Johnson said at last month’s commissioner meeting. “It’s just a modern, environmentally-conscious building that will be able to run over the next 20, 30 years — one of our main focuses with the new building.”

Rocky Point Fire District Secretary Edwin Brooks echoed Johnson’s words.

“The old one has reached the end of its useful life,” he said. “It needs a lot of renovations and it’s not cost-effective to renovate. It’s cost-effective to look to the future to make it better. It’s good for everybody — good for the fire department, good for the public. It’s a win-win situation.”

Brooks said there are no projected tax figures or construction timelines as of yet in the event that the propositions are approved.

One protestor comforts another during a protest in Smithtown July 27. Photo by Jill Webb.

By Jill Webb

In a show of unity, North Shore residents resoundingly condemned President Donald Trump’s (R) intentions to ban transgender people from the military this past week.

Individuals gathered in front of the U.S. Army Recruitment Center in Smithtown in disapproval of President Trump’s announced ban July 27.

The ban stemmed from a series of tweets President Trump put out July 26, citing his reasoning for the transgender ban being that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Trump’s declaration of the ban on Twitter led the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition to come out to Smithtown to oppose the ban in a peaceful demonstration. The group advertised the demonstration via Facebook as a way for the transgender community and their allies to speak up for transgender service members.

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of LITAC led the demonstration with a loudspeaker in hand, chanting in solidarity with the transgender community.

The goal of the demonstration, according to Grey-Owens, was to put transgender soldiers in the spotlight.

“To make people aware of the fact that there are Americans that are supporting our transgender troops — that’s important,” she said. “Number two, it’s to make people aware of the fact that the transgender community is constantly under duress, constantly being discriminated against and this is just one more thing.”

The aim of LITAC is to advocate for the transgender community, often through forums, demonstrations, and putting on informational sessions that Grey-Owens refers to as transgender 101s.

The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, passed in 2003 makes it unlawful for anyone in New York State to be discriminated against in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

A protestor shows support for transgender military members. Photo by Jill Webb.

But the law isn’t as clear for transgender individuals. SONDA does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression — but it does apply when a transgender person is discriminated against based upon his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation, according to the New York State Attorney General’s office.

Specific counties and areas, including Nassau and Suffolk County have taken matters into their own hands and passed more specific anti-discrimination legislation for sexual orientation.

Grey-Owens said that LITAC’s objective is to step in at any time the transgender community is being discriminated against.

The executive director, along with many of the other attendees of the demonstration, was aggravated with Trump’s accusations against the expenses of transgender health.

“One of things that they found is the number is so small in comparison to the defense budget, that it is a point zero something of the actual cost,” Grey-Owens said. “The army spends more on Viagra — ten times more on Viagra — then they will on transgender health costs.”

One of the best ways to help the transgender community, according to Grey-Owens, is to unite with them.

“If you take look at the crowd that’s here now, there are way more cisgender people [someone who’s gender identity matches the sex they were assigned to at birth] than transgender people here, and that’s made our voice louder,” she said. “People are adopting our cause as their cause. If they’re interested in helping out, this is how you help us: expand our voice.”

One participant, Edna White, said that she was in attendance in support of her transgender family and friends. She stressed the negative effects of the segregation.

“Taking a serious defense of our country — that shouldn’t be separated,” she said. “We’re already separated enough in war as it is, so to do that is really disheartening for me.”

Heather Sacc, another protestor said she found Trump’s sudden tweets against the transgender community very alarming.

“There’s 6,000 trans people in the military that have risked their lives,” she said. “The military didn’t ask for this. It’s just [Trump] woke up in the middle of the night and decided ‘oh that’s what I’m gonna do.”

A protestor shows support for transgender military members. Photo by Jill Webb.

Jay Gurecio attended the demonstration representing the LGBTQ+ visibility coalition, a group she is a co-founder of. Gurecio said she felt betrayed by Trump going back on his claims he would support the LGBTQ+ community during his campaign.

Trump tweeted in June 2016, thanking the LGBT community.

“I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” he said.

Guercio believes he has not kept to his promise.

“For him to go back on something that was implemented a year ago, that trans-people were allowed to serve and were allowed to get their surgery and their hormones covered, it’s just outright wrong,” Gurecio said.

Gurecio thinks the message Long Island should take from the demonstration is there is an LGBT community that will do everything in their power to stand in solidarity with each other.

“We’re peaceful, this isn’t angry, this isn’t something that’s even violent in any which manner,” Gurecio said. “I want people to understand that we just want to live our lives, and that we want the same rights as everyone else.”

The following day protestors continued to berate Trump during a visit he made in Brentwood to the Suffolk County Police Department.

Patricia Rios was holding a sign saying she voted for Trump and regretted her decision.

“Once he comes for the ‘T’ [talking about Transgendered] he’s going to come for the L, the G and the B,” she said. “So we’re here to protest that.”

Dr. David Kilmnick, CEO of LGBT Network, a Long Island LGBT advocacy group said more than just transgender military members rights were ignored this week.

“We found out… Trump was coming here, and timing would have it that he tweeted that he was going to ban transgender folks from serving our country and serving our military,” he said. “That wasn’t the only thing he did to the community this week — which was big enough. His attorney general filed a court brief saying that Title VII doesn’t protect LGBT people from discrimination from the federal government. Having Trump here on Long Island, having Trump as president is an embarrassment, a disgrace. He doesn’t represent the values of our country of equality and justice.”

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released July 28 showed a large portion of the county disagrees with Trump on this position.

According to the poll, 58 percent of adults agreed transgender people should be allowed to serve while 27 percent said they should not.

Currently it’s unclear if Trump’s announcement will lead to real policy change, as the

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said last week the current military policy would not be changed until the White House issued further guidance.

Additional reporting contributed by Kyle Barr and Victoria Espinoza.

Girls basketball leader for nearly four decades inducted into state hall of fame

Rich Castellano in the huddle with a Northport team. Photo from Rich Castellano

By Desirée Keegan

When Rich Castellano was asked to fill in for a season as the girls basketball coach at Northport Middle School, he had no idea the chain of events that followed would change the rest of his life.

That decision to head the team led to a 38-year stint as the varsity coach, 613 wins, 24 league titles, 10 Suffolk County championships, five Long Island championships and three trips to the state semifinals. He was named 2011 Russell Athletic/Women’s Basketball Coaches Association National High School Coach of the Year after first receiving the WBCA District Coaches of the Year award, has been welcomed into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted into the New York State Public High School Athletic Hall of Fame July 26.

Northrop girls basketball head coach Rich Castellano talks to his players. Photo from Rich Castellano

“I had no idea what it would lead to,” the retired math teacher said. “I’ve been blessed —  I was there at the right time. The sport started to take off. Everything was in the right place.”

After starting at the middle school, he moved up the chain with a handful of students, taking over the junior varsity team the following year, and began his career at the varsity level in 1979.

The Tigers won a league championship that winter, the first of three in a row, and next thing he knew the team was hanging a county championship banner on the gymnasium wall.

“I felt we were going in the right direction,” Castellano said. “The little kids in the stands who were watching us play wanted to become Lady Tigers. Everyone who watched our success early now had the opportunity to be on the court. There’s nothing like playing for your high school in front of your family and friends — it’s a whole different atmosphere.”

He credited the initial achievements to being able to work with the girls year after year until they reached the varsity level with him. But the success didn’t stop there. Northport took home six straight county championships from 1989 to 1994, a feat that had never been done nor never been duplicated.

Rich Castellano speaks to young Northport basketball players during a previous Tigers camp. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“The girls wanted to be basketball players,” Castellano said. “Now, it’s like a self-perpetuating thing. They know what to expect. We’ve really been consistent all the way through.”

Coaching that middle school team was the first time he’d led a group of females. The Selden resident had previously been a football and baseball coach, and has since also coached boys and girls volleyball and softball.

“It was unique, it was different,” he said of his first time coaching girls. “I think they taught me to be a better coach. You take things too seriously sometimes even though it’s just high school sports, and I think they gave me a better perspective.”

To feed into his program, he runs summer camps to keep the kids involved and get the younger generation’s feet wet.

Katie Kelly, a former player who is now the junior varsity coach at Northport, teaches at the camp.

“It was always my dream to end up playing for him,” she said of Castellano. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had, and I’ve been on many different teams. He’s so dedicated to this program, his team and his girls. Everyone has the same nice words to say about him. He know a lot about the game, he know a lot about being a coach.”

Northport girls basketball head coach Rich Castellano watches from the sideline with union varsity coach Katie Kelly. Photo from Rich Castellano

Kelly, who was a part of two county championship and two Long Island championship seasons with the Tigers, said learning how to be a part of a team was the most important thing she took away from her time at Northport.

“He has always emphasized the importance of being on a team, playing together and cooperation,” she said. “I think that’s what makes the team so successful. And obviously in his career he’s been successful, so it seems to work.”

The head coach has seen the trickle-down effect, too.

Even with a myriad of accolades to his own name and with the induction into the state hall of fame, he said it’s never been a one-man show, crediting his other coaches and players like Kaylie Schiavetta.

“She’s an unsung hero who played her butt off and never looked for credit and did it all for the love of the game and the love of her teammates,” Castellano said. “I never wanted all the attention, I didn’t play one minute in any game. It was all their success. It was all their hard work and all the stuff they had gone through to get to where we were. If you look around the gym, there’s a lot of championships. It’s something I take a lot of pride in, but I wouldn’t be where I am without kids like her. She taught me that.”

Still, he was shocked when he heard of the nomination to the NYPHSAA hall of fame.

Northport girls basketball coach Rich Castellano with former player Kaylie Schiavetta as she signs her letter of intent. Photo from Rich Castellano

“Oh my God, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he said was his reaction when he heard the news. “It caught me off guard. It was a ‘wow’ moment. It took all the girls who played for me to have that feeling. I’m obviously very proud and humbled, but it also makes me reflect on all the girls have achieved over the years and what they’ve helped us achieve.”

Schiavetta was excited to hear of the honor.

“It’s about time,” she said, laughing. “I think everything he’s done for girls basketball is very memorable, whether you played for Northport or not. If you played girls basketball on Long Island you know who Richard Castellano is.”

Inside the basketball arena but outside the court, Castellano brought Coaches vs Cancer to Suffolk County, a program that 95 percent of schools in the county currently participate in. He has led the program to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society since its inception.

“To me, it’s one of my biggest accomplishments,” he said. “Basketball officials get involved by wearing pink shirts, the girls where pink socks, pink ribbons in their hair and pink t-shirts, the girls have me wear a pink tie — we’re into it big time.”

Rich Castellano with young Northport players and alumni during a Coaches vs Cancer game. Photo from Rich Castellano

The charity event hits home for Castellano, because he was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2006. The girls’ shirts have a basketball court on the back with the words “I’m playing for” above it. There’s an empty space to write the name of a cancer survivor or victim the player wishes to honor during the games.

“A lot of the girls put my name on their shirt beside their grandmother or their neighbor or their parents, so that’s kind of cool, too,” he said.

Over the years, the coach has kept in contact with most of his former players. He’s been to almost 20 weddings, christenings, graduations and even spoke at the Northport sports hall of fame induction ceremony for all seven of his honored athletes, all in the last two years since its inception.

Sisters Cami Ruck and Kimberly Ruck, Renee Raleigh, Debbie Ronan (McCabe) and her now-sister-in-law Regina Ronan, Christine Michalopoulos and Jill Byers are all merits of his success.

Rich Castellano with members of a former Northport girls basketball team. Photo from Rich Castellano

Kimberly Ruck’s daughter is in seventh grade at Northport, and will soon be playing for her mother’s coach. Debbie and Regina Ronan have both come back to coach alongside their mentor, and Michalopoulos went on to coach college basketball.

“It validates decisions you made,” Castellano said. “They liked what they were doing and it’s a compliment they’re coaching.”

He will also be inducted into the Northport sports hall of fame this fall alongside Schiavetta, who played for her coach since seventh grade and attended the camp since fourth grade.

“I thought he was really funny,” she said of her initial impression of Castellano. “He always does a good job making the little girls laugh and make them feel comfortable. He has a way of challenging and bringing out the best qualities in a player.”

Her father Lou Schiavetta, who has been a coach at the camp for the last 10 years, agreed.

“Coach Castellano could sell ice cream in the North Pole,” he said. “There are people that are givers and takers — he’s a giver. He’s all for the kids and for his program. As you can see, it speaks for itself with all the banners and honors he’s received. He’s one of the winningest coaches in the county.”

Girls basketball banners line the walls of the gymnasium at Northport High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Councilwoman Susan Berland stands with the free sunscreen dispenser now at Crab Meadow Beach in Northport. File photo from A.J. Carter

By Victoria Espinoza

One Huntington Town official is determined to have residents covered when it comes to their skin.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) received support from her Huntington Town Board colleagues to expand her pilot program and provide sunscreen protection for Huntington residents at 14 new locations in addition to Crab Meadow Beach.

Last summer Berland launched a free sunscreen dispenser program at Crab Meadow Beach after working in conjunction with IMPACT Melanoma, formerly known as the Melanoma Foundation of New England, an organization that provides education, prevention and support for the most serious form of skin cancer.

“The [Crab Meadow Beach dispenser] was a success,” Berland said in a phone interview. “It got a lot of use last year and this year. So I wanted to expand it to 14 other locations.”

For about $1,600, the town will purchase from IMPACT Melanoma 14 additional BrightGuard sunscreen dispensers along with a supply of BrightGuard Eco Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 for each designated location.

The new dispensers will be installed at Asharoken Beach, Centerport Beach, Crescent Beach, Fleets Cove Beach, Gold Star Battalion Beach, Hobart Beach, Quentin Sammis/West Neck Beach, Greenlawn Memorial Park, Heckscher Park, Ostego Park, Veterans Park, Crab Meadow Golf Course, Dix Hills Golf Course and Dix Hills Pool. The sunscreen is environmentally safe, made in America and Para-AminoBenzoic Acid (PABA) free, according to Berland’s office. The councilwoman said she chose locations based on need and their supervision.

“For example the town pool is where all town camp programs are held,” she said. “I’m willing to bet there are some kids who are not using sunscreen or will forget it and this can help.”

Berland said the reaction to the first dispenser and a melanoma prevention and awareness event she hosted earlier this summer have indicated both been a success.

“I get swarmed at the dermatologists office about how great the first dispenser is,” she said. “People can forget to pack their sunscreen or some people have never even used sunscreen before. It’s just not on their radar. So people are now trying it, it’s a great preventative for the residents.”

According to the Journal of Clinical Oncology regular sunscreen use can reduce the incidence of melanoma by 50 to 73 percent.

According the 2014 report “Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer,” skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and most cases are preventable. Melanoma is responsible for the most deaths of all skin cancers, killing almost 9,000 people each year. It is also one of the most common types of cancer among U.S. adolescents and young adults.

Berland is a skin cancer survivor herself and said this issue is very personal to her.

“People need to take care of themselves early in life,” she said. “This has opened up people’s eyes to the entire issue.”

The resolution will be presented to the board at the next town board meeting. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a phone interview he believes the program’s relatively low cost is an added benefit to the positives it will do for residents.

“It’s a very minimal price,” he said. “It’s not something to put my thumb down on.”

For more information about this program, call Berland’s office at 631-351-3173.

The first few cherry blossom trees were donated from the FealGood Foundation and the 9/11 Responders Remembered Memorial Park. Members of both groups and the historical society smile. Photo from Smithtown Historical Society

By Kyle Barr

The Smithtown Historical Society is looking to create memories that will last a tree’s lifetime with their most recent project.

The Walk Under the Trees Project intends to recreate the feel of the famous Washington D.C. cherry blossom pathway,  encourage the planting of trees and help create a beautiful destination for Long Islanders to visit.

Historical society spokeswoman Priya Kapoor was the driving force behind the project.

“The idea started in the beginning of the year, and we started approaching people back in June,” she said in a phone interview. “We want to make the grounds more welcoming and make it more of a community centered place so that people can walk there, they can bring their kids and their dogs.”

Executive director Marianne Howard said she hopes this project stops Smithtown residents in their tracks.

“We’re always seeking an opportunity to beautify our grounds,” Howard said. “People drive past us and they don’t know we’re here, and this will help people to stop and come look at something beautiful.”

On July 19 the historical society commemorated its first set of trees with John Feal of the FealGood Foundation, and Martin Aponte, president of 9/11 Responders Remembered Memorial Park. The FealGood Foundation, an organization that seeks to  improve the lives of 9/11 first responders,  donated five trees with the memorial park donating one. The plan is for the trees to line  the dirt road to the historical society’s main set of buildings.

Feal is a frequent D.C. visitor himself and is very familiar with the cherry blossom paths there.

“You think of beautiful trees, you think of cherry blossoms,” Feal said in a phone interview. “Every year I go to Washington — only because I have to — to try and get legislation passed, but I sometimes get to see the cherry blossoms.”

Now Feal will not have to drive as far to see those special trees.

Aponte said that for those who work with 9/11 first responders, trees have a big significance for those who worked at Ground Zero.

“After those buildings came down there was one particular tree that stood amongst all the wreckage and debris that was falling,” Aponte said in a phone interview. “They dug it out and got seedlings and saplings and made more trees from that particular survivor tree. We surrounded our park with these survivor trees and they’re growing today. They symbolize that we as Americans are survivors regardless of what happened and the aftermath of it.”

Feal said his organization and the historical society have a good working relationship, and that the history of 9/11 first responders and the town are intertwined.

“9/11 is part of the history of Smithtown,” Feal said. “The memorial park tells the story of the history of 9/11 and the courage and the honor and the sacrifice of the men and women who worked at ground zero, and many of them are from Smithtown.”

The Smithtown Historical Society is accepting donations sponsoring new trees, flower beds and even small donations for bricks in a planned walkway. If you are interested in sponsoring a tree, or for information, contact the historical society offices at 631-265-6768.

Volunteers at last year’s Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand event. Photo from Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand

The fifth annual Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand will take place Aug. 2 from 2 to 6 p.m. With permission from the Three Village Central School District, this will be the first year that co-founders, siblings Maddie and Joseph Mastriano, will have the lemonade stand on the grounds of R.C. Murphy Junior High School instead of in front of their home.

The organizers anticipate visits from celebrity Chef Barret Beyer from the television series Hell’s Kitchen, team members from the Stony Brook University men’s basketball and women’s soccer teams and the Long Island Rough Riders. There will also be a performance by the local student band Swim.

Sales from the lemonade stand benefit  Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Last year 70 student volunteers from the school district were on hand to help out, and customers included members of the New York Islanders, the Long Island Ducks and local legislators.

In addition to lemonade being available, the day will include games and activities for all ages and raffles.

Rain date is August 3. R.C. Murphy Junior High School is located at 351 Oxhead Road, Stony Brook. For more information or to make an online donation, visit www.threevillagekidslemonadestand.com.

Jenn McNary and her children, above, are featured in the movie ‘To the Edge of the Sky.’ Photo from Brian Ariotti

By Jenna Lennon

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the number one genetic killer of boys in the world.

In “To the Edge of the Sky,” Emmy and Oscar Award winning producers, and Old Field natives, Jedd and Todd Wider tell the story of four mothers in their fight against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for the approval of a potentially life-saving drug for this fatal disease.

The world premiere of the 118-minute documentary at the 22nd annual Stony Brook Film Festival was met with a standing ovation July 23. Continued feedback from the audience, during and after the Q&A period, has been nothing but positive for the brothers and for raising awareness for treatment of this disease.

“As a documentarian, there’s no greater reward than hearing audience members come up afterwards and ask how we can help, what we can do, how can we bring further attention or shine further light on these issues and help the families that are suffering so deeply,” Jedd said.

‘To the Edge of the Sky’ is produced by Jedd and Todd Wider brothers who grew up in Old Field. Photo from Brian Ariotti

“We spoke to so many people after the film who wanted to get involved and that’s incredibly rewarding to us as filmmakers,” he continued. “We invest years of our lives into these topics to help bring attention to these issues to help these families and for us there’s just nothing greater than that, than hearing that response.”

With such a large audience, Todd couldn’t help but be emotional as he took the stage with his brother for the Q&A session.

“It was a weird thing — I’m not normally that emotional during a screening,” he said. “I got to say it …. was a little surreal. It’s not like I hadn’t seen it before. I’ve probably watched it about a thousand times now, but I found that screening was extremely, unbelievably, emotionally powerful.”

Jenn McNary, one of the mothers in the film, brought her sons Max and Austin to the July 23 premiere.

“Jenn and her family have been incredibly supportive of the film from the very beginning, as has all of the other families as well,” Jedd said. “They’ve all been strongly behind the film and hoping that this film could bring more attention to these issues and bring more attention to the potential companies out there and the foundations that are working to help fund further research.”

Filming took place periodically over almost four years and “was a significant emotional investment,” Jedd said.

“At any given point, the story line would change on the drop of a dime,” he continued. “We became very attached to these boys and very attached to these families.”

Duchenne is the most common type of muscular dystrophy and occurs from a mutation in the gene for the protein dystrophin. Symptoms begin appearing around the age of three or four. At first, young boys start having trouble walking. By their early 20s, they’re essentially paralyzed from the neck down.

“To the Edge of the Sky” examines the fight for FDA approval of the drug eteplirsen, produced by Sarepta Therapeutics, that is meant to help produce the missing protein. In 2016, and at the end of the film, the FDA granted an accelerated approval for the drug, but Todd said the fight is far from over.

“We live in the United States of America where we’re in a functioning democracy, and we can move our political organizations and our political institutions with the power of our will if we choose to,” Todd said. “And in the case of this situation, it was really these four moms that really moved the needle, we feel, on how the FDA was sort of dealing with this … it was the power of their advocacy and the connection and their love for their kids that helped to sort of focus that attention on what was going on in terms of the drug approval process in this particular case.”

Taking a 20-minute power walk at lunchtime has numerous health benefits. Stock photo
Are activity and exercise the same?

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Let’s begin with a pretest. I want to make it clear that a pretest is not to check whether you know the information but that you have an open mind and are willing to learn.

1) Which may have the most detrimental impact on your health?

a.   Smoking

b.   Obesity

c.   Inactivity

d.   A and C

e.   All have the same impact

2) People who exercise are considered active.

a.   True

b.   False

3) Inactivity may increase the risk of what? Select all that apply.

a.   Diabetes

b.   Heart disease

c.   Fibromyalgia

d.   Mortality

e.   Disability

With the recent wave of heat and humidity, who wants to think about exercise? Instead, it’s tempting to lounge by the pool or even inside with air conditioning instead.

First, let me delineate between exercise and inactivity; they are not complete opposites. When we consider exercise, studies tend to focus on moderate to intense activity. However, light activity and being sedentary, or inactive, tend to get clumped together. But there are differences between light activity and inactivity.

Light activity may involve cooking, writing, and strolling (1). Inactivity involves sitting, as in watching TV or in front of a computer screen. Inactivity utilizes between 1 and 1.5 metabolic equivalent units — better known as METS — a way of measuring energy. Light activity, however, requires greater than 1.5 METS. Thus, in order to avoid inactivity, we don’t have to exercise in the dreaded heat. We need to increase our movement.

What are the potential costs of inactivity? According to the World Health Organization, over 3 million people die annually from inactivity. This ranks inactivity in the top five of potential underlying mortality causes (2). The consequences of inactivity are estimated at 1 to 2.6 percent of health care dollars. This sounds small, but it translates into actual dollars spent in the U.S. of between $38 billion and $100 billion (3).

How much time do we spend inactive? Good question. In an observational study of over 7,000 women with a mean age of 71 years old, 9.7 waking hours were spent inactive or sedentary. These women wore an accelerometer to measure movements. Interestingly, as BMI and age increased, the amount of time spent sedentary also increased (4).

Inactivity may increase the risk of mortality and plays a role in increasing risks for diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and fibromyalgia. It can also increase the risk of disability in older adults.

Surprisingly, inactivity may be worse for us than smoking and obesity. For example, there can be a doubling of the risk for diabetes in those who sit for long periods of time, compared to those who sit the least (5).

By the way, the answers to the pretest are 1) e; 2) b; 3) a, b, c, d and e.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Does exercise trump inactivity?

We tend to think that exercise trumps all; if you exercise, you can eat what you want and, by definition, you’re not sedentary. Right? Not exactly. Diet is important, and you can still be sedentary, even if you exercise. In a meta-analysis — a group of 47 studies — results show that there is an increased risk of all-cause mortality with inactivity, even in those who exercised (6). In other words, even if you exercise, you can’t sit for the rest of the day. The risk for all-cause mortality was 24 percent overall.

However, those who exercised saw a blunted effect with all-cause mortality, making it significantly lower than those who were inactive and did very little exercise: 16 percent versus 46 percent increased risk of all-cause mortality. So, it isn’t that exercise is not important, it just may not be enough to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality if you are inactive for a significant part of the rest of the day.

In an earlier published study using the Women’s Health Initiative, results showed that those who were inactive most of the time had greater risk of cardiovascular disease (7). Even those who exercised moderately but sat most of the day were at increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Moderate exercise was defined as 150 minutes of exercise per week. Those at highest risk were women who did not exercise and sat at least 10 hours a day. This group had a 63 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease or stroke).

However, those who sat fewer than five hours a day had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular events. And those who were in the highest group for regular exercise (walking seven hours/week or jogging/running four to five hours/week) did see more benefit in cardiovascular health, even if they were inactive the rest of the day. Sitting longer did not have a negative impact on the individuals in the high exercise level group.

Worse than obesity?

Obesity is a massive problem in this country; it has been declared a disease, itself, and it also contributes to other chronic diseases. But would you believe that inactivity has more of an impact than even obesity? In an observational study, using data from the EPIC trial, inactivity might be responsible for two times as many premature deaths as obesity (8). This was a study involving 330,000 men and women.

Interestingly, the researchers created an index that combined occupational activity with recreational activity. They found that the greatest reduction in premature deaths (in the range of 16 to 30 percent) was between two groups, the normal weight and moderately inactive group versus the normal weight and completely inactive group. The latter was defined as those having a desk job with no additional physical activity. To go from the completely inactive to moderately inactive, all it took, according to the study, was 20 minutes of brisk walking on a daily basis.

All is not lost!

In another study, which evaluated 56 participants, walking during lunchtime at work immediately improved mood (9). This small study clearly shows that by lunchtime activity changed mood for the better, increasing enthusiasm and reducing stress when compared to morning levels, before participants had walked. Participants had to walk at least 30 minutes three times a week for 10 weeks; pace was not important.

So what have we learned thus far about inactivity? It is all relative. If you are inactive, increasing your activity to be moderately inactive by briskly walking for 20 minutes a day may reduce your risk of premature death significantly. Even if you exercise the recommended 150 minutes a week, but are inactive the rest of the day, you may still be at risk for cardiovascular disease. You can potentially further reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by increasing your activity with small additions throughout the day.

The underlying message is that we need to consciously move throughout the day, whether at work with a walk during lunch or at home with recreational activity. Those with desk jobs need to be most attuned to opportunities to increase activity. Simply setting a timer and standing or walking every 30 to 45 minutes may increase your activity levels and possibly reduce your risk.

References: (1) Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2008;36(4):173-178. (2) WHO report: http://bit.ly/1z7TBAF. (3) forbes.com. (4) JAMA. 2013;310(23):2562-2563. (5) Diabetologia 2012; 55:2895-2905. (6) Ann Intern Med. 2015;162:123-132, 146-147. (7) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013;61(23):2346-2354. (8) Am J Clin Nutr. online Jan. 24, 2015. (9) Scand J Med Sci Sports. Online Jan. 6, 2015.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Michael Airola. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Numerous trucks arrive at a construction site, each doing their part to make a blueprint for a building into a reality. In a destructive way, molecules also come together in cancer to change cells that cause damage and can ultimately kill.

Researchers often know the participants in the cancer process, although the structure of each molecule can be a mystery. Determining how the parts of an enzyme work could allow scientists and, eventually, doctors to slow those cancer players down or inactivate them, stopping their cell-damaging or destroying processes.

Recently, Michael Airola, who started his own lab at Stony Brook University early this year and is an assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology, published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which he showed the structure of an important enzyme that contributes to cell growth regulation in cancer and other diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Called neutral sphingomyelinase, this enzyme produces ceramide, which allows cancer cells to become metastatic. Finding the structure of an enzyme can enable scientists to figure out the way it operates, which can point to pharmacological agents that can inhibit or deactivate the enzyme.

“We are trying to understand the link between structure and function to try to get the first sort of snapshots or pictures of what these enzymes look like” in the on and off states, said Airola. In his research, he showed what this enzyme looked like in its off or inactive state.

Airola joined Stony Brook Cancer Center Director Yusuf Hannun’s lab as a postdoctoral researcher in 2010, when Hannun was working in Charleston, South Carolina, at the Medical University of South Carolina. When Hannun moved to SBU in March of 2012, Airola joined him, continuing his postdoctoral research.

Michael Airola in April in New Orleans aboard the steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi River with his family, wife Krystal Airola, four-year-old Harper and two-year-old Grady. Photo from Michael Airola

Airola conducted his research at Stony Brook and Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he used a technique called X-ray crystallography, which shows the structure of crystallized molecules. Getting this enzyme to crystallize took considerable effort, especially because it has what Airola described as a floppy segment between two rigid structures.

Those floppy pieces, which Airola said aren’t the active sites of the enzyme, can interfere with the structural analysis. To see the important regions, Airola had to cut those flexible parts out, while fusing the rest of the enzyme into a single structure.

The crystallization took almost three years and was a “very difficult process,” Airola recounted. “To get proteins to crystallize, you need to get them to pack together in an ordered fashion.” He said he needed to develop some biochemical tricks to delete a large part in the middle of the protein. “Once we found the right trick and the right region to delete, we were able to crystallize the protein in about three months.”

Airola said he took considerable care to make sure removing the floppy or flexible region didn’t disrupt the function of the enzyme. Hannun and Airola are co-mentoring Prajna Shanbhogue, a graduate student who is in the process of discovering molecules that activate and inhibit the enzyme.

Hannun was pleased with the work Airola did in his lab, which he suggested was a “challenging type of research. Getting to a structure of a protein or enzyme (a specific type of protein) can take several years and is never guaranteed of success, but the rewards can be tremendous,” Hannun explained in an email, adding that Airola was a “critical contributor” and introduced structural biology to his group.

While Airola will continue to work on this enzyme, he is exploring another enzyme, in a collaboration with Hannun and John Haley at Stony Brook, that is involved in colon cancer.

Airola, two graduate students and three undergraduates in his lab are focusing considerable energy on an enzyme involved in the production of triglycerides.

Airola recently received a three-year, $231,000 grant from the American Heart Association to study lipins, a class of enzyme that plays a role both in heart disease and in diabetes. As he did with the enzyme that makes ceramide, Airola is developing a way to understand the structure and function of the triglyceride enzyme. He’d like to find out how this enzyme is regulated. “We’re trying to see if we can inhibit that enzyme, too,” he said.

Airola has “some creative ideas about using information from lipin proteins in plants and fungi, which have a less complex protein structure than mammalian lipins but catalyze the same biochemical reaction,” Karen Reue, a professor in the Department of Human Genetics, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a collaborator with Airola, explained in an email.

Reue’s lab will complement Airola’s work by conducting physiological analyses of the various “minimal” lipin proteins in processes that the mammalian proteins perform, including triglyceride biosynthesis.

While lipin proteins are necessary for metabolic homeostasis, Reue said a reasonable but still challenging goal might be to modulate the enzyme’s activity for partial inhibition in areas such as adipose tissue, while allowing the triglycerides to perform other important tasks.

Airola lives in East Setauket with his wife Krystal Airola, who is doing her residency in radiology at SBU, and their two children, four-year-old Harper and two-year-old Grady. The couple, who is expecting a third child next month, enjoy living in East Setauket, where they appreciate that they have a forest in their backyard and they can enjoy the water in Port Jefferson and West Meadow Beach.

When Airola’s postdoctoral position ended, he did a broad, national search for his next position and was delighted that he could remain at Stony Brook. “We love the area,” he said. “The research and science here are fantastic.” Airola’s collaborators are optimistic about the prospects for his research.

He is an “up and coming structural biologist that has already made important contributions to the field of lipid biology” Reue said and is a “creative and rigorous scientist with a bright future.”

Portability refers to the ability of a surviving spouse to make use of a deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exclusion amount.

By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

The estate tax concept known as “portability” is permanent as a result of the enactment of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. Portability allows a surviving spouse to use a deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exclusion (up to $5.49 million in 2017).

For those dying after Dec. 31, 2011, if a first-to-die spouse has not fully used the federal estate tax exclusion, the unused portion called the Deceased Spousal Unused Exclusion Amount, or DSUE amount, can be transferred or “ported” to the surviving spouse.

Thereafter, for both gift and estate tax purposes, the surviving spouse’s exclusion is the sum of (1) his/her own exclusion (as such amount is inflation adjusted) plus (2) the first-to-die’s ported DSUE amount.

For example: Assume H and W are married, and H dies in 2017. H owns $3 million and W owns $9 million in assets. H has the potential of leaving up to $5.49 million free from federal estate tax to a bypass or credit shelter trust. This would avoid federal estate tax in both spouses’ estates.

However, because H only has $3 million in assets, he does not take full advantage of the entire $5.49 million exclusion. Prior to portability, $2.49 million of H’s exclusion would have been wasted. With portability, his remaining $2.49 million exclusion can be saved and passed to W ‘s estate, increasing the amount she can leave her beneficiaries free from federal estate tax. With a 40 percent federal estate tax rate, this would save W’s estate approximately $996,000 in federal estate tax.

With this plan, the estate would also avoid New York State Estate Tax at the husband’s death since the current exclusion is $5.25 million. The assets in this bypass trust would escape federal and New York estate taxation at W’s subsequent death.

In order for the surviving spouse to be able to use the unused exemption, the executor of the first-to-die’s estate must make an election on a timely filed estate tax return. A timely filed return is a return filed within nine months after death or within 15 months after obtaining an automatic extension of time to file from the IRS.

Normally a federal estate tax return is only due if the gross estate plus the amount of any taxable gifts exceeds the applicable exclusion amount (up to $5.49 million in 2017). However, in order to be able to elect portability, a federal estate tax return would have to be filed even if the value of the first-to-die’s estate was below the exclusion amount.

The problem occurs when the first spouse dies and no estate tax return was filed. In that event, the second-to-die spouse could not use the deceased spouse’s unused exemption. In the above example, the second spouse’s estate would have paid an additional $996,000 in federal estate tax if the election was not made. What if the first spouse dies, no estate tax return is filed, and no election was made on a timely basis? Does the surviving spouse lose the exemption?

In June 2017, the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2017-34. The revenue procedure is a simplified method to be used to make a late portability election. The IRS is making this simplified method available for all eligible estates through Jan. 2, 2018. The IRS is also making the simplified method of this revenue procedure available after Jan. 2, 2018, to estates during the two-year period immediately following the decedent’s date of death.

To be eligible to use the simplified method under the revenue procedure the estate must meet the following criteria:

(1) The decedent: (a) was survived by a spouse; (b) died after Dec. 31, 2010; and (c) was a citizen or resident of the United States on the date of death.

(2) The executor was not required to file an estate tax return based on the value of the gross estate.

(3) The executor did not file an estate tax return within the time required.

(4) The executor either files a complete and properly prepared United States estate (and tax return) on or before the later of Jan. 2, 2018 or the second annual anniversary of the decedent’s date of death.

For those that had spouses pass away after Dec. 31, 2010, portability can be a valuable estate planning tool to save a significant amount of federal estate tax on the death of the second spouse.

If a surviving spouse has assets that are close in value to the current federal exclusion amount, it is important to examine the records of the deceased spouse to make sure that a portability election was made on a timely filed federal estate tax return. If no return was filed, and no estate tax return was required to be filed, based upon this IRS revenue procedure it’s still not too late to elect portability. The surviving spouse must act quickly as the deadline is fast approaching and 2018 will be here before we know it.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

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